Saturday, 24 June 2017

''American Beauty'' (1999 film)- Review

Directed by: Sam Mendes
Released: 1999
Country: United States

Genre: Drama

Rating: 5 out of 5

Review

Very few films can portray the hollowness of existence as eloquently as ''American Beauty'' does. The protagonist, Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey) is a frustrated advertising executive. He finds no pleasure, no reason to live for. His wife, Carolyn (played by Annette Bening) is a real estate broker. Carolyn is very ambitious and career-oriented and becomes extremely devastated whenever things don't go according to her plans in her career.  Their daughter, Jane (played by Thora Birch), doesn't have a close bond with either of her parents. She, as it appears, is frustrated too. When Lester meets Jane's best friend Angela (played by Mena Suvari), he becomes infatuated with her, with Jane finding it creepy, causing it to develop more aversion on her part towards her father. A family moves in next door- the family consists of the homophobic Colonel Frank Fitts (played by Chris Cooper), his wife Barbara (played by Allison Janney) and their son Ricky (played by Wes Bentley). Ricky carries his video camera around and Jane discovers that he has been recording her.

All these people suffer from emptiness, hollowness and despair. Even the characters who initially seem happy are devastated inside, as several secrets are revealed over the course of the film.

''American Beauty'' has a sophisticated melody of its own. The way Kevin Spacey narrates the film, the excellent screenplay and the gorgeous cinematography give it a strange beauty. The film is about people who are unhappy, people who aren't satisfied with their lives at all and the frustration of the characters whose lives become interlinked eventually results in tragedy. 

There is opportunity for happiness is all around but people fail to realize it over and over again. Some aren't happy with what they get, some aren't happy with the kind of lives they are leading. The thing that matters the most in life is happiness and one has to search for that happiness instead of giving in to frustration. Emptiness is such a horrible thing and one has to find ways to get rid of that emptiness.

The characters we meet in ''American Beauty'' aren't exactly the kind of characters you can get to love. But at the same time they are characters you feel sympathy for, because of their visible frustration. It is an extremely thought-provoking film. 

 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

''Insomnia'' (2002 film)- Review

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Released: 2002
Country: United States

Genre: Psychological thriller

Rating: 3 out of 5

Review

Two detectives, Will Dormer (played by Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (played by Martin Donovan) arrive in a town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. They are assisted by the young Detective Ellie Burr (played by Hilary Swank). While investigating the murder, however, a sudden accident changes the course of everything and Will is terribly haunted by what happens and things get even more complicated when he manages to guess who might have killed the girl.

The sun never sets in the town. Daylight remains even when it is midnight. The strange daylight terribly haunts Will after the sudden accident.

The entire film is very atmospheric, very well executed. The atmosphere is perfect for a great psychological thriller. Psychologically, the film is pretty intense and I really appreciated that.

However, what bothered me about the film was that the great atmosphere keeps promising a twist or just something much more than meets the eye. Perhaps a connection between the murder and the accident. Or a sudden revelation. I kept waiting for that moment and it never came. That is something that really bothered me. A film as atmospheric and psychologically intense deserves a way better ending.

That said, ''Insomnia'' is a good psychological thriller and it is definitely well-acted (excellent performances by Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank), well-directed and well-written. I expected more from it and was not entirely satisfied with it but it is a good film anyway.


Sunday, 18 June 2017

''Miracle on 34th Street'' (1947 film)- Review

Directed by: George Seaton
Released: 1947
Country: United States

Genre: Comedy-drama, Fantasy

Rating: 5 out of 5

Review

''Miracle on 34th Street'' is such a lovely, cute little film! It is a film that is bound to bring a smile to anybody's face.

Doris Walker (played by Maureen O'Hara) is a single mother. She has always taught her daughter, Susan (played by Natalie Wood) to be practical and realistic. As such, Susan does not believe in fairytales. She does not believe in Santa Clause. When an elderly man calling himself Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn)- hired by the company Doris works for to pose as Santa Clause- claims to be the actual Santa Clause, many people think that he is either lying or he is slightly unstable mentally. While Kris- who moves in with Fred (played by John Payne), a neighbor of Doris'- tries to introduce Susan to fairytales and fantasies (with some help from Fred, who has apparently fallen in love with Doris and also wants to introduce Susan to the colorful world of fantasies and fairytales- several people are skeptical about Kris' identity. What does it eventually lead to?

''Miracle on 34th Street'' is a charming and heartwarming film. It definitely is. I loved it! Kris is so cute! Edmund Gwenn delivers a splendid performance and so do Maureen O'Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood. Such a lovely film it is!   

Saturday, 17 June 2017

''Memento'' (2000 film)- Review

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Released: 2000
Country: United States

Genre: Psychological thriller, Mystery, Drama

Rating: 5 out of 5

Review

Christopher Nolan's ''Memento'' blew my mind. It is such an intelligent thriller, so twisted, so very layered and brilliantly presented.

The protagonist, Leonard (played by Guy Pearce), has anteograde amnesia, which means his mind cannot store recent memories. He, however, does remember everything up to the point of his wife's death. His wife was raped and murdered and he was terribly injured while trying to save his wife, resulting in his anterograde amnesia. Now he is looking for the person who was involved in the assault. Over the course of the film we keep on getting puzzled and surprised, as the film unfolds itself and reveals its secrets. Who exactly is Teddy (played by Joe Pantiliano), the person who claims to be his friend? What is the intention of Natalie (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), a woman who offers to help him?

I am not going to say anything about the chronology of the film. I am not. If I have to sum up the film in one word the word that will come to my mind is 'brilliant'. It is so very intelligent and the way the film unfolds itself is truly amazing. The final twist left me very impressed, very much so. This is the kind of film which demands a second watch. I watched it for the second time right after I finished watching it for the first time. Knowing the twists and revelations I admired the film even more than I did during my first watch. It is such a very layered, perfectly presented, excellently directed, beautifully directed, excellently-acted, BRILLIANT film.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

''Rebel Without a Cause'' (1955 film)- Review

Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Released: 1955
Country: United States

Genre: Drama

Rating: 5 out of 5

Review

''Rebel Without a Cause'' reminded me of everything I love about films. It is such a very powerful and riveting film that I found myself loving it and it has surely become one of my all-time favorite films.

Jim Starks (played by James Dean) has recently moved to a new town with his parents. Jim is frustrated and feels that his parents don't understand him. We are introduced to two other teenagers, Judy (played by Natalie Wood) and Plato (played by Sal Mineo). Judy feels slighted by her father. Her father never pays her the attention that she wants from him. She feels that her father does not care for her anymore. Plato is extremely lonely and longs for friends, which leads to frustration that often causes him to become violent. On Jim's first at school, he is bullied by a boy called Buzz (played by Corey Allen).  Jim is humiliated when he is called a chicken (signifying a coward) and then gets into trouble with Buzz, something that results in a severe tragedy. Traumatized and feeling guilty about the tragedy and also deeply affected by the frustration they have to go through everyday, Jim, Judy and Plato form a close bond over the course of a single evening, while the outside world that has never understood them keeps haunting them, something that ultimately results in a tragedy.

Here are three characters who want to belong somewhere, to somebody. They have never felt that sense of belonging anywhere. Finally, the three of them find one another. Perhaps, they think, this is what they have been looking for? This kind of friendship and emotional bond had been missing in their lives, and when they finally find one another they discover that they can finally expect to let go of the loneliness that has been haunting them.

How can a film possibly be this much emotionally overpowering? I have seen films about loneliness and frustration and the discovery of someone who fully understands you, but very few of them were as powerful as ''Rebel Without a Cause''. The film knows just how to explore the subject. And when it comes to the characters, the success of character development depends on whether you can feel emotionally attached to them and want to spend more, much more time with them. ''Rebel Without a Cause'' fully succeeds in that. James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo are excellent in their roles. The film makes us want to spend more time with Jim, Judy and Plato. It makes us desperately want a happy ending for the three characters we get to love. We anticipate a tragedy of some kind or other but we just don't want it to strike, we just want our characters to be happy.

These are universal themes- frustration, loneliness, communication gap and the eager desire to belong somewhere. The world is a complicated and lonely place and we are all looking for acceptance. It is tragic if teenagers- at an age when they are at the peak of the emotional development- find that there is now a distance between themselves and their parents, that they don't know just who they are, what their identity is, where they belong, who their friends are.

Teenagers often ''get into trouble'' when they find acceptance nowhere. It is the duty of others- particularly parents- to be compassionate and understanding towards teenagers. At the same time, we- whether we are children, teenagers or adults- go on looking for belonging and acceptance and once we find it, we feel a sort of fulfillment we have never felt before. ''Rebel Without a Cause'' thus explores several themes that are identifiable and understandable. It is one of the best films I have ever seen. 


 

Friday, 9 June 2017

''The Devil's Backbone'' (2001 film)- Review

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Released: 2001
Country: Spain, Mexico

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Drama, Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5

Review

''The Devil's Backbone'' is set during the Spanish Civil War. The story takes place in an orphanage run by Caseras (played by Federico Luppi) and Carmen (played by Marisa Paredes). The authorities and the teachers try their best to protect the children from the horrors of the outside world. When a new boy, Carlos (played by Fernando Tielve) comes to the orphanage, he eventually comes to realize that there are secrets and an unsolved mystery in the orphanage.

''The Devil's Backbone'' had a Gothic, dark atmosphere and since I love anything Gothic, I really admired this film. I admired the atmosphere. I found the gradual revelations fascinating. While I did not love, love, love the film, there was a sort of haunting poetry running throughout the film. There were atmospherically tense moments but ultimately, the film culminated in a rather sentimental ending. The atmospheric horror film turns out to be an extremely touching and emotionally powerful film. It still haunts me when I think of it.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

''Aparajito'' (1956 film)- Review

Directed by: Satyajit Ray
Released: 1956
Country: India

Genre: Drama

Rating: 5 out of 5

Review

''Aparajito'', Satyajit Ray's second film, is a sequel to his first, ''Pather Panchali''.

Harihar (Kanu Banerjee) and Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) and their son, Apu (Pinaki Sen Gupta) have moved to Varanasi. Although there is poverty and a lot of troubles, they are initially happy but then, suddenly, Harihar dies. Sarbajaya is left to fend for herself and her son. They move to Sarbajaya's hometown, a remote village. The film follows the difficult lives of Sarbajaya and Apu (the adolescent Apu is played by Smaran Ghoshal) and how Sarbajaya has to come into terms with the painful changes once Apu moves to Kolkata for his education.

''Aparajito'' is quiet and unpretentious but the characters go through and display a wide variety of emotions. The most powerful performance is delivered by Karuna Banerjee, who plays Sarbajaya. You can feel the pain she feels when her son- the person she is still, after all the troubles she has been through (including the death of her daughter and husband), bravely facing life for- goes away to Kolkata. We can feel her longing for her son, the loneliness she goes through. Apu, too, is a character with depth. There is a scene- right after Sarbajaya and Apu move to the village- when Apu can hear the sirens from a train and rushes to see it passing by. Emotions are reflected on his face. What is he thinking of? Perhaps the time- depicted in ''Pather Panchali''- in which he and his elder sister had run to see the train passing by? When he decides to move to Kolkata, little can he imagine the loneliness his mother will go through. Being a teenager with little experience with human emotions, he can hardly comprehend his mother's emotions- something that he eventually comes to regret.

''Aparajito'' is a deeply moving and powerful film. 

 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

''Brokeback Mountain'' (2005 film)- Review

Directed by: Ang Lee
Released: 2005
Country: United States

Genre: Romantic drama, Western

Rating: 5 out of 5

Review

Ennis Del Mar (played by Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) first meet in the 1950s, when they take jobs as shepherds in the mountains of Wyoming. Eventually, they find themselves falling in love with each other and begin a relationship. However, they have to part once the summer is over. Ennis marries Alma (played by Michelle Williams) while Jack marries Lureen (played by Anne Hathaway), the daughter of a well-off businessman. Several years pass, Ennis and Jack both are settled in their lives and then they decide to reconnect. In an era when social attitude to homosexuality is mostly negative- and also because they both have families- they try their best to keep their relationship a secret, but this relationship goes on to impact the lives of themselves and those of the people around them.

''Brokeback Mountain'' is such a breathtakingly beautiful film. The chemistry between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect and extremely touching. The film explores the various complexities of human relationship and human nature. Ennis and Jack love each other but they cannot reveal that to anybody- partly because of the society's attitude to homosexuality, partly because they have families. Alma- Ennis' wife- has no fault but she feels emotionally shaken when she comes to know that her husband is carrying on a relationship with another man- and it is natural for her; she cannot be blamed in this case. Nor can Ennis be blamed. This is where life has brought them to. This is just how complicated human nature is. Or perhaps it is not the people involved who are wrong- but it is the society that is to be blamed here? Would Jack and Ennis have to go through so much trouble in the first place had the society not been so intolerant?  Couldn't they continue their relationship, instead of getting married? They would have been so much happier had it not been for the society. Ultimately, their relationship- and repressed feelings- made them suffer and made their families suffer- because nobody can ever be happy leading a double life.
 
The screenplay is excellent, the performances (particularly those of Ledger, Gyllenhaal, Williams and Hathaway) are great and the cinematography is beautiful. ''Brokeback Mountain'' is a heartbreaking, emotionally overwhelming and deeply beautiful film.





Saturday, 3 June 2017

''All About Eve'' (1950 film)- Review

Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz 
Released: 1950
Country: United States

Genre: Drama

Rating: 5 out of 5

Review

''All About Eve'' starts in an awards show- the Sarah Siddons Award- that recognizes the best in theater. The young Eve Harrington (played by Anne Baxter), a rising actress, wins an award. Several people present in the ceremony recall how Eve made her way up the ladder- and the story is told in flashback.

Just a few months before, Karen Richards (played by Celeste Holm)- the wife of a famous playwright- had seen Eve waiting outside a theater. A play starring the famous theater actress Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis) had been taking place there. Karen had seen Eve waiting outside the theater before and Eve told her that she had seen every show of the play so far. When Eve expressed her admiration for Margo, Karen was impressed and took her to Margo. Margo was impressed by Eve, felt pity for her (as she said that she had lost a husband in the war and had evidently not had a very smooth life) and took her under her wing. Although initially very fond of Eve, Margo eventually started to feel insecure. Margo had been feeling insecure about her age and career lately (now being in her forties) and Eve's beauty, charm and youth seemed threatening to her. Although others around her thought that Margo had no reason to feel this way, Margo's insecurity grew over the passage of time and it also became evident that had certain plans up her sleeve.

Oh, how I loved ''All About Eve''! I loved the way the story eventually unfolded. I loved the way the characters were developed. I loved everything about it: the story, the screenplay, the way the film is narrated, the performances, everything. This was the second time I watched the film- I had first watched it back in 2013- and this time I loved it way more than the first time! 

The performances, the characters. I have a great deal to say them about them. The performances of the women, in particular, really impressed me. Bette Davis is simply great as Margo Channing. You can understand her, you can understand the reasons for her insecurity and fears. I loved the way Anne Baxter played her character. We eventually get to know the true nature of Eve and when we do, we cannot help being shocked. Celeste Holm, as Karen, is wonderful as well. Thelma Ritter shines in her small supporting role as Birdie, Margo's protective maid.

Gary Merrill plays Margo's boyfriend Bill, Hugh Marlowe plays playwright Lloyd Richards and George Sanders plays theater critic Addison Dewitt. All of them- particularly Sanders- are excellent in their roles.

I am glad that I decided to rewatch ''All About Eve''. I loved and appreciated it way more than I did during my first watch. It is a great film.