Saturday, May 15, 2010

Quick reviews

Departures (Japan):
A film about the varieties of grief. A newly unemployed returns from Tokyo with his young wife and lands the unusual but well payed job of encoffinment--dressing up and otherwise preparing corpses for cremation or burial. One part of the story is about how the couple come to terms with and even take pride in this socially lowly occupation. Another is about the inhibitions, pretenses and the feelings (or their absence) surrounding bereavement which are meant to be given a measure of acceptable dignity by the ritualism. Like the rituals of marriage or eating, for that matter. Subsidiary plot lines culminate in a climax bordering on the sublime.

Walkabout (Australia, 1971):
A film about the aboriginal custom of casting a coming of age young man of sixteen into the wilderness for months, to survive and perish. In this case it is two white Australian children, a girl of sixteen and her much younger brother who find themselves in this situation, after their father, with whom they came for a picnic, commits suicide and ignites their car. As they stumble around the desert, parched and tired, they are saved by an aboriginal boy of the girl's age. The film is about the failure of communication between these human beings from different universe--or are they?

Primal Fear (1996):
A young altar boy is accused of killing a priest. A lawyer takes up the case, and the defense is based either on the presence of a third person in the room where the crime occurs or the possible insanity of the altar boy. Doesn"t quite live up to it's reputation as a court-room drama.

The Battle of Algiers (Algeria 1961):
A film about the Algerian war for independence from the century old French occupation. It is a study of urban guerrilla warfare and the film has been used as a case study by various intelligence agencies. The feel of the film is partially documentary like and the Algerian landscapes are captured in a melancholy panorama. The phenomenon of a population on the boil, united for a season or few by forces of history, channelized by individual will. The upsurging masses are like a river in spate and the interrogation methods of the French have more surgical calculation than malice.

Madadayo (1993):
Akira Kurosawa's last film. An aging professor is tended by his doting ex-students over the decades as he celebrates one birthday after another starting with the sixtieth (which in the Japanese tradition is a second coming of age). It is the relationship of the teacher and his student's which is portrayed with stunning clarity. It is a link of teacher and taught which is difficult to imagine in any other context. They build him a house, spend months searching for the teacher's lost cat, and year after year the birthday celebration is marked with bonhomie and jocularity as the wine and food flow deep into the night. It's a relationship of the deepest respect, admiration and affection, as to one who has taught them everything about life. It's different from the parental bond, in ways far purer. Utterly devoid of obsequiousness, it is filled with friendship, a grandeur of communication, and equality yet with deference born of gratitude. From the professor's viewpoint, it is akin to the director's Ikiru, in the guy's refusal to buckle under the onslaughts of time.

Mutiny on the Bounty(62) & The Bounty(84) (US):
Both movies are about the events surrounding this most famous of mutinies in the eigteenth century, when Fletcher Christian took charge of a ship commanded by Bligh. In the first movie Brando as Christian is pitted against the sadistic Bligh, mesmerically played by Trevor Howard. The second film is more nuanced, and the focus is on Anthony Hopkins as Bligh with Mel Gibson as Christian but an insipid shadow. I would vote for the Brando film because of the charismatic portrayals. There is another 1930 award winning Charles Laughton movie about the same episode, but two seems enough

The Caine Mutiny (US):
Another mutiny which occurred during WW2 aboard an American warship, wherein a captain who seems to be mentally unstable ( Humphrey Bogart) is removed by his second in command. The film concludes in a riveting court-martial drama.

Save the Green Planet (South Korea):
Serial killer or savior of the planet, about to be taken over on the next full moon by Andromedans, who have assumed human shape and infiltrated society? The protagonist and his half demented ex tight rope walker wife kidnap an executive, take him to a mountain shack and give him the works to extract a confession (about his being Andromedan). A Seoul detective who stumbles on the shack is given the "sweet" treatment--honey is poured all over him and then a swarm of bees does the rest). Add a few gruesome doses of hacking, not to disappoint expectations from Korean fare. From comedy to horror to science fiction to spoof, the film doesn't stop to breathe in it's roller coaster. The Koreans have struck a vein in sheer entertainment. And meanwhile, as a bonus, you are treated to the natural splendor of the land.

Mother (South Korea):
A young man of marginal intelligence is charged with murder. His single mother, an unauthorized practitioner of alternate medicine, takes up the challenge to establish his innocence. The plot has many twists and turns, but never flags in it's momentum till it's completely satisfactory resolution. Another spell binder from this freshly discovered cinematic oasis.

Quick Gun Murugan (India):
Fresh from Bollywood. Murugan, the first Indian 100% Vegetarian Cowboy is set against the villainous Rice Plate Reddy, who dreams of becoming McDosa King, with the world's No 1 purely non-vegetarian dosa. He also has designs to force all vegetarian restaurants to turn non-vegetarian. En route we are treated to duels where mantras counter bullets, a duel in a traffic jam, the kidnapping of a load of mothers to extract ancestral dosa recipe secrets, blood streaking from fresh wounds, and string upon string of unsubtle improbabilities, which manage to hold your attention well through the movie. Pure Tamil humor for you, and more than a different film, here's a brand new genre

The Dirty Dozen (US):
This is WW2 and a dozen death row prisoners are sent on a mission to parachute in Europe to penetrate a chapeau where top Nazi's are luxuriating. The first half of the movie, where the ugly heroes to be are being trained provides far more laughs and thrills than the actual mission, which seems a monotonous rattle of gunfire, rope climbing and up and down running in the premises.

The Magnificent Seven (US):
Seven wild western samurai are enlisted by a Mexican village seasonally terrorized by a a horde of bandits. If you are in an escapist/nostalgic frame, the dish will serve adequately.

Battle of Britain (UK):
The redeeming feature of this part propaganda film is the historical information of one of the first victory scored by the allies above the British skies. Memorable for the aerial display and dog fights but little else.

Out of Africa (US):
This is a 1987 much awarded Meryl Streep starrer, about a Danish adventuress who comes to Africa to make a fortune in coffee. Add romance, Africa and lots of beautiful shots of animals, and we have a very dated concoction which is far from the must some may feel it is.

Sword of Doom (Japan):
A conscienceless samurai, who kills for pleasure, like the character in No Country for Old Men, sets out on his spree by slashing a senior citizen whom he overhears praying for an early death. The sword itself is the centre of interest and we are treated to a macabre dance, executed with grace, speed and skill, as the victims slump successively. The film ends with the sword still mid-air in it's downward swing.

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