Friday, November 30, 2007

Good Bye Lenin!.....of Lenin, Berlin wall & the death of socialism

Well…I don’t really know how to begin….I mean how to describe this film! ....this is not an out & out tragedy…neither a comedy…wiki calls it a tragicomedy & perhaps that is true to some extent. But it is much more than that…it is an honest and intelligent manifestation, or probably a microcosm of that dramatic period of German unification of 1989 in particular and overall restructuring of world order in the early 90’s in general.

I hate to write plot summaries….so let me shamelessly paste one paragraph from wiki…

The film is set in the East Berlin of 1989 . Alexander Kerner's mother, Christiane Kerner, an ardent supporter of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, suffers a heart attack when she sees Alex being arrested in an anti-government demonstration and falls into a coma shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. After eight months she awakes, but is severely weakened both physically and mentally, and doctors say that any shock may cause another, possibly fatal, attack. Alex realises that her discovery of recent events would be too much for her to bear, and so sets out to maintain the illusion that things are as normal in the German Democratic Republic. To this end, he and his family revert the flat to its previous drab decor, dress in their old clothes, and feed the bed-ridden Christiane new, Western produce from old labeled jars. For a time the deception works, but gradually becomes increasingly complicated and elaborate. Despite everything, Christiane occasionally witnesses strange occurrences, such as a gigantic Coca-Cola advertisement banner unfurling on a building outside the apartment. Alexander and a friend with film-making ambitions edit old tapes of news broadcasts and create their own fake special reports to explain them away.

I won’t paste the rest as I don’t want to ruin it for the ones who are planning to watch this movie. But let me tell you that there is another plot interwoven, which is about Alex’s father who allegedly absconded to the West leaving the family behind when they were kids. This plot also grows along with the main story line with timely twists and the keeps the viewers guessing and engrossed.

What makes this movie worth the accolades is the intelligence with which the director has played with the emotions of the viewers. We, as audiences are never trapped in one monotonous state of mind. It cleverly brings in humorous moments that ridicule the irony of the politics and society in general. But at the very next moment it fills the hearts with empathy at the plights of the family and the innocent efforts of Alexander to ameliorate the losses. Director Wolfgang Becker and lesser known actors like Daniel Bruhl, Kathrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Alexander Beyer have done wonders with this movie.

In a broader sense it illustrates the futility of entire socio political melodrama that has been created and nurtured by the mankind over the ages. This is what I like most about German cinema. They are never shy of admitting and discussing certain not so glorious moments of their past. Films like Der Untergang, Das Leben Der Anderen,Das Boot and Sophie Scholl have already proven that point and are known by all. Good Bye Lenin is relatively unknown compared to these ones, but I can assure you that this one is no less in warming hearts, perplexing neurons and broadening horizons.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Being Tantalus

There was king named Tantalus. He had everything. But he wanted to be god himself! So he stole ambrosia from the gods & gave it to his people. So he was punished. He was tied down in a pool of water with fruits hanging over him. But he couldn’t drink and neither could he eat! Whenever he tried to eat or drink the water or fruit receded! Just like the poor thirsty ancient mariner he could only watch & wail!

But what sacrilege had I done to meet a similar fate? I never hurt a fly & I only kill mosquitoes for self protection. I have followed that tried & tested path of studying & studying & studying through all these years of my life never really venturing out though I always wanted to do so. In fact my graduation years have seen a full blown conflict between my conventional liabilities & profane desires. But still here I have become a student again joining the bandwagon. But the irony is that the more we bend towards the stereotype, the more we suffer. There was a time when I craved for certain movies & couldn’t get enough of them. Now I have most of them in my hard disk itself. But it doesn’t make my happy! Like Tantalus I can only ogle at my impressive folder & do nothing. I don’t have time for anything! I used to think that accounting is a very pedestrian job. Simply keeping track of what people are selling or buying. But now I have realized I can’t even find out what is being sold & what is being bought. Accounting is an enigma of da Vinciesque proportions. Apart from that there are several factors making sure that I improve through “constructive dissatisfaction with the Status Quo” as Shigeo Shingo would have liked to put it.

This is just not a discrete case of a psycho movie buff getting frustrated. It is a microcosm of this entire modern human civilization where we always try to achieve more & can’t cherish what we have!

Anyway, I have got this irreducible break after the exams which will come to an end in no time. So I put the limited time to best use & watched a couple of them. Now I am once more gearing up to go back to the clichéd ways & perhaps I won’t be posting anything for the next couple of months again! Till then, have a good time & try not to be a Tantalus.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Last King of Uganda!!!

Idi Amin has always been the sinister one in our mindset, the cannibal & the tyrant! So as the show started, I geared up for nothing but loads & loads of gore apart from a good dose of histrionics from Whitaker. But the film turned out to be surprisingly sober(to a certain degree of disappointment for a sadist like me) & yet powerful!
The movie starts in Scotland where Dr Nicholas Garrigan(James McAvoy) is planning a stint in some third world country after finishing his studies. He decides to select a place randomly & stumbles on Uganda.
So our Doctor reaches Uganda & starts working in remote place among the poor natives along with some other European doctors. In the meantime Amin(Forest Whitaker) seizes power in Uganda through a coup. He incidentally meets Nicholas as he met with an accident & sought for some medical assistance. He was impressed by the young doctor & made him his personal physician. So thus begins an unlikely friendship.
Amin wins over the foreign press with his sense of humour but tries hard to keep the real scene behind the scene. His jovial nature makes him a charismatic despot. So initially Nicholas refuses to hear anything about him & remains his most trusted doctor cum advisor. But as the time goes by, like most other dictators Amin also takes the path of ruthlessness to keep his reigns going. He starts throwing tantrum at everyone including Nicholas & he’s no more the jocund, friendly soul. In the meantime Nicholas develops a close relationship with one of Amin’s wives which worsens his situation further. He then also learns about the atrocities committed by Amin’s forces & soon he starts yearning to leave Uganda. So the story leads towards a bloody conclusion which I won’t disclose for the future viewers.
Now coming to various aspects of the film, it’s the two actors who stand out & overshadow everything else. I’ve always liked Whitaker in those character roles but for the first time he gets to play the lead & doesn’t disappoint at all. He looks, speaks & acts like true dictator should & yes he deserved the Oscar. McAvoy on the other hand, also continues his good work after Narnia. I felt that he also deserved at least a nomination. He’ll be an actor to watch out for in the future.
Here, one thing strikes my mind, the director Kevin Macdonald hasn’t gone overboard to show the atrocities of Amin or his alleged cannibalism while adapting Giles Foden’s novel. He’s finished off those portions in quick unrecognisable flashes. This is what makes the film more watchable for general viewers though it was a bit disappointing for darker minds like me. Anyway, to sum up, it feels like laking the punch at a few instances but is definitely watchable due to exceptional performances.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Famished Road : Venturing into the Dark Continent

We hardly know anything about the dark continent . Africa has always been the land of lions , giraffes , gorillas , chimpanzees & zebras to us . We’ve never really bothered about the people . It’s the jungles that has caught our imagination for centuries . Barring a few good films like Hotel Rwanda & Blood Diamond we’ve never really learned anything about the people out there .

So I picked up Ben Okri’s Nigerian saga “The Famished Road” that day without a second thought as it was about an African nation by an African & also being a Booker winner it had to be something special . I must say that it is one of the milestones of magical realism . It serves as a guide to the Nigerian society & politics through some amazingly crafted fantasies .

It is the story of a “Abiku” or “Spirit Child” called Azaro . Let me clarify a bit here . In “Yaruba” tradition of Africa it is believed that some spirits keep hanging between earthy & ethereal world . They are incarnated as human beings but they never loses touch with the spirit world . They have strange powers but have short lives . Our protagonist is also one of them . He’s a young boy living with parents . He’s a problematic kid & frequently keeps escaping to the bizarre world of witches , midgets & scores of other mythical characters thanks to his spirit companions continuously trying to woo him back to their world . His father is a strong but foolish man who starts dreaming of becoming a boxer . He gives up working to pursue his dream , he also beats some famous ones including spirit of a dead boxer . But he also gets a heavy beating in one fight & then after a few days in comatose condition he starts becoming a politician with the help of beggars .

The mother works hard to earn a living for the family but rarely succeeds . They share a bittersweet relationship with Madame Koto , the local bar owner & the richest & weirdest person in the neighborhood . All these happen in the midst of political clashes between rival parties in a nation that is in turmoil . All the people live in abject poverty & struggle to make a living .

Having said all these , I’m sure the plot looks confusing & obscure . But this is what magical realism is all about . The story is full of strange creatures appearing constantly in hallucinations , the narrative is rich in vocabulary & they together transfers us to world where the lines between real & unreal is blurred . It takes a maestro to take up such a plot & emerge victorious ! Okri has proved that he is a master of words as well as imagination . Despite of the bizarre plot he has been able to give us enough insight into the present scenario of Nigeria in particular & Africa in General . So this is a must read for those who are hungry of words & wants a dose of reality garnished with fantasy .

Thursday, April 05, 2007

300:of decapitated bodies & flying blood drops.....

This is yet another sadistically satisfying movie to be released in recent times ! It was my 2nd gore fest in two weeks after Apocalypto . The movie , as everyone knows , is based upon the granddaddy of gore , Frank Millers graphic novel . So I was waiting to watch this one from the day I first learned about it .

Coming to the plot , it is basically about the battle of Thermopylae , where a handful of Spartans led by King Leonidas bravely fought & died against a massive Persian army . Anyone whoever is interested in history will know about this war & also other Greeko-Persian conflicts . So the plot is actually simple . The USP is not in the plot , but in the execution . It retains the comic book feel , but yet pleases your eyes . The aesthetically flying drops of blood & the human organs satisfy all the sadist movie buffs . Cinematography & visual effects are brilliant throughout the movie . The lead characters have come up with some great performances . Gerard Butler looks & acts like a real Spartan . But I was more impressed by Lena Headey who makes her presence felt in a male dominant war movie . The crowd roars in appreciation when she kills the traitor to take her revenge . Zack Snyder has ably directed the movie with blending the best aspects of all other movies of such genre .

Having said all these , the flip side of the film is the partial treatment of the story .

  • Only Spartans are shown as real heroes & other Greeks as cowards

  • Xerxes looks like an eunuch , which is not acceptable at all

  • The Persians are shown as blood thirsty monsters with grotesque faces

    • while the truth is that everyone did the same thing in those times , Greeks did it to Troy & were going to do the same to Persia after a century under Alexander

So the film is having it's share of controversies . But anyway it is a well made period action movie & is based on a fictitious graphic novel rather than real history books . So if you can keep your history lessons aside for a couple hours & can enjoy the gore , it is worth a try .

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Discovering Isabel Allende: A journey into mysticism

Magical realism has become the most attractive word for me nowadays . Specially the Latin American authors being the ones leading the trend are threatening to displace all the books on my bookshelf . Isabel Allende is of course one of the usual suspects of this onslaught .

I’ve always known her name having read her eulogies in several places . But I’d never read her before . All that changed last month when I discovered an entire shelf dedicated to her in my favourite bookstore . Almost all of her books were available there , house of spirits , Eva Luna , infinite plane , my invented country , Ines of my Soul , Paula & Zorro . But I was in an escapist mood , wary of work , interviews & life in general . I wanted to get myself immersed in some juvenile adventure story for some relief . So I picked up “City of the Beasts” by the same author which is first of such kind from the author , first one of the Alex , Nadia & Kate trilogy . I started reading it eagerly after coming back to my room & soon I found out that my decision was not incorrect . It had all the ingredients of a perfect teenage adventure story . An energetic teen couple(if I may say so) , a rough & tough granny , mysterious Amazonian rainforests , elusive tribesmen , mythical creatures & sinister marauders . Though such stories have been told a thousand times , it becomes lively at the hands of the accomplished author .

The story revolves around a fifteen year old troubled teenager Alexander Cold . His mother is ill & his life is in utter chaos . Unable to manage the situation , his father sends him to his granny Kate , who is an exceptional woman . She’s traveled almost all of the world in search of stories demanded by her profession . She’s been part of many life threatening adventures & even at the age of sixty four she was ready for another one to the Amazons . She doesn’t believe in pampering children , so she takes Alex also along with her to the perilous trip in search of a killer beast . On the way to their destination they meet other members of the expedition team including the honey coloured daughter of the guide , Nadia . Alex strikes profound friendship with her which only strengthens with the progress of the story . They begin the journey of adventure , realization , discovery & revelation . They meet people from the mist , the mysterious tribe which leave in perfect harmony with the nature . They also encounter the ancient beasts .

The book is a pleasure to read . Though the plot is actually clichéd I’ve always liked such stuff . Not only because of the plot but also for skillful yet effortless storytelling by Allende . The narrative is so vivid that you feel transferred to the Amazons yourself . Description of locations , animals , dreams & hallucinations speaks volumes about the author & her extent of imagination .

The Amazons have always attracted me . Ever since I read Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” in 3rd Standard . Both of these boos start the journey from the Amazonian city of Manaus & ventures deep into the similar territory . So comparisons become inevitable . In that sense I would prefer Allende’s book because Doyle’s book was written in Colonial times from a white man’s point of view . On the other hand Allende is more sympathetic & respectful towards the natives . She endorsed their simplistic & minimalist lifestyle . She blends modern philosophy with native Indian mysticism . So there are some underlying messages along with breathtaking adventure .

So, though it is one of the lesser known works by Allende , it has enough indication of her caliber as a storyteller . It’s a feast to all who love those carefree teenage adventures . But those who think they are too grown up , should stay away from this .

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Apocalypto:I watched it twice

Well….this is not for Rajshree , K Jo & Yashraj fans . I’m sure most of the criticism have come from that front . It is for the ones who loved Kill Bill , adored Saw & went gaga over Sincity . Also those who are allergic to subtitles should stay away as the entire movie is in Yucatec Mayan . Credit goes to Mel Gibson who before this has done an equally gory Passion of Christ in Aramaic to maintain authenticity .

To start with , let me give you a small summary .There is a small Mayan village in the midst of dense Yucatan forests dwelled by Jaguars & Tapirs . They spend their life happily hunting in the jungle & expects the same to continue till eternity . But soon the tragedy strikes , a pack of warriors suddenly attacks the village , massacres half of them & imprisons the rest after a bloody ambush . Then begins a fatal & painful journey & finally they arrive in a huge Mayan city . There they finally discover the reason of their imprisonment . They were about to be sacrificed to quench the thirst of the great God Kukulkan to save the decaying civilization threatened by plague and other epidemics . The events unfold quickly after this , the hero of the story , Jaguar Paw , escapes from the tyrants & then begins a relentless & breathtaking chase through the treacherous Yucatan terrains full of jungles , marshes , waterfalls .
I won’t disclose the climax , but I can assure you that it is nail biting & engrossing . Coming back to the qualitative aspects of the movie, it is a trademark Mel Gibson flick with plenty of action & bloodshed . But as an accomplished filmmaker he never lets the story to be overshadowed by action . The sets , costumes & makeup etc are very authentically done . The medieval chase sequence with robust men running barefoot will beat any modern one involving cars & aircrafts . The background music is haunting & has an Indian touch . The crude humours , specially the one involving Tapir balls complement the dark mood of the movie well . The new actors namely Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw & the beautiful Dalia Hernandez as his wife have done a commendable job .

Having said all these , the movie has also had its share of controversies like any other Gibson film . Specially distortion of Native American history & depiction of Mayans as a brutal & pervert tribe has raised concerns . Because the kind of human sacrifice it has shown , is more close to the Aztecs than the Mayans . Also it shows Spanish conquistadors arriving at the end as if they were angels of peace . But the fact is that the Columbus’s , Pizzaros & Cortezes were no less brutal . They utilized their advantage of having guns & annihilated all the Indian Civilizations namely Mayan , Aztec & Incas .

So this is where the film falters a bit . But I will still give it four out of five as reconstructing a civilization that was lost 500 years ago is no child’s play . I watched it twice in the multiplex & would advice you to do the same .

Sunday, January 21, 2007


A couple of years ago when Maniratnam’s Yuva was being released we heard that it has something to do with one Mexican movie called “Amores Perros” . I liked Yuva & so always wanted to see the other one . But unfortunately that wish is yet to be fulfilled . Anyway after sometime I discovered Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s next movie 21 grams in the hostel LAN & wasted no time to gulp it . This is how I started getting addicted to his style of chaotic yet intriguing storytelling . Since then I’d been waiting to watch Babel . Today I’ve finally watched it and it was as I expected . An array of seemingly unrelated characters woven into a mesmerizing plot !!!
We were late for the show & missed first five minutes of the show , so I don’t know exactly how the movie started !! Anyway when we entered the theatre Brad Pitt & Cate Blanchett were traveling through the Moroccan deserts on a tourist bus . Suddenly a bullet comes from nowhere & hits Cate on her shoulder . At that very moment there is a cut & we find ourselves in Japan ! I’m sure those who were not familiar with Inarritu found it most unexpected !! Anyway now we move into the second plot , the story of a deaf & mute Japanese girl who tries to lead a normal life with her friends & her father .
But she’s sexually frustrated & at times feels left out because of their physical limitations . The girl & her father’s roles are played by Rinko Kikuchi & Koji Yakusho . After a few minutes again there is a sharp cut & now we land in Mexico where some Mexican immigrants from US comeback to Mexico to attend a wedding . The Mexican aunt & nephew duo is played by Adriana Barraza & Gael Garcia Barnal .
This is the basic plot of the movie . Three incidents happening in three countries & so the location keeps changing every five minutes but it never hinders the pace of the story . Moroccan cops traces assailants of the American tourist & finally it is found that it is actually two teenagers who were given the rifle to kill jackals to save their goats . An encounter takes place & the one of the boys were shot . At that time the other boy raises his hands , surrenders & takes all the blame upon himself . This was one of the most touching scenes of the movie . On the other hand in Japan the father finds it difficult to communicate with the daughter . His wife had committed suicide sometimes ago . Cops come to visit him regarding the incident in Morocco . The girl is attracted to one of the cop & bares it all for him . At the same time the Mexicans return to US border from the wedding . They were having two American kids with no letter of consent from their parents . Also Gael was driving intoxicated . So when they were stopped at the border & interrogated , he panics & drives off the post . He then drops his aunt & the kids at the desert & runs away !!
After this the story unfolds quickly & we finally get to see what actually is happening & why they traveled to three countries to shoot the movie . But I’m not going to spill the beans as it might spoil the party for those who are planning to watch the film . Coming to performances , Brad Pitt delivers his finest one so far as the anxious husband while Blanchett also excels in her small role . Rinko Kikuchi also has done justice to a very difficult role & also I shouldn’t forget Barraza in the Mexican front . Also the small but significant Moroccan characters (unfortunately I don’t know the names of those actors!!) have delivered brilliant performances . Having said it all , is there any let downs??? Alas it’s there !! Gael Garcia Bernal is totally wasted !! He suddenly disappears & never comes back again . It was the weakest point in an otherwise flawless story . Anyone who’s seen Motorcycle Diaries , must’ve expected more of this actor .
As far as direction is concerned , I can only say that a lesser director would’ve made a mess of such a plot !! But Inarritu pulls it off . He also completes his trilogy of death with this one (Amores Perros , 21 Grams & Babel) . But I would definitely like him to make three more !! Also worth mentioning is Guillermo Arriaga’s writing . He has also written the previous ones & he is actually the brain behind these beautifully messy plots . Cinematography is first rate , specially the shots in Moroccan terrains are a visual treat . But what I liked most is the music by Gustavo Santaolalla . It is haunting & soul enriching at the same time . Also the music keeps changing according to the locations .
In All I can say is that it is worth the money you are going to pay for it . So , don’t hesitate , go for it…..& “If You Want to be Understood...Listen….”

Friday, January 19, 2007

Doom 2???

I normally never watch Yashraj movies . But that day I had nothing better to do & favourable reviews everywhere gave me faint hope that it might be an exception . So I stepped into the multiplex with a bit of hope & a lot of skepticism . And unfortunately my worst fears came true !!!
The movie starts well with slick stunts like so many we’ve seen in the past . The starting sequence in Africa is decent if not great . But like all other “Bollywood trying to ape MI2” movies , it also loses steam after half an hour . The film revolves around the international thief played by Hrithik & the cops after him i.e Abhishek & Uday as expected . The good looking thief is entertains us with innovative & hi-tech exploits & repeatedly fools the cops (though a sense of déjà vu is bound to occur) . He meets one small time (but suave & stunning) thief i.e Ash & takes her with him too . On the other hand there is Bips as the sexy lady cop who joins the original Dhoom duo . The trendy & funky thief finally runs away to Brazil for his next mission along with Ash . The cops follow & finally gets him . There is a little bit of twist here in the story which I don’t want to reveal for the sake of those who are planning to watch it . Anyway the film ends in a positive note for the baddie unlike D1 . Uday also gets his girl finally in Bips (not the cop but her twin!!!) .
The worst aspect of this movie is the wafer thin storyline . It is so predictable that towards the end it becomes extremely boring . The climax is unforgivably lame . Though there is a twist at the end , it is not believable . The problem with such movies is that they start firing in all cylinders at the beginning like their Hollywood counterparts but then give to mushy romance , boring song & dance sequences & pedestrian comedy to appease popular sentiments (But there is no denying the fact that it sells …specially in India!!) .
Sanjay Gadvi’s direction is average . Pritam’s Music is lackluster (no Tata young this time!!) . Cinematography , visual effects & other technical aspects are decent for such kind of a movie . Coming to performances , I don’t really want to bash anyone , they have done a decent job . It’s the plot that lets them down . Uday Chopra’s comedy & Aishwarya’s “Hinglish” sometimes become irritating though . Hrithk looks great as usual & I think it has helped the movie to get a lot of female audience .
So , at the end , I would like to say that go for it if you liked earlier films like Dhoom & Dus . It falls in the same category . High style quotient , less substance & if you think it is a hardcore action movie , you’ll be disappointed again !! Action sequences are good , but not adequate enough !! Even original Dhoom had more action to satisfy real action buffs .