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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 (2015–2016)
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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6/10
Milestone in filmmaking; Terrific first half, and a racist second.
28 August 2015
Hmm... So, where should I start? Before I deal with the plot and its aspects, let be clear that 'Birth of a Nation' is a milestone in cinematic storytelling; the scale of the production was the largest of its time, and the scope of its story, with the way it uses focusing, different-angled views and cross-cutting so dynamically to smoothen the flow of the story, is simply extraordinary. It showed what film could be and how effectively stories could be told through the medium.

So the film is a two-part three-hour epic, of which the first part (Civil War era) is truly terrific in every sense. The story, the history, the anti-war sentiment and the spectacular battlefield scenes, which are brilliant in scale, action and realism. Everything from the initial introduction of the lead characters to the assassination of President Lincoln, the first part is incredible and important, both as history of film and US. Actually, the first part itself can be seen as an entire film (90 minutes), and I could recommend it to any cinephile and be sure of their satisfaction.

But the second part (Reconstruction Era)... It's a deplorable chain of one racist scene after the other. I've always thought that movies dealing with history should represent the events in an impartial way, and liberty and imagination are applicable only when it comes to characters' personal lives. But here, the way the events are depicted and heroes are created, one would cringe or roll their eyes on almost every scene. But as Roger Ebert says about the film, "As slavery is the great sin of America, so 'The Birth of a Nation' is Griffith's sin, for which he tried to atone all the rest of his life. If we are to see this film, we must see it all, and deal with it all." And in many ways, he's right. The second part is important as well, historically, in understanding how Griffith and the majority of America thought about the whole thing, even in 1915. While making the film, he genuinely believed in those sentiments, and that's why he even adapted the book. he didn't think it was racist, and if he didn't believe that most people in his country thought this way, he wouldn't have made such a large scale epic. People got the spark they required and the second emergence of KKK occurred; it just goes to prove that he wasn't one of the few people who thought so.

After he became aware of the nature of his themes, he's been quite apologetic, and gave us a grand apology cum love letter in 'Intolerance'. So, despite all the racist views of the film's second half, Griffith's technical wizardry can't be ignored.

It's an 8 for the first part, and 4 for the second. So, that makes it a 6 (on 10) for the entire film.
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Frequencies (2013)
8/10
An ambitious philosophical dilemma wrapped in a Sci-fi Romance.
27 August 2015
Writer-Director Darren Paul Fischer's film 'Frequencies' is quite ambitious in nature, not by its budget, but by the number of intriguing themes it explores and way it makes us contemplate on them. The experimental film combines the themes of science fiction and romance to deal with profound philosophical questions.

The movie is set in a world where people are born with predetermined frequencies, which signifies one's luck and the rate of success in life. Nature favours high-frequencied people, and when a high born meets a low born, some reaction or disturbance occurs to stop this. So, many people try to understand the workings of nature and try finding ways which can alter the effect of such laws. This kind of concept doesn't need a big budget, special effects and such, to explore. A riveting story with proper elements can easily do the trick, and that's what Fischer does here.

Identity, luck, success, destiny, choice and accidental discovery are just the superficial themes of the film. The underlying themes and questions make the film much more fascinating. Like, one of the main ideas it touches is partial knowledge/information. In the film's story, characters determine solutions to their problems and workings of nature with the help of knowledge (partial or specific) they have regarding the subject, and with each new discovery of information, the understanding, and thus the solution keeps changing. In the same way, in the three segments of the film, we ourselves see how the revelation of new information makes us see the same scene in a different light. In that regard, the film and its philosophy combine to give us an elegant and artistic puzzle.

The casting is good, especially the cute younger versions of the characters. Sometimes, the dialogues seem a bit too expository and there are moments which remind us of the film's low budget, but the underlying philosophical questions keep us engaged enough not to be bothered by such trivial shortcomings. The brilliant cinematography and effective editing also play an important part to make the film tight and gripping. Like, even the varying colour tones of the scenes (red being low frequency, and purple being high) have meaning, and look beautiful in the storytelling process.

There is no question regarding the movie's intellect and scope, but a little more heart and soul would have made it perfect. A little more character depth would have helped as well. But that being said, its themes have been handled well, and for a runtime of 105 minutes, it maintains the right pace and dares to shower us with a bunch of thought-provoking ideas.
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7/10
Commendable directorial debut; an intriguing story about youthful rebellion.
26 August 2015
Acclaimed director Tsai Ming-liang's directorial debut is a fascinating and intriguing story about the rebellious nature of youth, and the emptiness and meaninglessness felt by them. It's also the first of many collaborations between the director and actor Lee Kang-sheng.

Water, water everywhere. Just with regular places like malls, arcades, hotel rooms and houses, Tsai creates a recognizable urban environment, where the rebellious actions of few individuals form a complete cycle. From the James Dean poster to the mention of reincarnation of a rebellious God, and even the Mandarin and English titles of the film, the movie doesn't shy away from telling what it's about. And in its subtle way, it also tries to explore the reasons behind it. Like the cram school one of the protagonists (Hsiao Kang) is sent to, cities are crammed with people in the same way, but despite that, people feel more disconnected than ever. From the phone dating thing service in the story to our present-day social networking sites, the story tries to emphasize that with urbanization, humans have lost touch with direct interactions and brotherhood.

The bleak tone may put some people off, but it actually adds to the tone of the story. Tsai here gives us a slice of these young lives, and asks us to contemplate on 'Why do we do the things we do?' All the actors are cast well, and they do a commendable job.

NOTE: It's preferable if one watches Tsai Ming-liang's films in order because the character Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng) appears in most of his films, this being the first. The order might help in exploring and understanding the character much better.
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Cabiria (1914)
7/10
Cinema's First True Epic
26 August 2015
Giovanni Pastrone's grand-scale storytelling of a lost princess, her journey from being kidnapped to almost being offered as a child sacrifice and then ending up as a slave, 'Cabiria' is cinema's first true epic. Pastrone made several films, and the scope and spectacle of his films inspired directors like Griffith and Fellini, but 'Cabiria' is the only one which has stood the test of time. And since the story is set almost 2000 years ago, the aged quality of this 100-year-old film only adds to the feel of the time.

Like Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation', 'Cabiria' too was shrouded in controversy for its biased depiction of races, places and cultures. Like 'Birth of a Nation' propagated Ku Klux Klan's nobility and agenda, 'Cabiria' tried to legitimize Italy's distant past, and tried to promote and inspire themes like 'wars of conquest', Roman salute, racial nobility and virtue, etc. I mean, all the non-Roman characters in the film are depicted in negative light.

Whatever the controversial history the movie might have, if one is ready to ignore those aspects and try to acknowledge the feat it tries to achieve in the medium of filmmaking, it's an enjoyable journey. The movie offers many fascinating sequences, like, the child offerings at Temple of Moloch, Princess Sophonisba's pet leopard and even her spectacular arrival for her almost wedding, soldiers and elephants crossing the Alps, the pyramid formed by soldiers and shields in one continuous shot, and few others.

The original version is said to have been three hours long. I saw the truncated 1993 restoration, which is two hours long. In this itself, the number of characters and events seem too many, a few of them almost unnecessary; I wonder what the extra 60 minutes had in store. Better editing (I mean, even shorter than two hours) could have made the story tighter, more interesting and compelling.

Overall, it's an interesting story and a well-made film, and personally, I liked it much more than the overrated 'Ben-Hur'.
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7/10
Well-made psychological thriller; has one intrigued from the very first frame.
25 August 2015
Well-made psychological thriller; has one intrigued from the very first frame. Yes, the theme of short-term memory loss has been explored in many movies before, and much like 'Memento', we are here in the lead character's shoes, trying to analyze the evidence in front of us and trying to guess who's to be believed, dealing with memory and identity. This movie is nowhere close to the genius of the aforementioned film, but does a commendable job in building up a tense atmosphere where we suspect everything and everyone. We, together with Christine (Kidman), go on a topsy-turvy ride.

The choice of actors makes it easy to watch the whole thing play out, especially the lead Miss Kidman, who expertly captures the paranoia, desperation and conviction of a person in such a situation, and Colin Firth with all his charm, dances efficiently between the shades of black and white. The cinematography and editing also play a part in filling the atmosphere with paranoia and intrigue.

In a movie with so many twists and which is filled with doubt throughout, the ending might seem a bit too definitive and hopeful, but satisfying nonetheless.
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7/10
A simple and poignant film about muddling through life and the desperation to belong somewhere
25 August 2015
A simple and poignant film about muddling through life and the desperation to belong somewhere. The characters are interesting and commendably established, not too much and not too less, just enough to know their minds and emotions. The movie has quite a few unique and memorable scenes, from the initial elder-brother-having-sex scene, to mom smoking up, and mutual masturbation.

Colin Farrell really surprised me with his nuanced portrayal of a sensitive and innocent guy trying to find a firm grip on life, who time and again loses people closest to him. And talented actors like Sissy Spacek and Robin Wright were welcomed additions, who play intriguing characters, different from what they've played before. Debutant Dallas Roberts was good as well.

One would expect more conflict when three characters are trying to establish a family together, but the calm and composed outlook was refreshing. The story moves from one moment to the other, and then just tries to deal with it, just like life; doesn't lead to, or even promise, a strong or compelling ending. It takes us in and then throws us out, leaving us there to contemplate...just like Bobby (Colin); we see and feel everything through his eyes.
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7/10
An intriguing tale, spanning over 50 years.
20 August 2015
An intriguing tale, with a fascinating chunk of modern Chinese history serving as the background. Spanning over 50 years, the film tells about the ups and downs of a traditional Peking Opera troupe, and its two stars, from 1924 to 1977. Not only do we see the various political events of the time, but also how the traditional opera and its stars are treated during different eras.

The two stars, Dieyi and Xiaolou, are brought up and trained to play specific roles - that of concubine and king respectively - in a famous play. Dieyi (Douzi) is trained, or should I say, forced to behave, sing, move and dance like a girl, from a very young age. The two of them share a unique and close bond, and this balance gets affected when a woman, Juxian, enters the picture. Their political naiveté get them into many problems, but it's their properly unresolved love triangle that causes more trouble.

The lines between fact and fiction are blurred when we realise the similarities between the play and their actual lives. Dieyi's devotion to opera and Xiaolou are as strong as the concubine's devotion to the king. (The lines are blurred even more when Leslie Cheung, bisexual himself, takes his life in 2003) The end is inevitable, as we realise while the story progresses, but it's reached with proper momentum and after an intriguing chain of events.

The acting by the three leads is really terrific. Leslie Cheung as the female-role playing opera star who's completely devoted to his art, Fengyi Zhang as a talented and playful man who can easily separate his private and work lives, and Gong Li as the prostitute-turned-wife whose shades of determination and compassion keeps us from not having a fixed view of her character. With Chen Kaige's talented direction and Gu Changwei's spectacular cinematography, the movie has many colourful and memorable scenes.

I really liked the movie, and wasn't bored for a single second. The movie deals with so many interesting themes - Modern Chinese history, sexuality, art and its reception, devotion and passion - but yet it somehow makes me feel that it had the potential to be much more compelling. Other than the political events, the characters could have been explored a little more.
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7/10
First Landmark of LGBT Cinema.
20 August 2015
This 1919 German silent film has to be the earliest queer film I've seen. This, along with two other films made in Weimar Germany - 'Michael' and 'Sex in Chains' - stands as landmark in queer cinema. The movie is really ahead of its time; from the story treatment to the informed way of handling the theme of homosexuality, many countries can learn how artists of ages past (this one almost a century ago) have tried to tackle such subjects with grace and their own unique style. Many might be get annoyed by the long expository monologues, but considering the time and the intention of the film, it's completely understandable; movies have the power to enrich.

The film was adapted decades later in Britain - 'Victim', and the sad thing is that in countries like India, where such law sections are relevant even till this date, such a theme hasn't been explored properly on screen. I've always believed that informed exposure to a subject is a giant step closer to understanding and acceptance of it.

The actor Conrad Veidt who's the lead in the film becomes a star with his next year's film , 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari', and even has a small role in 'Casablanca' as a Nazi (funnily, he fled from the Nazis to England).

Overall, interesting story and brilliant treatment.
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8/10
Even after decades, it's an enjoyable and adventurous ride
14 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Even after decades, the 'Back to the Future' trilogy is an enjoyable and adventurous ride, and belongs to the few time-travel movies which have their time-travel logic intact.

This first part is innovative, intriguing, and a funny all the way. The writing is efficient and tries its best to not leave any space-time loopholes (neglecting small details and related consequences, and other goofs). Good acting from everyone involved, and effects (the minor instances it's used). The entire prom sequence is just brilliant. It was a wise decision to take the story to the past, which saves a lot in special effects expenditure. I don't think I need to say more; it's a sci-fi classic now.

Spoiler: It's sad but not paid attention to; no matter how his parents were, the parents he returns to aren't the same people who brought him up. Was he just happy to have this new enhanced version of them? Yes, getting rid of the bullying part was completely fine, and I agree that the new versions of them are much better. But the rest? The memories he had with them don't exist anymore. Anyway, that part isn't a big deal; maybe we aren't supposed to analyze that aspect so deeply. And why did it have to end in a cliffhanger? The next part didn't come out until 4 years later. It's still a hilarious cliffhanger, though.
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7/10
Talented and promising debut film; a dystopian murder case like no other,
13 August 2015
Lars von Trier's debut film is really remarkable. Monochromatic sepia tone, always night, water everywhere, voice-over throughout - all these elements help in creating an eerie dystopian atmosphere where a serial killer has been killing young girls. The lead protagonist Fisher is narrating the events to his therapist by recollecting his memories under hypnosis, so we can't be sure whether the place was actually like that, or this is how Fisher perceives and remembers it, or maybe the hypnosis has taken him into his memories in a dreamlike fashion. It doesn't really matter which one it is; it essentially creates an intriguing environment to investigate the murder case.

How getting into the shoes and path of a serial killer can drive one mad is shown in an intriguing way, but I wish they had explored the motives and life of the killer a little more.

von Trier shows such talent and promise in his first film itself. The case, the storytelling style, the cinematography, everything really works for this film and makes it one of a kind. I was transported into this dreamlike dystopian place trying to solve the murder along with Fisher, and the credit for that goes to von Trier. There are few brilliantly shot and uniquely lit scenes which are really captivating and memorable.
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7/10
An interesting look at adolescence and sexuality.
10 May 2015
'Ang Lihim Ni Antonio' (Antonio's Secret) deals with the sexual curiosities and explorations of an teenage boy, who is just coming to terms with his sexuality. It gives us an interesting glimpse into what goes on in his mind, as well as what his mother and and close friend think about it.

The story is well-structured and focused. The hand-held camera movement really makes us a part of Antonio's life, and makes the sex scenes appear so real. The movie has few of the most erotic and well-shot sex scenes involving adolescent homosexuality; they not only seem so genuine and real, they are acted with such finesse that we almost feel guilty to be witnessing their private moments.

Except the stabbing scene (which isn't believably carried out), all scenes are well-acted, especially the rape scene.

The mother's character is well-explored as well, and Shamaine Buencamino gives a commendable performance. The conversations between Antonio and his friend, and Antonio and his mother are quite interesting.

Overall, the film gives us an interesting look at adolescence and sexuality.
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6/10
A satisfactory end to a satisfactory trilogy.
20 April 2015
So finally, this long-drawn-out trilogy comes to an end. Despite stretching the book for so long and so many deaths in this one, I really didn't care for any character except Bilbo; whether it was the weak character development or poor writing, I'm not sure.

So much money spent and a book dragged out for three movies, I'm still not sure what's the overall message or story it tried to tell. And whatever themes it does cover, they're so paper-thin.

With the trilogy now over, I can safely say, 'The Lord of the Rings' is a far superior trilogy and will be remembered for ages to come. This trilogy might only hold the importance of being a prequel to LOTR, that's all.
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7/10
Smaug's majestic presence is reason enough to watch this.
20 April 2015
In an otherwise mediocre (or just good enough) trilogy, this one gets an extra star only because of the majestic presence of Smaug; from its digital detailing to its voice by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is magnificent in every scene it's present in. Never before on screen has a dragon been presented with so much character and intelligence. Bilbo's conversation with Smaug is quite fascinating to watch; it's reminiscent of the one Bilbo shares with Gollum in first part, but this one is filled wit more wit and humour.

Martin Freeman truly embodies the character of Bilbo; from his walk to his mannerisms, he's truly a hobbit. He is the only character worth caring about.

The barrel ride across the stream is really well-shot; it's rider point-of-view camera angles really makes us part of the adventure.
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8/10
A well-adapted story about Morality.
20 April 2015
'To Kill A Mockingbird' is a well-adapted story about morality. I like how half the movie establishes the different characters, and the remaining half deals with the case and town's attitude. The movie maintains proper pace and doesn't seem to be in a rush, and that really works for it. The acting by everyone involved is quite commendable; in this film, we see the dashing young Robert Duvall for the first time. I really like how it shows how a parent's attitude towards certain things really shapes a child. Our attitude towards things are always shaped by the people around us.

AFI named Peck's character as the number one hero of all-time; their choice was really interesting seeing the age of heroes (different kind) we live in.
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Still Alice (2014)
6/10
Other than Moore's performance, the film has nothing much to offer
23 February 2015
Okay, let me just say, Julianne Moore's performance is brilliant in the film; she captures the fear, sadness, helplessness and perseverance of an Alzheimer's patient with tact.

Other than Moore's acting, 'Still Alice' felt quite bland and underwhelming to me. It failed to give us more insight into the lead protagonist, and gave us almost no insight into the lives and minds of her loved ones. When someone is afflicted by Alzheimer's, it's his/her loved ones who suffer more. I mean, the person exists, but all the memories connecting him/her to others ultimately vanishes, and that is torturous to the people around. The film is too linear and paper-thin; the theme had so much potential, but it's completely squandered. All of the characters just merely exist that you almost feel nothing for any of the characters. Other than Alice's speech in the second half ,there wasn't a single moment or aspect which made me connect to the characters.

With much more needed depth, the movie could have been as terrifying as the disease itself, and may have given us some idea as to how people cope with it. Now, it's just one of those disease-movies which will be easily forgotten (except of course, for the fact that Moore finally won her Oscar for this).
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