Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

Posts Tagged ‘movie review’

Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 8, 2012

Realising he’s trapped by the police.

Because Shanghai – which I’ve now watched and highly recommend – was coming out this week, I decided to revisit my favourite of Dibakar Banerjee’s films. It turned out to be even better than I remembered.

When you hear that a movie is being made about the life of a thief, you assume that it is either a damning of the thief, a critique of society (“the honest people are the real evil!”) or – if the filmmakers are really awesome – a metaphysical examination of the nature of property. Dibakar Banerjee’s stellar Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! has element s of all these, but one of its basic statements is their rejection.

It’s almost impossible for me to unravel the layers of nuance here and tell you what (I think) Banerjee was going for. Just as an example, take the whole real crimes show which brackets the movie: it seems to be a frame but it’s not, because when was the last time one of these episodes was over two hours long, starred the real criminal (we know Abhay Deol is playing Lucky and not the guy who plays Lucky because of the photo interludes, which are obviously from the show), and had a scene where the anchor complains about the word ‘sansani khez’? (I’ve grown up with that phrase – in exactly this type of show, actually – and take it so much for granted that I don’t have the slightest clue whether it’s one word or two and whether it means sensational or sensational news,) It’s in fact a sub-plot that acts as a simple critique of the role of the media (life is just not sansani khez, damn it) and also a synecdoche of the attitudes of society (notice that these shows at the same time vilify and hero-fy the criminals).

Lucky is above our society, a trailblazer and an outcast, and yet is so only in his own imagination. If it’s possible to fit OLLO into one sentence, that last is probably it. He is not an abstract moral anti-hero who hates his society, but a brilliant, arrogant man who considers himself a level above all those around him; the central conflict of the movie is that no one else agrees. His family considers him a nuisance, his colleagues think of him as a troublesome ‘un who can be profitable if handled right, the world at large thinks of him as a menace, and his girlfriend (Neetu Chandra) considers him just another dude who happens to have a weird career choice.

It’s telling how Lucky fights these perceptions. He tries to appear penitent to his father, impress the older brother with his wealth and power, bribes his younger brother to turn up at his wedding, tries superhuman-seeming stunts for his girlfriend, and treats his colleagues like shit just expecting them to lick his feet anyway; because, respectively, he wants to win his father’s approval, his older brother’s respect, his younger’s love and his girlfriend’s awe, and to him his colleagues are just annoying people who give him shit while he’s doing what he’s great at.

Speaking of his relationships, the juxtaposition between of and above comes out perfectly in his relationship with his girlfriend Sonal; well, it’s seen in many places actually, but it’s easier for me to write about this because I’ve been really learning about the politics of discrimination the past few months. He lives in a deeply sexist society, where a girl is ‘asking for it’ just by being a dancer or wearing a revealing dress. On the surface, he rejects this sexism, fighting violently on the behalf of women where others just say that nothing can be done because the harasser is too powerful a person and winning Sonal’s heart rather than asking her family for her hand; and yet when you really look at it, throughout the movie he often treats her like shit, first stalking her till she falls for him (that she falls for him after that is itself a symptom of society’s sexism and its effect on women), always trying to keep her in awe of his power and manliness and afterwards constantly pushing her aside, abandoning her on camels, whatnot. This is exactly how we’d expect someone who takes the “respecting women as our mothers” part of our culture very seriously indeed: love women but always remember that they aren’t men.

Looking at this essay, you might be forgiven for thinking that OLLO is rather a pessimistic movie. For most of its running time, it is; even though it is almost unrelentingly funny, the jokes usually range from the throwaway moment to the morbid, rarely if ever venturing into the territory of happy. But, it redeems humanity too; yes, it doesn’t pretend to offer a real solution to the various muddles Indian society has got itself into, but there are two scenes at the end of the movie where we are allowed to see the world stripped of it baggage, where we are allowed to see that the trouble here is in the culture not in the people in it.

The first is an extended scene where Lucky cheerily arbitrates the reclamation of property. The police love the guy; there’s both the fact that he’s something of an icon and the fact that he’s very co-operative and charming. There’s one bit here where he meets a couple who doesn’t remember him but whom he remembers: he reminds them how he robbed them, and where to find the stuff he stole. The couple and he take each other’s leave with a respectful Namaste.

The second is with a paan-walla who may or may not know who he is. Maybe he is a man who just thinks this guy is a TV star and is honestly honoured to have him eat paan at his shop, and maybe he knows who Lucky is, and he’s a fan of this icon. But whichever be the case, he is nice in the simplest, most pure fashion possible – an affliction rarely seen in this movie.

Posted in Banerjee, Dibakar, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“It’s something we are all intimately involved with.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 1, 2012

Originally published at

Recently, while reading about alternative gender identities like transgenderism and pangenderism, I came across a type of person known in porn circles as a “shemale,” usually a trans-woman who has had breasts grown with estrogen but hasn’t had the surgery to replace the penis with a vagina (less offensive term: gynandromorph). Apparently, there’s a whole sub-genre of porn devoted to gynandromorphs. Now, in the minds of most, this raises an important question: who is turned on by this? Definitely, there is a small subset of humanity for whom they are the ideal sexual partners, or one of a set of equally preferable ones, but I feel safe in assuming that the porn industry isn’t interested in targeting them; if they went down that road, the first milestone would have been porn aimed at women. So, the conclusion is that heterosexual men are turned on by gynandromorphs. But while you are pondering this question, there are more obvious ones, like why are men so often turned on by lesbian sex? For that matter, why are men turned on by women and women by men?

For the last question, we can easily fill in some platitudes about reproductive instinct and whatnot, but the fact remains that, experientially, in our head is a black box that takes certain images and sensations as input and gives feelings of arousal as output. J G Ballard’s book and David Cronenberg’s movie Crash are about people for whom these black boxes have wiring very, very strange to us; they make a gynandromorph fetish look like something you’d be willing to discuss with your mother.

The movie begins with a woman making love to an airplane wing, before she is joined by a man who gives her what the wing can’t: fingers. She is Catherine Ballard (Deborah Kara Unger), wife of movie producer James Ballard (James Spader), who is at that moment having sex with his camerawoman just off set. Later, they compare notes – “did you finish?,” “did she finish?” – before themselves having sex, aroused by the notes.

Cut to James driving. He drops a script, veers into the wrong side of the road, and crashes. The man in the passenger seat shoots into his car and immediately dies. The woman (Holly Hunter), like James himself, was wearing a seatbelt and so is still in place. She shows him her breast.

James wakes up in hospital. Catherine describes the ruins to him, in the tone of dirty talk. There’s a man (Elias Koteas) who seems very interested in his injuries.

James, after months healing, still morbidly fascinated by the experience, visits what’s left of his car and there meets Dr. Helen Remington, the other driver. He gives her a lift, they narrowly avoid another accident, they fuck, she takes him to a staging of the car crash in which James Dean died by Vaughan (Koteas) and a couple of his stunt driver friends – no seat belts, real cars crashing into each other – and they go back to Vaughan’s, where he and one of the drivers (who’s still concussed) start discussing the Jayne Mansfield crash (“we can do the dead dog”).

So, here’s the big secret: Vaughan, Helen and their posse are turned on by car crashes. Vaughan, the ringleader, has a load of words about why that is so – apparently the sexual energy of a crash victim is concentrated into a crash. He very much has the dangerous allure of a cult leader. When James tells Catherine, they have the most passionate sex they’ve had in a while.

The most amazing thing about this movie is not that it depicts such a subculture, but that it depicts it without the slightest hint of judgement. Yes, their blackboxes are oddly wired but they are their personal boxes and none of our business and all Cronenberg does is portray them; pop psychology is completely absent (most of the Holvudine idiocracy would try to add something about childhood molestation or abandonment issues) and the mainstream culture only exists in so far as these guys couldn’t care less about it.

Modern western culture is more tolerant than many others, but it’s still remarkably churlish about sex. Many people have stopped watching this movie because it is too “sick,” but, as Roger Ebert insightfully points out, replace crashes with your favourite fetish and this is pornography.

Another thing we have difficulty with is the value of individual life; in that we wish to rank it highly, but never really do except with our nears and dears. Let me put it this way: how many people here would like to see criminals behind bars (or, better yet, dead)? How many of you have watched and been deeply affected by a gangster movie where there is no black and white only grey? (Note: in real life, there’s almost never black and white.) There’s a story a friend of mine likes to tell people, about how a European traveller found a tribe where there’s a guy whose only purpose in life is to serve as the chief’s chair; the traveller, of course, was shocked, and the tribals amused at his shock. They’ve been taught to believe that there’s a social order that’s more important than they are (and despite our discomfort with this notion, the martyr is a common form of hero in our mythologies).

Where does this tie in with the movie, you ask? Remember the cult whose leader just told the whole cult to drink poison and they did? Well, in the movie, soon after the happenings discussed above, one of the stunt drivers does the Mansfield crash. And dies. And kills god only knows how many innocent bystanders (and a dog). And arouses Vaughan, James and Catherine.

The progress of the movie is similar to a teenager who starts off masturbating to women in bikinis, and then goes into pornography because bikinis don’t do it for him any more, and then… what starts off as better sex with his wife ends up with James putting his penis into a crash victim’s scar (and, for good measure, every time Cronenberg lets us see it before that it looks rather vaginal) turns into climaxing with the crashing of cars turns into Vaughan killing himself by driving off the road and landing on the roof of a bus turns into James crashing Catherine and, when she assures him she’s all right, him saying “Maybe next time” followed by a nice fuck.

The tendency here is to regard these people as damaged somehow; but remember, for you will have to understand and deal with certain truths about your own moral code, whatever such conclusion you come to is yours and yours alone – the movie merely presented the facts of the case, merely put aberration in our faces to make us think things that we really ought not to be proud of.

Posted in Cronenberg, David, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s got ideas and shit!

Posted by Ronak M Soni on January 22, 2011

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

Perfect Balance

I didn’t watch Jab We Met for three years simply in my scepticism about the existence of a good Bollywood romantic movie, these days when most Hindi movies seem to me like ugly mashups of Bollywood and clichéd Hollywood aesthetics (Mr. Ali thankfully stays away from Hollywood style editing and scriptwriting)..

While Jab We Met is not a great or even a good movie, it sure as hell is not a slight movie.

It could have been great, if it had ended around an hour earlier. The guy’s left the girl with her boyfriend and is crafting himself a successful life of his own.He’s entering a boardroom and suddenly the girl’s next to him (“Naa hai yeh paana… na khona bhi hai… Tera naa hona… jaane… kyun hano hi hai“; “This is neither being with you nor is it losing you; your absence, I feel, is as your presence”). He takes her hand as she leads him into the room and they dance in front of the board members, and the ending of the dance fades into their applause: he’s learned something, he used to be stuck-up and sad and about to kill himself (by jumping in front of what Ali shows to be a toy train, as if the stakes were somehow low) and then he met a woman,  uninhibited and irresponsible and ultimately beautiful, and he’s learned from her and now he has achieved perfect balance, that thing that is so rare when two opposing yet neither untrue worldviews come into contact.

After this, how can the fact that he eventually gets the girl be anything but incidental?

Posted in Ali, Imtiaz, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Religion is deemed by the masses as true, by the wise as false… and by the rulers as necessary.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on January 19, 2011

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

Franklyn, directed and written by Gerald McMorrow, starring Eva Green, Ryan Philippe, Bernard Hill, Sam Riley and William Faulkner (not the writer)

The Fall, written by Dan Golroy, Nico Soultanakis and Tarsem, directed by Tarsem, starring Catinca Untaru and Lee Pace

Many spoilers be here, for there is nothing to be said about these movies without discussing their endings, and I don’t see that they spoil the movies.

Milo: I heard this story once when I was a kid, or read it. It was about a storyteller who was so good at telling stories that everything he made up became real. So the storyteller creates a world for himself where he’s the king of the castle, has a beautiful princess on his arm. And then, one day, he wakes up. He looks around. He kisses her on the cheek and… legs it.

Dan: Why?
Milo: I don’t know. Even though his life was perfect, absolutely perfect, he had the feeling he should be somewhere else. With someone else.

From The Fall; this is a typical example of the respect that Tarsem has for the laws of optics

Promotional image for Franklyn; from left to right, Sam Riley as bereft lover, Ryan Philippe as masked man, Meanwhile City and Eva Green as disrubed art student

Now, finally, is the time I have to admit that I’ve never been quite comfortable with the classification of art into “great” and “not great.” Yes, I’ve myself indulged in it; but only in cases when I’ve been utterly certain. The reason that it is now that is the time is that I’m going to write about two utterly amazing fantastical movies which I cannot in honesty call great but which I don’t think I’ll ever be forgetting.

Franklyn is about four people: a masked man in Meanwhile City (the other three are in London) – a steampunk city in which it is the law to belong to religion, whether it be deep or based on washing machine instructions and in which the masked man is the only religionless man – trying to kill the head of a murderous religion (called, in a fit of inspiration, The Individual), an art student who enjoys attempting suicide, a bereft lover whose fiancé has just left him, and a father whose son escaped from the mental asylum on the eve of his home visit. Well, technically there’s also the guy who insists that your actions’ consequences are felt by people you haven’t met.

The Fall is about a five-year-old Latina girl Alexandria who’s broken her arm and by accident meets a stuntman with broken legs, Roy, in the hospital. Roy starts telling her a story about five bandits who have sworn to kill the terrible Governor Odious. Roy, however, has a death wish and… what he does about it, he invites my profoundest contempt (till the end, anyway, but I’ll come to that shortly).

The first thing in common between these two (apart from the fact that I watched them both this weekend) is that they are about the power of storytelling. The second thing in common is that I proudly admit that I don’t really understand them, though I have an emotional sympathy for them.

First, Franklyn. How can I describe the formidability of Mr. McMorrow’s vision without going on for a thousand words about the plot? Simple: the fifth guy disappears. Ka-boom, we feel as the camera slowly zooms in on an unmanned mop.

For those (everyone, I expect) for whom the last was too vague, here’s the deal: masked man is the “alter-ego” of the son of fourth guy (Meanwhile City exists only in his head), head of the religion is fourth guy and fifth guy… in Meanwhile City he’s the mayor. In London, he is the pastor at some church, a janitor at the hospital in which the art student is a regular who says that you action affects the people you’ve met and a guy in a mental institution who shares the bereft lover’s hallucination of his childhood sweetheart; he’s nothing either more or less than some sort of overseer of stories. And in the end, he disappears, right after some tricks with character placement subtly suggest that all four protagonists exist within each other’s heads, much like this.

Yes, like much good fantasy, Franklyn is about the power of stories. I just don’t know how. Franklyn is the more formidable in terms of vision, but The Fall is the one which stumps me more deeply.

It’s scary. Roy almost kills Alexandria in his attempt to get enough morphine to kill himself and then concludes his story in a way that scares me will traumatise her for life, and yet I’m with him. This is how the story deserves to end, some sort of balance: the real guy doesn’t die, so the people in the story have to. It makes no sense to me, but I’m emotionally completely taken up.

Posted in McMorrow, Gerald, Movie Reviews, Movies, Tarsem, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Living through life

Posted by Ronak M Soni on January 18, 2011

Movie: Almost Famous (2000), 122 min

Writer/director: Cameron Crowe

Actors: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson

Story: A high-school boy is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies it on their concert tour.

Watching Almost Famous is akin to the experience of living through a whole life.

Okay, it’s not. When all is said and done, it’s only a ninety-minute movie. But that doesn’t change the fact that the one thing I remember about the movie – Keats’ tuneless melody – is a feeling of–– I don’t know how to describe it; suffice it to say that it’s wrong to say that we don’t feel that we’ve lived through a whole life.

There are all these people, and I don’t like or dislike them, I don’t get the slightest inkling of what drives them or what they aspire to, but I’m glad to have met them, and feel as if I know them; much as in real life.

I don’t know whether there’s any more worth saying about this movie, except that I don’t really understand why I like it as much as I do.

Posted in Crowe, Cameron, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Inception: Movie Review

Posted by Ronak M Soni on July 19, 2010

Originally published at PassionforCinema.


Inception (2010), written and directed by Christopher Nolan

Memorable Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Cilian Murphy

Plot: Dreams and espionage. The details are not important.

Note: A depressing lack of spoilers abounds below.

Even a day after having watched Inception, I’m not entirely sure how much I liked it. I mean, if you asked me to recommend it or not, I would say that it’s certainly not bad, but not really good either. The problem is, I don’t know what I liked and what I didn’t.

For me, this has been the sort of reaction every one of Nolan’s movies, except Batman Begins — as cut into 4:3 by HBO –, has elicited. While I liked Memento and its structure, the denouement left me strangely underwhelmed, in all probability because we hae the choice completely explained for us when it was completely obvious. Besides, I never really understood how a structure as clean as the one we see is supposed to simulate the feelings of one suffering from short term memory loss (in fact, I would say that I felt that sort of confusion much more strongly in reaction to Surya’s dementedness in the Tamil Gajini, though that performance in many ways makes less sense than Guy Pearce’s). While I thought of The Dark Knight as a good action movie, I always found it hollow in that it didn’t seem to have a morality of its own; again, I’m not sure if this was a good thing. Further, with my recent comic-renaissance, I understood that it wasn’t even a very good representation of the Batman mythos.

So, first thing about Inception, it isn’t anything too smart; as far as the fantastic elements are concerned, the plot isn’t grounded in any larger significance, it’s completely literal (and brainless), and as science fiction, it is chock-full of ideas for good ideas, but the good ideas never blossom, not really.

Second thing, Inception is actually two movies, both rather clichéd, one of which ambles over and plonks its arse on the climax of the other one in a strongly unsavoury manner. The first movie is a straightforward, brainless, and ultimately enjoyable thriller. The second is a somewhat fascinating exploration of the dangers of the dream-mythos Nolan creates. The problem with this one is that it depends on psychology, and Nolan’s writing of the psychology is too clean, too full of Hollywood staples. This is why it is only “somewhat” fascinating. In fact, the only reason it is at all fascinating is di Caprio’s heartfelt and affecting performance.

Third thing, its final shot has an ambiguity that is both emotionally wrong as well as too on-the-nose, in that it only tells us something that’s been obvious for a while (thanks to some shot-mirroring with as early scene, but Nolan seems to think of that as too subtle).

Now that I have given the movie a proper beating over the head, let me tell you that on a moment-to-moment basis, I enjoyed it immensely. I loved, for example, seeing Ellen Page bend a city over itself in di Caprio’s “subconscious” or Joseph Gordon-Levitt… eh, just the guy. The only times I stopped enjoying myself while watching the movie was when it referred to good ideas, or when it looked as if it was heading for a good idea but crash-landed in the desert. To be sure, there were very many of the latter sort of moments, but in general I enjoyed watching it.

In the end, however, I think that Inception’s most important contribution to the film world is to the superhero genre. Rather, its criticism. Now, whenever someone’s angry about Spider-man in a movie, they know exactly who to name in the present actor’s place: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Of course, the ideal Spider-man would be much bulkier, but since in the present climate that is about as likely as Michael Bay making a great animated Batman movie, I look to the supremely flexible, supremely suave and supremely smart Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I can’t find a video of Gordon-Levitt’s fight scene thanks to which I say this, but the choreography of that fight is nothing less than awesome. Meanwhile, you’ll have to be content with this still:


Posted in Movie Reviews, Movies, Nolan, Christopher | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

“I have a sadness shield that keeps out all the sadness, and it’s big enough for all of us.”: Spike Jonze’s Adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are

Posted by Ronak M Soni on May 24, 2010

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

Film Poster

One of the most beautiful movie posters.

Movie: Where the Wild Things Are (2009), 101 min, 2.35:1

Writers: Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, based on a book of the same name by Maurice Sendak

Director: Spike Jonze

Cinematography: Lance Acord

Actors: Max records, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forrest Whitaker, Chris Cooper

Where the Wild Things Are is certainly the best film I’ve watched on a big screen since Inglourious Basterds in October, and the line-up includes “greats” like Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Personally, I’m not yet completely sure what all the ambivalence about the quality of the movie was about in American critical circles (except Roger Ebert’s, who found parts boring).

Anyway, after watching the movie (Saturday), I’ve read Maurice Sendak’s classic thrice already, and that’s the piece I find myself ambivalent about. Not that I think it’s not a good book, it’s just that I’ve come to expect books to last a while, that part of the joy of literature (even the graphic variety, which this book certainly is of) is the time invested in it. Even poetry, because if a poem is worth anything to you, you spend significant amounts of time poring over it, and in some cases even the literature about it. This book counters that, however. Look, it says, I can tell a story in ten sentences and a few drawings (which are beautiful, by the way), I don’t need your time, I just need merely as much attention as a parrot can provide.

Again, it’s not a bad book; it’s about as good as it can be, given the form. My real dilemma with this original/adaptation pair is this: I am unambivalent in my admiration of the movie, but am somewhat unimpressed by the book, yet I’m not sure which constitutes the better work of art. Hah! A problem worthy of attention from Dostoevsky’s underground man!

So, my dear, underground man wouldn’t ask, what be your problem?

Of course, not being as much underground man as normal person, I do pose myself with the charge of uncovering the eternal verities I can get at by asking myself the selfsame question.

About the movie:

The movie, in many ways, is to me about the cathartic and epiphanic possibilities of art for people, and in particular children. Of course, there’s a lot more, by which I mean a lot more, but that is the direction any general thrust that the movie has is in.

So, why do I say that it’s about the cathartic and epiphanic possibilities of art? For that, we’ll have to ask ourselves what we learnt most strongly from art as kids. I’ll tell you what I learnt, a lesson that I believe to be one of the simplest art has to offer to us as human beings: I learnt to put myself into other people’s shoes, a lesson which (even if I say so myself) has had a very profound effect on the way I’ve lived my life.

But then, maybe I didn’t learn it from the art around me, maybe I learnt it from within, from some innate understanding that other people are human beings. Then, how did I learn it? Through a story I told myself, one possibly not unlike the one in Where the Wild Things Are.

Fact is, this is not quite the lesson Max – the protagonist – learns through the story he tells himself. The lesson he actually learns is, for the purpose of this review, completely and utterly irrelevant.

The only thing that is relevant is that he learns a lesson, and a deep and complex one about the structuring of human societies at that, and he learns by way of self-authored art.

He’s built an igloo, and he, like every human being who’s ever successfully built an igloo, wants to show it off. His sister is talking on the phone and tells him to go play with his own friends. Of course, there’s a slight problem with that in that he doesn’t have any. And, much like I used to play endless cricket matches with the wall in a similar situation, he starts playing out his own story, till he sees his sister’s friends, and therefore an opportunity to show it off. A snowball fight ensues, his igloo collapses in on himself, he is dug out crying, and the sister’s friends run off: the amount of fun a child can provide is inversely proportional to how much responsibility you have about him.

His mom, who is a sweet, sweet woman, comes home. He interrupts her and tells her a story (which she, in one of the sweetest moments in the film, types out):

There were some buildings… There were these really tall buildings, and they could walk. Then there were some vampires. And one of the vampires bit the tallest building, and his fangs broke off. Then all his other teeth fell out. Then he started crying. And then, all the other vampires said, “Why are you crying? Weren’t those just your baby teeth?” And he said, “No. Those were my grown-up teeth.” And the vampires knew he couldn’t be a vampire anymore, so they left him. The end.

Need I say any more?

The Wild Things

As it turns out, I will anyway. It is after Max’s story that we can see the subversive “adaptation” coming out of the clutches of the movie-world. It is true that the movie is not a good adaptation of the book. The book is a ten-sentence/twenty-image piece that is about growing up – the theme introduction: “he sailed off through night and day/and in and out of weeks/and almost over a year/to where the wild things are” – and the value of love. How can you adapt that into a full-length movie? More appropriately, how do you adapt it into a good full-length movie? You can’t, unless you think Horton Hears a Who, a sweet normal movie interspersed with reminders of the infinitely more compact original in the form of narrated extracts, was a particularly good movie: the movie should have been marketed as inspired from the book, but I don’t suppose Spike Jonze had much of a choice, with pressure probably from Warner Brothers as well as the fact that Maurice Sendak himself sought him out to direct the film (I wonder how Dave Eggers got involved, though; he’s certainly not a very bankable name).

Judith, the horned one


I was planning to describe how so many elements of the movie were lifted off the edges of the drawings in the book, but I just read the book again, and then decided that that would take all the fun out of it. All I’ll say is this: it is awesomely fascinating to sit around after watching the movie and look at how the positions of each wild thing in the pictures resulted in its position in the (very realistically and insightfully set up) social structure of the movie’s world. For example, the wild thing Eggers and Jonze call Judith is the one foremost in threatening Max on his arrival, and she’s the most contrary – not that she’s a generic contrarian, more that she approaches his crowning with a certain trepidation with which the others don’t – to Max in the movie. Or, the one they call Carol is the one foremost in saluting Max’s crowning as king, and… the movie more or less revolves around the relationship between Max and Carol.

The final point I would like to mention about the wild things is their social structure. Two years of my life, my eleventh and twelfth, I was in a boarding school with a set of around twenty well-knit male classmates (talking about the girls too would add an unnecessary level of complexity to the proceedings), and the wild things’ social structure very well mirrors how we were, the twenty of us (with appropriate changes for maturity and numbers). I mean, not only is the social structure a direct parallel, but the reasons behind the structuring are also very much the same, which is something I find simply amazing.

The Verdict

So, which do I like more, the book or the movie? Which of the following two visuals looks better?





To be honest, I find that both the book and the movie are not perfect, the book is – as I’ve already said – too short for my taste, and the movie has moments of implausibility as well as the larger one that Max is making this up, but in the end I have to say one thing: Maurice Sendak did well, in writing the book as well as in choosing his adapter: I love both the book and the movie, and no amount of comparison is going to change that.

The Reviews of Others:

  1. Strongly positive: Joe Sylvers (whose piece I took the last still from), Bryan Whitefield for the Muriel Awards, Andrew Bemis.
  2. Mildly positive: Critic After Dark
  3. Negative: Stephanie Zacharek, whose characterisation of the movie as a “tone poem” was plagiarised by The Hindu’s reviewer Parvathi Nayar.

Posted in Jonze, Spike, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Lucy sure as hell ain’t in the Sky with Diamonds

Posted by Ronak M Soni on April 5, 2010

Movie PosterLSD: Love, Sex aur Dhokha (Love, Sex and Betrayal), 2010, Hindi

Written by Dibakar Banerjee and Kanu Behl

Directed by Dibakar Banerjee

Very early into Love, Sex aur Dhokha, I suddenly acquired the deep fear that even Dibakar Banerjee, whose Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! would figure in my list of the best Hindi films of the decade, was copying an English movie (Cloverfield). Cloverfield is basically a monster disaster movie, except that it is completely shot on a handy cam (for those interested, David Bordwell explains here the intricacies of its form). It looked like Banerjee was doing the same thing, except his job was easier, because of his framing concept of ‘reality cinema’ which allowed him to splice any way he wanted.

In the beginning, we are informed about the revolutionary new concept of ‘reality cinema’, in exactly the way it would be announced if it was true. The rest of the movie is split into three (interlocking) vignettes, all of which contain meditations on the moral questions posed by the reign of the digital camera, interleaved with the influence of Bollywood.

The first vignette contains Rahul, a Film School student who idolises Aditya Chopra and is making as his diploma film one based on the latter’s wildly popular Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (The Lovers will take away the Women; Rahul is the name of the hero of this movie). Rahul, however, doesn’t confine his filming to the movie itself; he falls in love (at first Bollywood sight) with his heroine Shruti, and so starts filming large swathes of real life, in hopes of getting his own love story to be a movie like Chopra’s, in hope of eventually sending it to “Adi Sir” himself. The second contains Adarsh, who’s just set up a CCTV system for a store belonging to a relative and figures out that the best way he can solve his financial problems is by filming a sex tape and selling it; easy enough, except that he has real affection for the store attendant Rashmi he’s seduced. The third is about a reporter Prabhat who saves a woman Naina from killing herself and involves her in a sting operation.

The movie is full of Banerjee’s now signature shady morality, but there’s nothing very profound in it – unlike in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, which is a look at the sociological implications of being a well-known thief, thereby making a comment on Indian society and even Society in general. The biggest real compliment I can give it about its message is that it’s never preachy. Rahul, for all his illusions about life and art, is actually a very resourceful man, far from the starry-eyed zombie we would expect, and we can see why Shruti would fall in love with him; Adarsh is doing bad, but even Rashmi is basically whoring herself to him; and the third story is the only one with a truly ‘good’ character, the television reporter Prabhat, and even his basic good quality is his profound awareness of the murkiness of his own morality.

All this, finally, doesn’t always make for good cinema, despite Banerjee’s talent for framing his shots (one shot involves a leg in the immediate foreground, a man somewhere ahead, then his reflection, the the reflection of the woman whose leg it is, making a very mesmerising shot). All three vignettes get rather annoying in parts, and the only thing which stops me from dismissing this movie as an inferior version of Cloverfield is the epilogues, whose content I won’t reveal, which bring together all of the movie’s themes in its most hideous depth and then its most insane and farcical high.

‘Just Another Film Buff’ provides a detailed analysis of the film’s morality (with many spoilers, so there’s no point reading it unless you’ve seen the movie).

Posted in Banerjee, Dibakar, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Antichrist: Into (an) Eden

Posted by Ronak M Soni on March 26, 2010

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

Antichrist, 2009, 104 min

Written and Directed by Lars von Trier

Muriel Award-Winning Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle

Story (taken from IMDb): A grieving couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) retreats to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse.

An unforgettable moment; look closely at those in the background.

I started watching Antichrist with no expectations whatsoever about quality; I’d read that it was a beautiful movie, I’d read that it was a piece of tasteless porn, and I’d also read that it was nothing worth our time. The only expectation I had was that it would be sickeningly violent. Antichrist’s success, for me, lies in the fact that it belied all of the aforementioned opinions.

I’m convinced that my age had something to do with this. Being only eighteen, there are some aspects of the human experience that are yet beyond me, and probably this movie taps into some deep fears in that part, making the movie horrific – not too much of a wonder, it’s almost sitcommy how much the woman distrusts the man – rather than just plain dreadful like it was for me; I was thinking don’t do it but there was nothing like look away. If you actually count the acts of violence, there is a sum total of three, and only one of them is as horrific as some critics would have us believe.

To do with sitcoms, I’m actually beginning to see a deeper parallel now. If you’ve ever watched a sitcom, you’ll know that they are almost misogynistic in their portrayal of urban women as neurotic little upstarts out to rule the sensible even if flawed men. You’ll find the parallel to have a true enough ring if you ever watch the movie.

In fact, in that way, it’s also the opposite of noir. A sort of reverse noir, if you will. Noir is about men who don’t understand, and therefore trust, the world around them, a distrust the cherry on top of which is that of women – specifically, that of the femme fatale. Antichrist, in contrast, is about the woman’s distrust of a man who more than adequately understands her, but whom she has no capacity to understand.

If noir is from the point of view of the men, Antichrist is – as much as this movie can be said to have a point of view – from the point of view of the woman. The whole movie, Willem Dafoe’s man is distant and clinical, a two-dimensional piece. Poor Dafoe has little to do, but rarely has little been done this well. Charlotte Gainsbourg, by contrast, got a role complex enough to win a completely deserved 2009 Muriel Award for her portrayal of the woman.

But all that’s sideline. The real point of this movie is the death of humanity, the death of humanity by distrust, of others too but primarily of oneself. I said that the woman doesn’t understand the man. The truth is that she, more importantly, doesn’t have the slightest clue about herself either, just like the men in noir. That’s why the movie progresses the way it does; it’s the chronicle of a woman who has completely lost trust in herself.

That’s why it’s called Antichrist; these two are to the Antichrist as Adam and Eve are to the Christ. Adam and Eve (symbolically) begun humanity; these two (symbolically) end it.

Adam and Eve have no history. These two are completely history; he’s American, she’s English, suggesting a history of metaphorical colonisation and breaking free.

But that’s still not the most profoundly disturbing thing about the movie. That would be the fact that it tries to disguise itself under the form of a horror movie. A train journey flashes images of cruelty, most of the music is the tail end of a gong, the house in Eden is continuously bombarded by acorns, ears of corn spontaneously grow on the man’s hand … the list could go on. But the fact is that all this eeriness is but a sheer veneer, a cover for the real melancholy only allowed to come to fruition in the prologue and epilogue.

If there’s a problem with the movie, it’s that it fails to attain beauty. The meaning feels tacked on; it differentiates itself from reverse noir in only the name, two shots and an epilogue. Which is a pity, because here we have a movie that spells out for us what’s going to come to pass during the climax and then completely blindsides us after. Good enough, but not perfect like it would be if the blindside grew out of the movie.

No one seems to quite agree with me: Roger Ebert, James Berardinelli, S M Rana.

Posted in Movie Reviews, Movies, von Trier, Lars | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

No Country for Old Men

Posted by Ronak M Soni on March 23, 2010

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

No Country for Old Men, 2007, 122 min

Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, based upon a book by Cormac McCarthy

Music by Carter Burwell

Cinematography by Roger Deakins

Story: Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad and takes the money, but a psychopathic killer with a cattle gun Anton Chigurh (Shi-GUR; Javier Bardem) is bent upon taking the money from him. Meanwhile, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) helplessly and uncomprehendingly tries to stop Chigurh.

A Still from the movieThe last half-hour of No Country for Old Men is one of the more surprising one can see in the movies. It’s much more surprising than in a con movie or a suspense thriller, because in those movies we expect to be surprised. This movie makes absolutely no claims at being a surpriser anywhere during its running length, and that lends the surprise an air of unexpectedness completely absent from most other movies.

For the first two-thirds of the movie, the dominant theme of my thoughts was: there are movies, which aim to mean more than movies, then there are movie-movies, which aim to be merely great cinematically, and then there’s No Country for Old Men, which just aims to be. It’s not about the two people engaged in this fatal struggle, for the few times we actually see their faces in any detail, in shots that in other movies would be supposed to deepen our connections to the characters, it is surprising and even slightly disconcerting; we suddenly realise how completely unexplainable these characters are. Why doesn’t Llewellyn Moss just stop? Why does Anton Chigurh… to hell with that, why is he?

The most important reason this movie completely draws us in is not because the landscapes are beautiful – quite the opposite, I’d say, but even that in itself has involving power – or because the plot has a deep metaphorical resonance with our daily lives – I’d need to see this one really well-argued to be convinced – or because the world this movie is set in is so bleak, and certainly not because we relate to the characters. No, the most important reason is the noisetrack. It’s not a soundtrack in the conventional sense; at one point it’s about to become one, but some musicians reveal themselves as the source of the music.

As I was saying before above irrelevant interjection, the charm of the first two-thirds of this movie lies mostly in its noisetrack. What draws us in is the clasping of the satchel, the cocking of the gun, the dragging of the shoe, the beeping of the detector, the flip of the switch, the buzzing of the fly, the banging of the door, and every other sound ever made by any man walking or driving across Texas. No Country for Old Men, dear reader, is the only movie that made me find dialogues spoken in thick Southern accents –with their long, loving drawls and habit of ending every sentence on a high note that I find to be the best things about many movies – anywhere near boring.

Yes, it can be argued that we are actually involved because of all the bleakness, and I would have to be a blind arse to not agree that there is some in the attitude of the plot, but that’s the only place you’ll find any of that. The Coens play it as a set of tense set-pieces; Brolin and Bardem play it merely like their characters, more along the lines of great performers than good actors; and the screenplay is more concerned with the minutiae of their actions than anything else. The only person who sees anything existentially scary about anything in the movie is the sheriff Ed Tom Bell.

And it is precisely this that No Country for Old Men becomes about in the third third. I’m not completely sure about whether this is a good thing; this turn-around takes away the status of movie-movie-movie that I was willing to endow upon this film, and a certain brand of uniqueness, and the major charm of the first two thirds, but this way the movie has an emotional heft going with the ending, Tommy Lee Jones (even his real name sounds like it’s from this movie) declaring, “And then I woke up.” An emotional heft that is much better for our memory of the movie than for the experience itself.

The problem with me, I suppose, is that I am, right now, thinking about my memory of the experience. Maybe, I think, it would have been better if I hadn’t watched it on a big screen (at the American Library in Chennai, where they show an American movie every Saturday) and I hadn’t so strongly noticed the little sounds and attributed my involvement to them. As things stand, at any rate, I’m slightly ambivalent about the ending, but this still remains one of the great exercises in style.

Posted in Coens, Ethan & Joel, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »