Saturday, December 21, 2013

Blow-Up (1966)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers:  Michelangelo Antonioni, Julio Cortazar, Edward Bond, Tonino Guerra
Cast:       David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles

It is the swinging sixties and a successful fashion photographer in London finds something interesting to do as he inadvertently photographs a murder happening without realizing it. But does it really interest him as he drifts off again and again due to minor distractions.

The plot is a sideshow and the film is really about how isolated and detached the character is from the world around him. The murder should be something that would shook him up but all other characters in the film end up distracting him from the main event of the film and finally the body also disappears leaving us wondering whether he imagined the entire thing. The final scene with the mime actors, where he watches an imaginary tennis match and finally when the camera focus on his face we hear the sound of tennis balls being hit kind of suggests that it is a case of perception versus reality. He himself vanishes from the field as the credits roll out.

The film was Antonioni's first in English and is considered a landmark film with its explicit nature breaking the production code set by the industry. The film didn't get the  code approval but MGM released it anyways. The film's critical and box office success led the code to be abandoned in favour  of the MPAA film rating system.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The World at War (1973–1974 )

Producer: Jeremy Issacs
Narrated By: Laurence Olivier

The World At War is a 26 part British television documentary series about second world war which aired first in 1973. It took four years to be made and was at the time the most expensive series ever made at 900,000 British pounds. Adjusted for inflation it stands at around 12 million.

It takes much inspiration from 'The Great War', about first world war, which came out a decade earlier. Most of the story is told with the usage of archive footage but there is also some footage about how some of the places are presently as well as face to face interviews. They chose to interview people who were not that high up on the power list and also ordinary folks. The documentary was made with the information available during that time but later declassification of files meant that some important things like Alan Turing helping Britain to crack the German codes were missed. Another problem is that the things that happened on the Eastern front after 1943 are largely glossed over.

The major difference between the two world wars were that  in the first one the fronts in Europe, the Eastern and Western, ended up as stalemate for a long period of time whereas in second world war everything happened relatively quickly. It was great for me watching the series in terms of getting to know about the actual events as well as the motivation behind them, especially the Pearl Harbour and the nuclear bombing. In what was largely a civil war in continental Europe, it is curious that three outsiders in US, Russia & UK emerged as victors.

My stand on the nuclear bombing of Hirsohima and Nagasaki is that, it was kind of inevitable with US trying to protect its interest by having a stronger leverage during the negotiations with Russia for the post war world. In the end, the shock and brutality of the bombings have played a part in preventing its usage in a war scenario since then.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mad Dog and Glory (1993)

Director: John McNaughton
Writer:    Richard Price
Cast:       Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Bill Murray, David Caruso

A  mob boss develops a friendship between a cop who saved his life and sends a woman to take care of him for a week. They fall in love and causes problems with the mob boss, played by Bill Murray.

Both Bill Murray and Robert De Niro play against their type in this film. De Niro was offered the role of mob boss but he opted for the Mad Dog because of its meekness. It is really a funny film with both the characters being very lonely individuals facing mid life crisis. The humor is subtle and the first sex scene between Mad Dog and Glory being the highlight. The plot is really contrived but it is really about the characters. It didn't do well at the box office and is still very underrated.

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Limits of Control (2009)

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer:    Jim Jarmusch
Cast:       Issach De Bankole, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal

A mysterious lone man in the process of completing a criminal job.

The film doesn't have any plot and is set in Spain, specifically in Madrid, Sevilla and Almeria. It can only be described as modern art since you are definitely left to interpret it any way you want. As can be seen from the works of directors who love film history, their latter films kind of reflect that. The title of the film can be seen as a reference to the limits under which the artists operate. For films it is the hunt for box office revenue because of which there are limits on how you express, what you express and the amount of freedom you have. This film with its unconventional methods, challenge this system and as is the case with truly path breaking art it will get recognized only later. 

In the last sequence of the film Bill Murray's character tells the lone man: 'You don't understand how the real world operates', to which he replies: 'I understand it subjectively'. When he asks how he got in there, he replies that he used his imagination. The above two dialogs can be used in its existential sense as well as how the film works. There are references to many other films and directors and the following dialog by Tilda Swinton's character reinforces the idea that it is about art:

Blonde: 'Are you interested in films, by any chance? I like really old films. You can really see what the world looked like, thirty, fifty, a hundred years ago. You know the clothes, the telephones, the trains, the way people smoked cigarettes, the little details of life. The best films are like dreams you're never sure you've really had. I have this image in my head of a room full of sand. And a bird flies towards me, and dips its wing into the sand. And I honestly have no idea whether this image came from a dream, or a film. Sometimes I like it in films when people just sit there, not saying anything.' 

It is certainly a film to watch but you will either hate it because of his pretentiousness or love it because of the challenge it is. The camerawork by Wong Kar Wai's frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle is stunning and the soundtrack by the bands Boris, Earth and Sunn also adds much to the film. These are the things to go by as there is very little dialog.  

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Third Man (1949)

Director: Carol Reed
Writers:  Graham Greene
Cast:       Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard

Pulp Novelist Holly Martins travel to postwar Vienna, a city divided and rife with racketeering, to find that his old friend who invited him died mysteriously in a car accident. He stays there to solve the mystery as everything is not as it seems to be.

The film is famous for its innovative cinematography, use of shadows and music. It is a British film and therefore it is more cynical than a traditional Hollywood film. The story is very unique considering the time it was made and I think several films have used a similar three way relationship: the innocent protagonist, distressed damsel and the mysterious third man that connects the former two.  It is essentially a classic love story set in a unique world and much of film was shot in Vienna itself which adds a lot to the film. It was also refreshing to see that plenty of dialogs were in foreign language and not accented English.

Rating: 4.5/5

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Director: Jeff Wadlow
Writers:  Jeff Wadlow, Mark Millar
Cast:       Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey

Kick-Ass teams up with a group of normal citizens who have been inspired to fight crime as Hit-Girl goes into retirement. Meanwhile, Red Mist plots an act of revenge by assembling a team of super villains. He adopts the name of Motherfucker and Mother Russia is the best among his super villain set.

The film is just a crap sequel to the original one. Jeff Wadlow missed the point in a big way by interpreting that the first one was all about violence and swearing. What made it endearing was the Kick-Ass storyline with the Big Daddy-Hit Girl providing the unexpected excitement in small doses. The whole Hit-Girl having teenage trouble plot was cringe inducing.

The film is watchable because of the stunts in it and some few and far between laughs but on the whole it was a film that needn't be made.

Rating: 2/5  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Great War (1964)

Narrated By: Micheal Redgrave

The Great War is a 26 part documentary on the first world war and it was produced by BBC in association with the Imperial War Museum, CBC and ABC. Each episode is around 40 minutes long and video consist exclusively of archive footage. I was really surprised to find that this much amount of original footage was available.

The documentary goes into great detail especially about the motivation for all the major actors. The first world war, unlike the second one didn't have an obvious villain like Hitler and it was a case of treaties created upon insecurities leading to a war with a small trigger event, in this case Sarajevo. The turning points in the war, like Americans entering were purely due to economic reasons and the events in middle east were very interesting and not known to me.I really didn't have much idea about the World War One before watching this documentary.

The number of people killed is just staggering and the documentary really gives us a feel of the years of stagnation due to the Trench warfare in the Western front. I felt the documentary was a very non-partial account of the events even if the footage used were largely from the Allies side. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, December 2, 2013

Crusades (1995)

Directors: Alan Ereira, David Wallace
Writers:    Alan Ereira, Terry Jones
Narrated By: Terry Jones

In this four part BBC documentary TV series, Terry Jones (Monty Python) takes a look at the crusades in a black comedic way. The wars were essentially fueled by the Pope who had some territorial ambition, with the threat faced by the Byzantine emperor from the Turks uses as a pretext.

The first episode titled 'Pilgrims In Arms' shows why and how the crusading army was formed and how it was unlike other wars waged by the Europeans with the 'Holy' nature attributed to it. During that time Jerusalem was occupied by the Muslim Turks but the people from all religions lived there without any issues with Jews providing finance and Christians doing administrative work. The Byzantine emperor when he called for help was expecting a small army to defend Constantinople but what he got was an army of Barbarians who were on a war pilgrimage to the Holy City. He just let them pass through his City after getting their allegiance. Crusaders being very thick were not that well planned in terms of provisions and all that and so proceeded by pillaging the people and villages  they encountered. They really didn't discriminate between Christians and Muslims when it came to robbing, torturing and killing.

The second episode 'Jerusalem' covers their journey to Jerusalem, hardships and the lucky breaks they got along the way. Muslims were really not a uniform sect, but more of warring factions who were really not united against the crusaders. Compared to the barbaric nature of crusaders they were far more civilized and educated. 

In the third episode titled 'Jihad' Jones covers the response from Muslims as looked to a uniting leader to wage Jihad against the Crusaders. Slowly the Muslim world inspired by religious war mongering put aside their infighting against the common enemy and the leader Saladin was the figurehead. He is considered as very noble as many a times he protected the captured Christians from his own army. He recaptured Jerusalem and status-quo was maintained over there. Truce was reached between him and the crusade leader Baldwin in 1190s.

In the fourth episode titled 'Destruction' , after the death of Saladin, a new leader who had more in common with the crusaders in terms of brutality emerged to finally destroy the the barbarians from Europe. Islamic world recognized the Christians as the common enemy and this feeling has been ingrained in them since those times and is kind of the reversal of sides from the start of crusades. The world is still reeling from its effects.

The documentary is extremely funny with Terry Jones reenacting some of the events, the uniforms they wore etc. His cynicism about religion and the nuts who act upon it makes it more watchable compared to other normal history documentaries. It made me want to re-watch the film 'Kingdom of Heaven' which also features some of the characters like Saladin and the leper king Baldwin portrayed amazingly by Edward Norton.

Rating: 5/5

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

Director: Declan Lowney
Writers:  Peter Baynham, Steve Coogan, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, Armando Ianucci
Cast:       Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Anna Maxwell Martin, Felicity Montagu

Alan Partridge is forced to be the negotiator when a sacked DJ with a shotgun takes over the radio station. The opportunity gives him some media attention which he is lapping up.

Unlike the TV series the film is kind of plot driven but the character remains true to his nature. Kind of missed the domestic Alan from the TV series and also  some of the characters from the TV series. Both Lyn and Micheal have minor roles. Like the TV series, I think it will get funnier on repeat viewings. That said it was a very good watch. Love the opening credits. 

See it you shit!!!

Rating: 3.5/5