Sunday, April 25, 2010

Up in the air

You don't know how empty you are, unless you are filled up once. Its a lesson of life, which takes a while to learn; and often learnt with great grief. And once learnt, leaves you empty - and full - at the same time.

"Up in the Air" is all about how people change as the people in their lives change.

Ryan Bingham travels 270 days a year. He is soon to become only the 7th person ever to clock 10 million air points. His sisters don't get to see him at all. But he loves it all - the air terminals, the hotel rooms, the food at the terminals, the continuous moving around.

He fires people for a living, when employers are too squeamish to do it themselves.

He is smooth, terrific at his heartless job. And famous on the lecture tour for his treatise on how to live off a rucksack ("Your relationships are the heaviest component of your life. Lighten your bag of them. We are not swans, we are sharks. Slower we move, faster we die")

And then he meets his female counterpart - Alex ("I am you with a vagina!") And they find chemistry, and start to re-arrange their crazy travel schedules to meet, and mate.

And then along comes young Harvard graduate, Natalie, out to change how things work in the company Ryan works in. And Ryan is in danger of being set to start operating from the home-town office. No travelling again. Devastation is near. He abhors Natalie. And to add salt to the wounds, he has to show Natalie the way things work out there. And they are up in the air, together.

And, as so very often happens, life is never the same again.

The slickness of the film, the charisma of its actors, their seductions never ever give a hint of what is to follow.

Time and again, in film and life, we have seen the vulnerability of the lonely man. And the disaster which ardour wroughts. Someone who is tough in his job, just ends being clueless and guileless - and tragically, child-like - in matters of the heart.

George Clooney is beautiful, in his smugness, in his desiring and desirability. One realizes how much we miss him as a lover, when he lights up his life, and ours, as he delves into his affair with Vera Farmiga. The essential vacuity of his life stares at him starkly.

And when Anna Kendrick enters his life as Natalie, the essential pain his job causes, starts to show on his face, as he watches Anna do what he has done for aeons, and sees what it does to her, and what it does to him, but doesn't show.

And one sees he was never ever tough.

The film is continuously funny, and insightful.

Natalie is eager, ambitious, in love, but unable to understand a man like Ryan. When he tells her about his ambition to reach 10 million air points, all she says is "Why do men have to pee on everything, and put a name on it?"

When Alex is leaving a tryst, she tells Ryan "Call me when you are lonely." And he stops her and says "I am lonely."

In the end, after he returns to his lone-ranger life, Ryan is all set to start flying again, and as he stands in front of a gigantic flight-detail screen, his shoulders droop. As he gets into the plane, he tells himself that he was back where he loved being, and however bright the city lights below were, his wingtip would always shine brighter.

Alas, we know better.

~ April 25th, 2010

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wake up Sid

Its a nice place to be in.

Not in one's rich pad, but in an attractive friend's apartment. Never to worry about food, even when there is no money. And even if you are lazy, rude to parents, unwilling to commit, there is always a Director-writer to give you a nice internship for your photography talent!

Welcome to the Indolence Paradise of the Rich n Famous.

Sid meanders in a world of tequila and parties and car rides in the night. Since he is sensitive he watches the sea also.

He gets angry when his father wants him to work. And walks out of his home in a huff. He finds a place to stay in, he finds a job, he finds a lover. Period.

Ayan Mukherji, the Director, has obviously grown as a priveleged child. Maybe the biggest trauma in his childhood was when he couldn't order a Dominoes pizza when he wanted to.

The depth of this trauma shows in the superficial silly movie.

Oh there is the gloss, the show, the acting. And one is pleasantly entertained. It makes you feel good. You like the locations, you like the characters. And the music is continuosusly there in the background, pleasant and unmemorial.
Precisely what the film is too.

~ Sunil

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A fevered tale of power-hunger, love and deception given a visceral and gut-wrenching treatment.

A feudal background has beer bars as residences, folk singers as conscience keepers, and student union elections as a metaphor of the Union of India.

Bravura acting, scathing lyrics and a director who doesn't believe in holding back, make for a truly compelling, though often difficult, viewing.

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Revolutionary Road

A searing drama of the angst of daily living, of the desperation to feel special in an ordinary world, and how we are defeated by the very things which we need freedom from.

Kate Winslet is peerless, and her silences steal the show from a garrulous and edgy Leonard de Caprio.

A matchless film on unmatched ambitions.

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The diving bell and the butterfly

Here's a quirky and delightful film, a meditation on the preciousness of life.

A high-flying editor of Elle is suddenly laid off with a rare disease, and in a state of total paralysis, where the only communication he can do is through one eye, he looks back and forward to his life.

Unusually structured, with a large part of the film from the point-of-view of the protoganist, whom you don't even see, the film pulls you into its deepest messages: how a deeply flawed life can also be a life fully lived.

As he looks back into the fancies, foibles and follies of what made his life, we discover how the smallest moments can bring the greatest memories. How wind ruffling the hair, the feel of a child's warm and small body in one's arms, the lush curve of a woman's body, and the sheer beauty of the world we live in, can be enough to sustain a life messily lived.
We ourselves do not know what we mean for ourselves, and to others, until, often, there is no time to say it. Fortunately for us, this film says it.

Totally hypnotic, and deeply moving, the film shows you, how, as you plumb the depths of life - and despair - like a diving bell, you are also getting - and giving others - wings of life, like a butterfly.

~ Sunil Bhandari
January 9, 2010
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2012 is not a Fellini. It could well have been, though. The destruction of the world comes with a destruction inside men also. But there is Ray on the kerb too. For there are humanists amidst humans becoming beasts.

2012 is a big film on a small peg. The Mayan calendar ends in 2012. It is interpreted by many as the end of the world. By this film too. The sun is overheating. So is the earth's crust. And the scene is set for the film's hyper-ventilating.

The little signs are there. The first scene in India, where a small boy's toy boat in a flooded street capsizes in the "tsunami" of a taxi's wake. The small cracks on the pavements in a town in California, over which children play hopscotch, in glee. A cruise ship which rolls ominously, as if by a beast from below.

The world leaders know about the impending end for years, and they make a diabolic plan to bring about survival. But only of a few.

Our hero, a failed author, has a family to save. And his breathless journey towards safety is the film, as everything around collapses, burns or sinks.

It is easy to discredit Hollywood by saying technology overpowers in a big film, and everything is made simplistic to amass the masses.

But the fact remains that no film will ever work without an emotional core. And 2012 also, in its broad strokes, addresses all the major concerns and drivers of a man's decisions of life.

There is selfishness of a Russian mogul. But also the incredible humanity of a Head of State, who refuses to seek safety as his countrymen die. The US President tellingly urges a scientist to leave for safety by saying that one scientist in a new world would be better than 20 politicians. And as everything seems to near anninhilation, there is someone who stands up to remind everyone that a new world could not be built on an act of cruelty, and the moment we stopped fighting for each other would be the moment of the true end.

There is nothing which is subtle, its all spelt out, by characters who are upfront there to say the lines or do the doing. But sometimes that is what is required - a sentence reminding us what defines us as humans and not animals, amidst times when each man is seemingly on his own.

Amidst all the havoc being wrought, there are great scenes of beauty. A flight of birds - almost like a flying of the spirits of all humanity - from the valleys of Yellowstone Park. A Buddhist hermit's mountaintop temple, slowly getting engulfed. The last sight from Mount Big Horn. Vatican City in prayer with the Pope. The ark-decks in deep yellow sunlight.

And then the contrasts. A lama boy's small truck in front of the ultra-modern arks. The generosity of a pilot and the venality of his Russian boss. The immensity of a President's decision and the self-centerdness of his Deputy.

What touches the core is, of course, when the floor beneath the home cracks, the mall in which one shops collapses, and gardens disappear. It is far more compelling than seeing the White House crumbling.

In the most dire of times, there are so many ordinary men who can and do become heroes.

It sometimes does take a Hollywood film, amidst its fireballs, earth-cracks, catacysms and tsunamis, to tell us that.

~ Sunil
Nov 26th, 2009

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Taking of Pelham 123

Who could have thought that one of the sexiest things would be to hear Denzel Washington and John Travolta talk to each other on the phone? After all, they are just two middle-aged men, putting on weight, with one of them an ornery official in the New York Metro heirarchy and the other a man holding 17 Metro travellors hostage.

But there you are.

When things go right in a film where everything is going wrong, its a privilege to peep into what is going on in the hearts and minds of its protoganists.

And straightaway what could just be a thriller gets elevated into a psycho-drama of a cat and a mouse, or maybe, as it transpires, two cats.

The drama of a subway train being taken over for ransom is just a sly bare-bone structure on which the story of the greed of an entire city hinges. If Travolta uses a kidnapping to raise money, in more ways than one, Denzel, the hero, is under investigation for taking a bribe. And the Mayor is one who takes one dollar as his salary but wears the most expensive suits possible. And his greatest regret is he didn't anticipate the collapse in the stock exchange because of the kidnapping, otherwise he could have made some money out of it.

So here is a world where every protoganist is morally compromised, whatever the compulsion.

The action scenes in the entrails of the earth, or up on the roads are well executed and bristle with a fine tension. But the finest scenes are reserved for when the two protoganists clash. The scene where Travolta drives Denzel towards a confession, could well be the most compulsive. And when they finally meet, the screen bristles with what could well be, well, pent- up passion!!

Its easy to compare or/and criticize the previous film with this one. But both are films made in different eras, and this version does well to be inclusive in its recognition of a world which is morally grey, and where that guy carrying a pound of milk home, could be a great father and also a person who has accepted a bribe.

And that is where Taking of Pelham 123 takes your breath away.

~ Sunil
September 7th, 2009
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The Japanese Wife

A gentle school teacher, in hinterland Bengal, makes a pen-pal of a Japanese girl who is a shopkeeper on the outskirts of a Japanese city. Soon, they marry. But not once in their married lives do they meet.

With this wisp of a story, Aparna Sen weaves a film of utmost magic. Capturing the integrity of an almost-impossible relationship, with artistry and lyricism, she gives one of her finest films till date.

Each character is perfectly cast, the music and the editing are at one with the pace and cadences of the story. And the cinematography captures colours and shades with an artist's palette.

Its hard to think of innocence treated without cynicism, in these times of reality television and encouraged skullduggery ("the end is all that matters"). And to do so with a lightness of touch and humour is an even more difficult task.

And as this small gem on love, longing and loneliness draws to a close, one is reminded of the small things which keep people together, however far they may be.

(Out in halls in early April)

~ Sunil Bhandari
March 5, 2010
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Love Sex aur Dhoka

Three unrequited love stories. Two seductions. One fine film.

Cameras are integral to our lives. They are no different from an eye - except that they record, remember perfectly, and allow us to playback. And hence they can become chroniclers, intruders, or spies.

As soon as a camera delves into the privacies of our lives, they catch a rawness of behavior which we are not even aware of.

Dibankar wants to catch those moments - the unplanned, the unmasked, the unhinged.

Three separate stories are told linearly, with touch points in each other. But they are tales on their own - spanning out respectively on a new director's camera, a shop's survelliance camera and finally on a spy cam.

The first part is predictable (couple in love, girl's father the foul-mouthed villian, and all the consequences) but comedic and visceral in its treatment. The final scenes shot in a "nightshot" mode, from the ground level, off-kilter, have a brutal impact.

But it is the second part which holds the film together and gives it its poignant heart. Seamless, beautifully written and immacualtey enacted, it is shot in a shop's survelliance camera. What starts as a seduction to create a MMS, slowly converts into jealous love - and then the circle turns. Truly a gem of story-telling.

The third part, shot as a spy camera for a sting camera, unravells as a sting operation of a compromised to-be-dancer by a famous pop singer. It is a sting story for a reporter and redemption for the girl. What is unexpected is the tenderness between both.

Dipankar writes in the vulnerability of a woman with heart-breaking authencity. And he creates atmosphere with authenticity. The camera is a vital accessory as it heightens the rawness of feelings. The dialogues are rugged, profane and often very funny.

Ah and the infamous sex scene? It is not a turn-on (it wasn't meant to be) and is full of grief as a consequence of its build-up.

And ultimately that is what makes this a fine film. It takes its making into the folds of its story, crazily heightening the tension, laying bare the layers of a man's compulsions, a woman's susceptibility, or the pathetic comedy of a cad.

LSD looks radical, but works so well, because it is truly old-fashioned in fashioning some fine stories.

~ Sunil Bhandari
19th March 2010

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Reese Winterspoon is the vixen, the Red Riding Hood, in this bad-mouthed free-wheeling black-comedy adaptation to the fairy tale. She is feisty, even as the big bad Wolf, a paedophile Keiffer Sutherland, starts to feast on her.

On the run from foster homes, after her drug-addled step-father and hustler mother are put behind bars, she is on the way to her granny. And encounters the Wolf.

Produced by Oliver Stone, this little gem is punchy and violent and menacing and hilarious as it mixes its blood, cusses and energy delightfully. Unmissable.

~ Sunil Bhandari
Feb 23, 2010
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Four weddings and a funeral.

Four weddings and a funeral. And my fourth viewing. And once again I am suffused with goodwill and warmth. Rare is the film which is so perfect. In its characterisation, its dialogues, its sheer incandescence.

Largely episodic, quientiessentially English, its about Hugh Grant and his group of friends, who keep falling in love, moving on, marrying or (in one case) dying.

Set amidst, what else, four weddings and a funeral, it follows the on-and-off-and-on affair Hugh has with the immensely attractive Andie Macdowell. Their togetherness, repartee and chemistry crackles and is one of the reasons the film glows.

But there is much much more to revel in the film. The care in fleshing out characters, where with just a few dialogues and a couple of scenes, a person comes fully alive and makes you care.

A new priest who does his first wedding, with hilarious results; Hugh's heartwarming Best Man speech; Andie's counting off her lovers in a cafe; a girl secretly in love seeing her object of affection go through numerous affairs; the intensely moving speech on the death of a friend (including the deeply-felt Auden's poem "Stop all The Clocks") ....the riches in the film are many.

The writing is immaculate, the direction nuanced and the acting first-rate.

A film to savour again and again.

~ Sunil Bhandari
April 5th, 2010
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Inglorious basterds

At the heart of the film is savagery, bereft of tenderness, brimming with menace.

And Tarantino is THE master of menace. He creates it with consummate ease - he leads you up, he holds your hand gently, and then he let's you fall, nay, hurtle down, like a rollercoaster which only goes down.

He fills his films with an elegantly raw artistry and his own special slow-burning build-up. You could liken it to a long foreplay, or you could call it the tease of a talented sadist.

See how he starts this film. Pretty girls, lush French countryside landscapes, romance in the soundtrack - all these fill your senses. But its not long before you realize all of it is not for the heart or the heart-break; it only exists for the heart-attack.

Tarantino brings his love for interweaving stories and cinema into play. He weaves complexity with relish , and finds World War 2 as happy hunting ground.

As a director, Tarantino brings the amazing out of his actors, time and again - Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Kurt Russell, Darryl Hannah, Luis Lui, just to name a few. Here, we have Brad Pitt trying out his Brando-pose and Soutern brogue with broad brushes. And finds opposite him a smooth (name), a little known German actor, who underplays his animal, with tease and ease.

Tarantino writes with an overpowering sense of ironical humour and humorous irony.

There's Wild West in the soudtrack when the Nazis come, the Jew hunter smokes a pipe which is straight from the Marx brothers. A bloody confrontation is preceded with a game with placards affixed on foreheads. And the fantasy finds its end in the very place where all fantasies start and end - the cinema hall.

After a linear Death Proof, Tarantino returns to his complex story-telling - interweaving stories, flashbacks which pop in without warning, quotidian conversation which work like the sharpening of a knife, and the shock of an in-the-face denouement.

It is no surprise that the last line in the film is "My best work so far, eh?." Hmm, with Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs in ones CV, its a tough one to answer. But, oh yes, a rousing addition to the pantheon, indeed.

~ Sunil Bhandari
Oct 1, 2009
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