careless diss-per

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At this point, it is safe to say that movie-going audience is done with superhero franchise movies. You know the drill – a regular everyman / handsome billionaire  is offered the chance to save the world, he does so prove himself to the love of his life / redeem himself / resolve his daddy issues, is helped along the way by an old wise mentor (preferably black / European / Asian, who dies tragically, but not before giving a rousing speech on duty and honour). Our superhero must not only overcome physical obstacles, but win the tussle within, and find out who he is, while smashing a city to smithereens. The same story is told over and over, by different superheroes, boots and reboots, prequels and sequels and alternate universes. It’s the decade of the comic-book nerd, and mainstream audiences were loving it, until it all reached a saturation point. Or has it?

The superhero movie of yore made its protagonist infallible and invincible. Then Batman Begins (2005) came along, and the flawless hero was humanised, and audiences discovered The Story; the ugly flashback which explained to us how troubled our hero really was, and how he decided to rise above his limitations.  Then Marvel started making the Iron Man (2008 – ?) movies – fun, witty action-fueled romps, without the intense gravitas of Nolan’s trilogy in the DC Comics universe. Story again gave way to stunning stunts and action sequences. Production houses joined the mad race to create the next biggest summer blockbuster, which would smash all previous records.

Hot on the heels of unexpected hit Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), the movie which launched Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt into one of the biggest Hollywood stars today, Marvel took a chance on Tim Miller’s Deadpool (2016), with Ryan Reynolds playing the Merc with a Mouth, who wields his katanas and cusses with equal aplomb. Like its (anti)hero, Deadpool is a movie that shouldn’t have been. Constantly spoofing the traps and tropes of its genre, the opening credits eschew the actors’ names completely, and set the tone for the rest of the film. Loaded with gags and jokes at the X-Men universe and how it might never get a sequel, Deadpool is irreverent, uncouth, crass, and oh so much fun. You will raise your eyebrows and laugh despite yourself at all the dick jokes, notwithstanding the Indian Censor Board’s best efforts to ruin enjoyment for adults.

Deadpool has many faults – Homeland‘s Morena Baccarin’s character is not given any depth, the criterion for casting Ed Skrein as the villain appears to be just a British accent, the climax isn’t particularly remarkable, the storyline leaves much to be desired, and the film seems to be playing into all the clichés it has been so gleefully mocking. But go watch it as a purely spoof movie, and you will get your price of admission’s worth. It’s a giant fuck-you to superhero movie clichés, probably in hopes that directors and writers will buckle up and write fresh storylines for the next hot ticket at the box office. To borrow a line from a rival – maybe Deadpool is the antihero we need and deserve right now?

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This is not a date movie.

Gillian Flynn’s bestselling page-turner Gone Girl, adapted by Flynn herself and directed by auteur David Fincher, is sensational, thought-provoking, and above all a damn good thriller. It is to the film’s credit that the 150 minutes-long running time flies by, as you slowly grow more and more convinced never to get married ever.

Rosamund Pike, in a star-making turn features as the eponymous Mrs Amy Elliott Dunne, wife to once-handsome-still-slimy Ben Affleck as Mr Nick Dunne. Despite her British parentage, Pike fits snugly as the NYC born-and-bred, scarily intelligent, beautiful woman who will be her husband’s reckoning. She is at once Hitchcock’s icy blonde who you know is bad news for every man who meets her, and an Agatha Christie-like villain in her precise premeditation. In a phenomenal performance, she goes from sugar-kissed charming heroine to a killer Tarantino would be proud of, what with all that blood spillage. (Whoopsie.) Ben Affleck despite being really good (his snarky smile comes of really good use here) is overshadowed by Pike, as is Neil Patrick Harris. (My favourite moment with Pike and Affleck was when Amy asks Nick to kiss her in front of the cameras, and he knowingly smiles, leans in, and puckers to the air.) And i do hope i see more of Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens who are the other strong female characters populating Nick Dunne’s life.

amy-dunne

Starting out as a tale of a suburban conjugal paradise lost, Mr and Mrs Dunne’s story spirals into a web of mutual lies, deceit and mistrust. Nick and Amy Dunne as a married couple have come to know each other well, too well, and so they play egotistical mind-games to prove their superiority. Barring Amy Dunne’s scheming, murderous, psychopathic inclinations, the film and the book are laden with generous doses of chilling commentary on feminism, courtship and relationships in this decade. Flynn makes brutally honest observations on how men and women approach dating and relationships – in the book’s aftermath, the discussed-to-death phenomenon of Cool Girl. Flynn makes this point, and i agree with her; in the race to be unique, different and individualistic, we’re becoming more generic, more indistinguishable from the next person. “Be who you want to be” they say, but all they mean is “Go become another man’s soulmate.” The Ideal Woman therefore, is beautiful, successful, witty and modern while also a dutiful homemaker and nurturing mother. Does this mean that women’s gender roles have not changed at all? No matter how successful they may be at the workplace, is their ultimate destiny to remain the model housewife Good Housekeeping intended? And all this for an unappreciative husband and the screwed-up institution that is marriage; a scheme that is destined to fail.

Despite these musings, i urge that Amy Dunne is not a heroine. She is not the suffering woman’s saviour. Her vendetta is driven not by a desire to avenge women in general; she is a psychopath, with a history of causing real hurt and damage. The entirety of Gone Girl in no case should be seen as a true portrayal of marriage; i daresay not all marriages end in a faked pregnancy and a murder. Obviously, wronged women cannot fix society with murderous vengeance. That is not justice. That is not feminism, as some readers of the book may come to believe. I agree that the book tends to take a more-than-spiteful and cynical look at how men take their wives for granted, and stereotypes them as constantly on the lookout for their next big f***. But Flynn deserves due credit for sparking debate on the twisted gender roles through the suburban purgatory that Amy creates for her cheating husband. In my humble, uninformed and inconsequential opinion, the fault here, lies with both men and women, for their unrealistic projections of love and marriage. We must live and expect of others as real people, not pop-culture’s ugly mannequins.

P.S. The title of the post is a reference to drama pop queen Taylor Swift’s chart-topping song, which i think is secretly Amy Dunne’s anthem. Every damn lyric fits.

admit one

What is a trip to Bombay without a surreal moviegoing experience?


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Ever since i heard about Deepak Talkies in Bombay, a colonial-era theatre renovated by Matterden Center for Films and Creation and bringing back the charm of black-and-white cinema to present-day audiences, i was quite set on catching a movie there. The dream actually, was to watch Casablanca or Roman Holiday. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Best Picture Oscar-nominated Foreign Correspondent (1940) presented itself, i decided to seize it (despite waking up from my customary Saturday sleep-in barely an hour before the show was due to start.) Although i was fifteen minutes late for the movie, the whole experience of watching an ‘old movie’ was worth it.

Foreign Correspondent, one of the first two films the inimitable Master of Suspense made after crossing the pond, was one of his two films to be nominated in the same year for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category, the other being the classic Rebecca. As one of Hitchcock’s first films, his predominant theme (and fear) of a man being accused of a crime he didn’t commit, certain scenes which would inspire Vertigo‘s climactic scenes, and the sexual innuendo in every dialogue exchanged between the romantic leads, all find their origins in this film. Notably, his trademark personal appearance in the film is missing here. While i didn’t find the film too satisfying plot-wise, Hitchcock’s dry yet delicious sense of humour keeps your attention riveted. George Sanders, whose face i remembered from All About Eve, surpasses all his colleagues in his turn as Scott ffolliott (i have not misspelled the name). As you watch Joel McCrea in the lead as a rookie journalist caught in an international conspiracy, you can’t help but wonder the kind of horsepower Humphrey Bogart would’ve brought to the role. The film is littered with the auteur’s typical visual touches, and is interesting if one wishes to trace and identify Hitchcock’s influences.

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What completely mesmerised me, was watching a matinée show, sitting farthest from the screen, feet propped up on the seat in front, right under the projector’s beam, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. For ceremony’s sake, i even put my hand in the projector’s beam, to see its shadow on the screen. My shadow on the big screen! In that sea of humanity, to find an island of peace, to forget your pressing troubles if only for two hours, to feel one with ‘all those wonderful people out there in the dark’, maybe even with those people who must have watched films like this decades ago, is quite something. That is the magic and the charm of a black-and-white film. While watching a film, the entire audience unites in one emotion, together. If that is not a connection, what is?

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Blame this on my tendency to attach overarching, transcendental meaning to superfluous, inconsequential instances, but for some reason, i felt that i could connect this with my overall impression of Bombay. Due to its roots as a major port, the capital of trade, a hub of power, and its colonial roots as a Presidency town, the city is dotted with regal-looking British architecture. With exposed brick, antique balcony grilles and peeling paint, these quaint buildings lend a vintage feel to the city. (Despite our hatred of the Britishers, i think that we Indians really do admire and emulate our pukka sahib rulers, even today.) ‘Retro-hip’ is probably one way i could try to describe the general vibe of the city.

As someone from a small town, in the four short weeks that i spent here, Bombay has been a roller-coaster ride. This is a city that swallows you up ruthlessly, takes you in, and leaves you to figure it out and fend for yourself. Bombay is heady, potent, strange, bewildering, untameable, unyielding and, at least for me, one like none another. Here, extremes coexist, the richest and the poorest man walk together, the old melds seamlessly with the new. An air of desperation, of things moving fast, oh-so-fast, is omnipresent. Big cities have a way of making you feel so grown-up one moment, and so small, so lost in the crowd the next. You are all alone, yet you don’t escape the specie for a single moment.

For me, Bombay is a trippy blur of speeding cars, the tranquil waves of the Arabian Sea flanking a sleepless city, the distinct spit-stained, rusted old metal of the local trains, the skin-permeating stink of fish, the constant honking of vehicles, people jogging with their dogs along Marine Drive on Sunday evenings, the sweet smell of alcohol and tobacco wafting out from one of the many establishments, hawkers selling and yelling their wares, the glitter of trinkets along Colaba Causeway, crowds constantly rushing somewhere, the solo strolls along the cobbled streets of Fort; all seen through black-tinted Lennon glasses.

Just like in a movie theatre, Bombay lets you find yourself in the anonymity of a crowd.

no heaven on earth

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The third and final instalment in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Shakespearean trilogy (after Maqbool, 2004, and Omkara, 2006) is finally here after a long wait and a brilliant trailer, and is the real bang-bang you should be watching this long weekend. (See what i did there?)

Haider, 2014, starring always-dependable character actors Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan Khan, and Bharadwaj’s new favourite, Shahid Kapoor, devolves into a spiral of madness, possible incest, gunshots and bloodbath, over two hours. Adapting the Bard’s works into a watchable two-hour motion picture is no easy task, but Bharadwaj does a decent job of it once more, this time with help from the Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer on his first film project. Aided by his stellar cast, Bharadwaj once again proves why he is one of the most sought-after directors in India.

Far from Denmark, Haider is set instead in 1995 Kashmir, torn apart by civil war, crackdowns in the wee twilight hours, the air rent with gunshots, people living in constant terror. This Kashmir is nothing like the one on your travel and lifestyle channels and magazines. Instead, this is seedy, shady, scary, and far from pristine. The towering snow-capped mountains remain in the background; at the forefront is blood, betrayal, and a pervading sense of unrest and unease. Much is made of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the flagrant human rights violations in Kashmir, and the film does seem to be a mouthpiece for the cause sometimes.This bleak mood serves the film’s purposes very well.

Shahid Kapoor is inspired here, as he transforms from a love-sick, innocent poet to a deranged near-militant, blinded by hatred and his vow to avenge his father’s death. Observe the glint in his eyes, him trying to restrain his madness and get a grip on the situation, as he is rendered helpless in his quest for justice. Bharadwaj extracts a terrific performance from him. With barely any make-up on, Tabu has commanding screen presence. Torn between love and power, her real motivations remain unknown and her intentions misunderstood. Her scenes with Shahid Kapoor explore the play’s Oedipal complex, which is somewhat bold for conservative mass Indian audiences. Kay Kay Menon remains the power-hungry, despicable uncle and homewrecker. Irrfan Khan, doing classic Irrfan Khan, is given quite an entry. Shraddha Kapoor is just about adequate as Haider’s lover Ophelia, but really needs to work on her dialogue delivery. Two actors, subbing for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as Salman and Salman (the Salman Khan fandom really is omnipresent), provide some comic relief in this otherwise moody, bleak movie.

While the first half is devoted to the civil unrest in Kashmir, the second half stays fairly close to the source play. Basharat Peer’s single biggest achievement is weaving the Kashmir conflict with the family tragedy of Hamlet. The first half is thus a searing view of the violence in the Valley, spattered with the blood of the innocent, and the second half is where the film really comes into its own. The trio of Kapoor, Tabu and Menon, give it their all, as the film reaches its explosive climax. Stray observation: in the beginning of the film, Tabu’s character speaking to her schoolchildren about what makes a home, referring subtly to the film’s theme of broken homes. But for all its merits, Haider falters with its meandering pace, the distinct restlessness felt by viewers (in a way, the film takes an hour to reach the first scene of the play), the disjointed screenplay, and the obligatory love-song right when things are about to get interesting. Vishal Dadlani’s brilliant version of ‘Aao Na’ is also unfortunately featured only in the trailer, not the film.

But these are minor complaints, when you’re witnessing a master like Bharadwaj in action. So if you want to be rewarded with a fine moviegoing experience, Haider is a compelling watch that must not be missed!

the bioscope

boyhood

 

Four actors, among them two children, are cast by an indie director in a film to be shot over twelve years. What happens next will amaze you.

The much-awaited Boyhood (2014), acclaimed indie filmmaker Richard Linklater’s drama chronicling the lives of a Texan family, and in particular Mason Jr., is to begin with, a brilliant premise for a film, and makes you wonder why it wasn’t thought of before. The closest that come to Linklater’s concept are Michael Apted’s Up documentaries, and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011), which i have not seen yet. The biggest hurdles that would face a director in such a project, are the lack of funding and backing by any production house, and the sheer luck behind casting children who would grow up to be good actors. To retain the story’s authentic feel, Linklater also said that he tried to avoid any melodramatic plot pitfalls, like the death of a character. He has been fortunate in these respects, and has brought to us the magnificent Ellar Coltrane, in a breakthrough performance.

Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and elder sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) live with their single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) in Texas. The film chronicles Mason Jr. from age seven to nineteen, as the camera looks on while he, to put it simply, grows up. As the children’s irreverent drifter of a father, Ethan Hawke basically plays Ethan Hawke. In the first act of the film, Lorelei Linklater is free and uninhibited, but it is Ellar Coltrane who really comes into his own in the third act. From the opening shot where he just lays on the grass looking up at the blue sky, to navigating adolescence and its associated challenges, we watch transfixed as he grows up before our eyes, from a child to a lanky young man. Whether it’s the awkward bird-and-the-bees talk with his father, getting bullied at school, his first kiss, or the quintessential search for ourselves when we are sixteen, all these markers of our passage into adulthood are played effortlessly and naturally in this unprecedented performance. And the scenes between Coltrane and Hawke are a real treat, as both find a natural rhythm and chemistry as father and son.

Another performance which i felt was not given enough credit was Patricia Arquette’s as a single mother, moving from one loser boyfriend to another, as she struggles to raise a family, and become a college professor. While Mason Jr. packs for college, she realises that life has just passed her by while she was busy providing for her children, and has probably not achieved anything for herself. Olivia’s is a major story in itself, but Arquette wisely never lets it overshadow Mason Jr.’s. Arquette plays Olivia with truth and sympathy, and hers is a career-defining performance. As she stated in an interview, it could not have been easy to watch herself age on screen. Another subtle touch to the film is marking the passage of years with the songs popular at that time, instead of the lazy device of cards saying ‘One Year Later’, ‘Two Years Later’, etc.

Personally, having read so much praise about this film beforehand, i had extremely high expectations. I wanted to see some part of myself in the film and be absolutely dazzled by it. But that did not happen for me. Don’t get me wrong, i really liked the film, and it truly has some great moments, but i can’t say i loved it. The script, where Linklater tries to reconcile a cohesive narrative with his characters’ ruminations on the process of growing up and its rites of passage, made for uneven dialogue and pace. For touching vignettes of life as a child growing up on screen, my personal favourite is the classic The 400 Blows (1959) by French auteur François Truffaut. There was a film full of innocence and the bittersweet joys of childhood. It is of course, unfair to compare Boyhood to this towering masterpiece, but i was left longing for something similar nonetheless.

Still, Boyhood deserves much of the adulation it has already received, for its ambition and scale, and Richard Linklater’s persistence to tell his story – the extraordinarily ordinary story of a boy who grows up. He is one of the best filmmakers alive today, and one hopes to see more, much more, from this visionary in the near future.

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