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.