Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ഒരു വടക്കൻ സെൽഫി (Oru Vadakkan Selfie) (2015)


Director: G. Prajith
Writer:   Vineeth Sreenivasan
Cast:      Nivin Pauly, Aju Varghese, Manjima Mohan, Vineeth Sreenivasan
Language: Malayalam


Umesh (Nivin Pauly) is a careless engineering student who has 42 papers to clear (സപ്പ്ളി ). As pressure mounts on him to assist his father in their retail shop, he decides to flee to Chennai in order to pursue his film directing aspirations. On the train he meets his neighbor girl (Manjima Mohan), on whom he has a crush, and takes a selfie without her knowledge and whatsapp it to his friend (Aju Varghese). That action leads to a lot of unintended consequences like him being accused of kidnapping her and it is up to him and his friend to find her in Chennai to clear their name. To assist them in their investigation is a private detective (Vineeth Sreenivasan).

Am not really a fan of Vineeth Sreenivasan and didn't last more than thirty minutes when I tried  to watch two of his directed films: 'Thattathil Marayathu' and 'Thira'. Admittedly those watching efforts were on TV and because of the ads it might not be entirely his fault that I didn't find the necessary patience to finish those films and make a more informed judgement. This film, whose title translates as 'A Northern Selfie', was written by him and as is common in films of Nivin Pauly and the likes, there is an element of exploiting nostalgia to create comedy around it. Engineers who did Engineering like we all did just for the sake of it are the butt of all jokes these days. I am waiting for the same to happen with B-Tech MBAs in films. The script is not very smooth in terms of the quality of writing and there is an element of doing comedy sketches on back of a bare to bones plot structure. Still there are plenty of laughs to be had until around two thirds into the film after which it becomes too contrived and uninteresting. It is common in Indian films to cram all sorts of things into a film and that is why you get comedy mixed with seriousness mixed with song and dance routines mixed with romantic angle, action sequences etc in a single film. The idea is to please all idiots who are watching it some way or the other.  In this one there is a tonal shift from comedy to seriousness which the writer/director totally fails to do properly. Early Siddique Lal films are perfect examples for doing this in a smooth manner, and these days, lazy ass directors use cringe worthy twists to do the transition. They could have easily continued with the comedic angle throughout the film to tell the same story without it being as jarring as this. No, they had to take what felt like a social study class on the phenomenon of cyber financial fraud so that they could broaden the audience and be socially responsible. The tear-jerk dialog delivered by the actress drew laughs from the audience and the expositions were really terrible.

To sum up, it is a film of three halves (up to Chennai, Chennai, post Chennai) with the first two being very watchable as a comedy film even though there is a comedy skit feel to the whole thing. The last third of the film is laughably bad. There are some very avoidable songs in it, which is the norm in Indian films, and they could have easily done the whole under two hours instead of the 150 minutes running time it has. Hell, they could have very well done away with the last third of the film entirely without much loss and you would have come out of it far more satisfied. Considering the dearth of quality Malayalm films these days, it will do very well at the box office and I do recommend it as a goodish one time watch. 

Rating: 2.5/5 (rounded down from 2.667)
                                                                             

Gummo (1997)


Director: Harmony Korine
Writer:    Harmony Korine
Cast:       Nick Sutton, Jacob Sewell, Lara Tosh


Lonely residents of a tornado-stricken Ohio town wander the deserted landscape trying to fulfill their boring, nihilistic lives. The loose narrative follows several main characters who find odd and destructive ways to pass time, interrupted by vignettes of other denizens of the town. 

Gummo marked the directorial debut for Harmony Korine and the only other film I have seen of his is 'Spring Breakers'. I didn't like Spring Breakers even though it got some sort of critical success. I get that it is meant to be a portrayal of some obnoxious characters but it doesn't help if you find the acting by most of the actors in it to be below-par. That is what you get when you've people like Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez in the film. Then again  if you see the film as a meta-look at the careers of people like them, it kind of works but that doesn't make it any better to watch. But you got to admit it is really a mad mad film with some exquisite shots, like that twilight piano scene. 

So I didn't have much hopes with Gummo but decided to watch it to see if I missed something with Spring Breakers. It is like an anti-film with the director trying to go against all conventions. The characters that it portrays are the ones which most other films don't take a look at and I was reminded of the fringe poor characters from 'True Detective'. I didn't find it interesting in any way whatsoever and watching it was a masochistic exercise. Compared to Spring Breakers, the acting in it looked genuine even though most of them are local non-actors and that could very well be its only saving grace. Some of it is darkly funny but most of it is just plain boring.  At least, Harmony Korine is not romanticizing poverty in America.

Overall it is quite a difficult watch and you need to go there only if you're interested in the director's filmography for some reason. Film was done with a budget of $1 million and didn't make much money on its release but have gained a cult following subsequently with the likes of Werner Herzog being a fan. Korine's next film is titled 'The Trap' and it is supposed to have Al Pacino, Idris Elba, Robert Pattinson, James Franco and Benicio Del Toro. I must be really missing something here.

Rating: 2/5
                                                                        

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)


Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer:    Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast:       Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
Language: Persian


In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware that they are being stalked by a lonesome Burqa clad vampire. It is an adaptation of Ana Lily Amirpour's graphic novel with the same name. 

The main characters apart from the vampire are: Arash who does petty crimes to get by and has a junkie father who acts as a parasite, Saeed who is the local gangster/bully/pimp and Atti the prostitute. The vampire girl is essentially a vigilante with leftist liberal agenda. Arash models himself on James Dean, which might be a reference to Terence Malick's Badlands in which Michael Sheen 's character does the same. Apart from that one it will also remind you of another graphic novel based film, Sin City, not just because it is shot in black and white. There is also a Western feel to the whole thing with a neo-noir tinge. It is exquisitely shot in a self-indulgent manner and is a very enjoyable watch. People are predisposed to look for political subtext in films from countries where the population is repressed and since this one was shot in California with backing from Sundance film festival, Amirpour didn't have to really make it ambiguous in any sort of way. She was born in England and is settled now in US and the target audience of the film seems to be those from the West. It is better to see the film as a mish-mash genre bender than as a political one. Highlight of the film would of course be the burqa wearing vampire on a skateboard. 

So we've had three really good films involving vampires from last year. The other two are 'Only Lovers Left Alive' and 'What We Do In The Shadows'. It looks like we got all the shitty studio-backed vampire films out of the way and now it is the time for independent filmmakers to have fun with the genre. It is not uncommon for Hollywood to latch on to an idea and you get waves of big-budget films with same theme. Zombie films were followed by Vampire ones which were again followed by Zombie films and maybe the next trend will be witches or something like that. 

Ana Lily Amripour's next film is supposed to be an English one titled 'The Bad Bitch', a post apocalyptic cannibal love story set in Texas wasteland. Sounds promising. The plot is very thin when you talk about 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. The director also makes a cameo as the the other girl from the party scene.

Rating: 4.5/5
                                                                           

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The War of the Century: When Hitler Fought Stalin (1999)


Written By:   Laurence Rees
Narrated By: Samuel West


'The War of the Century' is a four part BBC documentary series which examines the Eastern front during the second world war. Eastern front began with Adolf Hitler's invasion of Russia in 1941 and what followed was a no-holds barred approach from both sides. It not only examines the war but also the terror inside Soviet Union during the campaign through the witness accounts from all sides-the ultimate Victors (Red Army), the vanquished (German Army) and the eternally oppressed people of Soviet Union. Why the Eastern Front serves as a testament for what humans are capable of doing to each other in 20th century is explained through the policies followed by both Hitler and Stalin. 

The late 90s and early 2000s were like last chance saloon for documentary makers to capture accounts of people who actually participated in the war and by then almost all the war documents that could be declassified were declassified. I had seen the 1974 documentary 'World At War' which is like a definitive account of the second world war. One drawback with it was that they couldn't use some of the documents that were declassified later which kind of made some of it inaccurate. Still it is very powerful and a must watch. By the time 'The War of the Century' came, there were numerous documentaries made on almost all the aspects of war. How WotC differentiates itself is by telling the story of Eastern Front primarily using witness accounts and providing substantiation through recently declassified war documents from Russia. 

The four episodes are:

1) High Hopes: This episode deals with Hitler's invasion of Russia in 1941 till the siege of Moscow where they were thwarted by the Russian winter as well as the Red Army counterattack using reinforcements from Siberia, who were adept at battles during winter. It also looks at the attitude of German army regarding the occupied people and the culpability of it in implementing the Nazi agenda. They looked at the Soviet people as an uncivilized bunch and Hitler's tactic was to oppress them so that they will serve the German masters.

2) Spiral of Terror: Attitudes of both Hitler and Stalin was to meet terror with terror. This is why the Eastern Front turned out to be the most brutal as the orders were duly followed and things were taken to their logical conclusion. Stalin ordered for resistance against Germans in the occupied land and partisans became a feature in the occupied territories as they mount attacks against German occupiers and people who were suspected  to have co-operated with the Germans. Captured Germans soldiers were brutalized and mutilated which further escalated the violence due to German reprisals. Ukrainians suffered most as there were three groups doing the fighting-German Army, Soviet Partisans and Ukraine nationalist partisans who preferred independence. The Ukrainians had initially treated the Germans as liberators only to find their situation even more worse under them. 

3) Learning to Win: This episode describes the battle of Stalingrad at the end of which Russians began their ascendancy in war. Hitler had seen Volga river as the natural border for his German empire and he sent two army groups: one to the South towards the Caucasus to capture Russian oil sources and another one to north-east towards the city of Stalingrad which bordered with the Western banks of Volga. Stalingrad was the last of the Russian resistance against Germans in their quest of forming their lines along Volga and Stalin ordered the Red Army to defend the city. What followed was a brutal resistance characterized by close combat between the two armies. The distance between the two were a mere hundred meters but the Germans found it impossible to break through since things like their tanks were not useful in such a kind of battle. By this time, after several setbacks prior  to it when Stalin overrode his generals' advise, Stalin started to follow his generals's advise and a decision was taken to encircle the German sixth army who were laying siege to Stalingrad. Strategy was successful and the field marshal of the sixth army surrendered against Hitler's orders. 110,000 Germans surrendered and 95% of them died during their time under the Soviets.

4) Vengeance: The final episode documents what happened leading up to the Red Army occupation of Berlin. The German occupying force in Soviet Russia followed a 'Scorched Earth' policy during their retreat which meant that the suffering of the occupied people continued. To compound matters Stalin began deportation of his own people, who belonged to ethnic minorities like Chechens, Tartars, Kalmyks etc, to Gulags in Siberia. He targeted all those groups who were suspected to have misgivings with the idea of Soviet Union. When the Red Army reached Eastern Prussia and Germany, it marched ahead pillaging and raping its way through. Even the Russian prisoners of war were not spared as Stalin didn't believe in the idea of it. Russians were not supposed to surrender and he treated PoWs as traitors and they were sent to gulags. As the war ended Stalin began manufacturing his legacy as the commanding figure who won the war. Within a year after the end of war, he took actions against all three of the Army, Navy and Air-force generals to seal his legacy. In effect half of Europe exchanged one tyrant for another.

Overall the documentary is a great watch and I quite liked the dispassionate way in which it was presented, especially when it comes to the narration. I do recommend Dan Carlin's podcast 'Ghosts of the Ostfront' as the best account of the Eastern Front- for information as well as for the passionate delivery. All these ideologically pure movements, be it the Nazis, Islamic State or Hindutva movement in India, seeds of their own destruction are contained within them. The only question is how much damage they can inflict upon people before they destroy themselves. As for the the Eastern Front-everything ran into millions-tens of million dead, millions captured & deported, million raped etc.

Rating: 4/5
                                                                              

Band of Brothers (2001)


Based on: 'Band of Brothers' by Stephen E. Ambrose
Cast:         Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Matthew Settle, Scott Grimes, Donnie Wahlberg


The story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne division and their mission in WW2 Europe from operation Overlord through V-J Day. It consist of ten episodes and was an HBO DreamWorks production . Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg served as executive producers with the former directing one episode as well. With a budget of $125 million, it was the highest budgeted TV show at that point of time.

I had obtained 1080p print of Band of Brothers some time back (joys of ultra-fast XIMB broadband) but had postponed watching it primarily due to the involvement of Steven Spielberg. I am not really a fan of his and the fact that Saving Private Ryan played some part in the production of this series didn't really fill me with a great deal of confidence despite the great reviews that it got. My skepticism could be justified because SPR also got similar reviews when in fact it was a thoroughly average film after the first thirty or so minutes. It turns out that Spielberg was involved late in the production only, to serve as a final eye on the project, and it was largely developed by Tom Hanks and Erik Jendersen. My fears about it were thoroughly misplaced and Band of Brothers was a fucking great watch like everyone said it would be.

The entire story is based on the war efforts of Easy Company and therefore what we are getting is as much of an authentic account that we could possibly get in this format of what it was like for them. By the same token we don't get a strategic account of what really happened during the war and so it is more of a micro look as opposed to a macro one. The main advantage that BoB had over the SPR is the length with which it can work and they were not really under pressure to establish the main characters in the story immediately. In fact I actually started recognizing most of the characters by around fifth episode only. The first episode have them getting trained in USA first and then in England in preparation for D-Day while the second episode depicts their actions on D-Day. I found the third and fourth episodes to be like the low points of the series as they served more as disjointed accounts of some operations that they did. The fact that we don't have any protagonists as such made those episodes quite uninteresting for me but for people who like seeing army maneuvers and such it should still be enjoyable. After that, each of the episodes are told from the perspective of a particular protagonist and it gets better and better. The best two episodes of the entire series are the sixth one (Bastogne) and the seventh (The Breaking Point), both of which are set in Belgium during the brutal winter. By the end of seventh episode we are involved so much into the series that we don't mind the low key nature of the later episodes as the series stay true to what really happened with the war winding down. That said the ninth episode had a brutal depiction of them discovering a concentration camp for the first time. I got to say even though it was quite harrowing, I was affected much more when I saw the concentration camp episode from the documentary series 'World At War', which is also a must watch. 

Like many I guess, the favorite character from the show is the bad-ass Captain Ronald Speirs and the favorite scene would be his mad run in 'The Breaking Point'. I think my opinion of third and fourth episodes will change if I re-watch them because the fact that I know the characters now might alter my perception of it. The series was filmed largely in England and the snow filled Belgium episodes were done inside a hangar. The production quality of it is something else and at around 12 million per episode you can see how it managed to beat films of this genre. If you are hell-bent on finding faults with it, you can maybe criticize for the binary portrayal of most of its protagonists. It is understandable since most of these details are gleaned from the real life characters involved. Each episodes contain several brief interviews with real-life counterparts but their identities are only revealed at the end of tenth episode. Overall it is must watch and I would say the best TV series that I have seen in terms of the overall production quality. As far as favorites in TV drama series go, I think it will be third after 'The Wire' and 'True Detective'.

Rating: 4.5/5 
                                                                          

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Partition: The Day India Burned (2007)


Director: Ricardo Pollack
Narrator: Chiwetel Ejiofor


It is a BBC documentary about the effects of British withdrawal from India in 1947 after splitting the country into two- Independent India and a Muslim state called Pakistan. It triggered one of the biggest migrations in history with around fifteen million people displaced and more than a million losing their lives in the ethnic cleansing that ensued based on religious lines. The story is told through the accounts given by people who were living their entire life in what became the other side all pf a sudden, and were forced out of their homes as one of the largest and most ethnically diverse nations in the World was divided. 

The documentary serves as a recounting of what happened during the year leading up to the partition and its aftermath. The focus is more on the witness account rather than the politics behind the partition and this is understandable since it is a BBC production. In 1946, a British cabinet commission came to India to discuss its independence with Congress party and the Muslim league led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. At that point, Jinnah was ready to compromise on his demand of independent Pakistan provided that the provinces under independent India would be given more autonomy and power in the federalist equation. This was not acceptable for the Congress under Nehru, who had a socialist vision for independent India which according to him would need a strong central government. Any further hopes of non-partition was dashed with the Calcutta riots in August 1946 which began with Muslims killing Hindus. The violence escalated with Hindu reprisals and lasted for three days leaving around four thousand people dead, around equal body count from both sides. The communal violence spread to Bihar, to Noakhali in Bengal, in Garhmukteshwar in the United Provinces and on to Rawalpindi in March 1947.


Late in 1946, the Labour Governement in power decided to end British rule in India after finding themselves to be almost in a bankrupt state because of the second world war. In early 1947, they announced its intention of transferring power no later than June 1948. To oversee the same, Lord Mountbatten was appointed as the Viceroy of India in February 1947. He met with Nehru and Jinnah and formed a cordial relation with the former but found the latter to be very cold and adamant on his demands for an independent Pakistan. Seeing the situation on ground with all the communal tensions, Mountbatten advanced the date of independence to August 1947 which left them with only three months to prepare for the event. He didn't want anything to do with the highly probable civil war and left law and order to be handled by the emerging nations independently. The British army was withdrawn from India leading up to the independence and Sir Cyril Radcliffe was appointed to demarcate the boundaries between the two states. The main area of contention with great uncertainty was the province of Punjab where three communities of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus lived together. The demarcation were made based on the population of communities in a particular area with several other infrastructural realities also taken into consideration, and since the boundary was only known to Mountbatten and Radcliffe, it led to ethnic cleansing in several places anticipating the demarcation. The two countries became independent in August 1947 without really having fixed their borders. This actually exacerbated the situation as people acted with impunity leading up to the independence and fixing of boundaries. 

I am quite used to watching people recount communal violence related atrocities, either being inflicted on them or by them, after recently watching documentaries on 2002 Gujarat communal riots, 1984 anti-Sikh violence and Babri Masjid demolition. So that part of the documentary didn't really strike that much for me even though there was this one Sikh person boasting about the kills he did during those days wielding his curved sword. One major drawback of the documentary is that it doesn't talk about the politics involving the demand for Pakistan which began in early part of 20th century. An early catalyst for it was the 1871 Census of British India which classified the people based primarily on their religion and made accessible the estimation of populations in regions of Muslim majority. The numbers were used by both communities for identity politics. The Muslim leaders pointing out that Hindus will always be in a majority in independent India and the condition of Muslims won't be tenable without adequate representation. As for Hindu leaders, they would point out the growth rate of Muslim population and ludicrously claim that in some number of years they would overtake the number of Hindus in the country. This is still being done in independent India. I really don't buy the claim that British followed a divide and rule policy in India and only because of that communal divisions became stark leading to partition. The people behave fundamentally in an idiotic fashion when it comes to religion and you don't really need to blame British for that. The communal faction of Hindus have never come to terms with the fact that Muslims are also Indians and part of this is to do with the inferiority complex borne out of Muslims ruling over India before the British came to power. It is as is if they regret the fact that they never got a chance to pay back for that humiliation since India became a secular democracy after gaining independence. 

Rating: 3/5
                                                                           

Friday, March 27, 2015

Film Soundtrack Mixtape-2014


I am not a music connoisseur and if you ask me which is my favorite album from a certain band that I listen to, the answer would most probably be 'Best of InsertBandName'. The way I discover contemporary music is usually based on 'Best Album of the Year' poll conducted on RAWK (a Liverpool fans forum that I visit regularly). Last year it was Lost in the Dreams from the band 'War on Drugs' and the year before it was Drenge  from the band with the same name. Apart from these, another source for discovering music is from the soundtracks of films that I watch. So the following is a list of best music I discovered through watching films from last year.

1) Vitamin C from CAN-Inherent Vice

2) Born to Die from Lana Del Rey-Mommy

3) The Taste of Blood from Jozef Van Wissem & SQÜRL-Only Lovers Left Alive

'Only Lovers Left Alive'  is the soundtrack of the year and should be listened to in its entirety.

4) El Condor Pasa from Simon & Garfunkel-Wild

5) I Love You All from Michael Dassbender-Frank


6) Death from Mica Levi-Under the Skin

The entire soundtrack is very creepy...

7) Vengeance from Perturbator-The Guest

The Guest is 2014's Drive in terms of Soundtrack. A very fun film to watch as well.

8) Deep Blue from Arcade Fire-Boyhood

I am a fan of Arcade fire but hadn't heard this track before watching Boyhood.

9) Experience from Ludovico Einaudi-Mommy

10) Funnel of Love from Madelline Follin-Only Lovers Left Alive


11) Far From Any Road from The Handsome Family-True Detective


12) Secure the Galactic Perimeter from The Soronprfbs-Frank


13) Obsidian from Gatekeeper- The Guest


14) Think from KALEIDA- John Wick


Search ResultsSQÜRL

(500) Days of Summer (2009)


Director: Marc Webb
Writers:  Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast:       Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend


An offbeat romantic comedy about a woman who doesn't believe true love exists, and a young man who thinks the opposite and falls for her. 'Summer' in the title is the name of the girl and the film follows a non-linear narrative as it jumps from various days within 500-day span of Tom and Summer's relationship. Each of these jumps are indicated by a title card with day numbered & picture in it conveying the mood of the protagonist.

The entire film is based on Tom's perspective of the relationship and we don't get much insight into Summer in terms of her view of their relationship. The tone of the film is set with the following disclaimer:

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental. 

Especially you Jenny Beckman. 

 Bitch.

It is essentially about a guy who is finding it very hard to get over the girl who he thinks is the one, his only and true soul-mate. The relation starts off with the disclaimer from Summer that she in not looking for anything serious as she doesn't believe in the concept of love. Their first night spend together is followed up with an elated Tom breaking out into a dance routine as he go to the office. There is a sense of perfection to how Summer is portrayed and the same can be said about all other characters who are part of Tom's life, especially his much younger sister (Chloe Grace Moretz) who serves as a relationship adviser for him. This could be used as a point to criticize the film for its shallowness but it is a deliberate choice and it does not claim to be anything more than what it essentially is. Yeah, it is style over substance, but is  a very good watch belonging to a genre that is very hard to get right and one that you can enjoy a great number of times. The obvious comparison is to be made with 'Annie Hall' and 'High Fidelity' and for me it falls somewhere in between those two films in terms of greatness. High Fidelity is of course a more mature look with a much more cynical protagonist than in Days of Summer but latter is much more enjoyable to watch. 

This was my second viewing of the film and it was as much of a joy to watch as it was the first time round even though its shallowness is much more apparent. Alas, the entire point of the film is its protagonist making too much of the situation borne out of him choosing to see only one side of their relationship. Film ends with Tom meeting another woman, Autumn, through a chance encounter and you question whether the coming of age element in the film was more for Summer than him. The director, Marc Webb, who made a promising debut with this film was signed up for the shitty Spider Man franchise which was really a shame. 

Rating: 4.5/5
                                                                     

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mommy (2014)


Director: Xavier Dolan
Writer:    Xavier Dolan
Cast:       Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clement
Language: French


A widowed single mother, raising a violent son with ADHD alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household. The neighbor is also struggling and recovering from some emotional trouble, cause of which is not explained in the film, that has left her with speaking difficulties. She seems to be able to connect well with her neighbor's son and the interaction seems to help her in overcoming her difficulty in their presence. The film is set in French speaking part of Canada.

I had gone for my mother's hospital checkup two days back and in the waiting place we had interacted with a lady who had a 38-year old son having psychiatric problems after being subjected to hazing at college. So it was kind of kooky to watch 'Mommy' next, which also deals with a similar subject matter even though in the film Steve's troubles begin when his father dies and the family starts facing financial difficulties. At the beginning of the film, his mother takes him home from a correctional facility after him having burnt down the cafeteria causing injury to others. To make matters worse she loses her job. The film starts with a narrow aspect ratio of 1:1, a square,  and I was wondering whether it was a problem with the print that I was watching. It is intentional and when the family starts interacting with the neighbor and all of them becomes kind of happy, we get a scene where Steve is skating with his two mommies listening to Oasis' Wonderwall' in background, and he literally pulls the frame wide into a normal aspect ratio to indicate the mood at that point of time. It again goes back to 1:1 when his mother gets a court notice seeking damages related to his cafeteria burning incident. Towards the end of the film, there is a sequence where they have gone for a picnic and Steve's mom visualizes an alternative reality for them with Steve leading a normal life. The frame again widens and the sequence, set to some stunning background score, reminded me of a similar one from Spike Lee's '25th Hour'. I should watch that one again soon. 

With films like Mommy, the course that the story takes can be very predictable, with it either being a 'feel good' one or a 'feel worse' one. I did fear it taking 'Rain Man' route when it comes to ending but it did surprise me there even though the outcome is the same. So whether a film works or not despite being predictable depends on how well you connect to the characters and this film certainly did that for me. I was so transfixed that I sat through the end credits which was set to Lana Del Rey's 'Born to Die', an excellent choice. 

Overall it is  a great watch with excellent performances from the three leading characters. It was part of Official selection for Palme d'Or at Cannes where it won the Jury prize. I haven't seen any other films from Xavier Dolan, who at the age of 25 have already made five feature length films. Mommy is considered as his best work so far. His first film, I Killed My Mother, is supposed to be semi-autobiographical with him starring as a homosexual at odds with his mother.

Rating: 4.5/5
                                                                     

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

இருவர் (Iruvar) (1997)


Director: Mani Ratnam
Writers:  Mani Ratnam, Suhasini
Cast:       Mohanlal, Prakash Raj, Aishwarya Rai
Language: Tamil


Iruvar is Mani Ratnam's take on the real-life rivalry between M.G. Ramachandran and Kaurnanidhi. The idea to make a film on this particular topic was sparked by a conversation Mani Ratnam had with renowned Malayalam author, M.T. Vasudevan Nair. 

Previous to this, I had only seen Roja and bits of Bombay from Mani Ratnam's filmography. I really didn't like those films and the flag burning/hugging scene from Roja was so bad that it was good. A.R.Rahman's music is a fixture in Mani Ratnam films and while the songs maybe really good independently, I really can't sit through a film with five or six songs when they really don't play an efficient role in moving the story. In Iruvar, it is not the case and since the film's characters come from cinema background, Mani Ratnam was able to use the songs in relevant contexts and they do actually help move the story forward. Still he could have made it more efficient by not filming many of the songs in their entirety and it kind of hampered the film during its middle third. Still it kind of works in the sense that the characters age considerably over the course of the events shown in film and we also feel ourselves aging due to the length of the film. 

The characters are not named with their actual names in real life due to understandable reasons and you got Anandam- instead of MGR- played by Mohanlal, Tamil Selvam-instead of Karunanidhi-played by Prakash Raj and Kalpana-instead of Jayalalitha-played by Aiswarya Rai who is making her feature film debut. Anandam is a struggling actor whilst Selvam is a poet/screenplay writer and they meet on set and form a strong friendship. Selvam is part of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu which aims  at changing the caste equations in the state to make the society more equitable. He introduces the movement to Anandam who also joins the party whilst pursuing his acting career. Both of them become heavyweights in their own fields and the party uses Anandam's popularity to gain votes. At the time of a crucial election, Anandam gets injured by an accidental gunfire during a shoot, and the sentiments are utilized by the party to win the election and Selvam becomes the chief minister. Over the course of the term, the relation between the two stalwarts breaks down leading to the ouster of film star from the party. Anandam proceeds to form another party of his own and wins the election by running a campaign against corruption and thus becoming the CM. During all these he is attracted to his co-star Kalpana, who resembles his first wife who died young, and introduces her in to politics.

The films works as a vehicle for Mohanlal and Praksah Raj to exhibit their acting skills. The motivation for Selvam to prevent Anandam from entering his ministry is quite obvious as he is skeptical about the intellectual capability of actors from the beginning itself. We get a real perspective on Anandam's personal life but the reasoning for his political actions is not clear cut. It may very well be his ego getting hurt on getting brushed aside. The politics portrayed in the film is quite shallow and maybe that is fair since Tamil Nadu politics is actually quite shallow with it being hogged by stars from silver-screen. Film works better as a story about two characters' transformation after getting power in their respective fields rather than as a political film. Performances from both the lead characters are excellent, particularly from Mohanal whose character at the beginning and end are like chalk and cheese. The role of Selvam was offered to actors like Mammootty and Kamal Hasan who all declined it and Mani Ratnam decided to go with Prakash Raj, a relative unknown at that point of time. The title of the film translates as 'duo' and it is very much a story of both of them even though Mohanlal's character gets considerably more screen-time.

Overall it is a great watch whilst not being perfect. The songs from A.R. Rahman are excellent as is the not so subtle background score. Santosh Shivan handles the camera and there is one particular scene where Mohanlal is delivering a pivotal speech with Prakash Raj in the background and the camera circles the stage quite a few times over the course of which Prakash Raj grows more and more insecure. Not surprisingly, film was a box office failure but garnered universal critical acclaim. As for political films having similar kind of theme, 'Lal Salam' is a pretty good watch and it works better on a political level.

Rating: 4/5
                                                                            

Monday, March 23, 2015

Black Friday (2004)


Director: Anurag Kashyap
Writers:  Anurag Kashyap, Hussain Zaidi
Cast:       Kay Kay Menon, Pavan Malhotra, Aditya Srivastava
Language: Hindi


Black Friday is a film about the investigations following the 1993 serial bomb blasts, told through the different stories of the people involved-police, conspirators, victims, middlemen. It is based on the book, 'Black Friday- The True Story of the Bombay Blasts', written by Hussain Zaidi. Widely considered as Anurag Kashyap's masterpiece, it was not allowed to be released in India by the Censor Board for two years. 

The film begins with a quote from Gandhi: 'An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind'. It is then followed up with the actual bomb blasts on that particular day and the investigating officers gets an immediate breakthrough by getting hold of a few un-exploded vehicles. The suspects are drawn up pretty quickly and rounded up one by one. This part of the film is problematic for me because of the slow pacing coupled with the fact that I really didn't care much for the stream of names that they come up with since they are just foot soldiers involved in execution. It also involves a 12 minute foot chase to capture a suspect through the slums and this scene is said to have inspired Danny Boyle while making a similar foot chase in his Oscar winning shitfest, Slumdog Millionaire. I found Anurag's intentions on this scene just to be as a show-off since we are not at all emotionally invested with any of the characters involved, be it the Police or the suspect, to actually care about it. 

The film picks up with the introduction of the character, Badshah Khan, who is another one of those foot soldiers. He takes a north Indian tour under the orders of his boss, the chief schemer. Over the course of it he falls out with him as he gradually come to realize that his boss does not care much particularly about his fate and he finally gets caught by the Police from his village. This part takes significant screen time but it doesn't matter because we get emotionally invested with him and his frustrations give credibility to his decision to become a state witness. We get the entire planning involved in executing the blasts through him and details about the involvement of Tiger Memon. It then gets on to other characters who fills in on other details like how the RDX and firearms got into their hands and how Pakistan and ISI were involved with the same. The precursor to the blasts, the destruction of Babri Masjid and the ensuing riots in Bombay where Muslims were killed in large numbers by Hindu mobs, are shown in the final sequence. The bomb blasts were retaliation for the same and the film manages to condemn both sides in an ambivalent fashion without going overboard. The quote from Gandhi is shown again at the end and the message seems to be that there are around 600 million Hindus and 200 million Muslims in India. You don't have much of a choice but to coexist peacefully unless you want to fulfill the said quote. 

Overall it is good watch but the first hour of the film is really poor and uninteresting. He could have easily made it in about two hours and seemed to be just lazy with the editing since two and half hours is not that long by Indian film standards. I had the same problem with Gangs of Wasseypur as well. The performances are very understated, which is good, and the scenes involving Dawood Ibrahim were kick ass. The lead investigating officer is the main character in the film and his performance is particularly excellent as is the case with the guy who plays Tiger Memon. Good on Anurag Kashyap to humanize all the characters involved. The docu procedural style does not work uniformly well but the second half of the film largely salvages it by compensating for the drab first half.

Rating: 3.5/5
                                                                   

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Story of India (2007)


Presented By: Michael Wood


The Story of India is a BBC documentary series, written and presented by historian Michel Wood, about the history of India. He explains historical events by travelling to the places where they took place, examining archaeological and historical evidence at first and interviewing historians and archaeologists, as well as talking with local people.

As far as I remember from my school days, we were taught India's Independence movement and 20th century world events including the world wars as part of history course during tenth standard. In eighth/ninth standards, we were taught the events from 1500 AD including the Mughal rule in India based on how I remember me mugging up dates and events from those times. I am quite sure that all history pre-1500 were taught before ninth standard which means when we were less than 14 years old. What I mean to say is that these interesting parts of history were taught in a drab manner at an age when we were patently not capable of appreciating it or be interested by it. Most of us don't take up history courses after tenth standard as we have a fixation on becoming engineers or doctors and this means that plenty of us don't have much of a clue about history, which is very sad. In my opinion, a knowledge of history is a must and as they say: 'History might not repeat itself, but it does rhyme'. These days I am busy catching up with whatever I can learn about world history and I have found Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast to be very useful tool while being quite engrossing at the same time. I had seen BBC's 'The Story of India' some three or so years ago and decided to watch it again yesterday, just like that. It consists of six episodes covering the entire history of Indian subcontinent.

Episode-1: Beginnings

It begins with footage from Alapuzha- Kerala, capturing a ceremony by Brahmins involving chants which have been transmitted orally through generations over thousands of years and it resembles bird sounds. It must have been from a time before languages were invented and the ceremony is a twelve day Yaga dedicated to the fire God. Before watching this documentary, I had no idea that such a thing occurred just hundred or so kilometers from where I lived. 

Michael Wood proceeds to visit places in what is Pakistan these days, where ruins of Indus valley civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were discovered in early twentieth century. They existed from around 2500 BC to 1900 BC and at that time they were the most advanced in the World. Michael Wood looks at the data from scientists to speculate that the civilization ended due to climate change which caused the Eastward drift movement of rivers.



Then he takes a look at the origin of Sanskrit as a  language through Sanskrit text of Rig Veda which is from around 1500 BC. Based on studies, the current theory is that Sanskrit, Latin and Persian languages came from a common source and Wood examines it by citing the similarity in words used for father, mother and horse in all the three languages. This is tied in with the Indo-Aryan migration theory and Aryans were supposed to have come from central Asia. Rig Veda is supposed to be about these Aryans and there is a theory that after they invaded and occupied most parts of India, Caste system originated in India as a method to maintain societal hierarchy and community purity. Aryans are supposed to be the ancestors of Brahmins and they had a monopoly on education and thus the usage of Sanskrit. Michael Wood visits a recent archaeological discovery in Turkmenistan, which is supposed to be a city that developed during the Aryan migration. They stayed there for some time and had to move again due to another climate change event that affected the associated river. Some of them went Westward to Persia and the rest went East reaching India. The Sankrit epic, Mahabharatha, is supposed to be an historical text with fantasy elements depicting post Aryan invasion of India and is supposed to have originated between 900-800 BC. Wood visits Kurukshetra and Hastinapur, where some discoveries have been made giving credibility to the depiction of events in Mahabharata.

The foreign origin theory of Sanskrit is contested by the figures from the Hindu Nationalist Movement and they are not generally fans of the scientific method. They claim that it originated with Indus Valley civilization sometime around 4000 BC and this revisionism increased in intensity post 1990. They fantasize about India's Vedic past, by taking things very literally, and claim that thing like airplanes, cosmetic surgery, knowledge about nuclear physics etc existed during the Vedic times.

Episode 2: The Power of Ideas

This episode moves on to the revolutionary years after 500 BC-the age of Buddha and Mahavira, leading to Buddhism and Jainism respectively. Michael Wood takes a look at the teachings of Buddha, who advocates against any sort of attachments if you want to remain happy. His teachings were so revolutionary that he even advocated against the idea of God, as it also represents a sort of clinging. 

In 331 BC, Alexander the Great had reached the planes of Indian sub-continent and a boy is said to have looked admiringly at his multinational army. The boy, Chandragupta Maurya, went on to establish Mauryan empire which during his time occupied the entire sub-continent except for the state of Orissa and regions of Tamil Nadu. His chief adviser, Chanakya, passed a series of major economic and political reforms. A strong central administration was established patterned after Chanakya's text, 'Arthashastra' (Economics & Political Science). It was a time of great social and religious reform in India and Buddhism and Jainism became increasingly prominent. Chandragupta went on to become a Jain after renouncing his throne and proceeded to starve himself to death.

'Ashoka the Great' was the grandson of Chandragupta who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent circa 269 BC to 232 BC. The empire's capital was Pataliputra in present day Bihar with provincial capitals at Taxila and Ujjain. In about 260 BC, he waged a bitterly destructive war against the state of Kalinga (modern day Odisha), after which he had an epiphany leading to him embracing Buddhism and a path of non-violence. He is now remembered as a philanthropic administrator who addressed his people as children and mentions that as a father he desires their good. He was maybe the first ruler in the world who had advocated human and animal rights along with secularism. Ashoka Chakra, the wheel of righteousness, has been included in the Indian national flag. Sanghis (Hindu nationalist thugs), who thinks secularism to be a Western idea imposed on India by Nehru, should maybe take a look at the history of Ashoka and the Maurya dynasty.

Episode 3: Spice Routes & Silk Road

The discovery of monsoon by the West and the subsequent exploitation of the Monsoon winds led to the trading of spices and gold with ancient Romans and Greeks, thus putting the Indian sub-continent at the heart of Global Commerce during the time of great Roman empire. The trading (for Pepper, rice and silk in exchange for Gold) was done through the Western coast ports of India, and particularly through the lost port of Muziris. Some recent discoveries have been made regarding the location of Muziris near Kochi (North Paravur, Kodungalloor). The Kochi biennial which started in 2012 is named as Kochi-Muziris Biennale. It was the trade with the West during those times that led to the first Jewish settlement in Kerala along with the origin of Syrian Christians here. There is even a theory about Doubting Thomas visiting India having landed in Muziris with the travelling Jews.

This episode also take a peek at Tamil Nadu, which boasts the last surviving classical civilization and language. One can understand why Tamilians were so riled up when there was a campaign to adopt Hindi as the sole official language of India. After independence the plan was to have Hindi as official language with English continuing as associate official language for a period of fifteen years. Many of the states in South India and East India can't/don't use Hindi and the protests were led primarily by DMK of Tamil Nadu. To allay fears, Nehru enacted the Official Languages Act in 1963 to ensure continuing use of English as official language beyond 1965. It did not satisfy DMK as they feared subsequent administrations might not honor the assurances and continued with the protests. It played a major role in it coming to power after winning the assembly elections in 1967 after which Congress have never regained power in Tamil Nadu.

The last half of this episode takes a look at the Kushan empire, whose rulers originated from northern part of China during first century AD. They established Silk route through their Westward expansion and finally reached India through Afghanistan and Khyber pass by second century. They were the middle kingdom of the World with diplomatic contacts with Roman Empire in the West and Han China of the East. Their north Indian presence stretched at least till Varanasi.

Kanishka was the emperor of Kushan Dynasty in 127-151 and was famous for his military, political and spiritual achievements. The capitals of the empire was in Peshawar with one of the other major capital being Mathura in India. His conquests led to the development of Silk Road. He was a devout follower of Buddhism and played an important role in the transmission of Buddhism to China. He let his subjects in India to follow the religions they like but there was still unease about him as he was ultimately a foreigner. The Kushan empire fragmented into semi-independent kingdoms by third century AD. 


Episode-4: Ages of Gold

The Kushan rule in India was displaced by the Gupta Empire which was founded by Maharaja Sri Gupta. They ruled from approximately 320 to 550 AD and covered much of the subcontinent. According to many historians, it is a Vaishya dynasty and appeared as a reaction against oppressive rulers. The peace and prosperity created under the leadership of Gupta empire enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors. This period is called the Golden age of India and the period produced scholars like Kalisdasa, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma and Vatsyayana. This era marked the invention of zero and Aryabhata excelled in both Mathematics and Astronomy. The idea of Earth revolving around the sun was already known in India and Arybhata had correctly calculated the circumference of Earth. Vatsyayana is of course famous as the author of Kamasutra, which is a very prominent Indian export to the World. The Gupta empire collapsed in the sixth century.



This episode also covers the Chola kingdom in of Tamil Nadu, in South India. The height of the Chola empire was during the reign of Raja Raja Chola 1, who ruled between 985 and 1014. The capital was located at Tanjore and Raja Raja expanded his empire as far as Srilanka in the south and Kalinga in the north-east. They also established trade links with Indonesia and China.  

Episode 5: The Meeting of Two Oceans

The fifth episode examines the coming of Islam to the subcontinent. It began with the expedition Mahmud of Ghazni to Somnath where he plundered the temple. Even though Islam reached India through trade links, it spread rapidly in India after Islamic conquests. There were forced conversions and thus began the uneasy relationship between Hindus and Muslims. Wood jumps over to 16th century to explain the establishment of Mughal empire when Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodhi, the Muslim ruler of Delhi, in the battle of Panipat. The Mughals were originally from central Asia and had Mongol origin, but oriented more towards Persian rather than Turko-Mongol culture. Babur was a descendant of Genghis Khan from his mother's side.


Babur's grandson, Akbar, was the greatest of the Mughal emperors who established his capital in Agra. To unify the vast Mughal state, he adopted a centralized system of administration and adopted a policy of conciliating conquered rulers through marriage and diplomacy. He adopted policies that won him support of non-Muslim subjects and decreed that no one religion could hold the ultimate truth. But his dream of unity ended with civil war between his great grandsons-Darah and Aurangzeb. Darah had modeled his thinking based on Akbar's ideals but Aurangazeb wanted a return to Muslim orthodoxy. It all ended with a war in which the latter emerged as winner. Aurangazeb cut-off his brother's head and sent it to his imprisoned father, Shajahan, who had built the world-famous Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal also symbolically represent the reason for the decline of Mughal empire, a nobility steeped in opulence while the rural populace suffered from extreme poverty.

Episode 6: Freedom

Unlike other foreign rulers of India who came through Khyber pass, the British East India company came through Oceans establishing their first base in Eastern coast port city of Madras. Their influence grew over the entire east coast, finally reaching Calcutta. European traders in India coalesced as one led by British and the other by French. Their disputes and wars in Europe was replicated in South India. The British East India Company acted as a multinational corporation backed by the state and driven by profits. All came to a head in 1857, in what we call now as first war for independence, which the British described as Indian mutiny. It was the biggest rebellion against any European colonial rule and marked the end of both British East India Company as well as Mughal dynasty, with the British government taking direct control over the Raj.

Indian National Congress was established with the help of a British rebel, A.O. Hume, had the remit of obtaining freedom. The British had the habit of classifying Indians based on religion and this identity politics partly led to the stark division of people along communal lines. Muslim league leader, Jinnah, demanded a separate state for Muslims which led to the formation of Pakistan. The ambivalence and carelessness of the British, with all other parties involved also being culpable, led to the partition being a bloody affair with an estimated deaths of one million people. Consequences of the same is still reverberating but India as a democracy have survived somehow.

Post Script

Overall the documentary is a great watch giving a macro overview of the Indian history. It is impossible to cover everything in six hours but it is a very worthy effort backed  by big budget from BBC and great presentation by Michael Wood. The Indian historians will of course criticize the same just for being a foreign production. Well, they can do one. In India we don't have a documentary culture regarding these things and the academia is not in the habit of making their work accessible to ordinary people. It is only fitting that the British, who contributed very much to the discovery of our own History, is making this kind of documentary.

Rating: 5/5

                                                                        

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ugly (2013)


Director: Anurag Kashyap
Writer:    Anurag Kashyap
Cast:       Rahul Bhat. Ronit Roy, Vineet Kumar Singh, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Girish Kulkarni
Language: Hindi

A terrible tale of corruption, indifference, and systemic violence starts when 10 year old daughter of an aspiring actor disappears. His ex-wife and mother of the child is married to the Police chief with whom he had rivalry over the former since college days. The police suspects him and his friend for kidnapping the girl and all of them lose sight about the fate of the missing girl as they think with their guts instead of brains.  

Film starts with the claim that it is based on true events but I really doubt whether it was this convoluted in reality. When it finished, I was wondering whether all of it make any sense and on reflection, to be fair, almost all of it can be explained away in some way or the other. But it still leaves you with the feeling that something is amiss. It might have been better if Anurag hadn't gone for the slight twist at the end wherein the father gets away with the ransom money thinking that girl is anyway with the Police and they are trying to trap him all along. We are shown early on that his friend was calling him demanding ransom money and the whole thing about the father trying to rob the Jewelry store suggests that he was not in the know about the friend's plans till late. The friend must have convinced him later on that the kidnap is a fake one and he should take the money and run. I can't understand why he would believe that since the Police Chief is cooperating with him to find the girl and that wouldn't have been the case if  he was trying to frame him. It would have made more sense if he thought the mother might have kidnapped the girl instead for money reasons. That would be keeping with the overall theme of the film having all the three characters trying to benefit in some way from the disappearance. The three broken characters- mother with drinking problem who doesn't particularly care for her child, father with failed acting career and the Police Chief with false sense of righteousness who snoops on his wife's phone calls; are a reflection of the corrupt and systemic clusterfuck that Indian society is. Film would've worked better if it strictly stuck to those aspects rather than trying to be commercial by having a very mysterious and convoluted plot. One film that manages to do very well with great balance having such a theme is the Chinese film from last year, 'Black Coal, Thin Ice'.

Film was supposed to be released in 2013 but ran into problems with the CBFC (Censor Board) as they insisted on putting 'smoking is dangerous' warning in all the scenes depicting smoking. Anurag Kashyap finally relented late last year, with the promise that he will continue his battle regarding the same in future. Good luck with that then! The best scene from the film is when the father and his friend go to the station to report the kidnapping. It is a fair reflection of how people are treated by Indian bureaucracy, with the Police Inspector asking inane questions about his acting career, technicalities involved with casting and finally about how a picture of the caller appears in a phone. That scene is hilarious and another one like that is there later on with the father demanding alcohol to be served in a fast food joint. When the restaurant owner starts dialing the phone, he confronts him for calling the Police when in reality he was only trying to arrange the alcohol for him. That sums up the 'anything goes' culture that we are following and it has even been given some sort of recognition with that utterly cringe-worthy term -Jugaad, which the management consultant dickwads like to use. The former scene at the Police station is very Tarantinosque and has a set-piece sort of quality to it.

Overall the film is a very good watch with some excellent performances from almost all of the actors involved and a very gritty depiction of the modern Indian urban hell. It would have been great had he gone less commercial with it. His next film, Bombay Velvet, is slated for release in May this year and it looks a very commercial one by his standards if you go by the cast list. Sad to see Anurag Kashyap changing from being a hipster to mainstream.

Rating: 3.5/5
                                                                           

Friday, March 20, 2015

Dogma (1999)


Director: Kevin Smith
Writer:    Kevin Smith
Cast:       Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino


An abortion clinic worker (Linda Fiorentino) with a special heritage is called upon to save existence of humanity from being negated by two renegade angels, Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), trying to exploit a loop-hole and reenter heaven. The voice of God (Alan Rickman) communicates to her that two prophets (Jay and Silent Bob) will help her and along the way they meet Rufus (Chris Rock), the thirteenth apostle. If you think the ensemble cast is not big enough, you got George Carlin playing a cardinal, Salma Hayek as muse and Alanis Morissette as God no less. 

I recently saw 'Noah' and it also involved some angels called 'Watchers' about which I had no idea despite having gone to Sunday School for a long time. Going to Sunday school might have had a strong influence on me becoming an atheist and face it, who the fuck would really want to spend half your Sunday on such a thing. Instead of the do-good stuff from New Testament, had they taught about the moody genocidal God from the Old Testament and the rebellions he/she faced from angels like Lucifer, it would have been more interesting. I guess it is not PG-13 stuff. Loki, Angel of Death, is the one who did the genocidal stuff for the God and when he was engineering a plague on God's orders, another angel Bartleby talked him out of it by making him feel guilty. They were banished for eternity from heaven to Wisconsin for their insubordination. When a cardinal (George Carlin) declares an arch from his church to be one which can cast away your sins upon crossing, the fallen angels see it as a way to reenter heaven. But since it would make God fallible, by making his curse redundant causing the whole existence to be negated,they have to be stopped and the film revolves around this.  

Kevin Smith really was on ball during the early part of his career and Dogma was his first really major film at least based on the Cast list even though it is strictly independent in spirit. It was his fourth film with Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy coming before it. One could say he went off boil after Dogma but Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks 2 were watchable nevertheless. His most recent film 'Tusk' was him coming back to form and he had admitted that he was thinking about packing it in altogether after making some thoroughly forgettable films. Looks like he is gonna be prolific again with two films in production (Yoga Hosers and Clerk 3) and another two announced. Hopefully the quality won't suffer for it.

Overall Dogma is a great watch but at over two hours it is lightly longer than it should be. I had seen it a long time back with it being the first one I saw from Kevin Smith and on re watch its quality does not drop. In fact it was more enjoyable second time round with plenty of jokes that you might have missed on first watch. It drew protests from the predictable quarters even before its release and Kevin Smith got two death threats for it. Even Kevin Smith joined the protests against the film and got himself interviewed doing it. The overall message of the film is that it is good as long as people see things as ideas rather than making a belief structure around it. Before filming, Kevin Smith warned Jason Mewes to be on his behavior because of the involvement of actors like Alan Rickman and Jason went on to memorize the entire script, according to his own words, so as not to annoy the 'Rickman dude'. 

Rating: 4/5