Thursday, September 29, 2005

Posting blues..

Amit is disgruntled about the lack of anything recent on this blog. And I don't blame him. A post every fortnight isn't really very exciting for anyone. So, why haven't I posted since that post about Crash?

Problem is, I felt very strongly about making a particular post about a week ago. I started the post, wrote about 4 lines but since then haven't had the time to finish it. Now, obviously I could've posted something else in the meanwhile. And there have been quite a few things that were practically begging for a post over last few days. But I'd have felt just a wee bit guilty while typing something else, leaving that one important and incomplete post alone. Guilt, however, should never be allowed to prevent one from doing what is right. So, here comes this post. Now, technically this shouldn't count because it is just an explanation for the absence of posts. Its like explaining to people why you have never been funny and then expecting them to laugh at the explanation. Or maybe not quite like it. Never mind. Point is, there's something muddled up about this post counting as a post but we'll count it as one nevertheless.

Good day then, people. Will try to be back with that post as and when I feel able and willing to type it in. Or will just put it on that highly populated yet spacious beyond belief invention - the backburner - and keep posting about other mundane stuff.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Paul Haggis makes magic!

I don't think I have ever written about my views on Million Dollar Baby, the movie that swept away four major oscars this year (best movie, directing, supporting actor, leading actress) and lost on three other categories for which it was nominated. I liked it a lot. It certainly was one of the best movies of last year. But it was sort of underwhelming too. I had expected something even better, but thats not the fault of the movie. Thats the fault of the huge media hype which made me expect probably the best movie of last ten years. It was good, its probably a classic that might be remembered for a long time to come. And yet, it STILL didn't quite reach the heights I was expecting after reading all about it. My reaction after I saw it for the first time was "is that it? its good.. but it really wasn't THAT great!"... after I saw it again, I liked it better and now I really do think it is great. Definitely better than most movies that get the sort of exposure that it got. I can still think of numerous movies that are just as good or better than MDB, but they tend not to get the backing of the studios and the sort of wide release that it got, specially if they belong to the genre it did. And that is a great thing in its own right. Anyway, that movie's screenplay was written by Paul Haggis, who has now himself directed another of his screenplay giving us a movie that simply blew me away. I saw Crash yesterday, and can't stop talking about it since then. This might also be because it wasn't hyped (or even publicized a lot) and so I was expecting something good, but not quite as amazing as it turned out to be. Which means, that maybe 2 years from now I'll rate Million Dollar Baby higher than Crash, but as of now I really think that Crash is one of the best movies I have seen recently. This year hasn't seen a lot of great movies, at least till now. So, this is probably not saying much, but for whatever its worth, I think that Crash is easily the best movie to have released this year so far. (Here "so far" is the key.. as most of the best movies of the year actually release from september to december, so we might see some truely brilliant movies from now on... But I suspect that Crash will stand on its own against most of these movies.. )

One reason why I probably liked the movie so much is because of the theme, which is something I have always felt strongly about. I find most forms of generalizations highly objectionable, even ridiculous. Things like "Pakistanis are like this", "Sardars are like this", "women are like this", "Bengalis are like this", "capricornians are like this" all make me very mad.. And racial discrimination is one of the most visible generalizations. Crash introduces us with many characters involved in incidents that show us racial prejudice, xenophobia and behavior based on generic stereotypes. If nothing else, the theme itself probably entails that the movie should be seen all over US, if not the world.

However, its not just the theme that makes it such a good movie. the stories are all running parallel and cross each other a la 21 Grams and Amores Perros (and Yuva in Hindi), and just like it happens in those movies, they all have the same undercurrent - in this case, prejudice and stereotyping. One of the key lines in the movie is "You think you know who you are? You have no idea." Which essentially tells you that all this is so much ingrained in us that even if we think we are above such things, we probably are not. There are times when our choices and behaviour gets affected by those ingrained mappings that we have inherited from our society, however illogical these mappings might sound to us. Importantly, it also shows the other side. The side that says that however strong our opinions might be about someone/something, there are times when our choices and actions are affected by the simple humanity and equality of all human lives. This latter part is what sounds a bit too simplistic to me. But then, maybe I am a bit too pessimistic/cynical about people. In any case, the movie's point is made much better because of these incidents that show us that our first impression of almost anyone, however justified it might seem initially, has nothing to do with what that person might acually be like, or what he/she might be capable of under certain conditions.

The movie probably needs to be called sad or depressing. But I personally didn't think it was. If anything, there are scenes in the movie that are quite liberating. It does not have light moments, but there are moments when you feel good about the world.

The impact of the movie is based on how much we feel for the characters. And any such movie has to stand on the shoulders of great acting. Crash literally explodes with the quality of acting almost every one of a huge number of actors show us. There is not one character that could have been played better. Perfect casting, absolutely perfect performances. Pity, it will not get many nominations because none of the characters has large enough screen time for that. This is also another movie that screams out loud for a "best acting by an ensemble of actors in a movie" award. There aren't many movies that will probably be able to stand the claim of Crash if any such award is instituted.

The movie is full of cleverly played and written sequences. Its replete with serendipity and chance plays a huge factor, but it didnt feel manipulative to me, which is normally a real danger for this genre. There are scenes which will simply take you to the edge and then suddenly relieve all the tension in a single moment. The whole theatre collectively gasped at some of these scenes. I have NEVER seen that before.

I remember that there was a test screening of Crash happening in Rochester, earlier this summer. I almost got hold of a ticket but then had to give it up. I was disappointed then, but not because I knew anything about the movie. It was just the thrill of watching a test screening. One of my friends then laughed and said "how can you be disappointed at missing the chance to see a movie which has Sandra Bullock in it?". And I, in my infinite wisdom, agreed to what he said. That will be a reminder for me about the dangers of prejudice!! :)

Miyazaki in Guardian!

Regular readers probably remember my posts about Hayao Miyazaki and his movies. Just found out that he has received this year's lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival. Also, he has given an interview to The Guardian. Seems this is the first time in at least 10 years that he has consented to give an interview. Nothing too interesting for people who are not interested in him already, but a good read for fans if only because of the rareness of opportunity. Read the interview here.

Found the story, almost simultaneously, through Slashdot and Aint it Cool.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Movie Quote of the Day

A PG-rated quote from Annie Hall, that hilarious Woody Allen movie.

(Alvy, the protagonist, is confronting Annie, his girlfriend, about having an affair with a professor at her college)

Alvy Singer: Oh stop it, you're having an affair with your college
professor, that jerk that teaches that incredible crap course, Contemporary
Crisis in Western Man

Annie Hall: Existential Motifs in Russian Literature. You're
really close.

Alvy Singer: What's the difference? It's all mental masturbation.

Annie Hall: Oh, well, now we're finally getting to a subject you know
something about.

Alvy Singer: Hey, don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love.

Laugh Away... Transcript obtained from IMDb quotes page.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Warnie!! Warnie!!

There have probably been some great test series that I have not seen/followed that can claim to be the best test series ever, but since I seriously started following cricket over a decade ago, there has not been any that can run the current Ashes close. Ind-Aus 2001 comes close in terms of sheer drama but this Ashes is still better if only because it has already been more than 4-test matches old without a single dull day.

There have been so many great moments and great performances that its next to impossible to single out any one thing that made this Ashes such an incredible experience, but there have been players whose stature has gone way up in my opinion due to this series. Flintoff, surely, is one as he has almost single-handedly provided this England side the sort of aura that I could never imagine them to have. But head and shoulders above everyone else stands Shane Warne. With ball and, unexpectedly, with his bat he has wrested the initiative back from England on so many occasions over last month that I have stopped waiting for that off-day from Warne which one expects from every champion every once in a while. So much so that every Australian doomsday prediction in this series - and there have been more than a handful - has come with the qualifier: unless Warne has a say once more. And he has, on every such occasion.

The fifth test is here. First day of what is probably a match as significant as any world cup final, if not more. McGrath comes back to the team but doesn't make much of a difference. England are again off to a great start and what happens? Warne comes in and - first day pitch or not - takes five to stop England from completely running away with the match. As I write this England are 304/7, nothing to be ashamed off, but considering that they could just as easily have been 400+/2 had Warne decided to have an average day for any spinner on a first day pitch, it has been as significant a day for him as any over the series. What a player!!

And lest I forget. What a series!!! WHAT A SERIES!!!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Simplicity at its best!!

A friend of mine told me recently that my blog is becoming a bit too movie-heavy and that I should probably post about something other than movies once in a not-too-long while. Allowing even for the fact that she is not herself very much interested in movies, I think I agree with her basic point and will try to write something not very filmi in my next post. This post, however, will again be about movies. About one particular movie, in fact.

I remember once talking to a friend of mine about The Manchurian Candidate (the original version, not the new one), and saying that I was verrry impressed by the movie because I didn't expect a movie that old to have such a complex script and theme. I was under the impression that mainstream movie-makers of that era used to dabble mainly with scripts inspired by plays, resulting in movies that looked and felt like plays. Even though that itself doesn't mean that the script/theme needed to be simple, I had the impression that many of the movies at that time used to be like that. Movies that the common man would easily understand and be able to enjoy. I now have a better way of expressing precisely what I meant by all those things. I meant movies like the ones Frank Capra used to make.

I have seen three of Capra's movies: It Happened One Night, Its a Wonderful Life, and the movie I am going to talk about in this post, Mr Smith Goes to Washington. These and some of his other movies have made Capra so famous for making family-friendly light-hearted movies about simple people and high values (called American values by most people but I don't see what is so American about being nice and honest... people everywhere teach their kids these things.)

Mr Smith starts with some very kiddish scenes. So much so that they might seem a bit too childish to anyone watching them. Characters so cartoony and completely one dimensional that they are almost straight out of comic books. But one soon realizes that it is almost impossible to not fall in love with a hero who is just a simple guy believing in morals and values and not knowing anything about the practical (read amoral... corrupt) world out there. A hero so childlike in his naivete and innocence that you can't help but smile at every blunder he makes and simultaneously feel for him. On numerous occasions I remember smiling or laughing and yet thinking, "poor guy! he does not deserve this!".

The movie is about the head of the boy rangers of a state who is sent to washington as the new senator of his state after some hilarious and completely unbelievable chain of events land the Governor of the state at his home with the offer of senatorship (is that a real word?). The poor guy recited Lincoln and Jefferson from heart and is so taken by the glorious American history that his fascination with all the historic monuments in Washington ends up making everyone think that he is completely crazy and absolutely not suited to be a senator. Predictably, he tries to do his best and runs into a scam that has the backing of big political and media magnates including his own political idol. Clearly, one man can not stand up to such huge powers and the corrupt machinery has no difficulty at all in tearing the man apart. But, he DOES give a tremendous fight which forms the absolutely amazing climax of the movie.

On the whole the movie is sweet, thanx mainly to some great writing. A lot of dialogue is simply hilarious. Its the climax, however, that takes the movie from being an enjoyable, very-good movie to the level of a great movie. James Stewart established himself with the role of Mr. Smith and plays the role with such great charm that Jefferson Smith is easily one of the most loveable heroes ever in American cinema. The scenes in the Senate are so well done that its difficult to believe that we are watching just a set and some actors (some of the lines spoken in the senate, however, are so hilarious that you DO remember that you are watching a movie and not real Senate proceedings.. but thats obviously for the best as Senate proceedings probably don't make very entertaining movies..).

Watch the movie, if only for some hilarious moments, for the sweet little romance woven into the story and if not for anything else, for the rousing climax that is absolutely inspiring and yet highly entertaining. Great Stuff.