Tuesday, March 9, 2010

5 recent movies worth catching

REVIEWS by Hilath

I should mention my views on some movies, including Avatar in 3D, which I saw in Bangalore, India, last week:

If they put their minds to it, Disney can make a traditional 2D animation classic and again they have proved it. Wonderful sets aside, the only drawback now for me is that I begin to realize that I am somewhat now not too comfortable with blatant sentimentality (such as Rose declaring to Jack “You jump, I jump” in Titanic which was nothing quite like the “I see you, You see me” concept offered by Neytiri to Jake Sully in Avatar).


If you don’t raise your expectations too high, this Farhan Akhtar-Deepika Padukone vehicle is quite engaging considering the schizophrenic nature of the movie. Don’t scold me now because it wasn’t me who spoiled the movie for you. It’s the title of the movie in case you didn’t notice it. So even though I am only giving it 2.5 stars (above average), the film is so unusually presented I think it’s worth a watch if nothing else is showing at a cinema near you right now (if there is a cinema near you in the first place).

Coming from writer and director Nancy Meyers (who made that hilarious romantic comedy for the oldies Something’s Gotta Give), what more can we expect. Alec Baldwin has re-invented himself as a comedian from “30Rock” and Meryl Streep delivers an equally sensitive and comedic performance. The premise offered by “Divorced…with benefits” is just outrageous.

3 IDIOTS:Easily the best Hindi film to date.

And when I say that, it is quite the compliment because this is the first time that I comfortably sat through a 3-hour Hindi film, WITHOUT lowering my high expectations, and even when it ended I wanted it to go on.

I wanted that EXPERIENCE like when I watched the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire: I wanted to feel India… to feel Ladakh … to feel the mixture of pain and joy that define the Indian – and the Indian way of life… In fact me and another friend now planning to go to Ladakh at least within the next two years after seeing 3 Idiots :)

Writer and director Rajkumar Hirani has perfected what I call a tight and taught screenplay (instead of tricking the audience into staying for three hours to make their perception of ‘value for money’ delivered by putting in unnecessary, dragging scenes) and from this film, I finally came to recognize him as one of those few humans who has managed to wake up and see life and the world from purely a philosophical and existential level.

And when I say that about a mainstream, commercial Hindi film, I’m saying a lot. No wonder many of my friends and relatives now say that for them too 3 Idiots, starring Aamir Khan, the most versatile actor for me in Bollywood, is the best Hindi film ever. They watch it repeatedly they claim. One of my friends on the Bangalore trip watched it three times at the cinema and if we had more time I would have gone a couple of times as well because it’s the kind of satisfying experience you want to go on and on.

And finally,…

MY NAME IS KHAN:It is surprising that 20th Century Fox logo appears when presenting the film but the Hurricane Katrina set in Georgia, USA, looked so childish and fake. Now compare that to the flooding scene in 3 Idiots which look most real.

The only reason why I gave this Shah Rukh vehicle 1.5 stars (above worse) instead of just 1 star (the worst) was because (aside from its big budget), Karan Johar as a director fails to handle new terroristic material as he has been all his life usually more comfortable handling more straightforward and romantic material. Heck, even his produced comedies like Dostana (even if that film hadn’t been his subtle coming-out movie) was more enjoyable.

And in My Name is Khan, Karan pulls out the Ultimate Twist. I say the ultimate, if you can understand that what happened next will be the most shocking thing for a serial follower of Bollywood Hindi film industry like me :P


When Kajol finally appears but SRK was only a little too late before she manages to drive off in a taxi without seeing him, which was quite the devastating emotional high-point of the movie, I was totally expecting for the calming and soothing theme of (Karan’s first, and also closeted-homo-film, if there’s such a thing) Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to settle in: “A-aa-aa-a-aa-aa… A-aa-aa-a-aa-aa… (repeat many times)”…

Karan has obviously lost focus if he forgot his signature, no.

Sad to say, in order not to climb into bed disappointed that night, I had a listen to (before sobbing off into a disturbed sleep) the recurring sad theme from the DVD of Karan’s second but first bi-movie Khabi Pussy, Khabi Bum (Hindi title: Khabi Khushi, Khabi Ghum which in Na’vi language literally translates into “Sometimes Happy, Sometimes (Great) Sorrow”. I had to insert that ‘Great’ because the Na’vi people only experience eras of Great Sorrows whenever some Sky People invade their planet.

The only reason why I recommend people, who may have a cinema near you, to still go see this movie is because (for the first time) a star of such power as SRK has openly declared his support for Co-Existence among religions. And he declares himself a moderate Muslim who hates Taliban and what they stand for. This is a good message for humanity at this time as countries like Maldives are being slaughtered by the invisible conspiratorial force of Wahhabism and it’s totally legitimate child, the Taliban.

So, hail to Karan, SRK and Kajol for telling us this powerful story.

REVIEW: Enter the 3D world of “Avatar”

by Hilath

On MG Road in Bangalore, India, there is a traditional single-cinema theater, complete with Gold Class. It offers the opportunity to experience a shared community spirit and joy in loving the adrenaline- and emotion-evoking qualities offered by pure cinema — that is, before TV killed the theater. Read more

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Hurt Locker: realism cinema at peak art form


NOTE: Though I haven’t described any scenes in detail, some references I made hint at some shocking incidences which it’s better to check out without reading about it first!

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where SSGT William James (played with character by Jeremy Renner who excellently carries the film to a satisfying conclusion) tells his kid that as you grow older, the things you are interested in becomes few, and perhaps one day there might be just one or two things left in life you are really interested in and passionate about.

Some critics take this scene as an excuse for Renner, part of a United States Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team, to go back to the Iraq war, and therefore, ultimately leading to a predictable end to an otherwise great movie.

But I beg to differ.

Renner’s decision is predictable in that it is consistent with his quirky character -- who in his right mind will decide on his own to go back to the Iraq war? Yet having disarmed more than 800 explosives must have taken something deep inside him -- that even he may be not aware of -- to make him almost addicted to this dangerous “pastime”?

So I cannot say that Bigelow was going against the general international opposition towards the Iraq war purely for provocative value at the risk of being labeled a misguided patriot.

I can hardly disagree with Renner’s philosophical and existential look at life because I myself have found fewer and fewer things of interest as with age I am now more and more able to separate the many junk from the few gems that are found in life -- even when it comes to cinema itself.

Predictably, I haven’t written this long a review for several months because, well, I myself have become disillusioned with one of the few things I am passionate about now: movies.

The short reviews I had put up on this website and my official blog were just passing references to some movies that are mostly watchable and not necessarily pure forms of art.

Over the past few years I have become disillusioned with both Bollywood and Hollywood and even with European cinema which recently has become Hollywood-crazed, spewing out Hollywood-type movies but with an accent -- and also an aura of European exoticism -- what I call pseudo art posing as real art to cheat audiences (For example, if you think David Fincher’s Seven is a work of art, well, what can I say…)

So you really appreciate when once in a blue moon you are treated to pure cinematic art like Crash, United 93, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Rachel Getting Married, Bridge to Terabithia, or in the case of documentaries, works like Man on Wire, Bus 174 or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

I had been wondering what film could beat District 9 to take the place of my favorite film of 2009. As realism cinema is so rare I mostly dare not hope for more in order not to end up disappointed. So, it was with some apprehension that I started watching The Hurt Locker.

But what a reward it turned out to be!

When the film opened with Chris Hedges' words on the screen, “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction; for war is a drug” I had a feeling I was on to something and I was right: Bigelow has got everything right -- from cinematography to score to character development and pace of editing.

From start to finish, you feel the tension of not knowing your surroundings, or even the nature of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) that Renner is forced to disarm on streets, vehicles, buildings, anywhere imaginable, even inside the bodies of humans -- an instance which also sets the platform for one of the most gruesome and disturbing scenes, which ironically box office pundits in fact blame for having kept audiences away from the film resulting in its poor revenue. But I bet Bigelow wasn’t concerned about box office rewards and made this uncompromising film for sheer movie buffs like me. Thank you Kathryn!

This gruesome scene also allows Bigelow to play around with uncritical audiences’ sense of predicting the plot (hint: involving an Iraqi boy called “Beckham”) -- and then giving us the opposite, making you feel silly for having made that prediction in the first place! Or was she just been naughtily playful with her audiences? Somebody like Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed perhaps?

To describe in musical terms, The Hurt Locker is like a masterpiece composition, a rare achievement even for any auteur.

I like films that appeal to me regardless of critical appreciation and awards. But I would like to make an interesting predication that Bigelow could beat ex-husband James Cameron’s Avatar to take the top honors at the Oscars this March.

Cameron already holds an Oscar record for Titanic and the industry may feel that Cameron deserves recognition more in technical achievement than aesthetic cinema. I am more for Cameron winning a lifetime achievement award this time for his exhaustive and innovative 12-year work on Avatar and Bigelow winning Best Director and Best Picture for The Hurt Locker.

Who knows, the Academy may. After all they elected Obama. So why not set yet another precedent by giving the Best Director and Best Picture Oscar for a woman for the first time by the 82-year-old Academy? America is a country that sets the trend, right?