Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Getting Attached to Tony Kaye's latest film - Detachment

Title - Detachment
Director - Tony Kaye
Starring - Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Hayden, Sami Gayle, Betty Kaye.

Ah, the irony of indie movies. Some of them are much better than the movies that take away the golden statues and yet, by the time they get out into the mainstream, that golden man is already passe. Well, the silver lining is that I won't have to go into the chances of Adrien Brody winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Henry Barthes. Agreed, that Brody has made some dubious choices in picking some roles post The Pianist (with the notable exceptions like Salvador Dali in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris and Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited) but with this little gem of a character, he seems to have bounced back.

The director is the notorious Brit Tony Kaye, who debuted with American History X back in 2000. Surprisingly, between this and that, he has directed only one other movie, Black Water Transit, which I have not seen yet.  So what is a Tony Kaye movie like? Going by X and Detachment, one could say that his style revolves around having his characters scream at the camera, but obviously, it's not just that. What I loved about Detachment is how the story does not let the audience delve too deep into the characters' heads. It teases you, yes.. but that's about it. It is not about exploration. It's about knowing what's in there and not giving a fuck about it. Well, almost.

This is about teachers and kids. As simple as that. The failure of the American Public School system might have been a little far fetched in this movie according to some people but even they can understand why someone would make it like this. After having watched Boston Public and the fourth season of The Wire, I think this was a fair reflection at par with some elements from both the shows. If you're making a movie like this, it's very hard to stay away from racial stereotypes. But that's only a worry for people who want to make those "politically correct" movies. Tony Kaye gives no fucks and I love him for that.

Adrien Brody plays Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher who takes up a gig in a school where the board of directors is trying to oust the principal (Hayden) because the school's test scores are not high enough. It's not that the board cares about the knowledge students get from the teachers; they are more concerned about the real estate value of the neighbourhood going down due to the poor score. This does happen in America. They know it, you and I know it and so does Tony Kaye. The ensemble cast includes the beautiful Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway from Mad Men), James Caan (Sonny Corleone in The Godfather) and Blythe Danner (De Niro's wife in Meet the Parents) as teachers in the school. Lucy Liu plays the guidance counselor. To see her in a role where she breaks down in the face of frustration as opposed to killing people with her high heels is quite refreshing. Two actors I respect a lot - Tim Blake Nelson and Bryan Cranston also have small but interesting roles here.

However, the actors who stole almost all the scenes that involved them, are Sami Gayle as a sixteen year old Erica, who's a "street walker" who ends up bunking with Henry and showing a much sweeter side in contrast  to an otherwise defensive attitude, and Betty Kaye as Meredith, a student in Henry's class, who plays the role of a vulnerable overweight kid to perfection. The way their story arcs conclude, perhaps defines the entire film. Don't look for any morals in this movie. If I were a teenager today and I had watched it, I'd probably take home the lesson that told me it's better to be angry at the world and have my defenses up all the time, instead of risking rejection by showing that I care about anything. 

Tony Kaye's invisibility in this film is not so obvious. Every time the camera zooms in to the face of whoever's talking, you can't brush aside Edward Furlong's face from American History X. Some might see it  as a film that's been over stylized; I can ignore that. But let's not pin a style-tag to a director who's just three movies old. At times, the film feels so real, you forget that there's a director standing next to the camera. We need more of these. We do.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Having watched Ex-Drummer

For almost a couple of years now, movies that i’ve watched have included a certain sense of seriousness – of reality, of the world, of injustice, of stupid governments, of everything that we think is wrong with the world…these movies and documentaries manage to tell you stuff which your parents don’t, teachers didn’t and the media never will…naturally, they excited me. But the problem of enjoying something or things which follow a particular patern is that, you eventually start questioning that too…it’s sort of like a game of equilibrium your inner psycho plays with you i guess. Questioning got me thinking, “what does the other side feel like?” or “how do people with different points of view justify their beliefs, or do they at all?”…No answers. Not one book, movie or person to satisfy that twisted void.
Twisted. that’s the word which can describe the movie “Ex Drummer”.
Here’s a movie that everyone will love to hate, and yet when Belgian film-maker Koen Mortier had completed writing, producing and directing this filthy gem of a movie, he made sure that even the haters were shocked beyond repair, waiting for Cameron Crowe or someone similar, to come with a feel good movie to balance things out inside their brains…Film making has always had had its baggage of censorship and share of ‘altered’ storylines to stick to the status quo that the viewers live in. But rarely, had i come across a movie, which manages to not only pass those barriers but break them into smithereens while doing so. Until now, that is. Anti-feminism, anti-homosexuality, anti-migration, anti-monogamy,anti-affirmative action favouring the disabled, anti-every-civilized-notion….that’s what this movie is. the story itself is quite a shocker..
A middle-aged famous writer, bored with his scaringly normal life, decides to take up the offer of being the drummer in a band, for one show only, where the remaining members are handicapped in more than one way…each. The lead guitarist is a deaf crack head, who doesnt have a clue about his family – crack head wife and crack-head baby girl,who live in the same shady room… the bassist is a homosexual who cannot move the joints in his right arm, due to a masturbatory accident involving his mother and a wig, while he was still young…the lead singer, just likes to beat up women, smashing their skulls open and all – if you can ignore this trait of his and the fact that he is a neo-nazi skinhead who for some unexplained reason walks upside down in his own house, and has a lisp in his speech, then you’ll probably see that he has a warm attitude towards people, as long as they aren’t women or homosexuals. Now our good ol’ protagonist has his own reasons for joining the band…which he calls ‘The Feminists’. So bored yet content is he, that he just wants to attach himself to losers for a while to get a taste of what ‘fucked up’ means…while always having one foot out of the door. One of those people who see which way the wind is blowing, and turn themselves accordingly.
And then again i often wonder, why or how a person could come up with such a movie? what’s inside his head?…or is it just because someone got tired of all the political correctness in movies and the viewers..and decided to make a movie about what people or just he himself think in general?…beats me.
The only way i can describe the shock value of “Ex Drummer” is by saying that if TRAINSPOTTING and IRREVERSIBLE had a one night stand and they had a baby, and that baby would start screwing OLD BOY for a whole year, then their baby would be EX DRUMMER.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Never Let Me Go', directed by Mark Romanek and based on the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro is a story about three friends who grow up in an idyllic country school called Hailsham in the late seventies. They are amongst a group of fellow children who were raised for one single purpose - to reach adulthood and start donating their vital organs to people who need it, until they die, or as the story puts it, when they 'complete'.

It's not a science fiction dystopian story about a bad world. Calling it so would be naive as the parallels this story draws with real life and how children are raised in controlled environments make you wonder if Ishiguro was merely telling a story or rather showing us a reflection we generally turn away from. In the story, kids aren't told how normal kids live lives in the outside world, they aren't encouraged to dream and the only contact they have with 'naturals' is through teachers and caretakers. The only priority is to make sure they live absolutely healthy lives.

Kathy and Ruth are really good friends. Tommy is shy and weird. Kathy and Tommy strike a chord as she is the only one in school who does not tease him. Getting jealous of this closeness Ruth moves in and makes Tommy her boyfriend (ah, schooldays) before anything can happen between him and Kathy. The three grow up together and move to 'The Cottages', a place where they meet 'donors' from other schools in their late teens before they are all seen primed up for organ donation. Kathy, not being able to withstand the tag of being the third wheel, volunteers to be a 'carer', who travels across the country and looks after donors who are about to 'complete' after their third or fourth donation.

Cliche demands that movies cannot be as good as the book. This time, I think it's a tie. Romanek does justice to Ishiguro, although he does leave out some small moments from the book. I'm guessing he did so to make the story less dramatic. but he makes it up with the excellent casting of characters. Carey Mulligan (An Education) is beautiful as the humble and introvert narrator Kathy. It is, perhaps, one of her best roles. Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean)  as Ruth glides tirelessly between shades of a best friend who is a bitch at times and later, a person looking for redemption. Andrew Garfield (Boy A, The Social Network) as the hopeful and gentle Tommy, is showing more promise with every single role he has played so far. Boy A and Never Let Me Go should come out as a double Garfield package if he ever makes it to the A-List. It doesn't really matter - he's already a great actor. 

The background score is really good as the music switches effortlessly from a green English countryside vibe to a tense hopeless moment in some operating table. A song, also called 'Never Let Me Go' is a track by fictional jazz singer Judy Bridgewater, in a cassette that Tommy gifts Kathy while at Hailsham. According to Ishiguro, this is sung by a mother to her baby daughter. The young Kathy would often play it in the empty dorm while holding her pillow tight. A part in the book and left out in the movie, shows a French art teacher addressed by the students as Madame, crying while she sees Kathy swaying gently with this song playing in the recorder. Kathy does not understand then why Madame wept. Years later when they meet again, Madame explains that in that moment she saw a girl about to leave the old life, that was the comfort Hailsham offered, and move on to a cruel world that would see her as a resource for a better life. This song according to Madame, was the girl's words to her old life, asking it not to let her go. 

It's a good book to read. It's a great movie to watch. And yes, boys do cry.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Good Music, Funny and Warm - Cemetery Junction

     This one's about the 70's, it's British (not Hollywood), and has Led Zeppelin's 'The Rain Song' playing in the background when the movie is nearing an end. - There, you've sold this movie to me, and some other people I know.
     Now, for the clincher - it's made by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the guys behind the arguably best comedy series ever - The Office. You need more? Ralph Fiennes plays an arse, again (In Bruges, anyone?). His cocky, arrogant and borderline heartless goodbye to an old retiring employee in the guise of a speech at the "winner's ball" will make you want to take a cricket bat to his face, while also laughing your flab off.
     Well, the movie is everything you'd expect a feel-good movie to be. The story is about three 20 year old friends - Freddie (Christian Cooke), Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Paul (Jack Doolan), who has been named Snork by his mates, cause he has a knack for "sniffing out the muff".  The entire plot takes place in a small factory town in Reading called Cemetery Junction where the people have apparently "missed out on the swinging 60's" and "the blacks are just moving in." Freddie is an ambitious guy who wants to end up like Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), perhaps the only rich guy in the entire town who made it big by heading an insurance firm, and not like his own Dad (Ricky Gervais) who works in the factory on weekdays and runs his own window cleaning business on weekends. Bruce, the wild one in the gang, who always ends up getting into trouble, and enjoys it as a means of running away from his own daddy issues, works in the factory, and just "talks" about leaving the town for good. Paul, or Snork, is by far the most colourful of the lot, who in his lame attempts at getting it on with women, not only ruins his own chances, but takes his mates down with him.
     The plot might sound like it's-all-been-done-before, but what makes this movie worth a positive review is the good number of enjoyable scenes involving The Office-like dialogue, an excellent supporting cast (conversations between Freddie's dad and Grandma will have you choking for breath) and the fact that it's a new movie about the 70's. Case in point,
                   Bruce (barging into Freddie's room as he's getting ready for the first day at work, and listening to classical music) - Why the hell are you listening to music made by poofs?! Listen to some normal Elton John's. 
     The humour at times gets dark too, like in a scene Freddie learns the tricks of selling insurance from a senior colleague played by the handsome Matthew Goode (Match Point, Watchmen,etc.). The way you can't stop feeling for the gullible old couple being brainwashed into buying insurance while giving up a holiday in Spain, is countered by the butcher-like ruthlessness of these salesmen. Another scene shows a desperate Freddie trying to sell insurance to a guy who'd rather spend the few extra quid on porn.
     The soundtrack is what you'd ideally imagine life in 70's Britain to be like. Mott the Hoople, Elton John and Led Zeppelin tracks sealed it for me. If you liked Garden State, An Education or Almost Famous, you'll want to give this one a try.

4/5 from me. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Leaving Home, With Indian Ocean

                “Eliminate the major cities – Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, and Bangalore and take the concert to say.... REC Warangal; No Indian band will last on the stage, except for Indian Ocean.”

 – Shantanu Moitra.

                These words might sound very exaggerated, but when you submit yourself to the music of these four people, who as a unit call themselves Indian Ocean, you’ll find yourself voluntarily nodding like a kid who has just been given a lesson on gravity. I had seen them live for the first time in 2006, when they performed in Delhi University. A friend told me, "Fool, you haven't heard of the song Kandisa?" I realize now how ignorant I was back then. They blew my mind. The documentary “Leaving Home – The Life and Music of Indian Ocean” by Jaideep Varma, is a trip every self-respecting Indian Ocean fan needs to take. It’s not a sneak peek into the lives of the band members, it’s an encyclopaedia. Jaideep, whose work I’ve previously seen in a low budget dark comedy called “Hulla” and whose book about the Bombay Local Trains called “Local” has for a long time been on my need-to-read list, spent a lot of time with the band, and the effort clearly shows. On second thought, spending time with Indian Ocean – who wouldn’t want to do that?

                I would not waste time praising the music of Indian Ocean over here – it’s just not necessary. But equal praise is due to the way this documentary was made, giving the fan everything he wants, without alienating the new comer. The entire feature has been divided into segments named after songs of the band, and together they cover the entire story. The story of how Sushmit Sen (guitars) first formed the band with Asheem Chakravarty (Tabla, Vocals) back in the mid eighties, and how they performed professionally for the first time in Roorkee sets off the pace for the next decade in the film. One of the factors that make this film even better is, unlike most other documentaries, it lets go of narration by the film-maker or some famous star. Because everything is being narrated by the band members themselves, you feel that they are talking directly to you.

                The cameos in the film by ex-band mates, some living, some unfortunately not, make it even more interesting - as you get to meet people who you otherwise would have never known about. One such person who deserves mention is the Late Indrajit Dutta, a PWD architect who quit as a bassist from the band for a government job. His regret of leaving the band is as hidden as my love for music and food. But then again, after Indrajit quit the band, they found Rahul Ram(bass, vocals), whose stage presence and off-stage activities with contemporary social causes have sort of defined what Indian Ocean has become today. A clip showing him flawlessly sing an Adivasi song in that tone, makes you wonder if this guy is actually for real. Real he is, and so are his experiences with Adivasis and the Narmada movement, stories of which, including dancing and singing in a police lock up, are nicely narrated by the charismatic bearded man himself.

                Early nineties saw the band go through a number of line-up changes, including the departure of the original drummer Shaleen Sharma, and him getting replaced by the current regular Amit Kilam(drums, percussions, vocals), who was in his early twenties when he joined the band. A Kashmiri Pandit who knew his calling was music since a very early age, caught the eye of Sushmit when a band called Gravy Train, where Amit was the drummer, performed after Indian Ocean at a college fest. His roots show in the music he plays, especially in the song “Kaun”, where he sings the Kashmiri parts of the song, whose words were penned by his mother. In fact the film goes into a lot of details, trying to show how most of the popular Indian Ocean songs took shape. It’s almost like watching an extended episode of VH1 Storytellers, but it’s better in the sense that it does away with all the jazzy stage restrictions, and the stupid manipulated audience.

                The anecdotes in the film range from anything about Rahul’s chemistry professor friend who sang “Kandisa” when drunk, to a scene where Rahul shows his annoyance at a neighbour in their Karol Bagh home, who thinks that Indian Ocean shoots porn movies in the house. My favourite though is the one about twenty odd VHP activists attempting to disrupt a peace concert in Baroda post Godhra Riots, and ending up dancing like groupies on having listened to the kind of music Indian Ocean plays.

                Honestly, this review does not do justice to the film. Go ahead and watch it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Greenberg - Ben Stiller's best so far

Title - Greenberg
Written by - Jennifer Jason Leigh, Noah Baumbach
Directed by - Noah Baumbach
Limited Release on March 26, 2010.

               There's something about Noah Baumbach. The way he manages to take an ordinary, but very real character and turn it into a fairy tale, well a fairy tale for borderline cynical people so to speak, makes you wonder if he has some degree in psychology. Sticking to the same genre of movies that made him create classics like 'The Squid and The Whale' and 'Margot at the Wedding', he gives us a new and mature Ben Stiller as the 41 year old Roger Greenberg who's sort of a cross between Woody Allen and Tony Shalhoub's Monk. And believe it when I say, this is by far one of Stiller's best works, and will probably remain so for a long time. Quite unlike any of his earlier roles, Stiller's Greenberg makes the audience cheer for him deep inside, although everyone agrees that he's way more than a bit of a jerk. Seriously, anyone expecting Zoolander-ish moments here, stay out.

                Stiller obviously is the star of the movie, but not by a long margin. With a few extra scenes, this movie could easily have been called Florence, that being the character of the beautifully talented Greta Gerwig. I wouldn't call her the love interest in the movie, as that would group it with any other romantic comedy, which it is not. The way she portrays the awkwardness that forms the basis of their so-called relationship, makes you wonder if she's even acting. To be honest, prior to watching this movie, when I had heard that Rhys Ifans was in it, I was secretly hoping that he'd do something other than being larger than life which we have already seen from him in British classics like 'Notting Hill', where he played Hugh Grant's amazing flatmate, and 'The Boat That Rocked' where he's the sex-god slash Radio Jockey Gavin Cavannah. Needless to say, his underplayed portrayal of Ivan as Roger's best friend was one of the best things about the movie. A Welsh accented computer guy who's going through a tough time due to a trial separation - all of this and a little underacting by an amazing actor is all it takes to create magic.

              A few things that stand out in this movie, which might obviously give it very little box office success, are that the lead guy is a jerk, and nothing actually "happens" in the movie. There is no plot as such. But the efforts put by Baumbach and the actors in studying the characters in such detail, might act as a clear pond to the audience where they can see their own images in or identify with either one of the people in the movie. The way Greenberg treats the people he cares about like yesterday's newspaper, and the fact that his self-loving persona justifies that kind of behavior, made me look at my own life and think about random moments in the past. It's not about loving the hero, but understanding him. Greenberg is no hero, or at least he's not like those that pop up in their one dimensional forms and bore you within the first ten minutes of a normal romantic comedy. He's unique, he's creative, he's an escapist to the core and he's full of himself. Such a wonderfully crafted work of art can be a real thorn in the bum. And he does not get it. Ever.

              Another point I'm thankful of is the release date. A March movie never expects any academy awards. Hence all the brilliant acting in the movie can be enjoyed completely without having to measure each minute under the barometer of Oscar pressure. And that's how I like my movies.

Dialogue from the movie:

Ivan Schrank- Youth is wasted on the young.
Roger Greenberg - I'd go a step further. Life is wasted on people.

4.3 out of 5.

watch the Trailer here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Edward meets Norton

Title: Leaves of Grass.
Written & Directed by Tim Blake Nelson.
Release Date: 2 April 2010

A kid is afraid of summer storms. So he runs off to the library everytime it rains, studying for hours how and why rainfall occurs. Throughout the years he studies clouds, their names everything else that there is to know about rain and storms. When he is enlightened with all this knowledge, he realizes that it still rains, and there's nothing he can do about it. Figuring something out does not make it stop, and that seems to be one of the underlying messages in this little gem of a movie by Tim Blake Nelson.

Edward Norton plays seemingly symmetrically contrasting characters of twins - Billy (the professor) and Brady (the pot manufacturer/dealer/smoker) Kincaid, reminding his fans of the latent talent in him to sink under the skins of duality, previously displayed in 'Primal Fear'. The way he eases into two accents, and how he manages to create chemistry and comedy even in scenes having him, and the other him, make it a must watch not only for Norton-ians, but also for any student of good acting. This one might not be as big as Norton's earlier works like Primal Fear, American History X, or Fight Club, but I can picture, a few years from now, acting schools screening this movie to its students.

Apart from Norton, this movie boasts of nice cameos from big names like Susan Sarandon as the once-hippie mother and Richard Dreyfuss as a Jewish drug baron. Even the beautiful Keri Russell, did a good job.

Now I did have a tough time putting this movie in any particular category. The closest I can come up with is calling it a southern gentle dark comedy. In fact the movie was beautifully directed and shot, which captured the southern-ness and gave it a green lemonade-ish tinge, reminiscent of Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown, but only with an edgier plot. Lastly, I'd add that this one is full of those small funny moments layered with bone-tickling dialogues. Let me end this review with one of them,

Billy (confronting Brady of committing a crime): Why the hell did you make it look like a hate crime?
Brady: So that it wouldn't look like a drug crime!!

4 out of 5,

Raj Das.