Saturday, December 31, 2005

Not a good year?

I remember thinking at the end of last year about how great the year had turned out for movies. In fact most of the "best of 2004" lists that I came across talked about just how difficult it was to choose 10 movies out of an amazing number of great movies that came out throughout 2004. In the end, I managed to pick 10 and HAD to make another "special mention" list (in this post). Even then, there were quite a few good movies left that I didn't manage to catch early enough to be included in my list. Some of them I saw later and would surely have included in my top 10 list.

Anyway, this year is different for two reasons, which are probably related. First, I didn't see a lot of movies this year. I was just now making the list of all movies released in 2005 that I have already seen and I was shocked to see that as of this moment the list stands at a pitiful 29! Which means that it would be much easier to make a top 10 list this time around. But it also means that there are quite a few good 2005 movies that I still have to see, so this top movies list will probably not be very close to the final list.

The other reason why I think this year was different was that there simply were not that many great movies around. Like I said, these two reasons are probably related. Maybe I didn't see as many movies this year because there weren't too many worth watching. Or Maybe I don't think there were too many great movies simply because there are quite a few that I still have to see.

but what to do? One has to make a list when one has to make a list. Small matters like not having enough time to watch movies don't count when December 31 is already upon you. So, here are my movie lists for 2005!

Top 10 movies of the year

10) Batman Begins

9) Millions

8) Cinderella Man

7) Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi

6) Sin City

5) Good Night and Good Luck

4) Munich

3) Jarhead

2) 2046

1) Crash

When I saw Crash and posted a review on this blog, I was under the impression that there'd be many movies that'll probably surpass it in my final 2005 top movies list. Turns out I still have to see any such movie. But as I said before, it probably doesn't mean a lot since there are still a handful of highly acclaimed movies that I still have to see. some of these (in order of decreasing likelihood to figure in this list) are:

1) Brokeback Mountain

2) Capote

3) Saraband

4) Walk The Line

5) The Constant Gardener

6) Syriana

7) Iqbal

8) Match Point

9) Page 3

10) Me and You and Everyone We Know

11) North Country

12) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

13) Junebug

14) Paradise Now

15) Memoirs of a Geisha

16) The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey

And just in case one of your favorite movies of the year is not in either of these lists, chances are that I have seen it but it didn't make the cut when compared to the 10 movies listed here. Or that I somehow forgot about its potential while making the second list. So, some movies that I DID see but didn't think they deserve to be listed higher than Batman Begins are (and some of these missed it by the proverbial whisker, while others were probably easier to count out):

King Kong, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Squid and the Whale, A History of Violence, Serenity, Black, Howl's Moving Castle, War of the Worlds, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Parineeta.

Among the movies that I have already seen, some special mentions:

Most disappointing: King Kong. But probably due to too high expectations on my part. It was extremely good in parts, which makes it worth a watch. But I was expecting something in the range of "awesome"! :(

Most underrated: Crash and Jarhead. Not because both of them are nearly equally good. But just because they are much better than what the reviews/ratings might suggest. Crash at least got a lot of accolades from some people (and topped Roger Ebert's list of top 10 movies of 2005 too!) but Jarhead was widely disliked. Or just not liked as much as people were expecting from a Sam Mendes movie. Maybe my opinion of Jarhead will change over time (I saw it only yesterday!), but I thought it was quite engrossing. Most likely not as good as some of the movies that I still have to see (Brokeback Mountain, Walk The Line, Capote, Constant Gardener etc.), but definitely worth watching, if only because of some great acting and some haunting images.

Most overrated:Black and A History of Violence. Good movies both, specially some of the performances. But neither deserved to be hyped as much as I thought they were. A History of Violence, specially, was too simplistic. Some good acting and a couple of well-done scenes carried the movie through but it sort of fizzed out in the end. Nothing great.

Best acting by an Ensemble: Crash. Already written about it here.

Best Background Score: 2046. No comparison here. In a fair world Wong Kar-Wai will win every best music award hands down for any of his movies that I have seen. He is the director, not composer, and yet it seems you can't separate any scene from the music that accompanies it. Its like sitting in a concert with your eyes closed (and if you open your eyes, the images on screen look like painting masterpieces!). But then, who says the world is fair. Sigh! I'd be on top of the world if they give the oscar to this. But I know it probably won't even be nominated. Easily the most exhilarating movie experience I had this year. Crash topped my list for many reasons, but for sheer pleasure of the senses, nothing came close to 2046.

Best special effects: King Kong. Again, no comparison. Nothing else that I saw this year (or probably ever) comes close to the way they showed Kong. Unbelievable!

Monday, December 19, 2005

I've had paralysis!!

Sleep paralysis, that is.... this morning...

Not that it was the first time I had it. It was pretty common when I was at IIT. In fact, there was a time when it was almost a daily occurence. For about 5-10 minutes (or at least thats what it felt like) just before being fully awake (or just after, depending on how you define being "fully awake"), I could not move any part of my body. Not a single muscle.

It was frightening at first. I had no idea what was happening. I used to put ALL my energy into trying to move my hand, or trying to turn my body (I don't think I remember ever being in this state when I wasn't directly facing the roof). After a while the fear went away. It was so common, that I sort of learned to not panic and just keep trying to slide a little to one side so that I can fall from the bed as that seemed to work the best.

For some reason this stopped happening since coming here to the US. But today it came back. With a vengeance. I don't remember ever having so many hallicunatory experiences in my sleep paralysis as I had today. It was almost as if I had 4-5 separate sleep paralysis episodes crammed within half an hour, some of them being truly horrifying. Or maybe I am hyping it more than it deserves. Maybe not "horrifying", but I really did panic more than once. The first time I didn't realize that it was sleep paralysis (out of practice, see!) and REALLY thought that there was someone in my room and I can't really see who he/she/it was because I was face-up and could not turn my neck even a little to the side. After some time, even though I could swear that I could see the hair on the head of the person who seemed to be pulling me by my legs, I began to realize that this is just a sort of dream even though my eyes were open (I thought so then, and after reading a bit about it I think I was right... my eyes must really have been open). Still, it was pretty disconcerting to not be able to move a single muscle even after trying my best for what seemed like 20-25 minutes AND having hallucinations about some presence in my room, and my window being open with a snowstorm surging outside (I actually thought I saw snow coming inside the room by the window, I could hear the wind, and I actually thought I felt a little cold from the wind!). It was exciting and unnerving at the same time. Unnerving because if it is a symptom of me not sleeping properly, then maybe I should do something about it. Specially when I DO know that I've been having some problems with my sleep over last month or so.

Anyway, I took an appointment with my doctor and went about googling for what it might've been really. It doesn't take long nowadays (specially with the advent of wikipedia!) to find anything about anything. Turns out what I was thinking to be a "lucid dream" till that point is more accurately termed as "sleep paralysis". Read the article about it on wikipedia, here. They also talk about the accompanying hallucinations and its amazing how accurately it describes what I felt.

Experiences like this make one understand why exactly do people in almost every society believe in ghosts/spirits etc. In the absence of any knowledge of what the phenomenon was, its only natural to believe that whatever one saw/heard/felt was real. In fact, in a sense, it seems "more real" than reality itself. As in, if someone grabs my leg in real life, it probably won't "feel" as much as I did then. Its almost as if the nerve endings on my skin have increased by an order of magnitude! The wikipedia article also talks about cultural references of sleep paralysis and if we go by the chinese belief, I can say that my body was "possessed by forces from the dead" this morning! :)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Kong is no king!

Not yet, anyway...

King Kong released this wednesday with a hype as huge as Kong himself. There were plenty of reasons why the hype seemed justified. It's Peter Jackson's follow up to Lord of the Rings movies. It's the most expensive movie ever made, with the production budget standing at 207 million dollars! The trailers, even though they left me a little disappointed, seemed to be exciting enough for a lot of people, what with some great special effect sequences included - the little clip of Naomi Watts standing between Kong and a T-Rex itself seemed worth the price of the ticket. A film can go one of only two ways from this. If it is well made, it becomes one of the biggest movies of its time (Titanic!). If it is not made very well, it becomes a disaster and sends shudders through the industry (Hulk!). So, I was eagerly looking for the initial reviews of the movie. Turned out, the first few reviews that came in were overwhelmingly good! I remember seeing only 1 out of the first 28-29 that wasn't favorable. (It has since gone a little down... standing at 83% positive). That, as far as I was concerned, sealed the deal. This is clearly going to be a huge movie, I thought. a 300+ million monster. The box-office number sites were predicting a 20+ million opening on the wednesday and a 65+ million weekend.

The numbers for wednesday are in.

9.8 millions!

No one really knows what to make of this. I honestly thought it was a typo. Everyone is going to wait for the friday's estimates now. Anything less than 15 million, and the movie will probably not cross 150 million, even with good word-of-mouth. Anything above 25, and its going to be HUGE!! 20-ish, and it'll probably go on to around 250 million. That is nothing compared to Titanic (or even Return of the King, considering that Titanic is such an outlier!) but it should be good enough for the studio. As of now, they have just one straw to hang on to. Something similar happened last summer with Shrek-2. Everyone was hoping a monster hit and it brought in JUST 11 million dollars on its opening wednesday. Postmortem analysis had begun already but it turned out that the audience was probably not aware of the movie opening on a wednesday. It had probably the second biggest weekend ever (105 million probably) and went on to make 400+ overall. I hope that is the case here too. And with some good word-of-mouth it might very well be.

I'm not too sure about the good word-of-mouth part, though. I thought it was OK. In parts, pretty good too. But not even close to being year's best picture or anything. Not even close to LOTR movies in any manner. It could've been much better had Peter Jackson not overindulged himself. He did something similar to Return of the King, but it didn't hurt it much because of such a huge fan base. Not sure that will happen with Kong, though.

They have publicised the movie as a return to jurassic park. great special effecs, great thrills. An adventure movie through and through. Which is what disappointed me when I saw the trailers actually. Turns out that that description is justified only for the middle hour or so of the movie. The first hour is all drama, slowly introducing the characters and building up to the adventure ride. A tad too slowly, in fact. There are some hilarious scenes here, but overall, he could have rushed a little in this part. Then comes the next hour/hour-and-a-half full of one-scream-after-the-other action. Something that will probably mean the movie will make good money internationally, but not something that, by itself, makes a movie great.

Don't get me wrong, this part is actually done pretty well. The dinosaurs could've been better made (I can see why my kids will probably scream at some of these scenes and say "but dad! that is SO clearly animation!! Can't you see that the actors seem to be OUT of the plane of the dinosaurs?"). But almost every scene involving Kong is done superbly. Its impossible to think that we are not watching a real huge ape on the screen. Compared with Gollum (which itself was great CGI work, but looked artificial all the same), this is a HUGE leap forward. Its astounding that we can now make such creatures come alive and give them such believable emotions/expressions. All credit to Andy Serkis - the guy who played Gollum in LOTR and plays Kong here - and the technical crew behind this.

Probably the biggest challenge in front of anyone who decided to film King Kong is to make the relationship between Kong and Darrow believable. I don't know how it was done in the original, but at least here I thought they did it extremely well. Even though it will always be a bit difficult to digest that a woman can fall for a 25 foot ape, some of the scenes are quite successful in depicting that. The tender moments between the two of them are quite cute and, for me, are the best scenes of the movie. Naomi Watts is great as Darrow and, as i said before, Andy Serkis gives Kong great expressions, specially in these scenes with Watts. In fact, the half-baked-romance between Watts and Adrien Brody is MUCH less believable than the Darrow-Kong affection (calling it romance will probably be too inappropriate. And inaccurate as well.). Brody is disappointing. Too wooden, specially in the scenes with Watts. The last scene between the two is absolutely hilarious due to its unbelievability, when it should've been touching. I am starting to think that Brody's oscar for The Pianist was a fluke. He did OK in The Village but I am still to see anything else by him that'd convince me that he's a great actor.

That brings us to the last part. It's this that really disappointed me. The first hour was at least engaging, even though overlong. The last hour - the scenes set in a great recreation of 1933 New York City - does not move you, it does not delight you and it is not awe-inspiring. It does nothing. Except bore. There are still a couple of scenes here that are great. A superb scene on a frozen lake and another with Darrow and Kong on the very top of the Empire State building. But that's about it. All the destruction of the NYC roads and building by Kong are not thrilling enough. Probably this part suffers in comparison because it comes after the superb sequences on the island. Or maybe by this time (2.5 hours from the start of the movie, 12:30 in the night), I really wasn't too interested in a cliched car chase, cars banging into each other, or buildings falling left, right and center. But it DID seem to be stretching out a bit too much. Specially the climax on the top of the Empire State building was too long.

King Kong is not a Crash, so its not really a performance oriented movie. But I thought Jack Black was quite hilarious in the role of the movie director. He, as also the main duo (Watts and Serkis, NOT Brody) did quite well.

So, there you go. The movie might still get that elusive good word-of-mouth because of the great island sequences and might be a big hit (lets wait till the friday numbers for that), but it really isn't that great. Peter Jackson has been nominated for a Golden Globe for this. I think he can do better than this, though. More to the point, I don't believe anyone else hasn't done better than this in 2005.

Which begs the question, why 83% positive reviews? well, I guess I'll give it a positive review too. As in, it is definitely more than just watchable. It has its shortcomings, but there are some things in the movie that definitely shouldn't be missed. I guess a lot of other people thought so too. That is the problem with just looking at percentages. If 10 out of 10 people give a movie 7/10, then it gets 100% positive reviews but it still is a 7/10 movie, not a 10/10. Kong, for me, is a 7.5-8/10 movie. Better than 80% of the movies out there, but that's about it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Rajdeep Sardesai (and Rahul Tyagi) on Sachin

In the aftermath of Sachin's record breaking 35th century most of the desi media is replete with articles and tributes to him. Probably the best among them is this tribute by Rajdeep Sardesai in HTcricket. Great article.

In a sense, Sachin is our link to an India that existed before page three invaded our homes, before instant celebrities were manufactured by the media even if their achievements are shorter than the length of their skirts.

This is not just some one film hit star, who dances his way to the box office. Sachin's achievements are based on solid performance, on rigour, on durability and, above all, genuine skill, qualities that have made him a national icon.

Incidentally, the hype of the record left me strangely cold. Probably the single biggest emotion I felt was a sense of disappointment at this taking so long and relief that it didn't take even longer. I know I am probably being a bit too harsh and unfair on him, but then he IS my hero and I'll be sooo disappointed if he doesn't end up with at least 50 test hundreds. That is why these last couple of years have left me so sad and disappointed. Every inning that he fails in makes me think how incredibly underachieving his career is going to be at the end.

I know its astonishing how someone with 40-45 hundreds and 12-13000 runs can be perceived to be an underachiever. As I said, probably too harsh and unfair on him. But then, he is Sachin!

He IS my hero!!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Another classic pic!

flickr took me to this wonderful Guru Dutt-Waheeda Rehman pic. In fact this person (balak) has some other great b&w bollywood pics. Click on the pic and have a look at them!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The scream you just heard...

Was Francis Ford Coppola's ghost. He just read this page on Rediff.

Raja Sen needs to get some coffee before churning out articles for Rediff Movies. If only someone realized my potential to be a good movie journo!


Update: For those who came in late and have no idea what I was talking about in this post, Raja Sen had mistakenly written "Fellini's Godfather" rather than "Coppola's Godfather" in the article. It has been corrected now, though. Quick Action!! :)

Cricinfo Fantasy Cricket

Was looking at some scorecards while doing a bit of research related to the recent cricinfo post about batsmen in runchases. Ran into this scorecard. Look at Sehwag's batting stats. 0 run in 30 balls in 1 min!! That Sehwag can play 30 balls for 0 run is probably more unbelievable than the fact that some bowlers bowled 5 overs in 1 minute! :P

Ganguly would probably have killed for having such bowlers in his team when he seemed to finish every innings about half an hour after the scheduled time! :D

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Trailer Talk

Last time I posted about movies, I talked about the trailer of Good Night and Good Luck and it being the most anticipated movie of near future. So, no wonder I went to see it at the first opportunity. Will probably talk about it in a future post. For now, lets talk about some other trailers that caught my attention since then.

I should've talked about Munich earlier in the context of most anticipated movies of the fag end of this year. I didn't, however, because no one was quite sure when Munich might release. Spielberg released War of the Worlds earlier in the year, and at that time there was no inkling that he might have another release lined up this year. Then again, Spielberg is Speilberg. Something happened, and he suddenly decided to go ahead with the movie and finish it before year end. The only reason I can think of is that he liked the final version of the script immensely and thought that it might be a major player at the oscars. To maximize the chances of a major oscar win, he'd have to release the movie either in Oct-Dec 2005 or in Oct-Dec 2006. He took 2005 as a challenge worth taking and went ahead with the shooting. No one, except for him, was sure that he'll be able to get it ready in time. But he seems to have done it. Probably only the background score is left and that should be done in time for the release. What this means is that no one knows about any "insider impressions" of this movie unlike any other major movie. No one, except for him knows for sure how the movie is going to look. So, no one really knows if it is going to be as good as it can be. Or whether it can get him a major nomination. All anyone knows as of now is that the recently unveiled trailer looks every bit as good as anyone could've expected. Looks like a hard-hitting movie in the mould of Schindler's List, and if Munich is anywhere close to being as good as Schindler, then the statuette might already be fedexed to his address. Then again, no one knows if that is true. It might turn out to be disappointing in the end. I hope it doesn't. Catch the trailer here.

I don't think I have been spending enough time tracking new trailers nowadays. So, something happened recently which hasn't happened for a long time. I went to see a movie and a trailer that preceded the movie surprised me because not only had I not seen the trailer before, I didn't even know that it was going to be released with the movie I had gone to see. Ok, end of suspense. The movie I had gone to see was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the trailer piggybacking on it was that of Lady in the Water - Manoj Shyamalan's next project. Nothing too special about what they show in the trailer, except that the music was quintessential Shyamalan. There aren't many directors around in Hollywood today who have such an amazing sense of music. Spielberg maybe. Tarantino surely. Some others too, but thats not too bad a list to be included in. (And I won't even mention Wong Kar-Wai here, he is in a league of his own in this context... Thats why I said "in Hollywood"!! :) ). There are times when what is being shown on the screen has nothing special and yet one gets the sense of watching something special simply because the music makes you feel so. This trailer is one such case in point. Mute it, and you won't feel anything. Turn the sound on, and you suddenly feel that you can't miss this movie! :) See the trailer here.

One trailer that disappointed me is the new Cars trailer. I have been a big fan of Pixar for some years now and was looking forward to this trailer even though the first teaser that they had released with The Incredibles was pretty lame. Then again, I had thought the same thing about the first teaser of The Incredibles yet the first full length trailer of that movie was superb. Not so this time. Cars will most probably be a great addition to the Pixar collection but this trailer does not show that. Alas! See the new trailer here.

Another one that failed to excite me as much as I had expected is the first trailer of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest . Not that there is much wrong with the trailer as such. Just that it looks a bit too similar to the first movie. Not that THAT is a bad thought considering how entertaining that one was. And too much of Captain Jack Sparrow is nothing to run away from. And another look at Keira Knightly can't hurt either. :P Anyway, I'll most probably end up watching it the day it releases. Just that the trailer didn't have anything too special in it. See it here.

Normally there aren't many hindi movie trailers I talk about here. But the recent Rang De Basanti trailer caught my eye (and ears!) :). Releasing in early January, the music is about to release sometime this week and should be something to look forward to. The one song that the trailer features doesn't sound too exciting though. Its ok, but the little snippet that one gets to hear in the trailer isn't too great really. If that is what they expect to be the most catchy bit in the movie's soundtrack, then probably the music won't catch the junta's fancy. I hope its not so. The trailer itself seems to have a heavy Dil Chahta Hai hangover. Might just be the effect of watching Aamir in a fresh, vivacious movie. At least that is how the movie is being publicised. And the trailer does full justice to that. Lets see how true that actually is. See the trailer here. You'll need real player for this one.

And while talking about trailers, let me put on record my gratitude to everything that Apple has done for us movie buffs. The glorious quicktime format is like nothing else I have seen online. And the latest High Definition trailers are nothing sort of revolutionary!!! :) Apple zindabad!!!!