Friday, October 28, 2011

Second Helping? No, Thanks!!!

Suriya in a still from Ghajini

Alright, you can stop shuddering just about right now. Please allow your sense of utter disbelief, downright disgust and mock shock to make way for a passive resignation of sorts to your fate. You might want to take your warmly-moist palms off your mouths to stop cupping it in a vice-like grip. Pretend for a while you weren’t horrified. During this time, you can also attempt to reattach your down and out lower jaw to its well-to-do, upmarket cousin – the upper jaw (duh). So far, so good?

What you had just undergone was a 30-second, almost TV AD-spot like recreation of the emotions that I, as an unsuspecting viewer had undergone around six years ago. It was the fateful month of October when I had gone to see the Tamil film Ghajini. What you felt for half a minute is what I experienced sitting through those godforsaken 180 minutes of Ghajini when it jumped from pillar to post, with no lubrication to speak of. 

Yesterday, after almost being dragged to watch the latest offering from the union of AR Murugadoss and Suriya, 7aum Arivu, I wisely decided to sell off my tickets for some peace of mind. I am glad I did, for it saved me a lot of heartache and prodded me to dig out this six-year-old blog posting. Ladies and gentlemen, the following article was my very first attempt at putting together a movie review. Its genesis was a result of the anger and frustration I had felt upon watching Ghajini. More than anything, I had felt cheated and that's never a good feeling.

However, channelizing my angst into words and lambasting the film proved to be a very cathartic experience. It helped me find some sense of closure in my moment of pain. It taught me a few valuable lessons that I haven't forgotten to this day. Chief among them happens to be, "Never take a film at face value." Inadvertently, almost every other film released in India, or even abroad, prides itself on going so overboard on face value, it's almost inevitable that the inside reveals itself to be hollow.

I won't bother touching upon how the so-called Diwali releases fared in the market. Primarily because I am not the audience for whom films like 7aum Arivu, Velayudham or Ra-One are made. I am happy living in the cocoon spun by my auteurs. Their works will last me a lifetime. Every so often, I shall abandon the comforts of my utopia and step out to sample the wares of a promising new talent. And then, I'll return back to my shell with the hope that someday, I get to spin that cinematic cocoon around a few good movie geeks. I am sure you already know who you are, if you are reading this. 

So, without further ado, here's the review. 

The alle­goric title of “Gha­jini” may seduce you to think that it’s a hi-concept new wave Tamil thriller in the mak­ing. Unfor­tu­nately it suc­ceeds at being noth­ing more than a shame­less, unwor­thy, pitiable and blas­phe­mous rip-off of one the most tightly wound and intri­cately struc­tured Hol­ly­wood thrillers of recent times, “Memento”.
Among the list of things that are wrong with Gha­jini, the most dis­turb­ing was the lack of restraint in direc­tion and act­ing. Despite the nature of Memento’s genre i.e. a thriller, its direc­tor, the enig­mat­i­cally gifted Christo­pher Nolan, asked his cast to metaphor­i­cally stay in the back­ground of the film and let the nar­ra­tive run its course. Resul­tantly, its char­ac­ters seemed sub­dued even while they were seething with anger. And that ques­tions the per­cep­tion of the viewer in smart ways and lets him do a lit­tle more of the thinking.

But in Gha­jini, the whole plot is laid bare; split wide open for the viewer’s tak­ing. There is noth­ing that is hid­den from the viewer. Visual clues every now and then cue you on the bare bones of the story. Repeated imagery of Surya’s body tat­toos, replete with errata (jeez, he’s a mobile baron for god’s sake) and doctor’s synopsis informs the viewer of the protagonist’s con­di­tion. A flash­back, the size of King Kong dri­ves the final nail into the coffin of the intel­li­gence of the audi­ence. The whole non-linear nar­ra­tive approach which made “Memento” so special has been com­pletely aban­doned here. The frac­tured structure was a key­stone to the success of “Memento”, with­out which it would have been just another “Primal Fear” spin off. Just like Anniyan. And that's what Gha­jini ends up to be. To be fair, even Anniyan had a dangler/cliffhanger kinda end­ing. Gha­jini just plain sucks.

“Gha­jini” is a dis­as­ter of Shakespearean mag­ni­tude when con­sid­ered on terms of nar­ra­tive form, struc­ture, tech­nique and crafts­man­ship. The lack of con­ti­nu­ity is appalling. Songs blast off right onto your face from the mid­dle of nowhere, timed at the most inap­pro­pri­ate moments, like a gust of flat­u­lence that per­me­ates your nos­trils while you were bask­ing in the wet warmth of a French kiss from your girlfriend (I know it's a bit extreme to say that, but that's the clos­est equiv­a­lent I found). Had the direc­tor and the edi­tors been a lit­tle more slack in their jobs with respect to con­ti­nu­ity and flow, you would’ve found the “Killing of Kalpana” scene imme­di­ately fol­lowed by Nayan Tara’s dis­turbingly titillating ren­di­tion of X-Machi (with a spe­cial appearance by Twin lay­ers of Cel­lulite flab from her abdom­i­nal region… Cheers).

The direc­tor leaves no stone unturned in his quest for copy­ing scenes. He goes so far as to pick out Jean Pierre Jeunet’s delec­table French film “Amelie” to accom­plish this Her­culean task. Remem­ber the scene where Kalpana helps a blind man cross the road and she explains to him the sounds of the street that they pass by. Want more? The open­ing cred­its of the film fea­tures a CGI (Com­puter Gen­er­ated Imagery) based flight through the neural networks in our brain. This is a shot by shot rip off of the open­ing cred­its scene of David Fincher’s “Fight Club”.

Speak­ing of which, even Har­ris Jayaraj fol­lows close in the foot­steps of his direc­tor try­ing to rip off tracks from known and unknown Hol­ly­wood film sound­tracks. The fight at the end of the film fea­tures a min­i­mally dis­torted ver­sion of the music which orig­i­nally plays in “The Matrix Reloaded” dur­ing the Ducati bike chase scene with Trin­ity and the Key­maker on the free­way. More..? The music which plays dur­ing the killing of Kalpana (Asin’s char­ac­ter) was orig­i­nally played in Glad­i­a­tor when Maximus (Russell Crowe) comes to his villa, only to find his fam­ily mur­dered. Bot­tom line: Har­ris Jayaraj does a lousy job with the back­ground score. Sounds like the doo­dling of a rav­ing lunatic. Unin­spired music and deaf­en­ing, ear pierc­ingly hi-pitched male cho­ruses inspire ads for Aspirin.

The “Killing of Kalpana” scene in Gha­jini is a copy in the truest of sense. Because Murugadoss makes Surya drip a decent quan­tity of saliva from his mouth as he lies wounded, look­ing at the corpse of Kalpana. And maybe this is his homage to Rid­ley Scott’s “Glad­i­a­tor” where Max­imus does the same secre­tion as he cries at his villa, albeit a lit­tle less spit and a lot more emo­tion. And then there’s the per­func­tory trib­ute to the Matrix films with stop motion cam­era work and a hor­ri­bly repli­cated bul­let time cam­era pan. At least Anniyan was good in this department.

Fol­low­ing are a few other notable craters in the plot­line of the film:

1) Inco­her­ence — Kalpana has never seen the face of a mobile baron whom she claims to be the lover of. Surya’s intro from the past lav­ishly shows that he’s a hi-flying, media friendly, indus­trial mag­nate. To top it all, Kalpana works in ads and even her boss hasn’t seen Surya. Clearly a cell phone com­pany will have a lot of ads to do. And the head of an ad agency should know bet­ter than to stay igno­rant of poten­tial cash cows like Surya’s com­pany. The icing on the cake is the New Year party clus­tered by media peo­ple where every­one knows him by face except our ad maker and Kalpana of course.

2) Unmo­ti­vated char­ac­ters — remem­ber The Police­man… why was he even there? Just to read out the first half of the story and to get run over by a truck at the end of it? Same goes for Surya’s flat secu­rity, busi­ness asso­ciates, Nayantara’s friends, and the list can go on. You would never even miss these char­ac­ters, were they not in the film. (OK, you can count in Nayan­tara in this cat­e­gory if you want).

3) Stale and time killing humor — Self Explanatory.

4) Treat­ment of women — Hope you didn’t miss the scene where Nayan­tara got punched in the face and kicked in the belly by the big bad bully. Oops, wasn’t that a Rhyme Scheme. I bet you didn’t miss the scene where she had to run in the rain, get all soaked up n wet in her under­sized pink shirt and her oh-so inno­cently vis­i­ble black inner­wear. Most men wouldn’t miss that. Or for that mat­ter, most women too wouldn’t miss that.

5) Pow­er­less Actors — who have no say in the final draft of the film. Inequal­i­ties and incon­sis­ten­cies obvi­ous to the most naive view­ers have been ignored by cast and crew.

Gha­jini is a dis­honor to the legacy of the orig­i­nal Memento. If you haven’t seen Memento as of now, get your­selves a copy of the DVD from and cher­ish the expe­ri­ence of the orig­i­nal. And save your brain the excru­ci­at­ing agony of sit­ting through this scat­o­log­i­cal pot Pourri of cheap thrills and a car crash of a film.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Today is the first day of the rest of your life

I used to be angry, confused and insecure. Things haven’t changed much since 2000. And I am reminded of two specific lines of dialogue spoken in two different scenes in director Sam Mendes’ phenomenally brilliant debut American Beauty. Featuring the talents of Kevin Spacey (in an Oscar-winning turn as Lester Burnham), the film is a dark comedy that dissects suburban angst in modern-day America. It also serves as a scalpel-sharp critique and a sordid reminder of consumerism gone horribly wrong. Spacey’s portrayal of an everyman bound to the illusion of the American Dream, whose yearning to break free at all costs throws open a veritable closet of skeletons.

Brought alive, kicking and screaming into my world by screenwriter Alan Ball (of TV’s Six Feet Under fame), the film turned out to be my one, definitive life-changing movie-going experience. It was one of those things that transformed ‘everything’ for me, starting with my perspective on life. I recall to this day, the hopes and naive anticipations I had harbored as I had gone for a screening of the film, upon its release in a theatre called Sridhar in Kochi. It was the monsoon of the year 2000. And I had just moved lock, stock and two smokin’ barrels to Kochi along with my family.

A still from American Beauty 

I had gone for the film all by myself and the solitude of sitting among like-minded strangers in a darkened theatre is an experience I have craved since then. An explanation of how the movie altered my perception of reality will be dealt with in a post in the not so distant future – you have my word on that. It is without a doubt my all-time favourite film, not to mention, my most beloved Hollywood feature as well. And it deserves more than one measly post.

For now, I shall nosedive into the first line that kick-started this post. The offscreen dialogue appears roughly 10 minutes into the opening of American Beauty. Kevin Spacey’s voiceover introduces us to his disillusioned daughter Jane (Thora Birch) while she’s trolling the internet in search of breast enhancement solutions. She in turn gazes at her reflection in the mirror, pondering over whether she needs a boob job or not. Lester’s voiceover goes on to tell us, “Janie is a pretty typical teenager. Angry, insecure, confused. I wish I could tell her it’s all going to pass. But I don’t want to lie to her.”

Thora Birch as Jane Burnham in American Beauty

This one scene sets the stage for what is to become a leitmotif of sorts for the entire film. Ordinarily, it would have been dismissed as just another prop. But, in the godly hands of the legendary cinematographer, late Conrad Hall (A.S.C), the simple mirror assumes an almost reflective, and dare I say, analytic role. Mirrors play a huge part in unveiling the character arcs of the key players in American Beauty. Everyone’s either looking at their reflection in the mirror or appearing as a reflection in a mirror or letting us reflect on their appearance in it.

There is an ample scope for metaphysical musings that I can reproduce here on the basis of that one finding. But, I’ll save them for a later date. Let’s move on to the other reflective scenes in the film. Having run into his daughter’s girlfriend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), Lester experiences a change of heart and the awakening of a sexual zeitgeist that had seemingly died out in his pursuit of the ideal life. The stunning Angela is a precocious predator who takes her responsibilities very seriously – responsibilities arising from being a Lolita in this tale of urban melancholia.

Mena Suvari plays Angela Hayes in American Beauty

So much so that the very thought of Angela prompts Lester to raid his garage in search of a pair of dumbbells in the middle of the night. Actually, it’s not the thought of Angela, rather a comment that he overhears while snooping around his daughter’s bedroom that inspires him to embark on that midnight workout. And yes, he has a good reason for spying – Angela’s having a sleepover at Lester’s home and he’d really like to know what Angela thinks of him. Sure enough, he gets the gist of the conversation that transpires between Jane and Angela, which involves Angela telling Jane, “I would totally f*** your dad if he worked out a little.”

Thora and Mena in a scene from the film

Leaning close to Jane’s bedroom door, that’s all Lester needs to hear. For soon, he sprints down to his garage and proceeds to strip completely. And he inspects his reflection in the window pane that serves as, you guessed it – a temporary mirror. Accepting the ugly truth of ageing (a paunch to start with), Lester decides it’s time he took charge of his own life. And he begins exercising the dumbbells then and there, much to the surprise of his young neighbor Ricky Fitts (played by Wes Bentley), who moonlights as a voyeur, working within the confines of his bedroom walls.

Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty

This scene brings us to the next usage of the mirror-metaphor in the film. The beautiful passage of reflection says everything that needs to be said without uttering a word. It takes place during the same night of Angela’s sleepover. The girls, who are busy fooling around, are momentarily alarmed by the sound of a pebble hitting the window panes. Angela Hayes clad in her underwear, decides to make an appearance at the window. Upon furtively looking out, the duo see that Jane’s curious (“I am not obsessive”) neighbor Ricky Fitts has written her name on his front lawn by lighting up a fire that spells out J-A-N-E.

Being the insecure girl that she is, Jane suggests that Ricky might be filming them at that very moment. And she’s right, for you can see Ricky’s visage peering over the girls through the windows in his bedroom. As he trains his video camera at Jane’s window, the view inside gets almost entirely obscured by the exhibitionist Angela’s innuendo laden gestures. But far from being seduced by the blonde temptress, we find Ricky’s camera zoomed in on a mirror on which he sees the hint of a smile appearing on Jane Burnham’s face.

Wes Bentley plays Ricky Fitts

It’s the very first time that Jane has smiled in the movie with a genuine sense of joy. And as a member of the audience, I couldn’t care lesser that the shot was filmed in grainy, hand-held video by Ricky Fitts. All I cared about was Janie finding happiness and a reason to live. And her reflection in the mirror said it all. I can go on and on about this. And I bloody well will because there are even more examples of reflective resonance in American Beauty.

Annette Bening plays Caroline Burnham 

For instance, consider the shot of Annette Bening’s Caroline Burnham struggling to get rid of an invisible speck on a spotless mirror in the “I will sell this house today” scene. Then, there’s a shot of Ricky Fitts combing his hair in front of the mirror in the final act of the film, while his father, the enigmatic and homophobic Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper) looks on. There’s also this shot of Angela Hayes standing before a mirror in the bathroom, adjusting her makeup when she hears the sound of a gun going off.

These were just some of the mirrored shots that I remembered over the top of my head. I can recall one more, but it might be a spoiler. So I’d keep off that. Let me know if you find it. I’ll give you a hint – it appears in the final act of the film, but it’s not too evident.

With that, I once again arrive at the very origin of this post, the second line which inspired this post – things haven’t changed much since 2000. A variation on that line appears during that scene where Lester walks into Ricky’s bedroom for the very first time. While enquiring about the cost of a bag of marijuana, Lester is stunned by Ricky who quotes an astronomical price, ranging in thousands of dollars. And Lester says, “Jeez man. Things have changed a lot since 1973.” 

I shall leave you with a small footnote that would explain the title of this blog. It was of course derived from a scene which takes place in the final act of American Beauty. The scene starts with a shot of a scarlet red front-door that is swung open as Lester Burnham exits his house. Jogging towards the audiences, all beefed-up in a skin-tight yellow tee and running slacks, Lester is a changed man as his voiceover tells us emphatically over the sounds of The Who’s The Seeker, “Remember those posters that tell you, ‘Today is going to be the first day of the rest of your life. It’s true for all days except one day – the day that you die.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

The voice of the voiceless

I’ve perpetually found myself bewildered at the divine and almost cinematic interventions that have inspired my actions in real life. Around five days ago, one of my dearest friends and an individual I consider to be my chief mentor in the professional sphere, celebrated her birthday. After much pondering, I decided to present her a book. Titled Half the sky, the work of non-fiction is a hard hitting look at human trafficking, which has now evolved into one of the world’s largest and most profiteering criminal enterprises. Of course, my friend buzzed me back a few days later to tell me that she loved the book despite its bleak, but simultaneously hopeful and redemptive nature.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I remember catching a rerun of Michael Mann’s The Insider on TV. I must admit, the film has been one of those Hollywood features I have never had the patience to sit through completely – from the opening title card crediting the studios, to the closing title card announcing that the motion picture is protected by US copyright laws. I think the duration might have something to do with it. Clocking in at a massive 157 minutes, The Insider is just about 23 minutes short of facing off with an average Bollywood feature (purely with respect to duration).

Russell Crowe in The Insider

But there are other reasons, why I haven’t been able to catch The Insider in its entirety every time it beamed on TV. It’s because the film is an unrelentingly cerebral exercise in search of the absolute truth. The human mind, or in this case – the mind of the obsessive-compulsive movie-junkie, finds it a challenge to accept audio-visual cues that do not border on the make-believe. Goes double for the hyperactive and marginally attentive, meaning yours truly. Which is why, despite being formally aware of the fact that The Insider was playing on one channel concurrently alongside Gladiator masquerading on the other, I opted for the latter.

It took me almost two hours to realise during an ad-driven channel surfing impulse that a Russell Crowe double bill was in progress – on two different channels, of course. The smart people had obviously tuned in to Michael Mann’s docu-drama feature. The rest of us, smitten by Ridley Scott’s slick showmanship decided to meekly follow the English auteur’s swords and sandals epic. However, having seen Gladiator too many times already, I was only too privy to the crests and troughs of Maximus’ journey. And after a point, repetition had begun to take its toll. I tuned out and the channel-switch happened. It was a no-brainer. Russell's performance in The Insider was undoubtedly more nuanced than his role in Gladiator.

A still from The Insider

For those of you who haven’t yet caught up on the film, The Insider is the story of how America’s biggest cigarette manufacturers were brought down to their knees by a lone crusader – Dr Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe). Formerly a researcher with the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation, Jeffrey woke a nation up from its slumber when he went public with information that affected the lives of millions across America and the world. Accusing the tobacco companies of intentionally misleading the American public by concealing information regarding the addictive nature of nicotine and the ‘impact boosting’ techniques applied to make cigarettes even more addictive, Dr Wigand stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest.

I couldn’t have been happier when the realization dawned on me that one of my favourite scenes from The Insider, two hours into the film was yet to come. I call this scene the ‘Wipe that smirk off your face’ scene.  It’s a magnificent sequence that transpires at a pivotal point wrought within a dazzling narrative. The scene in question involves the deposition of Dr Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) at a court in the sovereign state of Mississippi. This one segment is hands down, a powerhouse in the legal lexicon of films. A lawyer, who is deputed by the tobacco company to silence Wigand, states that the confidentiality agreement signed by Wigand forbids him from disclosing any information of the company’s workings to the public. Of course, the public prosecutor played to monstrous perfection by Bruce McGill, has other plans.

Bruce McGill in a still from The Insider

McGill’s countenance – sheer bulk compounded by an alternating mix of docility and menace gives rise to one of the finest portrayals of dual personality on celluloid. With his commanding screen presence, lacerating gaze and formidable body language, McGill makes the strongest case for the need for more character actors in movies today. McGill is a man who owns the scene in every frame he appears. I won’t bother elaborating on his performance for it will fall short of describing his genius. You can take a look for yourself in the following link:

If you’ve finished watching that video, you might want to read further. Actually, you could do a lot better than that. You could go watch The Insider and come back to know where we’re headed next. Take my word for it – the film is explosive as hell and a must-watch for anyone who claims to have an iota of admiration for great movies.

Al Pacino stars as Lowell Bergman in The Insider

The movie features the legendary Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman, the producer of the CBS show 60 Minutes, who brings Dr Wigand’s testimony to the public eye. Just watching Pacino at work makes my heart skip a beat, or two. The parts featuring his powerful dialogues are worth revisiting over and over again. The unflinching energy in his eyes and his command over the medium of acting are testaments to his iconic stature in filmdom. With Michael Mann at the helm of affairs, Pacino is a ticking time-bomb that just can’t be stopped. He is accompanied by Christopher Plummer who has the coveted job of playing the interviewer who asks Dr Jeffrey Wigand the one question that inspired this blog.

Christopher Plummer in The Insider

I’m sure you’re wondering how long till I get to the bloody point, or in Donkey’s words from Shrek, “Are we there yet?” Well, here’s the answer in bits and pieces. Bear with me please, for I can assure you, the payoff will more than suffice for all the suffering. This post was prompted by a recent outing to PVR where I had the good fortune of watching the latest Rachel Weisz film – The Whistleblower.

Rachel Weisz in The Whistleblower

I had gone with great expectations, chiefly because I knew nothing about the film, except for its name and a tweet from a friend who subconsciously bullied me into watching the flick. The Whistleblower happens to be an expose of the human trafficking issue prevalent in Bosnia, where even members of the UN peace corps found themselves working hand in glove with the perpetrators. It’s a far cry from the image of peace forces escorting young children, widows and invalids to rescue camps while the country gets blown to smithereens. Rachel Weisz plays an American police officer deputed to serve in Bosnia on a tax-free assignment, to help restore order to the nation torn by a decade of violent ethnic conflict.

At a particular point in the film, a TV interviewer from BBC asks Rachel’s character, (the whistleblower of the title), if she would dare to repeat her feat and blow the lid off any such cases of human rights violation. And she responds by saying something on the lines of, “Would I do it again? Yes, no doubt at all.” I had to only hear those words from Rachel and it took me back to the question posed by Christopher Plummer to Russell Crowe’s Dr Wigand in The Insider, “Would you do it again?”

That, my friends, is the impetus for all this deliberation. The stories of the whistleblowers need to be heard. And they need to be heard now. I certainly have no intention of letting you off the hook so soon. If I pay my respects to one whistleblower, I might as well pay my dues to the other brave souls who changed the way I thought about cinema and what it was meant to do. So, switch right back to Rachel Weisz who seems to have an affinity for portraying characters that are activists and ball-breakers in their own right. Remember her portrayal of Tessa Quayle, in The Constant Gardener, adapted from the book of the same name by John Le Carre?

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener

Rachel, in arguably one of her best roles, plays the feisty but doomed wife of British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes in one of his most affecting performances). Tessa is one of those people who can make you look back at your life and wonder, ‘What good have I done in all the years that I have been here?’ Her character is murdered right at the start of the film. And the ensuing narrative finds her husband Justin uncovering the conspiracies that his wife died trying to bring to the public’s knowledge. Justin Is pitted against the pharmaceutical giants of the West who are allegedly getting away with bloody murder in the name of research.

Rachel Weisz in a still from The Constant Gardener

The denizens of third world nations in the African continent made up for test subjects in experiments conducted by developed nations in the name of pharmaceutical research. Fernando Meirelles, the visionary director of City of God and Blindness brings this controversial tale to light and life. He expresses his gratitude in the closing credits to ‘those who died giving a damn’. It’s a deeply provocative and transformative film, featuring impeccable production values and a killer soundtrack. Music is something that The Insider also prides itself on, courtesy Gustavo Santaolalla, Massive Attack – do I even say anything more?

Julia Roberts in and as Erin Brockovich

As I near the end of this blog post, I’d like to bring your attention to one more film – Erin Brockovich, directed by indie-God Steven Soderbergh (you might like some sex, lies and videotape to go with that). Julia Robert plays the titular (guys, please leave the pun alone) character – a single, unemployed mom faced with the prospect of taking up one of the biggest public interest lawsuits in American history. With help from her mentor and employer, played by the indispensable Albert Finney, and a push-up bra, she goes about her business of suing one of the big power-generating companies in the USA.

Albert Finney and Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich

The electric company’s crime is their willful negligence of standard safety procedures resulting in a chain of health-related issues cropping up among residents living in the areas adjoining the company’s power plants. The company goes on to deny its involvement in the dispersion of the harmful compound hexavalent chromium into the water-table of the small town, despite the worsening health conditions of the citizens of these zones. Erin might look like white trash, but under her campy exteriors beats a heart made up of solid gold. Her grittier-than-steel willpower and unabashed resolve, not to mention, sexy as hell attitude helps her transcend her dire straits and deliver justice to the hundreds wronged by the corporate giant.

The film is rife with several quote-worthy dialogues just like The Insider (“What got broken here doesn't go back together again,” by Lowell Bergman) and The Constant Gardener (“Tessa wanted to be buried in African soil, not a concrete hole; nothing grows in concrete,” by Justin Quayle). But one of my favorites happens to the one where Erin Brockovich walks into a conference room with a box full of papers containing the signatures of the plaintiffs suing the power company. The signatures comprise several hundred sheets (600 or so odd signatures). The flabbergasted lawyer asks her, “How did you manage all these signatures?” Erin in her effortlessly cool candor replies, “I performed sexual favors for all the plaintiffs – six hundred blowjobs. And frankly, I am a little tired.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Of mosquito repellents, bug busters and fly swatters

The Muse

A few days ago, I had this very cinematic epiphany in the restroom (one among the millions I’ve had in similar locations and situations). It occurred to me right after I had spotted a mosquito comfortably seated on a structure that was primarily meant for human seating. I took an unsuccessful shot at startling the little pest by splashing some water in his direction. I take the liberty of assigning the gender of the mosquito as male for reasons that are far too controversial to be discussed on a public forum. All I can spell out are keywords –man, mosquito, DNA, fusion, ultimate, warrior – you get the drift.

The mosquito seemed unfazed by these knee-jerk reactions. In its lifetime spanning a mere couple-of-weeks, it might have witnessed ample attempts on its scrawny little life. What could a measly drop of water do? Well, if you’d put this question to the man who helped make the assassination attempt possible, you’d get a fairly comprehensive answer. But we’re digressing here. The mosquito in some ways inspired the following post. It’s all got to do with films. But I’m gonna give a little spin to the blog. Make it a little bit, just a wee bit funny. And we’re gonna do that whole Hindi meets English meets Hinglish thingy here.

The mosquito took me down a road I hadn’t treaded in a coon’s age. The mosquito aka machchar took me back to the time I loved Nana Patekar and his films. During my school days, we’d all be tripping on Nana’s dialogues. And the one dialogue that never let go was Ek machchar aadmi ko hijda banaa deta hain. This literally translates to ‘A mosquito can turn a man into a eunuch.' If you’ve lived long enough in India, or even in Mumbai, or have had a decent schooling in Bollywood, you’ll know how.

Anyhow, that one dialogue uttered by Nana Patekar inspired me to pen an ode to all those lovely insects in Hollywood, who’ve worked wonders at the box office. Each entry uses an interpretation of Nana's dialogue, suffixed by the name of the film and a tiny little description of what the movie entails.

Ode to Insects – Concerto Paradiso version

Wake the hell up, says Nana
Ek machchar aadmi ko hijda banaa deta hain – Yashwant 
This is the original insect, never mind the movies made before or after it. Nana Patekar laments lawlessness, the sad plight of the land and the human condition. And it inspired everything that a kick ass Bollywood film was supposed to inspire. For the longest time, I kept referring to this film as Ghulam-e-Mustafa. Or was it Krantiveer? Maybe, it was Prahaar. Wait a minute, was it Parinda? Miscommunication and misunderstandings aside, the film deserves every possible credit. It inspired this blog, no less.

Vendetta, courtesy Mr Mosquito
Ek machchar aurat ko khooni banaa deti hain – Kill Bill Volume 1
Uma Thurman’s The Bride aka Beatrice Kiddo lies comatose for about four years after being left for dead after the coup de grace organized by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. She is awoken from her limbo when a mosquito, shot in deadly close up, forces its suction pipe through the Bride’s skin tissue. A few milliliters down, the Bride figures she’s just about had enough. Just in time, as moments later she’ll bite the tongue off the malevolently opportunistic driver of a truck, and severe the Achilles tendon of dear old Buck who likes to F***. What can one say? It’s just hard luck. But not for the Bride who embarks on a roaring rampage of revenge that culminates in the chapter Face to Face in Volume 2. And you thought what could a mosquito possibly accomplish? It helped dispose off the crazy schoolgirl Gogo Yubari, followed by the Crazy 88 killers led by Oren Ishii and finally the Yakuza queen herself.

Goldblum is in for a shock
Ek makkhi aadmi ko deewana banaa deti hain – The Fly
This is body horror specialist David Cronenberg’s most shocking and repulsive, not to mention scary as hell sci-fi drama. Jeff Goldblum’s Dr Seth Brundle learns about the darker side of immigration checks inside teleportation devices after getting himself fused at the genetic level with a fly. Starting with minor losses like fingernails and hair, Dr Brundle hits the big time when he learns to walk on walls and do a perfect imitation of Reagan from the Exorcist (pea-soup alternative and an earlobe falling-off included). Of course, his attention span goes for a toss, almost like a housefly. He starts getting nervous and twitchy, constantly bobbing or jerking his head, much to the horror of his love interest played by Geena Davis. The good news for Jeff: The film helped open the portal to more of Goldblum’s fidgety scientist roles, like that of Dr Ian Malcolm in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Bad news for audience: He hasn’t stopped fidgeting yet. 


Super-spider creates a superhero

Ek makdi aadmi ko rakshak banaa deti hain – Spiderman
Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker and his crime-fighter superhero avatar Spiderman, who discovers he can change the world after a spider-bite. Too bad, Mary Jane ain’t too fond of the creepy crawlies and finds herself constantly outraged at his no-show dates. But then, unlike the fly, the spider causes no degeneration to human tissue. Instead, Peter gets a new pair of biceps, triceps, quadriceps and six packs. No, not that beer – put that mug down. Somewhere down the line, people connected. This wasn’t just another Spiderman. This was Sam Raimi’s main course tarantula in the making. His Evil Dead franchisee was just the starters. And Drag me to Hell made for some great dessert.

You're going to co-operate Mr. Anderson
Ek keeda aadmi ko ghulam banaa deta hain – The Matrix
“Tell me Mr. Anderson, what good is a phone call if you cannot speak.” Moments after Agent Smith says these lines, two of his aides restrain a mute Keanu Reeves’ Thomas Anderson and unveil a metal transistor-like device. It shockingly and instantly transforms itself into a kicking and flailing bug that resembles a pint sized lobster. As the agents force the bug through his navel, Anderson wakes up from his nightmare. And the ball is set rolling for the human revolution and rage against the machine. With help from Trinity, Morpheus and Tank, Keanu Reeves causes a system failure in the Matrix, restores order to humanity, spins out two billion dollar sequels and gives rise to countless imitations of bullet time physics. Jokes apart, The Matrix stands as a titan among sci-fi flicks, with legions of fans that have made every line in this film, a quote worth quoting time and time again.

Just one more extraction and I'll be clean
Ek khatmal aadmi ko paagal banaa deta hain – Bug
Ashley Judd is paired with Michael Shannon in the William Friedkin directed Bug, where Shannon’s protagonist, a veteran soldier imagines the inside of his body being overrun by parasites/bugs. What ensues is a horrifying descent into madness with Judd and Shannon assuming proportions of hysteria and terror that have never been voiced on film before. Statistics say that more people fainted from the notion of sitting through one more session of screaming and hollering, courtesy Ashley Judd, than the cumulative effect of the all the scares put together in the film. What? You don’t know who is Ashley Judd? She was in Double Jeopardy. And Michael Shannon starred in Revolutionary Road.

Who's your daddy?
Ek khatmal aadmi ko fugitive banaa deti hain – Minority Report
Remember that super sexy scene in Spielberg’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s phenomenal sci-fi story? Tom Cruise’s Precog Chief John Anderton is submerged in a tubful of icy cold water just moments after getting himself operated upon and fixed with a new pair of eyes. As the scanner bugs enter his room, Cruise holds his breath underwater while his lungs are at the verge of implosion. The audiences wait with bated breath as the last of the bugs exit the room without being able to catch scent of Anderton. But in a move that is so delightfully genius-like and Spielbergian in appeal, a tiny, singular pocket of air trapped in a bubble escapes Anderton’s nostril and pop’s up on the surface of the water. The bug that was just on its way out the door stops right in its tracks. It backtracks and latches itself onto Anderton’s face to uncover his true identity. Oops.

We got hostiles...eeew...gross!!!
Ek keeda aadmi ko murdaa banaa deti hain – Starship Troopers
I can’t even imagine compiling a creepy crawly blog without enlisting the help of one of our most provocative auteurs – the one and only Paul Verhoeven. After stunning us into silence with his ultra-violent sci-fi epic Total Recall and titillating us with glimpses of Sharon Stone that even the actress had no access to or idea of, Paul decided to go campy, cheesy and ultra-violent on us – all over again. This time he gives us the supersized bug infested planet Klendathu that’s been raining asteroids on Earth and killing its population. There goes my neighborhood. Anyhow, the humans are cheesed off. So they embark on a no-holds barred war against the Arachnids. With military propaganda rivaling the likes of the American ‘I Want You’ campaigns, this is one gore-laden social commentary you just can’t miss.

Egg, larva, pupa (chrysalis)
Ek titli aadmi ko murdaa banaa deti hain – The Silence of the lambs  
‘She puts the lotion in the basket’. Last, but certainly not the least, we have Jonathan Demme’s chilling crime thriller. Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling play a game of cat and mouse in this harrowing and at times horrifying journey into the mind of a killer(s). With more than one instance of stomach churning scenes, the film takes an almost clinical look at the psyche of a criminal. In fact, Buffalo Bill seems to be leaving clues for his pursuers. One of the victims actually has a moth shoved down her throat and the scene of the post-mortem sends the right shivers down the spine of every self-respecting horror/thriller fan. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, the film is a masterpiece of fear bottled in a canister of celluloid. And it goes best with a glass of Chianti and some fava beans.

Other notable mentions include flicks like Damnation Alley, Eight Legged Freaks, Arachnophobia, Antz, Bee Movie, A Bug’s Life, Honey, I shrunk the kids, King Kong and Anaconda (for that scene where Eric Stoltz’s character becomes immobile for the better part of the film after an Amazonian bug enters his throat and decides to stay put there. Travelers beware).

Well, that’s it for now folks. Do post your creepy suggestions as and when they pop into your head. If you have a crawly flick that’s not been mentioned here, be my guest and freak me out.

This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by and

Friday, October 07, 2011

My hands are dirty. So are mine.

Ryan Gosling in a still from Drive

I enjoy the occasional teasers, tricks and treats that a filmmaker throws my way. And my latest double bill outing involving the Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive, and the Randeep Hooda trailblazer Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster, threw up quite a mixed bag of surprises. For a change, I am glad that the pleasant and unpleasant shocks were distributed fairly between both films. The following analysis will be concentrated on the former  and the latter will be dealt with in the next post.

Braving rush hour traffic and snarling motorists on a Monday evening, I drove to Drive, with two words hurtling through my mind – Ryan Gosling. This was the first Gosling feature I’d be witnessing in my cinematic chronology. It would feel nothing short of watching the Haley’s Comet. I had missed out on seeing his Blue Valentine, where he teamed up with the phenomenal Michelle Williams. I know, I know. The geeks are crying hoarse. But then, everybody deserves a shot at redemption.

And as I settled down in a comfy seat in good ol’ Sathyam, I braced myself for something truly remarkable as the opening credits appeared on the horizon. What lay before me was a smattering of shocking pink font in running hand, offset by an electronic/pop score. It took me back to the time when I used to harbor a fetish for film fonts.

Reminiscent of the font of movies like Cocktail, Beverly Hills Cop and Dirty Dancing, Drive opened up on a note that had me at hello. I am a slave to synthesized, ambient music and Gosling’s visage appearing from behind the wheels with a cold stare for company was more than I could take. The deliberately paced opening sequence lets us in on one major revelation – all is not as it seems in the movies. Arguably, Gosling’s character could be described as an uneasy cross between Gone in 60 Seconds’ Memphis Raynes (as played by Nicholas Cage in the updated version) and Deathproof’s Stuntman Mike (as played by Kurt Russell).

Ryan Gosling's eyes are bluer than his work overalls. Period.

Gosling’s protagonist, who we shall henceforth refer to as the 'Kid', tells us his agenda early on. He’s the guy who pilots the getaway car for any given heist/robbery/hold-up – provided the getaway is executed within a window of five minutes. As he says, “I am yours for five minutes.” Anything this side or that side of five minutes, he ceases to be yours and “you’re on your own, from then onwards.”

Fans of nocturnal thrillers and its greatest exponent – Michael Mann, might be nodding with a sense of self-importance at this point in time. And rightly so, for the signature night shots depicting the skyline of the city of angels are homage to the brilliance of Mann. You’ve seen it before in Heat, The Insider, Collateral and Miami Vice. And the five-second window offered by the Kid is a tip of the hat to Robert De Niro’s master thief in Heat, who lives by the mantra – “Don’t attach yourselves to anything from which you can’t walk away from in eight seconds flat, if you spot the heat around the corner.”

The establishment shots in the film try leading viewers into the seedy, murky landscape of Los Angeles. But if you’re expecting this to be one of those Crash Boom Bang styled car chase flicks where the good guys are clearly delineated from the bad guys, you’re in for a shock. This is a palpable, living, breathing LA, teeming with angels and monsters in equal measure.

Carey Mulligan in Drive

At the heart of this deliberately paced crime thriller is a subtle, and almost, tender romance that blooms between the Kid and his neighbor, played by the disarmingly diminutive, not to mention, devastatingly beautiful Carey Mulligan. She’s a single mom with an adorable son, who strikes it off with the Kid. Carey plays her part with an ounce of vulnerability and it’s hard not to fall in love with her. Gradually, the Kid develops a soft spot for his neighbor, whose husband is in prison for some minor misdemeanor.

Gosling’s character happens to be a man of few words. And I think it might be an artistic decision to have it that way. That’s because ‘his bluer than your work-overalls’ eyes speak volumes through unspoken glances. There are scenes in the film where Gosling and Mulligan exchange glances for extended durations with nary a word to speak. But who’s to complain – I enjoyed every second of those silent mental ruminations where the eyes only hinted at what the mind intended on seeing accomplished. Speaking of which, the soundtrack of the film deserves a special mention.

Ryan and Carey share a moment of togetherness

Cliff Martinez delivers a haunting score that allows such explorations into the human psyche a possibility. I was especially enamored by a certain sequence where a lesser movie would have devolved into the expected. But in the able custody of the lead pair, the scene manages to linger on and on, and form an indelible imprint on one’s memory. The pauses in this scene only aggravate the sexual tension tugging at Gosling’s and Mulligan’s characters. One of my friends who had watched this film in the theater told me how it took a while for the film to grow on him. But he was honest in his acceptance of the intriguing power and depth in Carey Mulligan's eyes. It seemed like a co-incidence when he remarked later that Carey appeared wise beyond her years, much like Michelle Williams (who I considered to be Carey's doppelganger).

Our conversation then veered off to another moment in the film that had me smiling and almost teary-eyed, when it played out on the screen. It was one where the Kid decides to take his neighbor and her son for a drive on an open stretch of road in an abandoned industrial zone. In the entire history of movie stunts, this has to be hands down, the sweetest dare ever. The glee of innocence reflected in the eyes of the mother and her child, who it can be easily argued, have never come close to an experience such as this has to be seen to be savored. I had gotten the worth of my money with this scene alone.
Care to strap in for a ride?

Now, it might seem necessary to introduce some of the other actors in the film – Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks. But, I am not going to elaborate on what they bring to the table. They can do it for themselves. What I can assure you is this. The things they’ve done in this flick are things you’ve never seen them doing in their previous works. I run the completely unacceptable and unnecessary risk of spoiling things for you if I divulge anything further about their characters. And then, there’s also Mulligan’s husband who comes home on parole and transforms this fleeting love story into something utterly unexpected, just moments before the intermission.

Needless to say, this move hits you like a punch in the gut. And believe me, it hurts like hell. You will be left scratching your heads wondering what just passed you by and when things turned around in such an unpredictable manner. There are buildups and crescendos aplenty to keep your heart and pulse on the edge. You’ll find yourselves constantly surprised at the proceedings. And as you walk away from the theater, you’re going to experience an undying urge to go back in, and piece together the jagged nuggets of gold that were thrown at you. They might have injured you – but that doesn’t mean you are unwilling to endure them, the second time around.

I'd like to dedicate this post to the memory of Steve Jobs, who sadly bid adieu to all of us on the fateful day of October 5, 2011. As an avid filmgoer, I am only acutely aware of what we have lost with his passing. We will miss you, Steve.

This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by and