Sui Dhaaga: Made in India

010/2019 – Sui Dhaaga: Made in India

(Sharat Kataria/2018/India/Hindi/122 mins)

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Sui Dhaaga has terrific performances by the leads, for whom you cannot help but root. They are surrounded by the kind of supporting cast which elevates the film with their presence. The first half is really believable and engrossing, but the treatment of the second half throws away a lot of the potential built up in the first half, and we are left with a movie that could have been so, so good, but in effect, is really just cute and nice.

[SPOILERS]: We think the problem lies in the way Yashraj Productions are scripted, with a deliberate need to end most of their stories by making the protagonists win some competition. While the whole idea of skill-based entrepreneurship is wonderful, the thought that their first frontier must be to win a national-level fashion designing contest is a bit of a let-down. The trope is exhausted. For a story which starts off by pitching the idea of dignified self-sufficiency, and where the leads struggle repeatedly to make sense of the world, the gamble they take in the end seems more driven by ego and anger, than by common sense. Reality shows and high-end competitions are not the only parameter to define success. Nope! [SPOILERS END]

But none of this really matters when you have the chance to see Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma inhabit Mauji and Mamta so effectively. They are believable and endearing, their transformations amazing. Mauji’s earnestness and simple-mindedness is reminiscent of Anil Kapoor in his early days (Saheb, Woh Saat Din), while Mamta is calm and dignified, and determined. She is no simpering damsel in the background with no agency, but goes even so far as to quietly correct her mother-in-law about what really makes her happy. Their journey together is lovely to watch, as they discover things about themselves and about each other. From never having really spoken to each other, they find strength and confidants.

All in all, really sweet.

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For a Few Dollars More

009/2019 – For a Few Dollars More

(Sergio Leone/1965/Italy, Spain, West Germany/English/132 mins)

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The second installment in the “Man with No Name” trilogy takes the melodramatic panache of the first film, A Fistful of Dollars further ahead, supported by a bigger budget, and a more eager cast who knew what Leone was setting out to achieve.

Lee Van Cleef, who had starred in many small roles in Hollywood Westerns all his life, and had later squandered his career because of heavy drinking found his career rejuvenated after his work in this film. If Hindi movie fans watch Gian Maria Volonte play the menacing Indio, they will be reminded of Gabbar Singh in Sholay. His performance is highlighted by his sadism, and in the way Leone unwittingly used him to show a rape scene, and smoking marijuana, which had never really been done in a Hollywood movie before. Violence and gore of this kind had not been seen by American audiences, and while it was met with revulsion by some, most ended up revelling in this new kind of theatrics. All this risk-taking actually ended up giving Westerns a new lease of life the world over. They were equated with pure entertainment.

I must now make my reverence for Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack evident here. His work inspires nothing short of awe. It’s about mood, about the characters, the situation. it complements Leone’s love for the genre, and the swashbuckling styles of Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Gian Maria Volonte just perfectly. If one needs to understand what synergy means, look no further than this team.

 

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A Fistful of Dollars

008/2019 – A Fistful of Dollars

(Sergio Leone/1964/Italy, Spain, West Germany/English/99 mins)

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When I finally got down to watching the “Man with No Name” trilogy, I was immediately transported to my memory of having watched Sholay and Kill Bill 2 the very first time. This is melodrama and tension by the truckloads, with a grimy, gritty feel. This was Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone’s attempt to make Westerns popular again after the John Wayne style of Westerns had stopped pulling in the crowd. He transposed Italian filmmaking sensibilities into a Western setting, and man oh man, did it work!

Of course, this was an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (which features fantastic swordplay instead of tense gunfights), for which the Japanese film’s producers successfully sued Leone and the producers. Like all Italian films at that time, A Fistful of Dollars was also filmed silent. The dialogues and sound effects were dubbed over during post-production. While the movie released in Europe during 1964-65, in America with an English dub came out in theatres only in 1967. For the Italian version, Eastwood was dubbed by stage and screen actor Enrico Maria Salerno, whose “sinister” rendition of the Man with No Name’s voice contrasted with Eastwood’s cocksure and darkly humorous interpretation.

Till this movie, American films had always seen one camera focus on the character shooting another with their gun, followed by an immediate cut to the victim clutching at their wound and then falling over. For the first time, Leone introduced an over-the-shoulder shot for such scenes where it appeared that the viewer was standing behind the shooter watching the victim get shot. Eastwood attributes his defining angry squint for these films to the glaring sun and the lights, coupled with the terrible taste of the cigars which he had to keep chewing to play his role. As a non-smoker it left him feeling surly, which served well in creating his image.


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Bringing Up Baby

007/2019 – Bringing Up Baby

(Howard Hawks/1938/US/102 mins)

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Originally a box office failure, Bringing Up Baby has become a classic screwball comedy loved by many. It is a comedy-of-errors kind of script where every bit of interaction among the characters is based on some misunderstanding. Cary Grant, a harrowed, simple-minded professor of zoology, Dr. David Huxley, comes across the madcap heiress Susan (Katharine Hepburn), who cannot help but talk nineteen-to-the-dozen. There is the rich aunt looking to give a hefty donation to a worthy institution, a guest who is forever confused, and a cop with no patience to hear anyone out. Add a leopard cub, or two, to the mix, and the kind of situations that emerge are hilarious. I have watched this movie twice already, and I have split my sides laughing both times.

Cary Grant had had his comic grounding in Vaudeville, so his pitch-perfect portrayal of Dr. Huxley was a given. But to be able to believe that Katharine Hepburn had to be coached by Walter Catlett (who plays Constable Slocum here) for comic timing is a little tough considering how good she is in this role. In one particular scene, an exasperated Huxley shouts out, “Because I am gay all of a sudden!” It was an ad-libbed line, which made it into the final cut, possibly making it the first instance in Hollywood of the word “gay” being used in context of a homosexual rather than that of happy or carefree.

The screenplay had been written keeping Katharine Hepburn in mind. The shoot went well beyond the actual schedule because of uncontrollable laughing fits between Grant and Hepburn. For example, when Grant as Huxley asks in alarm, “Where is my bone?”, the unit waited from 10AM to 4 PM to get the shot right because the cast couldn’t stop laughing. Hepburn is the definitive Hawksian woman in the movie; strong-willed and tough-talking, and became the template for many of Hawks’ later works.

This is one of those films I will go back to on a day I need a good laugh to recharge my batteries.


#BreakfastatCinema #Movies #LearningFromCinema #Bringing Up Baby #HowardHawks #CaryGrant #KatharineHepburn #screwball #comedy #classic #Hollywood #RKORadioPictures #Cinema

Seven Years in Tibet

006/2019 – Seven Years in Tibet

(Jean-Jacques Annaud/1997/US, UK/136 mins)

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This is a biopic of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrrer (Brad Pitt), who came to India in early 1939 to scale the imposing Nanga Parbat, got arrested by the British to be kept in an internment camp as World War II began, and escaped to Tibet with his group-mate Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis). The following seven years there, he was transformed by the spiritual Tibetan community, and his friendship with His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama. He returned to Austria post Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1951. The book, translated into 53 languages, woke up the world to the plight of Tibet.

The movie seems to have a few creative liberties. Heinrich’s Nazi affiliations are barely explored; his relationship with his son is shown as far too important; some incidents, like the one with Peter’s watch, don’t really seemed to have occurred; and his friendship with The Dalai Lama may have been depicted a little too informally. However, Richard Gere, a good friend of The Dalai Lama, who was first considered for the role of Heinrich, declined the film but offered to send the screenplay to His Holiness for his approval. The Dalai Lama was pleased with it. Annaud, Pitt and Thewlis remain banned in China for their work in this film.

Small oversights though. When Heinrich and Peter finally reach Tibet, they are constantly told “no foreigners allowed”, but they seem to be very easily accepted by the people in Lhasa, and the advisors to His Holiness. Peter’s marriage to a Tibetan woman ruffles no feathers. The pay off in this case is too hunky-dory for the set up. Brad Pitt fails to bring enough gravitas to the latter part of his role, while David Thewlis is effortless throughout. At 136 minutes, I would have loved to spend a little more time in Tibet, and know Heinrich’s relationship with The Dalai Lama some more in depth, but I guess I’ll have to pick up the book.

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#JeanJacquesAnnaud #HeinrichHarrer #BradPitt #DavidThewlis #Tibet
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#cinemalovers

John Wick

005/2019 – John Wick

(Chad Stahelski & David Leitch/2014/US/101 mins)

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“When a gangster’s son steals his car and kills his dog gifted by his deceased wife, ex-hitman John Wick takes on an entire mob to get his revenge.” This summary on Netflix is all the movie is about. But the key to its high entertainment value is in the detail, not just in John Wick’s but also in the other supporting and minor characters.

Wick (Keanu Reeves) likes his cars, guns, and his bourbon. He knows everyone in business, just as everyone knows him. He is revered, and he is feared. He is the best, which is why even a four-year hiatus has done nothing to erode his reputation, except make his return to the world of mobs and assassins even more enigmatic. His target is Iosef (Alfie Allen), son of his ex-boss and friend, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). What follows is plenty of video-game-based action sequences of Wick in pursuit of Iosef, obstructed by rivals and supported by allies (Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo). Interestingly, even a visit to a doctor yields something that sounds a lot like a power-up. It made me smile.

The best thing about this movie is the stunning action choreography, which is such a welcome departure from deliberately shaky camera-work, too many shots pieced together, and hi-fi stunts or CGI work. One actually sees Reeves, who has done 90% of the stunt work himself, using his hands and body as he goes through long-take after long-take, engaging with the mobsters in hand-to-hand combat and shooting them in their heads. Such a relief to actually be able to make out what is happening on screen during a fight.

There are also tons of homages: Shibumi (novel), Le Cercle Rouge (1970), Constantine (2005), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Point Blank ((1967), and The Killer (1989), have been quoted as inspirations by the directors, among so many more. John Wick is fun to watch because it is 100% loyal to its genre.

#BreakfastatCinema #Movies #LearningFromCinema #JohnWick #ChadStahelski #DavidLeitch #KeanuReeves #AlfieAllen #MichaelNyqvist #IanMcShane #WillemDefoe #PhilHartman #Disney #Hollywood #action #CinemaLover

 

Kiki’s Delivery Service

004/2019 – Kiki’s Delivery Service

(Hayao Miyazaki/1989/Japan/105 mins)

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There is never a wrong time to say, “Animation films, especially the ones made by Studio Ghibli, are never meant just for children”. There is a retrospective quality to the stories which director Hayao Miyazaki tells through his cinema. We recall all the nice and not-so-nice feelings of adolescence we forgot somewhere along the way to our adulthood. Kiki’s Delivery Service is another such gem of a film reminding us of the awkwardness of growing up, making friends, feeling accepted, and exploring our independence. Kiki’s story is something all of us have been through during our teenage years to emerge wiser and stronger.

Kiki is a 13-year old with special powers looking forward to spending life away from her parents as a “trainee witch” of sorts. As she moves to a city along the coast, she experiences the ups and downs of life meeting new people, discovering her strengths, and appreciating her uniqueness. It is a world where witches and regular mortals co-exist and World War II never happened. It is Miyazaki’s way of telling us where we could have been if we didn’t fall prey to ideas of societal divisions and succumbed to violence; profound words from someone who has seen the devastating effects of war up close.

However, contrasts between urban and rural lifestyles, and traditional and modern values are shown to be in minor conflict, keeping the story very real and identifiable, rather than fairy-tale like. Kiki’s parents know she has to leave home, but they try to delay her departure for as long as possible. Kiki wants to dress up in fancy clothes like the other girls, but she continues to wear a black dress to honour the tradition of witch training. Her at once wanting a social life as well as shunning any contact with new people is something all introverts will understand. Such a fascinating watch it is, all the action tempered with moments of quiet reflection.

#BreakfastatCinema #Movies #LearningFromCinema #HayaoMiyazaki #KikisDeliveryService #StudioGhibli #KirstenDunst #DebbieReynolds #PhilHartman #JaneaeneGarofalo #Japan #JapaneseCinema #Anime #CinemaLover #disneystudios

The Rainmaker

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003/2019 – The Rainmaker

Francis Ford Coppola/1997/US/140 mins

Few courtroom dramas have been approached with Coppola’s subtlety. Like always, he spends a considerable amount of time establishing his characters and the world they inhabit. It takes us a while to identify the various strands of stories in Rudy Baylor’s (Matt Damon) life, and settle into a nice groove.

What’s interesting about this groove is how it changes tempo and rhythm at regular intervals, never boring you, and also never jarring you. There are no fiery speeches or revelatory jolts, yet the small surprises inherent to a legal drama are all there to keep you hooked. The steady narrative, and a set of well-etched characters keep it all very cohesive. It is a commentary on the legal system, and the people who put personal gain ahead of upholding the spirit of law.

Rudy’s inexperience is paired with Deck Schifflet’s (Danny De Vito) street-smarts, as they go around ambulance-chasing to keep their new partnership afloat. When Rudy becomes invested emotionally in a few of his clients, Deck’s support is still unwavering. The pair is amazing to watch, as they fumble and be clumsy, and yet display a strong sense of justice and cooperation. Again, as in all Coppola films, the supporting cast is super, invoking awe and empathy; there are Mary Kay Place, Teresa Wright, Virginia Madsen, Jon Voight, Danny Glover, Mickey Rourke, and Claire Danes, all in their element.

The cinematography and editing work in tandem to create a good deal of drama. The courtroom scenes shift perspectives frequently, letting us on as to how the judge, jury, defence or prosecution is viewing the proceedings. A crucial scene involving Damon and Danes at the latter’s home foretells the sequence of events to follow if one notices the framing and mise-en-scene carefully. It is easy to see why John Grisham calls this adaptation his favourite , thanks to a cracking screenplay by Coppola himself.

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Amistad

002/2019 – Amistad

Steven Spielberg/1997/US/English/154 mins
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Based on a real-life incident of illegally captured slaves from West Africa (the Mende) taking over their captors’ ship ‘La Amistad’, and then being captured by the American Navy to be subjects of trial for ownership, this is an impactful film. While it is no Schindler’s List, it does drive you to feel deeply the tribulations of people of colour who have constantly faced persecution.

There is a strong white saviour complex in the film, critics say. However, we do not see how a group of illegal slaves, who cannot communicate with the then establishment or even understand their ways, could have defended themselves in trial except for assistance from the men in position of power, who in the context of 1839 America were white men. This is not to say the dramatisation and the glorified speeches the advocates of anti-slavery, or the scenes involving Christianity coming to the Mende’s aid could have been somewhat toned down.

Craft-wise there is little to fault. The flashback scenes of how the Mende were captured, taken slaves, and a large part of their journey is a punch to the gut. We held our breath throughout, and couldn’t help but feel the horror of it, thanks to Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, and John Williams’ score. The courtroom scenes, and those involving communication between the Mende and the Americans have palpable tension depsite small bursts of comic relief — that is brilliant writing. Legends like Sir Anthony Hopkins (who delivered his 7-page courtroom speech in a single take), Sir Nigel Hawthorne, and Djimon Hounsou bring their characters to life. This movie is an example of everyone rising to accomplish the vision of the director.

An interesting symbolic bit, among many, was when John Quincy Adams (Hopkins), quoting the Mende, said they invoke the help of their ancestors when faced with trouble, is seen to be standing in front of a portrait of his own father, John Adams, also an American President.

#BreakfastatCinema #Movies #LearningFromCinema #StevenSpielberg #Dreamworks #DavidFranzoni #DjimonHounsou #AnthonyHopkins #NigelHawthorne #MatthewMcConaughey #LegalDrama #Hollywood

The Client

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001/2019 – The Client

Joel Schumacher/1994/US/English/119 mins

Such an amazing cast who’ve given really wholesome performances! Of course the stalwarts elevate any project with their presence, but Brad Renfro was such a discovery. Unfortunate that he was lost so young.

The movie starts with a bang, creating full-fledged three-dimensional characters, only to lose steam in the end. They either become weak imitations or caricatures of themselves.

Nevertheless, it does have the gritty pace of a John Grisham thriller, except be prepared to be somewhat disappointed if you’ve read the book. I had read it decades ago, and I still remember being far more impressed with the book then, than how the movie rushes to its climax post some amateur-detective level sleuthing. Yes, it is unfair to compare the two media of storytelling, but that the movie doesn’t really manage to reach its potential despite being adapted from such fantastic source material should be telling.

Somehow, it still is pretty entertaining, and counts as a good legal drama to be considered on a day the mood strikes you for such.

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