Friday, 27 January 2012

Decoding the Oscar nominations - Part 1

The Academy award nominations are out. In a long time, maybe after 2005, the fight for Oscars will be a closely contested one. Not since the year when Million Dollar Baby, which was pitted against The Aviator, Ray, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways, won the Oscars, the clutch of nominations  have been so rich.
Just like 2005, this year too, films with a strong emotional core have made it to the shortlist. These films may be set in various times and countires, but, they all have one thing in common. All the movies revolve around simple, believable and relatable human emotions.

In this post (which is the first in the 2 part series) , I shall write about Midnight in Paris , The descendents, The Help , The ides of March, and Moneyball.

Midnight in Paris –

This surprise selection is my favorite of the lot. This romantic comedy is set in Paris and is about a family that goes there because of business, and two  young people who are engaged to be married in the fall have experiences that change their lives. It’s about a young man’s great love for a city, Paris and the illusion that people have that a life different from theirs would be much better.
Certainly there‘s no better place on earth that Woody Allen could have chosen for his new romantic comedy than Paris. The past endures and shines brightly in Paris, which makes it well- suited for a story of a man reinvigorating his feelings and finding inspiration to reflect on his life.

While there are always dark themes underneath all of Woody Allen‘s comedies, the tone of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is more upbeat. The movie is hopeful in that Gil comes to that conclusion that it‘s better not to delude yourself—even though it‘s more pleasant and less painful, it‘s still better not to.

As is typical for a Woody Allen film, a group of superlative actors fill out the supporting cast. The film‘s locations include some of Paris‘s most cherished sites, including: the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, the grounds and Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, Monet‘s Gardens at Giverny, Musée Rodin, Musée des Arts Forains, Marché Paul Bert (flea market), Rue Montagne St. Genevieve (where Gil goes at midnight).

The descendents –

Having won the Golden Globe award for the best picture, this is a front runner in the Oscar race. This is not a movie that is easily defined.
This movie celebrates the flaws and imperfections of human beings. Alexander Payne directs George Clooney and a bunch of others in this delightful family movie which takes you on  a ride.

 I chose to use the word ride, because, Matt King (Played by Clooney) goes through great turmoil, dealing with the sudden situation  he is not prepared to handle. When his wife meets with an accident, he is suddenly required to take care of his 2 daughters apart from handling the issue of selling off his ancestral property. This story is about the coming –together and the falling-in –love story of the dysfunctional family.

Payne sets his story with a simple premise in Hawaii. The city lends the movie a beautiful character. Complemented by some breezy performances by Clooney and the rest of the cast and equally breezy soundtrack, Payne deftly handles  a protagonist who is put in a dilemma with monumental tasks to handle.
Not the finest, but certainly one of the best of 2011.

The Help –

As far as performances go, this is the best I have seen this year. Set in 1960s, this movie tracks the stories of black women who served as maids / helps to white women. This is an incredible film that not only pays justice to the bestseller on which it's based (according to those who have read the book AND seen the film), but is phenomenally cast. Without any major star, this movie manages to stand –out on the sheer strength of the performances by it’s leading ladies.

This movie delves deep into the lives of maids who give up their lives in order to raise white kids who grow up to become like their uppity mothers. This thoroughly nuanced and detailed movie is both heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time. While the basic premise may sound very simple, the story unwinds leisurely and  addresses issues like domestic violence, race discrimination, education and love.

The costumes, homes, settings, accents  give you a very 1960’s feel.

Ides of March –

How does George Clooney get it right all the time? Is there a higher hand, a divine intervention that helps him choose these scripts? I’m sure there is.

This is the story of a young hot-shot election campaigner who is sucked into the vortex of politics. Ryan Gosling, who impressed the critics earlier this year with a silent but powerful performance in Drive, goes on to show why is he billed a the next big-thing in Hollywood. George Clooney gives plenty of screen-time to his younger co-star, while he helps himself to a very under-stated role himself. He looks every bit the senator , running for the post of the “most powerful man in the world”.

As if these two were not enough, there is Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Gamiati  who light up the screen. Watch it to get a ringside view of what unfolds behind the screens during a Presidential election campaign, what do people do to make the President-elect look good in front of people. Clooney treats the film like a pseudo – thriller and throws in some smart dialogues which escalate the film to a different level.
Little known fact – Leo Di Caprio was suppose to play Goslings character, but ended up producing the movie.

Moneyball -

Brad Pitt and Oscars? Now, I have seen it all. Well, it is a sports film (something that the Academy jury loves) with eye-candy Brad Pitt as the lead star.

On a serious note, this is one of the finest sports films in the recent years. I do not know a thing about Baseball, but I thought this is a beautifully crafted film and it is a wonderful representative of the game.

Based on a true story, Moneyball is a movie for anybody who has ever dreamed of taking on the system. The premise is the real story of how, with an extremely small budget for a professional sports team, he managed to win a surprising number of games, including setting an all-time major league record of 20 consecutive wins. Pitt is the top of his game. As an everyman—or at least one that isn't played up as wealthy, a man struggling to keep his job—frustration is clearly seen in Pitt's face. Pitt brings humanity to the ominous job of a general manager.

Writer Aaron Sorkin knows how to write, and as evidenced by "The Social Network" (2010), he also knows how to turn computer-programming into riveting cinema. We find humor in the least-expected of places, we find heart in the least-expected of people, and 'Moneyball" gives us a completely enjoyable movie that becomes so much more than numbers.

All these films talk about the triumph of human emotions and take us through a joyful ride.
Yet to see the rest of the movies that have been nominated. Cannot wait to experience the rest of the movies.
Long live, show business.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Confessions of an addict

Disclaimer –
This post may portray me as a guy who did not have much of a childhood  / adulthood other than watching movies all the time. But hey, that is fine, because, that is what I did and I’m pretty sure, most of you did the same!!

Why am I writing this?? 2 reasons. Read on.....

Reason 1 : My scrap book that was once the most precious possession of my life. I was not expecting to find it. So when I saw it, I got very happy.

Flashback sequence – A kid (ME), after getting back home from theatre ( it a 5 pm show at Alka Talkies), scribbling notes on his movie log file. Once done, he promptly puts the book inside his shelf and makes a mental note to save enough money  (spent on bun-maska) for the next movie.

The room suddenly was brimming with nostalgia.

Reason 2: The writing is on the wall. My family gave me an ultimatum.
They have been asking me to give up my addiction for quite a while now. Yesterday was the last straw.
My Ipod & laptop have been snatched away to cure me.

Just like any other addiction, my affair with movies started as a healthy habit.
Before I was taken to the theatre to watch “Gone with the wind” (Oh mercy, What was my Appa thinking?) at the age of 6, I was shown Godfather, assassination of JFK on our 14 inch black & white TV. Though I could not comprehend a thing then, I was inducted into the world of cinemas quite early.
The first movie that I vividly remember watching in a cinema hall was Amar, Akbar, Anthony (It was a re-run show in Apollo Talkies in 1992).  I could not stop gawking at the screen. It had the biggest stars ( I was told) doing awesome stunts on a large screen. I wondered if my Appa could do things that Amitabh Bacchan (there, I picked my favorite of the lot) did on screen.

During school, most of the weekends were spent watching movies on VHS. It was during these weekends, when I discovered Nitin Manmohan Desai, Yash Chopra, Mani Ratnam, K.Balachandar, Kamal Hassan, Frank Capra, Sergeo Leone, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino.
These were people who did extraordinary things that we people could never do. These stalwarts made me realize how rewarding cinema could be. In retrospect, I feel that I enjoyed movies because I was always told that it is something that you do to have fun and look forward to. I was conditioned that way. If the movie turned out to be good, it was an added bonus.

In the years that have gone by, I have seen all sorts of movies. Some great, some ok, sum just plain horrible. What I have come to realize is that it is the “just plain horrible” movies that make me sit up and enjoy the great / ok ones.  Rabindranath Tagore said that our brains are lazy and they look for patterns. They do indeed, but, every now and then, a filmmaker has come by and just shifted the paradigm. Movies like Kannathil muttam ittal (A peck on the cheek), Taxi driver, Nayakan, Inception, It’s a beautiful life, Memento (and a lot more) made me sit up and take notice. They challenged my brain. I felt like how Shriram (my maths teacher’s son and my classmate) would have felt when he would have solved a difficult trigonometry sum or got a chemistry equation right.

Films are a catalyst. They present dramatic problems, crises, and turnarounds. Films beg to be interpreted and discussed, and from those discussions we come up with principles / ideas in our daily lives.

Here are a few lessons that school did not teach me. 

Rocky - You may be dumb, but to fight, you need heart, a big one.

Godfather - Be ruthless, things will fall in place.

Western actioners - You need to make the first move, else you are dead.

Lagaan - (a) Believe in yourself. (b) Make a beginning, (c) build a team, (d) Support team members, (e) lead from the front, (f) make the best use of limited resources, (g) Your girlfriend will always be jealous if you talk to just any other girl.

Nayakan - Always help people. People stand by you.

Dalapati - Stick your neck out for your friends. 

It's a wonderful life - Be good to your family & community. God notices everything.

The pursuit of happyness - If you ever feel down and out & feel you have lost everything in life, go watch this movie. You will know why this movie is on the list.

Ok enough.

This has been one of the most self-indulgent posts I have written. I would have done the same when I was a kid (from the flashback sequence). After all this is just like the diary / log that I maintained when I was a kid.

Food for thought - What is the full form of a blog

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Dil aur dimaag ki baatein (Arguement between mind & heart)

Aaj subah phir se dil aur dimmag ka jhagada hua...

Dimaag ne kaha, daftar chal, kaam kar
Dil ne kaha, ghar baith, apne aap par gaur kar,

Dimaag ne kaha,kaam se door na bhaag
toh dil ne kaha, apne sapno se door na bhaag

Dimaag ne kaha, samajhdari se kaam karo,
Dil ne kaha, apni hi manmaani karo

Dimaag ne pucha.. zindagi mein kuch banana nahi hai?
Dil ne jawaab diya, banana toh hai, par raasta sahi nahi hai.

Dimaag ko gussa aaya, aur bola, sab tujhpe hasenge
dil hasa aur bola,baaki logon ki kyun fikar,kabhi khud pe hans ke dekh,

Dimaag bola, bas kar, aur ab chal,
dil bola, zara tehar, soch le do pal...

Dimaag ne pucha, aye dil, tu meri baat kyun nahi sunnta?
dil bola, yehi toh tu samajh nahi paya, log teri sunnte hai, aur meri maante hain...

Dimmag ne kaha, chal samjhauta karte hain,
dil khush hua aur bola, chal, aaj se din tere aur rattein meri

Phir dil ne mujhse kaha,tu fikar naa kar,
dimaag se naa darr,
raatein meri hain, poora faayda le aur sapne dekh,
ek din mein jeetunga...

NOTE: This is my first attempt at writing Hindi poetry. Do drop in a comment if you like it

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Sherlock Holmes - The end?

First things first..... I loved the movie.

For all the fans of the detective from Arthur Canon Doyle's  book, this version of Holmes is blasphemous.
For all those who got the first taste of the great detective after watching the first installment, this movie is one hell of a joyride...
Take your pick.

For the original Sherlock Holmes fans....
Sherlock Holmes, the great detective, does not deduce anything in the movie. There is no mystery to solve here,no clues, no surprise elements.While the first part had not one but many puzzles to solve, this time around, the story is plain vanilla.
Here, Holmes is on a mission to stop Prof. James Moriarty from committing a dastardly act (no spoilers this time).

In the movie, Holmes is more of a brawler, master of disguise, cross-dresser & thief than a detective. There is precious little to "deduce". The script requires him to speak wittily, fire guns, run on rooftops,trains & woods and dress weirdly. He does what Ethan Hunt and James bond do (but for the dressing weirdly bit). What he does not do in the movie is not anything like what he does in the novels / stories ( 4 long & 56 short stories).

Instead of  investing more time in his characters, he chooses to invest time in the action surrounding the characters. Holmes and Watson continue from where they left off. Do not go in looking at any character development .
See how many time have I mentioned Holmes already? Agreed that this movie is about the high on spirits Holmes, but you cannot choose to give the others just pennies to play with.

For all the movie fans......

My appetite for big budget actioners just got bigger. This movie celebrates the action movie genre like no other. Holmes and the rest indulge in some splendidly choreographed action sequences that are as original as they come.The explosions, hand combats, gunfire, chase sequences are explosive, literally. Guy Ritchie seems to be besotted with his freeze frame technique and he gets Holmes to do it about 5 times in the movie. Not that we are complaining.

Downey Jr yet again turns up to impress. Playing this kind of a character (sometimes he slips into his Tony Stark mode) seems to have become a nice habit. He is equally effortless with the action sequences, as he is with his lines.
The rest of the cast, including the famed nemesis, play second fiddle to Downey Jr. Either they are given very little in terms of action or their lines are not as catchy as the ones that the leading man gets.

The second aspect that makes the movie immensely enjoyable is the music score by Hans Zimmer (The guy behind classics like Gladiator, Inception, The Lion King, Hannibal, Broken Arrow & many more). The music lends each scene great character.  The background score elevates the action / suspense sequence to a different level. Enough is already said and written about the theme music.

The third winsome aspect about the movie is the set direction. The art / set directors have paid huge attention to details and have re-created the era beautifully. From the Victorian era buildings, Trafalgar square, castles, roads, everything is top notch. The chess board motif runs through out the movie in either actual chess boards or floors with black & white checkered squares.

The cinematography, editing and CGI are all first rate. They further push the envelope as far as action movies are concerned. The action sequence in the train and the woods have been beautifully rendered on screen. Each explosion, each gunfire, each splinter looks spectacular.

So, did the movie win my vote? Yes it did. I did not have trouble finishing my tub of cheese-caramel pop-corn. The movie moves along in such blistering pace that, you tend to forgo most of the factual errors that the script has.
Nonetheless, it succeeds in having you spellbound and speechless in equal measure.
The first film of the year (technically last year) was worth the watch.
Hope 2012 throws up greater movies.