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8/10
Legends become tangible Human Beings !!!
21 December 2017
In my review of 'The Force Awakens', I wrote that the major theme of the film was the reaffirmation of the myths and the legends of Star Wars. The irony is that the sequel, 'The Last Jedi' stands on the opposite end of the thematic spectrum. This film is all about the subversion and the deconstruction of the myths, the legends and the force. If 'The Force Awakens' is 'Stagecoach' or Leone's Westerns, then 'The Last Jedi' is a revisionist Western like 'The Searchers' or 'McCabe & Mrs. Miller'. We get to see some beloved characters as tangible, flawed human beings instead of the flawless idea of them as legends. Luke Skywalker's arc and storyline in the film is absolutely brilliant. Johnson doubles down on underlining Luke's dilemmas, insecurities and fears. To me, Luke's descension from the status of the legendary Jedi Knight/Master to being a vulnerable human being made him all the more admirable. Johnson deconstructs the character of Luke, but never disrespects him. But as a non-hardcore Star Wars fanatic, I can clearly see how my opinions regarding Rian Johnson's choice with Luke's character might not be the same as the opinions of a die hard Star Wars fan. For me, this is the first time that a Star Wars film has completely committed to delving deep in the murkiness that lies between the broad strokes of the light and the dark. I loved the explanations given regarding the origins of Kylo Ren's decisions. The film shows how a small moment of weakness viewed from differing perspectives can lead to misunderstandings and subsequently potentially devastating eventualities. I loved everything that Johnson did to connect the three characters of Rey, Kylo and Luke together.

Even though there are a lot of things I liked about 'The Last Jedi', it still has some problems. Apart from Rey and Kylo, the other new characters that were introduced in 'The Force Awakens' either get very little to do, or are burdened with tasks and missions that just didn't grab my interest at all. The plot machinations towards the end of the second half get a little too messy and haphazard. There are also a few too many contrivances and Deus ex Machina moments to drive the plot forward. Another thing that sticks out in the film might not really be a problem at all, but it is worth mentioning. Rian Johnson tries to undermine the significance of destiny, lineage and determinism. However considering certain circumstances, certain powers that some characters possess, this might just lead to some potential contradictions. I'm interested in seeing how the existence of these powers by the relevant characters get explained/explored in Episode 9.

Visually , the film not only harkens back to the visual style of the original trilogy, but also to classic Japanese Samurai films(which were the primary influence on Lucas in the first place). There are shots that reminded me of Yojimbo, Harakiri, Sword of Doom, etc. There is a particular wide angle shot in the third act of the film that looked like it was straight out of Kurosawa's 'Ran'. The cinematography has to be admired. Despite the inherent darkening of the screen due to the 3D glasses, the colours on the screen popped and the world looked magical and alluring. In terms of acting performances, Mark Hamill steals the show. He adds so much depth in his performance and beautifully portrays Luke as a changed older man. The performances from the rest of the cast is good, but Hamill's performance is great.

Even though 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' has its flaws, I can confidently say from a completely subjective standpoint that no other film in the Star Wars series has made me ponder over its themes and think about the characters as much as this one has. Rian Johnson's choices might distance the hardcore Star Wars loyalists, but as a neutral film fan who has always been a casual admirer of Star Wars, this film really compelled me.
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7/10
Bringing back Star Wars !!!
21 December 2017
There is a moment towards the middle of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' when Han Solo says the following to Rey and Finn - "It's true. The Force, the Jedi, all of it. It's all true." - that particular line of dialogue to me completely and very clearly established and underlines the motive and the intent of JJ Abrams and Disney as a whole behind their collective approach in restarting the Star Wars Saga. Since the souring of the mood and the spirits of the diehard Star Wars fans triggered by the prequels, there had been a prolonged gap. The basic idea of 'The Force Awakens' is to end that gap by reaffirming the myths, the legends and the magic of Star Wars and reassure the fanbase with a film that symbolises the phrase - 'Star Wars(in its original form) is back !!!'

To me this idea of reaffirming the legend of 'Star Wars' has two repercussions which are very noticeable in the film. On one hand, certain elements that make the original trilogy wondrous like the joy and innocence of fantasies and adventures, Han Solo's charisma, etc. On the other hand, it also brings along with it the elements that have always prevented me from fully embracing Star Wars which are surface level storytelling, hokey and over-expressive dialogue,etc. Another problem with the film is that in trying to deliver on 'fan service', the film doubles down and flirts with the prospect of being a little over-abundant on references and moments that pay explicit homage to the original trilogy as well as overall narrative throughlines that again blatantly mirror a number of the occurrences in previous films in the series.

However what prevents the film from becoming an excuse in nostalgia porn is the characters. The new characters especially Rey and Finn were very likeable and they seem like individuals that I as a viewer would like to accompany in future adventures and spend time with. I mentioned earlier how 'Force Awakens' reaffirms the myths of Star Wars. Through Daisy Ridley's 'Rey', the film goes one step forward by hinting at powers and abilities which are unprecedented and almost incomprehensible(to Rey herself), the sources of which will probably be elaborated upon in the sequels. Harrison Ford manages to embody the swashbuckling Han Solo once again after all these years and it feels like older version of the exact same character from the original trilogy with the same charisma and sarcasm. Kylo Ren seemed interesting enough.

In an nutshell the film embodies certain elements that I have never completely been in tune with which are inherent to the concept of Star Wars itself. But having said that, with the basic energy and the exciting new characters, JJ Abrams managed to make me not only care about about this film, but also curious about what's to come next.
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9/10
A mystery with surrealism and allegory !!!
7 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
'Picnic at Hanging Rock' starts with the line "What we see and what we seem is but a dream. A dream within a dream". That line says and expresses everything about the tone, feel and general vibe that Peter Weir sets for the film. Weir leaves no stone unturned to make sure that the film plays out on an elevated dreamlike realm. We get a lot of cross cutting, super-imposed visuals, slowed down movements, etc. complemented by beautiful moody scores involving pan pipes.

Personally I found three ways to attempt to make some sort of a thematic reading for this film:

1. The film can be interpreted as a work that explores the abstract concept of fantasy/curiosity itself. The girls of the college are shown to be fascinated by the mysterious Hanging Rock. It gives them a chance to experience something beyond the boundaries of their normal, routine and mundane life in the college. The Hanging Rock represents an otherworldly aura of wonder to these young curious girls. The film(like the novel it is based on) then reverses this when the three girls along with Miss McCraw go missing. Now what happened to these girls at the rock becomes the center of fascination, fantasy and curiosity that overwhelms the other characters which lends a meta-quality to the film's narrative because it is that same sense of curiosity and fascination that grabs the viewer during the entire second half of the film. After Irma is rescued, there is a scene in the film where she bids farewell to her friends(she is crucially dressed in striking red unlike the other girls who are dressed in their normal whites). Instead of the scene progressing into a sweet farewell get-together, we get an explosive encounter where the other girls start screaming and hounding Irma for the answer to their questions about what happened that day at the Rock. This scene is a clear and deliberate representation of the frustration of the viewers for not getting an answer to these questions.

2. The film can be seen as an exploration of sexual awakening as well as repression. There is a shot at the very beginning of the film where 4 girls of the Appleyard College are standing in a line diagonally to the frame as they each tighten the corset of the one standing in front. This particular shot beautifully and subtly juggles two elements at the same time - on one hand it presents a picture of tender feminine beauty and sisterhood, but on the other hand with the tightening corsets it shows the severe restrictions that they are subjected to. Their fascination for the Hanging Rock can be easily thematic equated with a burgeoning sexual curiosity with the Rock itself representing a male aura and the eventual disappearance of the girls being somewhat of a sexual awakening. In the initial scenes of the film, there is a bit of an attachment that gets hinted at between two of the girls of the college namely Miranda and Sara. Miranda open asks Sara to learn to love someone else as she is going away. The 'going away' can be interpreted literally, it can be interpreted as a foreshadow of what's to come, or it can easily interpreted as Miranda claiming that she won't remain the same girl after encountering the Rock. She will become someone more aware, more conscious and more mature. There are recurring shots of a swan that come after the disappearance of the girls and the swan is made to look like it represents Miranda or at least her spirit. Thematically this could be interpreted as Weir telling us that Miranda is still present in the midst of all the others, it's just that she is unrecognisable in her new state. There's also a lot of possible euphemisms in Miss McCraw's description of the Rock. Weir deliberately juxtaposes the tenderness, the sweetness of the girls with the rough, abrasive, intimidating presence of the Hanging Rock. What's even more telling is that the 3 girls before venturing into the infamous crevice, take off their stocks, their stockings and later when Irma gets rescued, we learn that the corset was missing too alongwith the knowledge that Edith imparts about Miss McCraw's state when she made her way up to the rock. It certainly feels like an act signifying sexual liberation.

3. The third way to interpret the story will be to read it on a much broader scale and see it as a narrative that shows the conflict between imperialist order and indigenous Australian roots. Mrs.Appleyard is a very strict and overbearing headmaster who does her best to make sure that every little thing of her school remains orderly and every student remains obedient to an almost slavish extent. There are subtle shots of the photos of Queen Victoria in her office underlining the imperialist roots of this institution. But the 3 girls and Miss McCraw escape Appleyard's brutish order and become one with nature. In terms of music too the film uses European Classical tunes and juxtaposes them with the very exotic sounding central score of the pan pipes.

Having written all that, the magic of the film which I am smitten by isn't down to the themes and the possible allegories, it is actually down to Peter Weir's hypnotic, storytelling style. He makes sure that the entire film feels like a dream that plays out on a plane of elevated reality. The acting is great from everyone, especially Anne Lambert and Rachel Roberts. Russell Boyd's cinematography is exceptional. The outdoor scenes are vibrant and aesthetically appealing .

I don't think, 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' is for everyone, but if you like dreamy, languidly paced mood pieces, then this one might be for you.
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Il Sorpasso (1962)
9/10
Two Italies Colliding !!!
7 November 2017
I've seen quite a few Italian films from the very early 1960s that explore the effect of widespread industrialisation and rampant consumerism during the economic boom in contemporary Italy. It is very interesting to notice the attitude of each filmmaker to this particular issue. Ermanno Olmi in 'Il Posto' doesn't completely denounce the changes taking place in Italy(urban Italy to be more precise), but he does ornament the film with a rich sense of melancholy and a yearning for innocence in a place and time where a boy is forced to lose his youth prematurely. Fellini in 'La Dolce Vita' for the most part uses farce and overt loud farcical scenes to mock the superficial nature of the elite class and the aristocracy, and then juxtaposes that with scenes which spell out their loneliness. Antonioni in 'L'Avventura' uses a coldness to express the protagonist's alienation in the new times. Dino Risi's attitude is distinct too because he remains ambivalent and indecisive since he neither condemns, nor embraces the new Italy. Among all the films I've mentioned, the one that I gravitate to the most will be 'Il Posto' which I think is a stone cold masterpiece. But I have to say Risi's 'Il Sorpasso' comes very close to replicating the kind of reaction that 'Il Posto' got out of me. This is a near-masterpiece.

In a basic sense, 'Il Sorpasso' is a road movie. Just like other films belonging to the sub-genre of 'Commedia all'italiana', it uses light-hearted comedy and comedic scenarios to move the narrative forward. However I'd disagree with anyone who thinks the film doesn't have enough thematic depth beneath the comedic surface. The film uses the 'odd couple' trope by bringing two completely dissimilar people together and explores their differences and the effects they have on each other. Bruno is an energetic, boisterous, eccentric and potentially reckless individual who believes in living in the moment. Roberto on the other hand who is shy, introverted, self-conscious, reserved and a somewhat uptight individual. Bruno, just like the force of nature he is, takes Roberto on a ride in a thematic as well as literal sense. There is a risk, that using the juxtaposition of two such characters of extreme contrast, might end up being a little too on-the-nose and superficial. But what prevents it from becoming jarring, is Dino Risi's sensitive treatment of both characters and of course absolutely masterful performances from the two central actors. Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant are absolutely pitch perfect in this film. I believed in their chemistry and both characters felt like living breathing human beings.

Yes, Bruno and Roberto are humanised by Risi as well as the actors. But it is undeniable that they also serve as the representations of two different Italies. Bruno represents the new modernised Italy. He is loud, he is energetic and he pretty much has no time for sentimentality(he disrespects Christian priests and nuns). Roberto represents the pre-economic boom Italy with his regard for discipline, an organised lifestyle and sentiments. Dino Risi as I have mentioned before neither vilifies nor glorifies either of them. Bruno can be an ignorant jerk, but he can be sympathetic as well as a good friend to Roberto too. Roberto is well mannered and disciplined, but he can be far too tentative and awkward in his social attitude. I especially loved how the film takes its time to throw more light on the lives of both the characters apart from what can be picked up from their behavioral traits. Bruno enlightens Roberto on how the memories of his childhood could be a little too idealised and distorted and his relatives might not have been what he remembered them to be. On the other hand, the film also gives us a look into the consequences and a possible future that awaits for someone who lives life with the same irreverent, carefree attitude like Bruno when his family gets introduced. The great thing is, these elements in the narrative work both on a character-specific level as well as on a broader societal level.

I have only two gripes with the film that prevents me from giving it a perfect score - one very minor, the other somewhat major. The minor complaint will be the use of Roberto's voice-over narrations that appear from time to time in the film which I think was completely unnecessary. Trintignant's subtle mannerisms and gestures were enough to convey everything that needed to be conveyed. I don't think his thoughts required to spelled out. But the major gripe I have is the final scene - not the ultimate finale of the scene that ends the film, but a certain turn, a certain transformation that takes place in the attitude of one of the characters. The ultimate consequence serves a thematic purpose since it conveys that sometimes forcing someone to change his inherent traits, ideas and attitude could end up proving to be problematic. But I think the turn itself needed a little more time and few more scenes underlining the transition gradually taking place to feel completely believable.

One or two gripes aside, I genuinely think 'Il Sorpasso' is a special film that explores that consequences of Italy's economic boom and finds a way to do it in a very sensitive, humane and funny way. Highly Recommended.
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Senso (1954)
8/10
Epic Romance in a period setting !!!
7 November 2017
'Senso' directed by Italian master Luchino VIsconti marked his first departure from neo-realism. This is a grand operatic romance which manages to tie in a social and political subtext with it. From a visual standpoint, this is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Right from the first shot to the final one, the film remains colourful and visually vibrant which is enhanced by Visconti and his cinematographer's exquisite framing and compositions. The film has a melodramatic/operatic tone to it. 'Senso' falls in line with a number of other films made during this era of the 50s all around the world that came to be known as 'Women's Films'. These movies generally were melodramas with a female protagonist having to go through tough times and even tragedies for the sake of love and romance. 'Senso' with its melodrama and visual flair reminded me of the Douglas Sirk films. But more than Sirk, the name that constantly came across my mind Max Ophüls. I couldn't help but find similarities with 'The Earrings of Madame de…' due to the film revolving around aristocracy, opulence as well as having a protagonist who is an older mature woman engaging in infidelity. 'Senso' has a rich political and social context. It is set at a specific moment in Italian history when the Austrian occupation of Venice was about to face violent rebellion from native Venetians who were fighting for liberation from Austria and merging of Venice with Italy. The central characters and the illicit romance in the film go hand in hand with the politics and nationalist movement which reminded me of Satyajit Ray's 'The Home and the World'. On a broad level, 'Senso' seems to be a sensitive, but at the same time scathing criticism of the aristocracy and the upper class. Livia betraying her rebel cousin Roberto just for the sake of her love/lust for the Austrian officer Franz has to symbolise the rich, upper class and the aristocracy turning their back on the ideals and ideology of the nationalist movement. On the other hand, based on a more personal reading, the film seems to be about identity and the idea of compromising your morals and ideals for selfish desires. There are mirrors visible in many shots of the film and there is a scene where Franz actually talks about how he likes to look at himself in the mirror to see whether he is still the man that he was earlier. We see Livia going through a constant fight within herself to decide whether she to stick to her morals and nationalistic ideals or give in to the charm and her yearning for Franz, the Austrian officer. She gives in to her yearning and betrays her ideals. But in the end, she gets a taste of her own medicine when Franz becomes nothing short of a mirror image of her own betrayal and selfishness.

In a film where the main characters aren't the most likable, the actors have to really rise to the top and make the characters really interesting. Farley Granger is good as the cunning and charming Franz. But the film is carried by Alida Valli. She made me believe Livia's attraction toward Franz. Yes she is exaggerated in some of her expressions, but it fits perfectly with the melodramatic tone of the film. 'Senso' wouldn't completely work without Alida Valli's brilliantly emotive performance.

'Senso' is a lavish, sprawling, epic romance with a political subtext. It is a very well made, well acted and thematically deep film that I'd most certainly recommend.
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Fort Apache (1948)
8/10
A nuanced Western !!!
7 November 2017
I think I had read/heard somewhere that John Ford's favourite things to capture on camera were a man riding a horse and a couple dancing to music. These two things are present in abundance in 'Fort Apache'. There is a rhythmic similarity between the dance scenes and the horse riding scenes which maybe because of Ford's use of Richard Hageman's beautiful music. The film has absolutely breathtaking visuals when it comes to the outdoor scenes. When it comes to capturing the sight of a man riding a horse in the wide expansive desert of Monument Valley, John Ford is second to none. The moving camera capturing the running horses in this film, just like the case was in 'Stagecoach' is a sight to behold. Ford makes the white American cavalry officers look tiny and minute in this wide landscape which serves a thematic purpose similar to the opening shot of Werner Herzog's 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God' - it shows that these officers are completely out of their elements and somewhat insignificant in terms of having any effect in resolving the disputes against the Native Americans. When it comes to some films from this era of American cinema, especially the Westerns, I've come to realise that the viewer will have to expect some problematic racial politics. The portrayal and overt vilification of Native Americans in many of these films is tough to digest while watching them in the 21st century. But interestingly 'Fort Apache' actually is comparatively far more progressive than some of the other Westerns of this era that I have seen. I'm not saying it doesn't involve some questionable racial content, but at the same time it subverts a number of tropes and conventions. The Apaches are shown to be dangerous, but at the same time honorable people who have a code and a sense of morality. But for me the more significant surprise was the portrayal of Lt. Col. Owen Thursday played by Henry Fonda. At first it seems as if Thursday will be made to look like the honorable, hard and badass soldier. But over the course of the film, Ford, screenwriter Frank Nugent and Fonda deliberately make the Thursday more and more unlikable. He falls prey to his bloated ego, his foolish ignorance as well as a rigid and inflexible subservience to the established rules. For a film released in 1948, to show a U.S. Government officer being an absolute jerk and be far less honorable and trustworthy than the Apaches. Fonda is really good as Thursday. But I think John Wayne has to be given a mention too for giving a grounded and emotive performance as Capt. Kirby York who pretty much remains the voice of reason and empathy. I especially loved the ending to the film which(again acted brilliantly by Wayne) is rich with sarcasm. On one hand due to the upbeat music, it might lead one to think that it is supposed to be a patriotic ending honoring the army. But if Wayne's performance in the scene as well as the writing is examined closely, I think it becomes clear that the ending to the film is pro-soldiers instead of pro-army. The ending underlines how myths and legends can be perpetuated by pigments of fiction and convenient, 'necessary' lies.
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8/10
The inhumanity of War !!!
7 November 2017
One of the many characteristic aspects of Kubrick's cinema is the deliberate lack of humanity and intimacy. He made it a point to keep the viewer at a distance from the characters and the circumstances. 'Full Metal Jacket' is divided into two specific parts. The first part involving the basic training in the boot camp, benefits immensely from Kubrick's emotionally distant filmmaking. This first part is a brilliantly directed, shot and acted satire on the dehumanisation of young boys in the army. We see the innocent and honorable masculinity of these boys who want to do themselves, their families and their country proud, get replaced by toxic masculinity which involves killing your identity and your humanity, equating the lust for sex with the lust for violence, keeping all your emotions suppressed and in the end becoming ultra-aggressive, remorseless, animalistic killers. R. Lee Ermey pretty much single-handedly carries this first part of the film through sheer verbal aggression. The character of Sergeant Hartman played by Ermey is pretty much the devil just like the character of Terence Fletcher played by J. K. Simmons in 'Whiplash'. Just like great satire, there are numerous sequences and moments in this part where the audience will feel like laughing and then within a few seconds feel disturbed and disgusted for laughing at something terrible and reprehensible.

While Kubrick's emotionally distant filmmaking is beneficial to the first part of the film, it actually to some extent becomes a weakness in the second part. In the second part, we move to Vietnam where we see the soldiers having to execute everything that they learnt in boot camp, at the real battlefield. Now there certainly are moments in this second half that I love like the sequence of the talking head interviews of the soldiers which further underline how pointless this war was and how clueless even the soldiers were about their missions and the general purpose of their temporary existence in Vietnam. I also especially loved the extended situational set- piece that the film ends with as it provides a devastating and perhaps a sorrowful conclusion to the arc of the character of Sergeant Joker played by Matthew Modine who for the major part of the film remains the voice of reason, logic and humanity. However apart from these aforementioned scenes, this second half of 'Full Metal Jacket' lacks a sense of cohesion. It feels like a random collection of vignettes, some of which aren't very interesting. The reason why some of the vignettes seem uninteresting is Kubrick's refusal to allow us into the mental state of the characters that are introduced in the second half or give us any insight into their psyches apart from some surface level behavioral tendencies. There are many scenes where we see the soldiers talk to each other and spend time together, but those scenes rang hollow to me and felt somewhat forced and artificial. This inability to completely appreciate the second half of the film on my part could be completely subjective. Since I loved the first half so much, maybe the change in setting and tone that takes place was always going to make it tough for the second half to measure up when compared to the first.

Technically 'Full Metal Jacket' isn't as showy and attention grabbing as some of Kubrick's other films, however it still retains a lot of his characteristic visual touches like the use of one-point perspective and the use of steadicam,etc. The urban, ground level combat scenes are very well staged and directed. The production design has to be admired a lot for those scenes too. From an acting standpoint, I have already mentioned R. Lee Ermey for his brilliant performance. I think Matthew Modine and Vincent D'Onofrio deserve special mentions too for coming up with contrasting, yet equally compelling performances respectively.

In conclusion, I'll say 'Full Metal Jacket' doesn't quite achieve greatness due to the flawed second half of the film. But it's still an exceptionally good movie that comes close to greatness due to the incredibly brilliant first half which I think is as good and as powerful as anything Kubrick has ever done in a visceral scene. It's a film that can be directly connected to 'Paths of Glory' and 'Dr. Strangelove' in terms of Kubrick's criticism of institutional authority, dogmatic patriotism and toxic masculinity. It's most certainly worth recommending.
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Close-Up (1990)
9/10
Art Imitating Life !!!
7 November 2017
'Close-Up' on a technical level is docufiction where the distinction between what's real and what's fiction gets blurred constantly. But on a broader thematic level, I think it is a film that showcases the power and the magic of Cinema as a medium of art. It shows how cinema can inspire a nobody and give him/her a sense of joy, identity, catharsis and a relief from their tough unrelenting life. Hossain is a nobody. He is a poor working class fellow who finds it very difficult to make ends meet and lead a fulfilling life. He is constantly plagued by financial and existential inadequacy. But cinema gives him joy. He says Makhmalbaf's 'The Cyclist' is a 'part of him'. Seeing Makhmalbaf capture the grief and pain that he says lives with everyday, on screen gives him a cathartic experience whenever he watches the films of his favorite filmmaker. This is why when the chance encounter of him meeting Mrs. Ahankhahs takes place, he decides to impersonate his hero Mohsen Makhmalbaf. This impersonation of Mohsen Makhmalbaf also represents something else apart from Hossain's love and unconditional admiration for Makhmalbaf. What it clearly represents and is verbalised later by Hossain himself in the court is his need for respect, importance and a sense of control. In this way Kiarostami is probably making a meta statement about how filmmaking to a great extent is about control and importance. A person who wants to be a filmmaker is actually someone who wants to show the viewer the world from his/her perspective which inherently involves a position of control, respect and importance. Being treated with respect and dignity by the Ahankhah family gave Hossain a sense of fulfillment which is why he decided to persist with the act. He created his own world of make- believe to escape his tough real life. 'Close-Up' is a meta therapy session for Hossain. Kiarostami gives Hossain exactly what he craves which is attention and respect. Through his docufiction film, he allows Hossain to tell his story on celluloid and allows him to see himself on screen instead of having to be content with finding similarities between himself and the characters on screen. The ending is especially sweet. Hossain meets the real Mohsen Makhmalbaf and starts to cry. The very last shot of the film is especially profound - instead of the grainy documentary-esque photography, we get a gorgeously lit close-up of Hossain's side profile with the roses to the right of the frame - a visual cue to denote that the film was a tribute to the man on screen.

P.S. - the moment where Kiarostami devotes a minute or so just to watch a can rolling down the street is one of those visual moments of cinematic profundity that will stay with me.
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Meantime (1983 TV Movie)
9/10
Life in an environment of Stagnation !!!
7 November 2017
'Meantime' offers one of the most honest depictions of suffocating domesticity. This is a languidly paced slice-of-life film where Mike Leigh leaves no stone unturned to give us a raw representation of financial hopelessness and social disenchantment in Margaret Thatcher's England. The film mostly follows the members of the Pollocks, a working class London family who live in a state of perennial stagnation. Everyone is unemployed and the whole family has no option but to survive on the weekly dole provided by the government. The members of the family namely Frank, Mavia and the brothers Mark & Colin do very little apart from sitting on the sofas of their cramped apartment and watching television. Leigh takes his time to capture the disillusionment, the constant sense of internal humiliation and jealousy that exists in this household. Once we leave the apartment, Leigh introduces us to a few other characters like the idiosyncratic skinhead Coxy, the really shy neighbourhood girl Hayley(whom Colin crushes over) and of course the John & Barbara who are related to the Pollocks by way of Barbara being Mavia's sister.

Leigh enriches the film by giving each of the characters in the film their own unique traits and behavioral tendencies which only add to the raw grounded realism. There is a clear indication of clash between classes in the very opening scene where the viewer can feel the tension caused by the jealousy of Frank and Mavia for having to spend time in the suburban home of John and Barbara who at times inadvertently make Frank and Mavia conscious of the financial contrasts between the two families. There is also a scene involving Coxy and a black man in an elevator which is filled to the brim with racially charged tension. But in an overall sense Leigh is trying to convey that when society as a whole goes through a period of cultural decadence and economic stagnation, the class struggles and racial tension is a possible eventuality.

From a visual standpoint, Leigh makes the apartment rooms look as cramped up, restrictive and claustrophobic as possible. He extensively uses close-ups of characters' faces in pretty much every scene to capture reactions. The visual style is a deliberate attempt to complement and convey the sense of entrapment experienced by the characters. The acting as expected is very naturalistic. Tim Roth deserves special mention for expertly portraying the character of the 'slow' Colin. He conveys a lot without words, with the help of his expressive eyes.

'Meantime' can seem a little too dour and depressing for some viewers. But just like the Italian neo-realist films of the 40s and 50s, this is a film that has one solitary intention which is to capture the essence and spirit of an ailing contemporary society with very little hope. It showcases the effects of the all- encompassing forces of poverty and cultural aimlessness. It's not cheery, but it isn't meant to be. It is what it is and I believe it achieves success in being what it is.
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Christine (2016)
7/10
A disturbing-cum-sad biopic !!!
7 November 2017
There is a scene in 'Christine' where Christine Chubbuck's boss Michael at the news station shows her a news segment of a rival news network revolving around fat people. In response, she voiced her refusal to get involved with anything like that because to her, it's 'exploitative'. This is ironic because whenever there's a film about a tragedy that happened to real life ordinary characters in the past, there is always the risk that the film might veer into exploitative territories. Thankfully, 'Christine' stays respectful to its central character. I don't know much about the real Christine Chubbuck, so I can only comment on the Christine Chubbuck that is presented in the film. The Christine in the film feels like a real, complicated and three-dimensional character. She is clearly flawed, but the director remains sensitive in his treatment of her in the film.

The period setting of 1970s America plays a thematic and contextual role in the film. This is post-Watergate America, one can sense the desperation, cynicism and the restlessness of the era. One can also feel that Christine Chubbuck is a woman of the new age who believes in the Feminist movement and the Women's Liberation movement. She is presented as a character who is on one hand plagued by acute loneliness, but one the other hand it is suggested that she is someone who deliberately blocks people out of her lives and doesn't open up to anyone. This resistance to having a meaningful connection with others or her inability to open up to anyone properly could be down to the fact that as a strong independent feminist woman working in the male dominated industry of journalism, she feels voicing her insecurities and making herself look vulnerable will make her look weak. The film does well to show how the confluence of a number of factors like loneliness, a frictional relationship with your parents, a directionless job,etc. can lead to an inescapable feeling of depression. Rebecca Hall pretty much single-handedly carries the film. It's a comprehensive performance where she uses her physicality, her eyes, her voice and everything at her disposal to create this complicated character on screen.

But the film gets hampered a bit due to some of the writing. There are scenes where the dialogue becomes far too flowery which contradicts the matter-of-fact like dialogue of the other scenes. There are directorial choices here and there which also felt too heavy-handed. An example of this will be the very first scene of the film where we see a big carton with the word 'FRAGILE' written on it being inserted in the room at the background while we see Christine in the foreground.

It's not a perfect film, but at least the director gets tricky job of the treatment of his central character right.
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Wonder Woman (2017)
7/10
First genuinely solid film in the DCEU !!!
7 November 2017
Let me state the things that I liked first:

1. Although the film uses tropes and conventions that come with the territory of superhero films, it still manages to make them feel fresh, funny and enjoyable especially because much of the film involves Diana becoming accustomed and familiar with the world of human beings which is highly different to her world which belongs to Amazonian Gods. The fish out of water element of the narrative helps in downplaying the standards tropes and freshening them up.

2. The film has a very refreshing humanistic soul. Just like the protagonist, the film exudes an innocent sense of optimism and belief that is genuinely moving.

3. One has to admire what it stands for and what it will do in terms of inspiring countless young girls(and boys) and stand as an example to show that a female led big budget superhero film won't always be an 'Elektra' or a 'Catwoman'.

4. The DC cinematic universe, as is clear by now, will continue to deal with stuff like gods, myths, legends, etc. But thankfully unlike 'Batman v Superman' where there was a constant attempt to make a silly, convoluted fight between two gorillas wearing circus costumes seem Biblical, profound and 'important' with Lex Luthor constantly spouting pretentious, pseudo-intellectual gibberish revolving around theology, 'Wonder Woman' at least decides to have fun with this stuff by subverting these elements for the most part.

5. Director Patty Jenkins clearly has an eye for visuals that have a flair to them. There are so many shots and sequences in the film that are rich with energy and personality. She makes use of Gal Gadot's physicality to give us a superhero who genuinely looks distinctive and enigmatic. The No Man's Land sequence is a great example of bravura filmmaking.

6. Gal Gadot isn't giving the deepest, most complicated performance ever, but Jenkins plays to Gadot's strengths and managed to make her look as good as possible and the very aspect of the Amazonians being somewhat literal organisms ends up making Gal Gadot's stiffness in many scenes along with her somewhat one dimensional line delivery seem understandable and maybe even warranted. Chris Pine is really good and his chemistry with Gal Gadot is one of the strongest things in the film.

Now let's talk about the things that I didn't like:

1. The CGI isn't very good or convincing in many scenes. There are extended sequences where the green screens become easily discernible from a visual standpoint.

2. Patty Jenkins unfortunately resorts to the Zack Snyder school of slow motion abuse constantly during the action scenes. I have always felt that overusing slow motion during combat sequences only lessens the impact and appeal of these scenes.

3. The reveal when it comes to the real villain can be seen coming from a distance. It just lacks the impact and surprise that it aspires to achieve.

4. The majority of the final act disappointingly reverts back to a live-action video game spectacle just like 'Man of Steel' did in its final act. This prolonged badly choreographed CGI fest which the film ends with somewhat betrays all the good work that preceded it.

'Wonder Woman' is flawed, but it's still a good, inspirational and enjoyable film with a good heart. I like the fact that it did unexpectedly well at the box-office because of everything that it stands for. It's not the greatest film you'll ever see, but compared to the previous outings in the DCEU like the disappointing 'Man of Steel', the pretentious and bloated 'Batman v Superman' and the laughable mess 'Suicide Squad', 'Wonder Woman' feels like a much needed breath of fresh air.
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Room 237 (I) (2012)
6/10
Unique Documentary !!!
7 November 2017
'Room 237' is an intriguing watch. Not because the theories and claims are convincing or anything. As a matter of fact pretty much every theory/claim presented in the documentary is nothing short of ludicrous or astronomically far-fetched. However, the film fascinated on some level because it is a representation of unrestricted obsession. These are people who have pretty much dedicated their lives to 'solving' the hidden meanings in one particular film. I believe one of the greatest potential evils that a human being can encounter is apathy. 'Room 237' on some level is a statement against apathy which I can't help but admire.
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The Shining (1980)
9/10
Kubrick does Horror !!!
7 November 2017
Kubrick was exceptional at making every film that he made feel like a 'Kubrick film' irrespective of what the source material might be. 'The Shining' is a Kubrick film through and through even though it is based on a Stephen King novel, who himself has a singular, unique voice. Visually, the film has all the Kubrickian elements like the use of wide angle lenses, the use of deep focus, the use of one point perspective, the extensive use of tracking shots, characters doing the Kubrick stare, precise use of the zoom, etc. Particularly the score in the film By Wendy Carlos is just phenomenal. The music and the score is essential and indispensable in creating the dread that Kubrick is looking for. But tonally too, the film has Kubrick written all over it, since unlike King's novel, the movie is relentlessly inhuman and pessimistic.

In the book, Jack Torrance is a recovering alcoholic who genuinely loves his family, but ends up falling prey to the lure of the evil that is the Overlook Hotel. But there certainly is a humanity to him. In Kubrick's film, Jack Torrance never comes across as anything other than an unsettling character. Casting Jack Nicholson for this role had to have been a specific choice. Jack Torrance in the film is a creepy, unlikable man who seems like someone who was always on the verge of slipping into complete madness and the foreboding isolation of the Overlook Hotel only acts as a catalyst in that process.

While the novel has clear supernatural mystical elements, the film retains a sense of ambiguity throughout its running time. Kubrick constantly juggles elements of the supernatural with the question that maybe all this happening in the minds of the characters and maybe, just maybe, we are watching the events from the POV of unreliable narrators.

'The Shining' is a horror film, but not in the sense that it is very scary. I don't think the film is very scary, at least not in the conventional sense of the term. I think 'The Shining' is an example of film that expertly uses a bone chilling sense of dread along with visceral imagery to unsettle and disturb the viewer instead of merely scaring him/her. The film opens up its scope towards the end and especially with the last shot to suggest the historical and cyclical nature of violence, evil and human vileness which is quintessential Kubrick, but at the heart of it, 'The Shining' is a story about a family with a deeply flawed masculine figure with a death wish. His violence against his wife and his child is unsettling because it's the kind of horror that is too real and too familiar in our world.
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L'Avventura (1960)
7/10
Antoniennui !!!
7 November 2017
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Italian economy had already started stabilising and moving away from the devastating consequences of WWII. The stabilisation and subsequent economic growth took place through rapid and widespread industrialisation. One can also clearly notice a shift in the sensibilities in the Italian films which were made during these years by acclaimed filmmakers like Antonioni, Fellini, Ermanno Olmi, etc. Their films shifted away from the concerns of neorealist films of the 1940s and early 50s. In this context, it is very interesting to note the dissimilarities between a typical Italian neorealist film and a post-neorealist film like 'L'Avventura'. While Neorealism dealt with the economic fallout of WWII, 'L'Avventura' deals with a sense of disillusionment in the midst of rapid industrialisation(the very first line of dialogue revolves around how the natural woods are being being replaced by houses). While Neorealism focused on the poor working class Italians, 'L'Avventura' focuses on the privileged upper class or the bourgeois section of the Italian society.

From a technical standpoint, it has to be said that 'L'Avventura' is exquisitely shot. The camera movements and numerous tracking shots are executed with a distinct sophistication and methodical precision. There are a lot of complex frame compositions that take place in the interior scenes which scream perfectionism on the part of Antonioni. The overall tone for the film is one of extreme austerity. This austerity and lack of humanity to the film is clearly meant to represent the supposed lack of humanity in the midst of mindless industrialisation and consumerism. I think one thing that the viewer has to assume in order to buy into the film's plot and story elements is that the film takes place in Antonioni's own world which is a little different to the real world. This is because accepting the reaction of some of the characters to certain occurrences in the film will involve a certain amount of the suspension of disbelief.

The problem I had with 'L'Avventura' is that after a while, the relentless austerity started to get a little unbearable and tough to be receptive to. It's interesting because I know the austerity is absolutely deliberate and it's intended to epitomise the ennui that the characters get afflicted by along with Antonioni's own idea of the blandness and aimlessness of life in contemporary industrialised Italy of the early 60s. The first hour of the film is absolutely spectacular and rich with abstract existentialist intrigue. But once the group leaves the island and we re-enter civilisation, the film gets progressively less intriguing for me. I generally don't get negatively affected by the austerity of Kubrick or Bergman. But the second half of this film really started to progressively weigh me down.

I don't think any acting performance in the film is particularly special. But of course Monica Vitti offers vulnerability and a sensitive touch to her character and she is the only one that the viewer can find any reason to sympathise with. But to be honest, it is clear that Antonioni is in no mood to make any character singularly likable.

Overall 'L'Avventura' is a film that clearly shows a master at work who clearly has a visual flair and a philosophical voice. But the austerity and lack of humanity in the film makes it tough to rewatch and revisit too often.
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La Dolce Vita (1960)
7/10
Fellini's 'Divine Comedy' !!!
7 November 2017
'La Dolce Vita' is a film which very noticeably showcases Fellini's transition from his neo-realist roots to the outrageously surrealist style of filmmaking which became his quintessential style later labeled with the word 'Felliniesque'. This is a really, really interesting film. 'Interesting' in the way that although I absolutely understand its appeal, its richness and its philosophical depth, but I can't help but feel a sense of emotional detachment and sense of boredom every time I watch the film. The funny thing is, the emotional detachment is very much deliberate because Fellini clearly wants the viewer to be kept at a distance reflecting Marcello's constant sense of alienation from his surroundings.

I read somewhere once (which I agree with) that 'La Dolce Vita' is a reverse retelling of Dante's 'Divine Comedy' since in this case, the protagonist makes the journey from heaven to hell in the thematic sense as is very overtly symbolised in the opening as well as the ending scenes which act as mirror images to each other in the way they both use Christian imagery as well as a gap in communication(in the opening scene Marcello can't be heard, while in the closing scene it is Marcello who can't hear someone else's words). 'La Dolce Vita' uses such Christian imagery and thematic expressions to reflect the hollow state of existence in the midst of the rampant consumerism and materialism during the economic boom of urban Italy during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The superficiality of the shallow life in urban Italy at the time is very explicitly depicted in the film, again very overtly symbolised by the constant presence of the paparazzi that suffocates most scenes. It is a film that clearly makes fun of the aristocratic class as well as the upper elites and socialites with the ridiculous loudness and extravagance, but every little vignette in the film also includes moments of silence which juxtapose the over-the- top loudness. It is in these moments of silence that Fellini spells out the loneliness and pointlessness of their lives. The central character of Marcello is a tabloid journalist who is leading his life in the most passive manner possible. He is constantly on the search for something or someone(Steiner or the women) that will show him that secret happiness and sense of fulfillment. But unfortunately that secret, that magical spiritual connection constantly eludes him throughout the film. The cinematography is absolutely spectacular. The black & white visuals are incredibly vibrant, the use of lighting is absolutely meticulous and the frame compositions are extremely visually appealing. Marcello Mastroianni's performance is brilliant as he perfectly captures the passive nature of his character with spurts of emotions from time to time. What keeps me from completely embracing the film is what I have already mentioned is actually deliberate. 'La Dolce Vita' deliberately uses excess. The debauchery goes on an on, one segment after another. Just like Scorsese does in 'The Wolf of Wall Street', Fellini uses decadence, excess and debauchery in a very repetitive, almost oppressive and unsubtle way. Now even though I can understand what it signifies and I can also understand why the 7 day sequence might have been essential in the narrative if the 'Divine Comedy' structure was being rigidly implemented, but every time I watch 'La Dolce Vita', I can't help but feel a little bored by the monotony of the circus- like visuals and the 3 hour length of the film adds to the overbearing boredom.
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4/10
Having sex = Being hacked to death !!!
7 November 2017
To call the characters paper thin will be an understatement. They are just meant to be in the film to get killed off one by one. I could go crazy with my interpretive brain and propose that film is trying to explore the friction between the conflicting ideologies of conservatism and the sexual liberation movement that gained strength during the 1960s and 1970s. But in reality, the film just isn't deep enough to be thought of along those lines. In reality, there is no subtext. The ultimate revelation is abrupt which ruins the credibility of everything that happens before, and the final combat scenes are downright laughable. One can easily feel that both the director Sean S. Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Miller were huge Hitchcock fans. In terms of writing, the ultimate revelation owes a heavy debt to 'Psycho'. The only thing that I genuinely liked about the film was Cunningham's visual style which again owes a heavy debt to Hitchcock. The camera acts as a voyeur. There are some scenes in which it almost feels like we are watching everything from an anonymous individual's POV. I especially liked the way Cunningham used extended long takes in certain scenes to build up tension. He constantly delays the prospect of any character confronting a dead body in the film. But when it does happen, it is done with a really well executed setup and I found that whole sequence impressive. Talking about Hitchcock, the score that accompanies the scenes of terror and murder in 'Friday the 13th' is basically a rip-off of Bernard Herrmann's 'The Murder' score from 'Psycho'.

'Friday the 13th' is not deep nor is it trying to be. The characters are a bunch of nobodies. The ultimate revelation and combat scene is laughable. But I'll be lying if I say I didn't somewhat like the direction and the use of camera movements in the film.
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9/10
Deconstructing the Western !!!
7 November 2017
Right from the first shot of 'McCabe & Mrs. Miller', Robert Altman leaves no stone unturned to subvert, toy with and deconstruct every trope of the conventional Western. Warren Beatty's Mccabe turns up in a town as the mysterious stranger. He has the reputation of being a gunslinger. But unlike, the badass characters of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood of past Westerns, Mccabe is revealed to the viewer to be a bit of an insecure schmuck. Altman shakes up the gender politics by making Julie Christie's character of Mrs. Miller(Constance) a strong, independent woman who is clearly intellectually superior to Mccabe. She is the main reason why Mccabe achieved success as a businessman in the town of Presbyterian Church. The relationship between Mccabe and Constance throughout the film remains professional. Even though there are moments where the viewer can sense a bit of affection simmering beneath the surface in the way they behave with each other and talk to each other, but they never allow the professional wall standing between them to get breached(especially Constance) which mirrors the cutthroat nature of the surroundings and time. The film is also a commentary on capitalism and a deconstruction of the individualism which is exhibited by the lead characters of the classic Western. It offers a fatalistic attitude on the inevitable future that awaits anyone who refuses to sell out or assert his/her independence in a cutthroat economy. However the ending also offers a socialist and hopeful attitude to the strength and power of a community when everyone collectively put their forces together to achieve something. The entire ending can again be seen as a subversion of the ending to 'High Noon'.

What enriches the film is the way Altman and his cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond capture the Pacific Northwest and simulate the feel, the visual essence and atmosphere of the Old West. The flashing technique used on the print gives the visuals a very hazy, murky look which is so perfect to underline the gritty, dirty nature of the surroundings. This is a town where civilisation in its conventional form is still nothing but a distant echo. The dynamics between the church, the small time capitalists, the general public and the oncoming industrial progress(the steam engine is used as an overt symbol of progress) is really fascinating. Altman uses his characteristic technique of overlapping dialogue to create the Renoir-esque inclusive style to simulate and properly conjure up the feel of a community. All the supporting characters of the town look, sound and feel authentic. The interior scenes of the renovated brothel stand out from the rest of the film due to the beautiful reddish hue/glow that can be found ornamenting the scenes. Leonard Cohen's beautiful songs lend an air of appropriate melancholy to the Altman's atmosphere.

Warren Beatty is brilliant. He is not playing the quintessential hard man in a Western. He beautifully sells the insecurity, the vulnerability and tentativeness of Mccabe. On the other hand, Julie Christie plays the character of Constance Miller with a sense of gravitas and steely conviction. The dynamics between these two characters plays out brilliantly.

Highly Recommended.
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Bottle Rocket (1996)
6/10
Anderson's debut !!!
7 November 2017
'Bottle Rocket' was Wes Anderson's first feature film and one can clearly see the rough, unpolished edges in this film which is somewhat expected from a first-time filmmaker. Although one can understand that the characters in the film are a bunch of individuals who are constantly plagued by a nagging feeling of inadequacy and insecurity. They are a bunch of suburban man-children who at the back of their minds are conscious of their immaturity, but at the same time, they are also reluctant to consciously make an effort to trigger any sort of growth in a mature way. Instead they think of silly and potentially self-destructive ways to find entertainment and meaning in their lives. But the problem is, the Anderson's treatment of these characters never really go beyond a broad, superficial level. The film doesn't explore or give enough information about their past to backup their character motivations in the film. Their is a romance sub-plot added involving Luke Wilson's character Anthony and a housekeeper of the motel that Anthony, Dignan and Bob were staying in, and unfortunately it feels really rushed and the romance never really goes anywhere.

Anderson's style of storytelling wasn't yet as quirky and unique in 'Bottle Rocket' as it became later on. Yes there are elements like the use of slow motion, the use of music and certain visual idiosyncrasies that connects it with the subsequent films in Anderson's body of work. But for the most part, the direction and storytelling in 'Bottle Rocket' remains somewhat conventional.

However, have said all that, the film still wasn't a disappointment. This is because the presence of truly witty and enjoyable humour, to some extent makes up for the lack of character depth. The subversive set-pieces, the understated dryly funny dialogue and the comic timing in the acting performances really made the film entertaining.

I don't think the film is deep enough for viewers looking for a very dense, layered character piece. But just on a superficial level, there is quite a bit of fun that can be had with it due to the inherent comedy in it. Recommended.
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Weird Science (1985)
2/10
One of those 'Hasn't Aged Well' films !!!
7 November 2017
All the other John Hughes films I have seen are really touching coming-of-age tales that humanise characters who might initially seem like stereotypical caricatures. This is the reason why 'Weird Science' feels like such an aberration. This film has the 80s written all over it, but unlike other Hughes' films, in a bad way. If one tries to count the number of times there is a scene or a line of dialogue that looks/sounds offensive, he/she will lose count by the 30 minute mark. It's one thing for a movie to be about a character who is offensive, but its quite another when the movie itself starts reveling in the offensive content. One of many examples of the film reveling in its vulgar content is the scene where a random pianist girl gets unnecessarily stripped naked by the blowing wind and the scene gets played out for comedic effect and it reeks of puerile crassness. The interesting thing is that offensive jokes can still be funny, but unfortunately other than a few scenes featuring Bill Paxton, the film completely failed at making me laugh.

I think the ultimate message that this film gives and the realisation that the two protagonists arrive at is not that bad. But the route it takes to drive home that message is highly offensive, misogynistic and questionable. Bill Paxton's performance as Chet is the one saving grace that the film offers. He makes every second of his guest appearance worth it. But unfortunately apart from him, there isn't much here to look forward to.
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Night and Fog (1956)
10/10
Essential Viewing !!!
7 November 2017
Human beings are capable of angelic deeds. But at the same time they are also capable of actions that can only be described as demonic. Alan Resnais with his powerful(that's an understatement) documentary underlines this dark side of humanity. As an Indian man living in the 21st century, my conception of the horrors of WWII and the holocaust is solely restricted to books and the films based on the events. Although I have seen a lot of WWII movie and some of them genuinely are masterpieces, one can't help but sense some fabrication and sensationalism which is inevitable as a filmmaker has to have the cinematic medium in mind. 'Night and Fog' however completely avoids any temptation of sensationalism and presents the horrors of the war in the most raw fashion giving the whole thing an air of tangibility. I think a viewer's reaction to 'Night and Fog' goes through three stages:

1. One will feel angry both during the documentary and after its conclusion because of the explicit manner in which we see the consequences of unreasonable hatred and such a reaction is completely valid and understandable.

2. One will feel an extreme sense of humility flow through every inch of his/her body and acknowledge their luck and privilege for not having to face the violence and the wrath of the Nazis.

3. Hopefully the last stage will be that of acceptance and a personal pledge to never get seduced by or tolerate unreasonable hatred so that we all can do our best to ensure the world never has to witness another holocaust ever again.

P.S. - I did wrestle with the question of whether assigning a star rating to a film like this trivialises its contents. But in the end I decided to stick with my 10 star rating as a symbol of my own personal respect for the film.
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Maniac (1980)
4/10
Generic Exploitation film
7 November 2017
So you're telling a ravishingly beautiful woman like Caroline Munro within a few minutes would be itching and desperate to go out on a date with a random, exceptionally ordinary looking man like Joe Spinell after he turns up on her doorstep? Yeah ... right.

I'm not saying the film doesn't have a few well setup and directed moments which are impressive, but in an overall sense, 'Maniac' doesn't really transcend its trashy, exploitation film roots even though it tries to do so.
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Kwaidan (1964)
8/10
Creepy !!!
7 November 2017
Prior to 'Kwaidan', the only other Kobayashi films that I had seen are the masterpiece 'Harakiri' and the really good 'Samurai Rebellion'. Both these films had a very tangible anti-establishment vibe to them with a strong criticism of the rigid Japanese social structure. 'Kwaidan' on the other hand is very different. This is an anthology comprising of four Japanese supernatural folktales.

Unlike the social commentary in his other films, 'Kwaidan' is more of an exercise in style. Not that the other films weren't stylish, but the formal elements in 'Kwaidan' are much more prominent. Every frame of the film has a sense of meticulousness. There is a surgical precision with which Kobayashi uses the camera movements, the lighting and the colour palette which very much reminded me of similar beautiful images in the films of Zhang Yimou. There is a clear attempt made to make the frames of the film resemble the medieval Japanese narrative scrolls as all the stories in the film involve the thematic element of the past making its presence felt in the present. The use of sound and music has to be particularly admired, because the sound design constantly breaks conventions of simulating realism and thereby helps the film to drift away from the realms of realism and shift to the realms of mysticism/spiritualism.

Since, 'Kwaidan' is an anthology of short stories, it lacks the character development and emotional resonance that Harakiri achieves so devastatingly. But despite that, I think the sheer sensual beauty of 'Kwaidan' makes it an essential watch. This is a visual tour de force.
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10/10
Transcendent Love !!!
7 November 2017
We've seen various riffs on Hitchcock's 'Rear Window' since the release of the said masterpiece in 1954. We've seen Brian De Palma dive further into the voyeuristic core of 'Rear Window' and double down on the sleaziness to show us the dark underbelly of the show business lifestyle in Los Angeles in 'Body Double'. We've seen 'Disturbia' which was a bit of remake of 'Rear Window' specifically made mainly with the teenage/young adult demographic in mind. But in my opinion, out of all the films made subsequently that play around with the inherent 'peeping tom' gimmick of 'Rear Window', the only one(out of the ones I've seen) that distinguishes itself and deserves to be called a 'masterpiece' in its own right is Kieślowski's 'A Short Film About Love'.

The shortened version of the film was used for Episode 6 for the epic mini-series 'Dekalog'. In my opinion both the shortened version as well as this longer film version have their own distinct personalities. The film works as a subversion of conventions as well as a deep exploration of the abstract concept of 'love'. It is a subversion of conventions, because we see an immensely sensitive depiction of a young man who is a primarily a peeping tom, and he spends his time secretly watching an attractive older woman who lives in the opposite apartment, which is inherently creepy. But the twist is that Tomek doesn't do it for sexual stimulation, he does it because watching this woman(Magda) go about her mundane daily routine gives him a different form of stimulation which he describes as 'love'. Once the central surface element of the peeping goes out of the way in the narrative, in the 2nd half of the film, Kieślowski doubles down on the concept of 'love' and starts asking questions through the two central characters Tomek and Magda. Does 'love' have a place to exist in the modern world or is it a thing of the past? Can a romantic connection between two human beings be forged only through sex with eventual orgasms, or is there something beyond the desires of the flesh, something more transcendent? The film also ends up answering these questions or at least Kieślowski gives us a clear indication of his attitude towards the concept of 'love' in his characteristic poetic ways.

As I wrote earlier, there are various moments of poetry or poetic realism in the film that transcend grounded, realistic storytelling. Like the moment where Magda after an argument with one of her lovers spills the milk which Tomek delivered at her doorstep, all over her table as Tomek looks on from his apartment room via the telescope. Or the moment of pure joy after Tomek asks Magda out on a date,etc. With the ending, Kieślowski goes beyond poetic realism and ventures into territories of magical realism but without compromising the humane, tender tone of the film. The ending to the film actually is remarkably different to the ending of the shortened episode in 'Dekalog', but they both make the same thematic implication.

The acting from the two central actors Olaf Lubaszenko and Grażyna Szapołowska is nothing short of special. Their individual scenes as well as the scenes that they share together are incredibly rich with subtlety, with pathos and with genuine emotions. Apart from the actors, something else that has to be admired for helping Kieślowski with the film is the beautiful music and score by Zbigniew Preisner which is rich with a sense of melancholic sweetness.

Highly Recommended.
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Session 9 (2001)
8/10
Genuinely Creepy !!!
9 October 2017
'Session 9' is a meticulously crafted and directed horror/psychological thriller film. In a conventional sense, the film isn't really scary. It doesn't have jump scares, there are no ghosts/demons jumping around, there is no mad killer cutting up people and indulging in gore. But what 'Session 9' does have is a constant, inescapable, palpable and bone chilling sense of dread that gets amplified by an absolutely exquisite score as well as great sound mixing. From a thematic standpoint, the film uses generic horror techniques to explore the negative effects of the patriarchal society, not on women, but on men. The film gives us a sensationalised version of the devastating violence that can be the result of the emotional repression of men in a patriarchal society where the stereotypical idolised version of the perfect man involves being hard, emotionally invulnerable and having the ability to handle the burden of being the sole provider of the household without ever having the right to feel stressed out. All the characters that are in the film are struggling with their inner demons. Gordon is stressed with his work and his stress level has been exponentially raised with his newborn daughter along with the financial worries. Phil is struggling with the idea of having to work alongside Hank, the man who stole his girlfriend Amy. Hank himself is no longer in love with Amy and desperately wants a way out of his job which he considers to be dead-end. Mike is struggling with the idea that he is a failure for not passing the bar exam even though his father is a state attorney general. Jeff, the young kid has a fear of the dark which clearly bothers him and he tries to compensate by listening to death metal and trying to look tough. What is interesting is that none of these men make an attempt to verbalise their concerns and have a heart-to- heart conversation with the others. They keep their emotions repressed. Some are capable of handling this repression, but some become ticking time-bombs ready to explode with devastating consequences. The director Brad Anderson himself has revealed that 'The Shining' was a huge influence on him and that becomes very clear while watching 'Session 9'. 'The Shining' utilised the Overlook Hotel, 'Session 9' uses the Danvers State Hospital. Just like Kubrick, Anderson uses the claustrophobia of the interiors brilliantly to build up the creepiness. Just like 'The Shining', there is an ambiguity to 'Session 9'. One can have a supernatural reading of the film and say that all the horrifying things that happen in the film are down to the spirits hovering inside the hospital influencing the mentally vulnerable character(s). On the other hand one can conclude that the wrong-doer in the film had already driven to the brink of depression before starting the work in the hospital and the claustrophobia inside just put him over the edge resulting in madness and violence. In a technical sense I love how Anderson lingers on shots and doesn't feel the need to speed up the pace. There is a lot of creepy imagery which work brilliantly with the sound mixing. There is a subtlety to it. There are very few plot contrivances and the film never really comes close to testing the limits of the viewer's suspension of disbelief. Another Kubrick link can be found in the way Anderson frequently uses the one-point perspective with his tracking shots. The acting is really good from everyone. It's a collective solid performance from the ensemble cast.

'Session 9' is a really really good horror/psychological thriller that really surprised me pleasantly. It's a film that is somewhat obscure and not talked about that often and I think that's a travesty. I can see myself watching this over and over again. Highly Recommended.
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8/10
Survival of the fittest and smartest !!!
9 October 2017
This might be the most stripped down, raw, grounded and realistic portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world I have ever seen in a film. Instead of the glamorised version that is offered in films like the Mad Max series and others, 'The Survivalist' pulls no punches and gives us a very detailed and methodical look into what it requires to survive in a world like this. Unlike the decrepit and broken down representations of post-apocalyptic worlds that are found in other films, the world in 'The Survivalist' looks really beautiful and bountiful. The director Stephen Fingleton categorically juxtaposes the prosperity of nature with the desperation for survival of the characters in the film. It underlines nature's indifference to human suffering reminiscent of Satyajit Ray's 'Distant Thunder'.

What I really liked about 'The Survivalist' is the very very economical use of dialogue. Dialogue is used very very infrequently and so much of the storytelling takes place through visuals. The heavy reliance on visuals, ambient noises and sound effects to convey the protagonist's methodical approach to surviving in this tough, merciless world, really reminded me of J.C. Chandor's 'All Is Lost' starring Robert Redford. But then once the women arrive at his doorstep, the tone changes. After that, we get into an immensely interesting exploration of power dynamics, compromise and collaboration. Fingleton brilliantly confronts us with the central dilemma of the film that plagues the protagonist - whether to rigidly stick to his code for survival or compromise and give in to his needs for physical intimacy after 7 years of living in isolation. I believed and enjoyed the dynamics between the three characters and the cat & mouse game they play between each other to gain supremacy in the power struggle.

Just like a few other post-apocalyptic films like 'The Road' or 'Children of Men', 'The Survivalist' ends on a optimistic note which somewhat comes out of nowhere and can seem like a bit of a cop out. But I can completely understand why Fingleton opted to end the film like that and I also appreciate how that ending ends up glorifying a certain sacrifice that a character makes just before it, but I probably would've loved a brutally realistic ending, more in keeping with the rest of the movie.

The performances from all the three actors playing the central characters, namely Martin McCann, Mia Goth and Olwen Fouéré are all great.

Highly Recommended.
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