Saturday, January 25, 2014

Frances Ha (2012)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers:  Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Cast:       Greta Gerwig, Mickey Summer, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen

Frances shares an apartment with Sophie, her best friend, as she tries to make it as a dancer in New-York. As she describes their relationship in the film, they are like a lesbian couple who don't have sex anymore. Film is shot in black and white and it is really like a quirky Woody Allen film.

It is interesting to compare the film with 'Inside Llewyn Davis'. Both tell the story of a struggling artist but deals it in the complete opposite manner. Coens have their protagonist as a jerk whereas Frances is really a nice gal who cares about others. Llewyn's friends are kind of hostile to him while Frances gets some sort of support from her acquaintances. Llewyn wants to never compromise and Frances kind of does it at the end. Both films have their place and I loved both of them. The scene where she dances to David Bowie's 'Modern Love' in the streets of New-York reminded me of a similar scene in Leos Carax's   'Mauvais Sang' with Denis Lavant doing the same in Paris.

Rating: 4.5/5

Zerkalo (The Mirror) (1975)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writers:  Aleksandr Misharin, Andrei Tarkovsky
Cast:      Margarita Terekhova, Filipp Yankovsky, Ignat Daniltsev

A dying man in 40s reminisces about his childhood, mother, war etc through dreams, flashbacks, archive footage and memories interspersed with poetry through his own voice. The film is loosely autobiographical as Tarkovsky himself was raised by his mother after his father left them when he was four. 

In his dreams he sees his ex-wife as his mother. As with people who are raised by their mothers, the relationship is complex and sometimes conflicted with the amount of control that tends to be exerted. One can also add Oedipus complex to this equation as well. The film covers pre-second world war period, war period, post war period and the contemporary era and we get a sense of Russian history through it. The News footage also covers things like Cultural revolution in China. There is also one reference to Russian isolation from the west due to the division in Christianity. 

Protagonists were forced to move from Moscow to their grandfather's house in the country due to war. The girls from his life comes frequently in his memories/dreams but most of the time anachronistically. The contemporary scenes are shot point of view and the film as a whole is a visual experience. Tarkovsky working in Russia didn't have any obligation that his films should make money and I guess only under such a circumstance would such films come out. This being a very personal film was not something the Soviet Authority was a fan of and it got a very limited number of screenings in Russia. It was also not allowed to compete at Cannes because they feared that it will win the top prize. I saw it for the first time about five years back and couldn't make much sense of it. This time round I found it to be more accessible and should be discovering new things when I revisit it again. It is a very difficult film to describe.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, January 24, 2014

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Director: Woody Allen
Writer:    Woody Allen
Cast:       Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins

Cate Blanchett plays Jeanette/Jasmin, a New-York socialite who has fallen into hard times after her husband's Ponzi scheme was exposed. She moves in with her not so well-off sister in San-Fransisco.

We are shown flashes of her rich life through flashbacks and having gone a bit cuckoo in her head, she doesn't seem to have learned anything and a normal director or film would have her transition herself over the course of the film. Such things never happen and she is back to square one at the end of the film. Plot is contrived especially towards the end but Cate Blanchett's performance is amazing and makes the film more than decent.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writers:   Criag Borten, Melisa Wallack
Cast:        Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

Story of Ron Woodroof who is diagnosed with AIDS decides to work round the system to get unapproved drugs for himself and other AIDS patients. He is not portrayed as a person one should feel sympathy for with his rabid homophobia and cow-boy style. 

The good thing about the film is that it doesn't go over the board with its vilification of FDA, but concentrate more on the characters. The position of the regulatory body is quite difficult in this case when you have a situation wherein you have to compromise on quality of trials in the interest of getting relief to patients on borrowed time. 

The characters played by Garner and Leto are fictional ones and it is no surprise that McConaughey and Leto are sweeping all the awards. Well deserved reward for McConaughey who has turned around his career and the inflection point was him turning down a 15 million dollar to sign up for some shitty super-hero franchise. 

Rating: 4/5

Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jonze
Writer:    Spike Jonze
Cast:       Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams

A lonely writer who is on the brink of a divorce falls in love with his artificially intelligent operating system which is capable of evolving to a higher intelligence level.

The operating system is capable of addressing his needs and works on voice commands like Siri. Scarlett Johansson provides the voice for it and it is basically Siri+Chat Partner+Phone Sex partner for Theodore played by Joaquin Phoenix. For him the relationship follows the same pattern as his experience with his ex-wife. As Samantha (OS) evolves and becomes more intelligent, both of them find it hard to cope with the change. The film ends quite predictably with him finding solace in the company of Amy (Amy Adams) who is also in a similar predicament.

Spike Jonze is in familiar territory making a film based on a wacky idea (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation). His earlier collaborations with Charlie Kaufman  are known for their wackiness and also for them petering it out towards the end of the film (That was an in-joke in Adaptation). In 'Her' he manages to sustain our interest quite till the end. The sets are beautiful with its orange colored theme and the cast do a great job. Amy Adams have been in some very good roles recently (The Master, American Hustle).

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Prisoners (2013)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer:    Aaron Guzikowski
Cast:       Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano

Keller Dover's (Hugh Jackman) daughter goes missing along with her friends and he takes matters into his own hands even as the Police investigates the case using the leadership of Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal).

It is really an engrossing watch as we are filled with dread whole the way through but one feels its just a few plot twists too many. The same could be said of Villenueve's critically acclaimed previous film 'Incendies' which was larger in scope and therefore one can be more forgiving. Performances are great especially by Gyllenhaal and Jackman, and Paul Dano plays another psycho role. It is really a very good watch but I don't think it will stand up to scrutiny on second watch and plenty of plot holes to fill. It has got a very similar feel to 'Mystic River' which I liked even less.

Rating: 3/5 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Writers:  Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cast:      Oscar Issac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake

A week in the life of a struggling young folk singer as he tries to make it in the music scene, sleeping in his acquaintance's couches who generally doesn't like him. 

The great thing about the film is that protagonist is portrayed as a bit of a jerk who the audience shouldn't be rooting for but still end up wanting him to make it. But the loser stays as a loser and there is no happy Hollywood ending. One could say this is precisely why it didn't find any love when it came to academy awards nominations. The final scene has Llewyn exiting the pub making way for a young Bob Dylan.  Another great one from Coens who are on a roll since 'No Country For Old Men'. I even liked 'Burn After Reading'.

They initially looked for singers who can act since they wanted to shoot the songs with them sung live. They were unsuccessful and finally decided to go for actors who can sing and ended their search with Oscar Issac who does a very good job.

Rating: 4.5/5

71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) (1994)

Director: Michael Haneke
Writer:    Michael Haneke
Cast:       Gabriel Cosmin Urdes, Lukas Miko, Otto Grunmandl
Language: German

71 scenes revolving around a Romanian kid who entered into Austria illegally, a couple that adopted a daughter recently, a college student and an old man who watches a lot of TV and news. The film starts with the news that a student gunned down three people for no reason and then it goes to show activities of these people prior to the incident. In between we are shown TV news covering civil war in Somali, Balkan Wars, Middle East problems, Michael Jackson's trail etc.

This is the final film in Heneke's Glaciation trilogy which also includes 'The Seventh Continent' and 'Benny's Video'. All these films have alienation as its central theme. The 71 fragments is a difficult watch because it is hard to follow the characters for much of the film with the shortness of scenes. I think it is deliberate from his part because the final scene kind of shows that even violence doesn't get you noticed in this world as news reel again goes back to popular stories like Michael Jackson's trail after a token mention of three people getting killed. There is one great long take of a person practicing Table Tennis with a machine which was kind of the highlight for me. 

I think it is the most inferior film in Haneke's filmography with Benny's Video coming a second. That said Benny's Video is still better than many other director's best films.

Rating: 2.5/5

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bug (2006)

Director: William Friedkin
Writer:    Tracey Letts
Cast:       Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr.

A lonely woman who lives in a motel room gets an unhinged war veteran for company and they find they are infested with bugs after they make out. 

The film is a tale of two halves like 'From Dusk Till Dawn'. I really liked the first half of the film, especially the script and the tension but in the second half it becomes a cliched psychological horror. The first half was especially surprising because I expected it to be like a Cronnenberg body horror film and it wasn't. The Michael Shannon character believes in Bilderberg group conspiracies and convinces Agnes (Ashley Judd) that the army conducted experiments on him and he is carrying the bug. They cover their room with tin foils and the climax scene is really exquisite visually. It is a real good watch overall but the tone change in the second half is a bit unconvincing.

Rating: 3.5/5 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Captain Phillips (2013)

Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers:  Billy Ray, Richard Phillips
Cast:       Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman 

The real life story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali Pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. 

Like you would expect from a Greengrass film, it gives both the captains (ship captain and the pirates captain) almost equal importance. He is really one of the few directors who can make action films that don't dump down the story. What elevates the film from good to great is the performance by Tom Hanks in the last 10 minutes where he depicts a man who is shell shocked. There are no brave speeches and the rescue scene is done in a cold calculated way. It is not his best film but still a great one from a very dependable director.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, January 18, 2014

American Hustle (2013)

Director: David O. Russell
Writers:  Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell
Cast:      Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner

Two con artists played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams are arrested by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who wants to use them to trap the mayor and congressmen in a corruption scandal.

The best thing about the film is that less importance is given to the plot and it is all about the characters and their relationships. The whole film builds up to the hotel dinner scene where they meet the people from mafia with Robert De Niro making a cameo appearance. That is the high point of the film and when the end comes it is a bit anti-climactic with an inevitable twist.

As stated in the beginning of the film 'Some of these things happened' and it is loosely based on the ABSCAM operation by the FBI during the 70s. It didn't do much good for the FBI as what they did was more or less an entrapment and not exactly catching people with dirt. It is a real good watch but not by any means the best film of the year like some critics are proclaiming it to be.Christian Bale stole the show for me.

Rating: 3.5/5 

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Director: Steve McQueen
Writers:  John Ridley, Solomon Northup
Cast:       Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Brad Pitt

Solomon Northup, a free black man from New-York is kidnapped and sold into slavery and ends up in antebellum United States. Like the title suggest the audience more or less know what happens and it is based on Solomon Northup's first hand account with the same name.

The first half of the film goes along the expected lines and there is not much to it other than Solomon's bewilderment with his situation. Excellent cameos form Paul Giamatti and Michael K.Williams are there in the first half with Paul Dano playing his usual cliched self. The second half of the film gets more interesting with the introduction of Michael Fassbender's slave owner character who is infatuated with Patsey played by Lupita Nyong'o. It is really a British film that tells the story that Americans and Hollywood don't dare to tackle.

It can be also called third in Steve McQueen's 'Bodily Fluid Trilogy' with Hunger and Shame preceding it. It is a difficult watch but really well made and should win many awards.

Rating: 4/5 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ship of Theseus (2012)

Director: Anand Gandhi
Writers:  Anand Gandhi, Pankaj Kumar, Khushboo Ranka
Cast:      Aida Elkashef, Sohum Shah, Neeraj Kabi

The film starts by stating the Theseus Paradox which poses the question that:' If all the planks of Ship of Theseus was replaced with other planks, then will it remain the same ship? If another ship is made using the replaced planks which one of them will be the Ship of Theseus?' Then the film proceeds to show three stories in the anthology format with some connection. It dwells on the ideas of identity, soul, death, karma etc with organ donation as the common thread.

I watched the film without any prior knowledge other than it deals with existentialism. It was ironic when I heard one character in film referring to the fact that body contains microbes at an order of several times the number of human cells it has, because I had discussed the same thing earlier today with one of my friends. Where will you draw the boundary when the system itself contains several subsystems in which several other organisms reside. Who is controlling who and there is a big question mark over the scope of free will. Isn't it just some organic matter and chemical reactions without any purpose, soul or anything. Another thing is that our cells die gets replaced with newer ones quite frequently and theoretically over a period of around 7-10 years all the cells in our body would have been replaced at least once. So how is one human being defined if there is no soul?

The film is exquisitely shot and well acted. It was made on a very low budget and it got good reviews during the film festival runs. In India it got released in a few cities based on the number of votes it got from potential customers. The film has been made available for free through: and it can be freely streamed or downloaded. There is an option to donate as well which I did (Rs.200-the amount it would have cost me to see it at cinemas). All credits to the film makers as this is something that I thought was feasible for such independent films. Make it accessible to viewers and if the film merits it, the word of mouth popularity and money will follow. Good to see that Hugo Weaving presented the film for its Australian audience.

It is really a must watch film for which Indian film industry shouldn't take any credits.Shame that I couldn't see it on a big screen. It might have been better for the film if they did a simultaneous release via the internet like they have done now. It might have helped them in getting to more cinemas as I would certainly have watched it again on big screens.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Don Jon (2013)

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Writer:    Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Cast:       Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore

In the title role, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a New Jersey bartender who is addicted to porn and have unrealistic expectations about real sex which makes him prefer the former. A girl comes into his life but he finds it hard because of the demands the relationship makes.

Don Jon is a solid directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and it is really a funny childish version of 'Shame'. The Don John character is a blue collar worker who loves his car, his house, his porn and his church. Every week he makes his confession and the film follows his activities repeatedly over the film's length. The only problem in the film is Scarlett Johansson's character who is supposed to be from a higher class but talks in a similar manner to Jon which I thought was a bit unrealistic. But otherwise I guess it would have been very similar to the relationship between Travis Bickle and Betsy in 'Taxi Driver'. Most of the characters and Jon's family itself are caricatures and the film is really funny. Editing would remind one of 'Requiem for a Dream'.  

It is obvious that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has good taste and chooses his films carefully, if you see his filmography with films like 'Brick' and "Mysterious Skin'. Rather than making a dark brooding film, he has made a real fun film with 'Don Jon', which did rather well at the Box Office.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers:  Terence Winter, Jordan Belfort
Cast:       Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the role of Jordan Belfort, a wall street broker, who used pump and dump tactics to make money through his clients by dealing in penny stocks. He was a drug and sex addict and its a no holds barred film from Scorsese after his tame children's film that was 'Hugo'. 

Even though the film is three hours long, you won't feel the length as it is hilarious all the way through. There are number of great set-piece scenes like the McConaughey one, cerebral palsy phase scene, FBI in the Yacht scene etc. The entire film is driven by Belfort's narration especially the first hour and you can see him breaking the fourth wall frequently like in 'House of Cards' and it is done seamlessly without feeling too expositionary. It is a great watch but I don't think it is one which people will feel the need to re-watch anytime soon. Loved the nod to Godfather with him having two guards named Rocco.

Many people have questioned the morality depicted in the film. Well they can do one as the film is not in anyways required to take a stand or send a message.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Good Vibrations (2012)

Directors: Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn
Writers:    Colin Carberry, Glenn Patterson
Cast:        Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Liam Cunningham

The film chronicles the rise of Belfast punk rock scene, amidst the troubles that were going on there, through one man's efforts who set up the Good Vibrations record store. Terri Hooley ended up getting records out for bands like 'The Outcasts' and 'The Undertones' but decided not to profit from them as he was a socialist. None of the bands became big and they didn't sign any record deals but they received support from BBC's John Peel.

It is a feel good film and it is conscious about it with the tagline: 'It is not a feel good film, but a feel great film'. The thing with such films is that how different the set up is decides whether it works or not. Belfast rife with the Catholics-Protestants fighting and its dark sense of humor and accent makes the film work. Unlike the characters in films like '24 Hour Party People', the characters here are not desperate for money which in itself is a bit different. As Terri says regarding the punk:' New-York has the hairstyles, London has the Trousers but Belfast has the reason'.

Rating: 4/5 

Stories We Tell (2012)

Director: Sarah Polley
Writers:  Sarah Polley, Michael Polley

It is a documentary film that tries to bring different people's version of a family event to give us a picture of somebody who died a while back.

The family event concerns the parentage of the director/actor Sarah Polley. It helped that I knew nothing about the film as well as the celebrity nature of Sarah Polley, even though I have seen films like Go in which she played one of the main characters. What makes it better than sum of its parts is the breaking of fourth wall that happens frequently and particularly in the last third of the film. We realize that the film is an attempt by Sarah Polley in dealing with the the discovery of her real biological father.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, January 3, 2014

Le passé (The Past) (2013)

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writers:  Asghar Farhadi, Massoumeh Lahidji
Cast:       Ali Mosaffa, Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Pauline Burlet
Language: French, Persian

An Iranian returns to France to file divorce with her wife whom he had left four years back after suffering from depression. Things get complicated as he gets involved with the tensions within the family between the mother and her elder daughter, who is not happy with the mother's pending marriage to a man whose wife is in a coma.

The film is extremely intense as things get more tangled as it dwells more into the past. Little things are revealed slowly to the audience without any spoon feeding and it is amazing how Iranian films gets such fresh stories from family relationship situations. The twist at the end is similar to the one in Farhadi's previous film 'A Separation'. The performances are great from all the four leading characters as well as child actors. It is another masterpiece from Farhadi again dealing with separation but mostly to do with the aftermath.

Rating: 5/5