I heart huckabees

I was browsing for LInklater’s films after I saw boyhood and I read some about “Dazed and confused” and finally clicked on “similar films” for “Waking life”. This film’s plot read “.. is a philosophical comedy.. where the central characters hire detectives to investigate their existential questions” and I was drawn in.

it has a shiny starcast! The plot and the lack of it combined with endless chatter about don’t-know-what keeps the film quirky and even funny at times. It doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t take itself seriously (thank god!) and it’s ironic at the face of it. It could’ve been earnest, that’d have made it funnier and it could’ve had tighter direction, but it gives you a feeling that the director was high when he did this.  

And then, I found out. “Adaptation” was by the same director! It makes so much sense that he would direct both these films. I had a really hard time deciding if i totally hated Adaptation or would want to watch it again, keeping an open mind. This one was much better, perhaps because of the comedy. 

The existential questions are cool, though. The struggle between living by arbitrary meanings and embracing meaninglessness is illustrated rather explicitly. It is unclear if any of that is serious, however. It feels like the characters come of age and mature and find their places in the universe and for this, they need a bit of a push from some strange forces in the Universe. Do they go far, though? And realize themselves?

But hey, who am I to say! I am not even myself sometimes. “How are you not yourself?” you ask? No? 

My grade: B

Boyhood

If you lived your life by the moments, time is elusive. But if you lived it by the years, time begins to take a concrete shape. But the thing is, you can never live life by the years. You can only try to, like they say, “seize the moment” but that is possible only if you’re not already seized by the moment.  It is so easy to get lost in the everydayness, to cross off items from the to-do lists, to revel in the excruciating minutiae of daily existence, and then suddenly, so many years have gone by!

All that said, boyhood is an amazing film. I am very very impressed and I highly recommend that you see it. You won’t realize how 2 hours and 45 minutes go by. Just like twelve years of your life!

My grade: A 

My blueberry nights

One of my friends brought up this movie when we were discussing about “arty” films quite some time back and I had read the plot on IMDb. I remembered this again after I noticed some Wong Kar Wai’s films while browsing on Netflix. Thought I’d see.

It is a good film. Full of symbols and metaphors, pleasant and inviting colors and images, and many great actors! The film revolves around this girl, Elizabeth, who travels cross country to get over a heartbreak and possibly to find herself. It is not a poetic, road film, though. She works minimum wage jobs and tries her might to save up for a car, and we hardly see her “doing things”. We encounter very interesting characters with her. We meet the alcoholic cop Arnie and his ex-wife Sue Lynn (Rachel Weisz) and their painful separation in Memphis, TN. We go on to a hot, sweaty Casino in the middle of Nevada and meet the ever charming Leslie (Natalie Portman), the reckless gambler, and take a trip to Las Vegas! And finally, with so much of life experience, Elizabeth heads back home, New York, to the very same cafe that she started from, to the arms (lips?) of the baker boy with the British accent!

So, there are many problems with the film. The sub-plots are really interesting and make for sharp, charming stories. They’re out of a story book, almost. But the characters are thoroughly unreal. This is usually not a problem, but they don’t mesh well with the grounded stories. Don’t mix normal with the crazy, that’s what I always say! And there is the whole plot of our girl going all the way from NYC and back there. And this cute boy making blueberry pies for her night after night and reading the letters that she keeps writing from everywhere without a return address. Now, this is super unreal. And would be okay if our girl were a little more interesting. She isn’t.

But maybe, just may be, that *is* the point? 

I really liked this film much more as soon as i saw this and now that more than a few days have passed, I don’t like it as much. 

My grade: B+

In a silent way - Miles Davis

Old Joy

I saw this film recommended on a thread about “minimalist” films on Quora and was immediately drawn to it.

I am lost for words describing this film. The plot revolves around two friends, who have lost touch, spending a night camping and the next day in the woods amidst the lush green Oregonian mountains. You cannot be sure if something really happened. They talk a little bit, drink beer, spend plenty of time in silence and drive back to Portland. You cannot say it was “nothing”, either. There is an undertone of deep sadness in the film, heightened by the background music that plays in a monotone, almost, the green Portland landscape, the thinly populated freeways, and long, weighty periods of silence. It probably talks about lost time, lost relationships and memories - real and imagined, and about the difficulty of holding onto friendships that were formed during simpler times. There is a sense of regret and loss, but nothing is explicit and it is even presented with cheerful small talk. 

The ending of the film is like the film didn’t even start. The “family man” friend drives back home listening to the exact same radio channel, the “hippie” friend is seen roaming the streets, unsure as ever.

And after hours of watching this film, I am still left thinking about how “sorrow is just worn-out joy”. 

My grade: A-

The boy in the striped pajamas

Any film about the holocaust makes me ask all of these questions - really? People, regular people, like me did that? How could they?
And then I think about all those times in my own life, when I have known about wrong things, bad things happening around me, (even if they’re not on the scale of the holocaust) and how I have done little to stop it, and that’s not a pleasant thought. So, it is indeed easy to tune out the noise, tune out the moral conundrums and just march on ahead with a sense of duty. 

But a tragedy of the scale of the holocaust doesn’t leave anyone unaffected,and in this story, you almost think that “holocaust is in the background”! It isn’t.

Bruno is eight years old and moves to the country-side in Poland with his family. His dad is a commandant with the SS. Their new house, he is told, would be near a farm. The “farm” it turns out is a Nazi work camp. Bruno’s movements are restricted and he spends long, boring days making  a swing, reading adventure books and making small talk with Pavel, the guy who peels potatoes, walks and talks strangely and always wears pajamas. However, Bruno’s spirit is too fierce to be tied up at home, so he finds a way to escape the gates and ventures into the “farm”. He comes face to face with a boy as old as he is, wearing striped pajamas and looking weak and hungry. Bruno is surprised, curious and happy! Very soon, Bruno becomes friends with Schmuel, they play games together, Bruno brings Schmuel food, and things don’t look as grim as it does to the outside world.

Every passing day, though, their world becomes less innocent. Bruno learns about “jews” and the “camps” and realizes Schmuel is living in a camp too. He faces this huge conflict about deciding whether his father is a good man or a monster torturing nice people, like Schmuel. He doesn’t feel that conflict about his little friend ever. He makes this long gone conclusion that Schmuel is a “nice jew”. 

The film comes to a head when the boys’ childish innocence combined with the passion for their friendship makes them go on a secret mission together. You have to see the film to fully take in this climax. It was just too shocking and bone-chilling for me. I won’t say if it ends well.

All the actors are excellent. The parents, the sister, the friends, the army officers - everyone is convincing and warm. They speak English the way the British do, which makes the film look, sound and feel so prim and proper. The pace isn’t bad, but could’ve been better.

Well, now I’ve written too much, so I’ll just end by saying, watch this film!

My grade: A-

How to train your dragon - 2

It didn’t disappoint, thank the dragons! It’s definitely not as good as the first one and that’s simply because we are familiar with the film’s world and Hiccup’s awkwardness. But given how so many sequels fall flat, this one wasn’t bad at all.

This installment has Hiccup getting deeper into the world of dragons and understanding how the world is much more complex than what he learned as a child. We also meet his long lost mom! Just before we settle into the happy lull of a reunited family, a giant sorrow befalls them. And we see Hiccup rising to the occasion, with the unflinching love and trust of Astrid, the people of Berk, his friends and of course, his friendly neighborhood dragons.

I didn’t see this in 3 D, but 2 D was quite nice and rich to watch as well. The beginning of the film seemed to lose track a bit, but once it got to the crux of the plot, the pace was quite good. Hiccup’s awkwardness is not so endearing anymore, given that he has grown up. But what he lacked in social skills, he made up for it by sticking to his guns and following through on his words! The film has many small lessons hidden and that was nice to watch.

My grade: B

Tokyo Story

Tokyo Story, directed by Yasujiro Ozu in 1953 is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. 

The plot couldn’t be simpler. An aging couple, Shukuchi and Tomi, travel from their village of Onomichi to Tokyo where two of their kids with their families and a widowed daughter-in-law live. Their trip inconveniences the fast-paced lives of their kids, although it’s not a major disruption. Although nothing is explicitly said and everything is assumed to have gone “nicely”, their trip ends up rather disappointing. They head home to their village and Tomi dies suddenly.  The kids now come back home and grieve over the loss of their mother. But only for a moment, before they head off to their busy lives. Shukuchi starts getting used to the idea of having to live, long lonely days.

With just this much of a story, the film showed sparks of brilliance throughout. There are so many places where things could’ve slipped into melodrama. But the film raises above that and deals with the complicated emotions in a slow, calm, strong manner. There are no fake tears, no “show” of emotions and yet it made me tear up just watching it. It doesn’t demonize the kids or deify the parents, which is so tempting to do with such a plot. It doesn’t give us an old and weak couple who just meekly accept what their kids have to offer and be resentful and angry about it. The couple are not satisfied about their kids, but they deal with it with pride, grace and understanding. There is pain, sadness and disappointment in everyone, but it is not exhibitionist. And that constant glossing over things, constant effort to fill the silence, the unrelenting tendency to rather make small talk than to share something real - these are painful enough.

The film also uses many stylistic devices. They rarely change the composition of scenes once they start. It feels like a play, where the stage is set, the characters enter the scene, perform, get out of the scene, the stage still remains for a few seconds and the curtains close. Lingering for a moment after the scene is complete has a striking effect on the meaning and relevance of every such scene. They also show every mundane scene in great detail and to completion. No scenes are cut abruptly. Sometimes, the characters talk so little, but their sighs, rightly placed smiles and apprehensive looks, convey a lot. There are many images, that don’t really add to the plot of the film(even metaphorically), but they make the film so beautiful and real.The clotheslines, the railway tracks, the boats are some examples.

Tokyo story is a seemingly nonchalant, keenly unwavering, earnest look at the modern day family. (even though this was made in 1953) There is love, for sure. But there are also, adjustments.

My grade: A-

Parting words: This is a must watch. 

To see

Back to making lists of films to be seen, that’s right!

1. Tokyo story
2. Stranger than paradise
3. The straight story
4. Stalker
5. Old joy
6. Ikiru
7. Late spring
8. I heart huckabees
9. My dinner with Andre