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. 

Adore

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2103267/

When I decided to watch this film, I didn’t think this was a serious film. I read the plot, it said “a couple of childhood friends and neighbors fall for each other’s sons”, so I imagined a delightful, if silly, cat and mouse comedy with a few raunchy scenes interspersed.  Boy, was I wrong.

The film is indeed provocative, and not entirely for the plot alone. So, this is how it is. You have known this friend all your life, you grew up together, shared secrets, brought up your kids together and now, this friend’s son is seducing you. I understand that, this is not “off-limits” per se (incest proper), I can also stretch my mind to imagine how attraction could just happen and you could get used to the idea much better once you experience the awesome awesome sex. (The cinematography will have you know that this is truly the case.)

But could you accept this change in  dynamics of the relationships without feeling at least a teeny bit weird? The glaring lack of true hesitation and the lack of drama made me think of many of the high-quality soft-porn cinemas. But this film is supposed to be better than that! And, the director is French, so I suppose the margin for what passes off as normal is wider. That said, the film is fixated towards getting to that equilibrium in these relationships. Even though that stable point is on a log, forever floating, forever in the middle of nowhere, beautiful nevertheless. So, somehow the film doesn’t operate by the rules of our world. The protagonists’ jobs, other friendships, and social obligations either don’t exist or too dull (and ugly?) compared to the beauty and contentment they exude.

If the film were consistent to this tone and existed in this other-wordly world all through, it would be poetic. And then, we could all just not take it seriously and admire the recklessness and passion a bit more. But where the film falls on its face is when it tries to get serious and get into our world. The sons marry other women and have kids. And yet, everything continues to be “normal” and pretty! The friends are now perfect grandmothers. Nobody suspects anything, all dirty secrets nicely buried in the gorgeous beach sand. It doesn’t make sense, but who’s worrying about that anyway.

And then, it happens. The inevitable return to the equilibrium. That ending is revolting, but it seems oddly fitting. Anything else would be absurd, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t. 

I haven’t written about one important thing - the actors! Robin Wright and Naomi Watts play the scalding hot, bikini clad, beautiful beautiful moms. They bring so much dignity and seriousness to their characters and that goes a long way in making this film something better than a regular soft-porn film. 

In closing, I did like this film and would probably watch it again. I also recommend it (if you’re not grossed out by sort-of-incest themes). But this is not a very good film.

My grade: B

Blue is the warmest color

I have been curious to watch this film from the time I heard about it sometime last year. Simply because I read how it would give “Room in Rome” a run for its money when it came to the “graphic” content. If you know my feelings towards “Room in Rome”, you’ll totally understand my curiosity ;) Anywhoo, saw this on Netflix and I’m very happy to announce that I indeed liked this film! Even though it was 3 hours long and (spoiler alert) it doesn’t have a happy ending.

So, young, pretty and hungry Adele’s life changes like a dream when she meets the blue haired beautiful Emma. We see the whirlwind romance, the exhilarating love-making, the warm, compassionate bonding, the groundedness of their relationship and the fragility. It is so intimate for us, the viewers, because of the innumerable close shots of Adele’s face which last for a long time. You’d almost want to bite off her always-opened lips, tuck her tresses behind her ears and just watch her breathe. This is one motif - her face and the closeness - indicating the act of seeing, observing, taking in all the beauty. The other is food and/or hunger. Adele loves eating food and devouring her lover like there’s no tomorrow. It is fascinating to watch simply because it is very beautiful. I read that people had trouble with this, that it was too beautiful and a little too unreal. It suffices to say that I had no such complaints. 

Anyway, life is not all sex, love, food and art. Life is also about loneliness, naivety and impulsiveness. It is also about growing up. So, Emma and Adele part their ways. Really though, you can see that fear in Adele’s eyes - right from the time Emma kisses her on her cheek the very first time. There’s fear and also acceptance. Which makes her calm and importantly,  makes us calm.

Weekend

image

I have seen romantic/sexual films with lesbian leads. Actually, I have seen a lot of them, and I like them. Even though my lack of actual experience is a factor, whenever I see those films, I feel like I get it. I see it happening.

But with gay men, I always had this thought that “eh, I don’t know”. I often see many women talking about enjoying gay porn (on the interwebz, ofc. And I do strongly think it’s just men writing those type of posts many times) and I used to wonder how. Is it the idea of two hot men kissing/making out? I am probably sounding very ignorant and even insensitive writing this. But my point is, it was something that I didn’t understand. And, I realized I hadn’t even seen movies with gay leads. I have seen “A single man”, but it didn’t make any impression on me. I haven’t seen “Brokeback mountain” or “Milk” . So yesterday I thought should give it a try. 

Aaand I guess I couldn’t have picked a better one! This film reminded me of Linklater’s “before..” trilogy so much. Honestly, it’s not a “gay film”, it is  a romantic film where two people, who are gay, start off with a one-night stand, grow closer than they ever imagined over a weekend, and depart abruptly not knowing whether they’ll meet again. It’s a very pretty film, easy on the eyes, and there are moments where you can feel the connection between the main characters as they slowly cross many unsaid boundaries, letting their guard down and withdrawing immediately, too incredulous of the way how it’s all going swimmingly well.  All of this typical of the amazing beginnings that new love brings about! The actors play this so well that, you are not even consciously thinking that they’re two men. 

There are certainly many parts of the film which dwell ever so slightly (but strongly) on the aspects that make you realize that you’re indeed watching a film with gay men. How it is still different, how being accepted is not the same as being considered normal and how it still gets a few people riled up if a bunch of gay people went to a “regular” bar.

This was a nice film and I recommend watching it! 

Inside Llewyn Davis

Another Coen Brothers’ classic. The general opinion seems to be that this is really not one of their best films, but to me it felt like it was!

This film is, sort of, my dream come true. Everyone makes films about success stories, rags to riches stories. I often think of a film which shows the life of a person who is not extraordinary by any means, a failure even. Coen Brothers tell such stories in their films, although usually they are stories where ordinary people go through extraordinary circumstances, usually painful ones. Their “a serious man” had Larry Gropnik, the Physics professor suffering through unending troubles when he did nothing wrong. It is amazing to watch the way their films have evolved starting from the in-your-face “Blood Simple” or the amusing “Raising Arizona” all the way up to the really dark “No country for old men”.

This film is about an ordinary guy going through ordinary circumstances and failing at this life thing miserably. He is not evil, he doesn’t have exceptionally bad circumstances but nothing really works out for him. Llewyn Davis is a folk singer in the 1960s. He doesn’t have much going for him on the music scene after his partner commits suicide and leaves him with boxes of unsold records. Llewyn survives with a little help from his friends and strangers and tries to turn his life around. But then, you don’t know if it’s his lack of a lot more motivation or talent or if his luck has completely run out or if he has been a jerk to others all along (they show very little back story), Llewyn is in a bad place.

it is a sad film. And surprisingly, it lacks the wry, humorous undercurrent which is common in their films. The music is great! When he sings “hang me, oh hang me”, you want to hug him, tousle his hair and say “it’s going to be okay”. But, they show enough for you to know that it’s probably not going to be okay after all.

There is a cat, that is a recurring motif in the film. Many key events in the film have either the cat coming into his life or getting away. I read many explanations for the symbolism behind that, I am too lazy to write about them. But, there’s one line in the film “Llewyn is the cat”. In the last scene, when Llewyn walks out of the Gaslight  Cafe and gets punched in the face, you kinda think why that might be true.

My grade: A-

Blue Jasmine

I liked this film. Phew, how long has it been since I said that! Without long winded explanations and bullshit like that!

Woody Allen’s characters have to be neurotic. (ಆಗ್ಲೇ ಅದಕ್ಕೊಂದು ಕಳೆ) Jasmine in this film feels the culmination of many neuroses, a pathetic smugness, delusion and a helplessness that is heartbreaking and yet it is very hard to empathize with. There are people like this is the real world - broken, crushed and yet narcissistic and mean , you want to look for the sweeter inside but it feels so exhausting to deal with them that you’d rather not. Cate Blanchett plays this character so beautifully, it was moving! She is always on the edge of a teary, sweaty, nervous breakdown. 

A large part of the film is shot in San Francisco, but it couldn’t matter lesser. Woody doesn’t pay tribute to SFO like he did to Paris in ‘Midnight in Paris’ and the circumstances in the film are far less magical. The story telling is excellent, scenes of Jasmine’s past and present life interlaced leading up to the unfortunate, heart-wrenching climax. One could argue that the way a few events happen towards the end of the film is rather lazy. But I liked that. It was befitting to the way Jasmine’s unreliable character is - throughout the film.

Her sister, Ginger, should get some sort of award as well. She is amazing as the second fiddle. She has the right amount of assertiveness and uncertainty, and gives someone to root for! I liked the casting for all the secondary roles too.

This is one Woody Allen film without the comedy. Even some of the goofy scenes were incredibly sad. And there weren’t any piercing Woody Allen-esque dialogs either. But he was there. In every frame that Cate was going to go up in flames - that was him!

Prisoners

A friend of mine suggested this film to me saying that it was similar to this game called “Heavy rain” (which I love) So, I watched it, with a moderate amount of expectation, to be honest. This also got nominated for the Oscars for cinematography, so it would fit in my ‘project oscar 2014’ as well!

This is a thriller about a police officer and a dad looking for two little girls who go missing from their house on Thanksgiving day. It is not fast paced and is quite an uncomfortable watch at many points. It does have many similarities to the game, but not with respect to the actual plot, rather the way the situation gets resolved. There are better crime thrillers than this, for sure. Jake Gyllenhall is still quite sulky and Hugh Jackman was annoying at best.

I don’t have much to say about the film, it is something that you can watch some evening to just pass the time, but if you didn’t watch it, you wouldn’t be missing all that much. 

My grade: B-