Thursday, February 24, 2011

TOY STORY 3 (2010)

(As posted on Critical Twenties )

I’m going to risk sacrilege here.

Pixar is not, as many say, the new "golden age of Disney".

Pixar is much, much more.

Sure, Disney’s tales were nice enough: the “Little Mermaid”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Aladdin” – healthy doses of escapism with pat moral truths, often leaning on the Brothers Grimm catalog and twisting those stories into more palatable entertainment fodder for the masses. This, they did well – but that’s about it. They gave us nice, feel good fun. When I think back through a haze of nostalgia to my childhood days of revelling in the splendour of Disney, I find its often just that – nostalgia.

And Pixar? Pixar movies are often, simply put, casually transcendent. Its about time we stopped comparing cheerful fluff that other animation studios churn out with any given Pixar outing; its simply unfair to the others. At any rate, let’s see where this particular offering stands.

Toy Story 3” does not, at first glance, have a lot going for it. The fact that it’s a sequel is crippling enough, but that it’s the third part of a trilogy puts in the potential company of, oh, “The Godfather – III“; “Spiderman 3“; or “X-Men:The Last Stand“. Notice the pattern? All third instalments of once great franchises that were astonishingly underwhelming – and that’s being kind. The plot itself, when I saw the first trailer, threatened to be a rehash of “Toy Story 2″, so really, TS3 has no right to work, let alone scale the stellar heights we now take for granted from this studio.

But folks – this is Pixar. And so, against all odds, the wizards of animation have fashioned the strongest instalment in the Toy Story franchise, and arguably one of the better films in a very impressive oeuvre.

Our plastic heroes remain timeless – unfortunately, their owner Andy is growing up and now gets ready to head down to college. Fun and games come to a stop as the toys wonder about their fate: Woody is picked by Andy to accompany him to college, the rest land up at a day care centre. All seems well … a little too well actually. Before the toys know it, they’ve entered a darkly dystopian existence, and must get away before, well, their parts fall off or something.

Out of this barebones premise is fashioned a movie that is frequently hilarious and inventive: the great escape scene is one of the most inventive of its ilk that you will encounter in cinema, and Buzz-the-toy-astrounaut-spouting-flirtatious-Spanish is simply inspired. But what makes the movie truly wonderful are the moments when it reaches for the gut. Two incredible scenes towards the end form this movie’s one-two punch, as the characters are confronted with mortality and adulthood. In a moment that serves as a re-introduction as well as a fond farewell, Andy tenderly bequeaths his prized possessions to a little kid. I can give no greater praise for this movie, or for the universality of Pixar’s magic, than point out that both my 11 year old sister and I had strongly emotional reactions based on completely different reasons at the conclusion of the film. She sat in rapture at the little kid getting a new treasure trove of toys – and I reacted to Andy’s final goodbye to his childhood, and to the toys themselves resigning to the idea of mortality with barely controlled tears.

So what’ll happen Oscar night? “Toy Story 3″ will definitely lose out on the best picture award: not because it isn’t on the same level of craft as, say, a “Black Swan” or a “King’s Speech“, but because this is the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences that we’re talking about, with its usual abject refusal to look too much beyond well manufactured high pedigree drama. As far as they’re concerned, this nomination is enough of an award for the animated film. Similar, I think, will be its fate in the adapted screenplay category. That leaves us with the perplexing category of best animated film. I’m glad it exists simply because I think this reliably entertaining medium (not genre) of film deserves that kind of recognition. But how is it in any way a race this year, when, like last year’s “Up“, a best picture nominee, finds itself in competition with an obviously lesser lot ?

Oh well, good for you Pixar, anyway.

Monday, February 21, 2011

THERE AND BACK AGAIN: A Tale of the Doomed Hobbit Film

In 2002, the first of The Lord of the Rings trilogy movies released and made much more money than even the most optimistic estimates, was loved by the critics and fanboys and generally changed the course of humanity. In 2004, after the revelry of the 11-Oscar madness died down and the last of the champagne was quaffed, we were left with a cold emptiness. It was over. No more LOTR movies to look forward to; the adorable foibles of Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan were passé; Orlando Bloom stopped being the badass elf; Hugo Weaving turned out to be just a human and/or machine after all. Just long, dreary days stretched out before us, with nothing to look forward to except for the feeble comfort offered by the Extended Edition DVDs (You Harry Potter fans will soon know what I’m talking about, except of course, on much less epic level).

And then in 2007, from the ashes of our hopes and dreams, a fire was woken, a light from the shadows sprang, what were once just foolish rumours, were confirmed: The Hobbit was to become a film with Peter Jackson as executive producer! Not one movie, but TWO! Oh frabjous day! A reason to look forward to the next day, and the next and the next! A reason to check for updates on!

But cruel fate, evil movie moguls and worker’s unions conspired and the movie has still not become a reality. Initially in 2005, there was that squabble between New Line and P.J. And then, the Tolkien Trust joined the party and sued New Line too. That’s when the New Line executives dared to fire Our Saint P.J., call him “greedy” and said he would never direct another New Line film. Needless to say, Tolkien fans lost their shit and (presumably threatened to throw major hissy fits) eventually, New Line went crawling back to P.J. (I doubt fan outrage had anything to do with this decision, but we all want to feel like we were the ones responsible for The Hobbit’s resuscitation, so let us be).

In 2008, the awesome Guillermo Del Toro came on board as director, with P.J. to remain as executive producer. By all accounts, they were getting along like a house on fire. The storyboards were ready, the creature, costume and set designing was underway, filming was to start in early 2010 and everything seemed right with the world. If we couldn’t have P.J. as director, then Guillermo seemed the perfect choice. The Hobbit is not an epic on the scale of LOTR, but more of a fairy tale with dragons, swords and spiders. The man who directed Pan’s Labyrinth was the perfect choice, and P.J. seemed to like him so that was enough for us.

There were delays, and then more delays and MGM had a bunch of problems at its end and placating Tolkien fans was the last thing on its mind and finally in 2010, Guillermo left.

They say that principal filming is scheduled to start next month, but my poor heart can’t take any more disappointments so I refuse to believe it. The good news is, P.J. is back in the saddle as screenplay writer, producer and director. I’m not too worried since he’s a Tolkien veteran and all, but LOTR and The Hobbit are so different in tone, setting and principal characters, that one can’t help but be a bit paranoid.

A quick run through of the story in The Hobbit for those who haven’t read it or those who may have forgotten: Bilbo Baggins (the uncle of Frodo Baggins, the hero of LOTR) is living the quiet, respectable life in the idyllic land of the Shire, when the meddlesome and farsighted wizard, Gandalf pays him a visit at tea-time. And brings with him thirteen dwarves. The dwarves are on a mission: to go back to their ancestral home, Erebor and reclaim all their vast treasures of gold and gems. The only problem is, Erebor is currently the home of the cunning, wicked dragon, Smaug.

Gandalf ropes in Bilbo to join them as their fourteenth companion, and off they go, cursing Gandalf for saddling them with the utterly useless Bilbo. Or so they thought… till Bilbo repeatedly yanks their asses out of the fire.

What we can look forward to:

P.J. made it clear that he wanted as many LOTR characters as practicable to return. And he wants to flesh out the background story in The Hobbit. So we can expect a substantial amount of screen time dedicated to the White Council, Sauron being routed from Mirkwood and of course, setting the stage for LOTR. This makes a lot of sense, because The Hobbit has plenty of sequences when they’re trapped in prison or trudging down a pitch dark path through a forest. This stuff tends to get boring if more than 3 minutes is dedicated to it. Interspersing these scenes with exciting White Council meetings and the Dol Guldur battle would be perfect—and we know P.J. has a great editor who will ensure continuity (remember the masterful juggling of THREE major (and two-ish sub) story arcs in The Two Towers?).

Frodo was not a hero. He never wanted to be one, and just about managed the task of destroying the One Ring because of his good heart and steadfast companion. His reluctance and his fatalistic sense of duty are made very clear. Which explains why Elijah Wood’s (beautiful) eyes had that shocked/pained/sad expression for pretty much 2/3rds of the movie.

Bilbo on the other hand, is as heroic as they come. He is resourceful, incredibly smart, likes shiny things and makes no bones about it, but above all, has his heart in the right place. Within two chapters, he’s already leading the Company, and is pretty much the only reason they make it to Erebor and live to tell the tale. And Bilbo never stopped wanting adventures—yes, the Shire is all very nice to come back to and drink that pint of ale, but his heart really lay on the road and all those strange, wonderful places that they led to. So don’t expect actor Martin Freeman, who has been signed on to play Bilbo, to look scared or sad. I think he has that perfect Bilbo look: a mixture of craftiness, humour and innocence.

(Ian Holm turned down the role of Bilbo, because of age and related problems. But rumours have it, that he may play old Bilbo. Which is infinitely more preferable to Freeman in old person make-up.)

So far, Ian McKellan, Cate Blanchett and Andy Serkis have agreed to return (THANK GOD). Orlando Bloom is also in talks to reprise his role as Legolas. It makes so much sense to have Legolas there during the events of The Hobbit, because he was King Thranduil’s son, and while he was thought of much later by Tolkien, no need to leave him out of the adventures, surely? I also remain hopeful that Hugo Weaving will agree to play Elrond, who has an extremely important role in the book.

Young Saoirse Ronan is in talks to play a woodland elf, Itaril. Since she’s a big star these days, no doubt they’ll pad up the role sufficiently. Hopefully it won’t be some totally unnecessary, space-filler character whose job is to look luminous and speak breathily.

According to IMDB, Christopher Lee is to reprise his role as Saruman, but he has been quoted as saying his age/health doesn’t permit him to travel to New Zealand for the filming. So very possibly, the White Council sequences might be filmed in the U.K.? Whatever the details are, I'm just glad he's on board, because he has some very interesting ideas to show the corruption of Saruman.

As for Thorin Oakenshield, he is to be played by the incredibly handsome Richard Armitage.

Too bad most of his face will be covered by a beard though.

What we hope they won’t do: Like I have said before, the temptation to have a dozen nods and winks to the older movie(s) at every turn is very strong. Look at what George Lucas ended up doing with the Star Wars prequels. I hope P.J. won’t feel tempted to shove in 4 adorable hobbit children, two of whom are playful and mischievous, one is grave and serious and the last one is an aspiring gardener. Strictly speaking, the four hobbits from LOTR were not even born at the time of the occurrence of the events related to the dragon so it would be cringe-worthily stupid to have them there.

I also get that P.J. and crew had a really great time filming LOTR and want as much of the original cast back, but so long as they don’t try to awkwardly shoe-horn characters who don’t belong there, I'm down with it.

Finally, the Dragon. Now, I know that Smaug will be superbly animated, since P.J. spared no expense on the animation budget in the past: in LOTR, the cave troll was life-like, the Balrog terrifies me in my nightmares still and all the other myriad creatures were convincing. Even so, a sentient beast who is famed for being cunning with his words is a sticky proposition that can trip up any film-maker, so we hope P.J. and crew have a game plan in place.

Just make the movie already, guys.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


As featured in Critical Twenties.

There was a point last year when I wrote about the issue of “Queer cinema” continuing to be a genre per se. It was, I felt, about time that Hollywood moved onto stories where the alternate sexuality of the characters was merely incidental to the narrative. Instead, the prime mainstream examples that leapt out – “Brokeback Mountain” and “Milk” – featured the idea of the sexuality of the characters at the fulcrum of the narrative; sexuality-as-the-issue so to speak, either personal as in Brokeback, or political as in “Milk”.

And then along came “I Love You Philip Morris“; a romantic comedy with 2 male A-listers in the lead, a movie that was blissfully unaware about the fact that it was a TRAILBLAZING GAY MOVIE. Nope, here we had the queerness of the characters as an established non-issue from the onset, after which the only concern of the movie was to spin a rollicking good yarn, give us a story for the ages – gay or straight.

If Philip Morris demolished notions of what a queer movie could – and should – be, “The Kids are All Right” cheerfully steamrolls over the debris, giving us a neat little family dramedy that refuses to call too much attention to the casually revolutionary nature of its sexual politics.

Nicole (Annette Bening, who deserves her Best Acress nomination) and Jules (Julianne Moore bloody well deserved a nomination herself) are your everyday married lesbian couple with 2 kids from the same anonymous sperm donor. As they near adulthood, the kids want to know more about their dad, and manage to investigate their way to the charming, laidback Paul (Mark Ruffalo has the most unshowy role of the lot, but does it well enough to merit his supporting actor nod). Paul has no family of his own, and his foray into the life of the settled foursome leads to surprising consequences for everyone involved.

Other than a refreshingly unconventional premise at its core, Kids makes a lot of interesting decisions with its turns of narrative. Some are satisfying; Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore play off against each other remarkably well, and its great watching Ruffalo’s character realizing his long-buried need for family. Others, like the closing scenes, don’t ring completely true – there’s a strangely rushed feel, and a lack of deserved closure for one of the characters.

Bening and Moore’s equation is really at the core of the movie, and the two make for a great screen couple. Bening’s the hard-to-like control freak who has moments of fragility; hers is a wonderfully written character, layered with sarcasm and empathy, and the actress masterfully navigates us through these different facets. Moore complements her with an almost balm-like laid back vibe that begins to ignite with the presence of this new person in their lives. “Marriage is hard” she says, in one tearful scene, and we nod in agreement with her, simultaneously rooting for this one to work. As for the kids, they’re, well, pretty all right.

Come Oscar night, and I think this nicely made, well acted, and well written film will probably walk away without any awards. Its probably the weakest in the movie category, as are Mark Ruffalo’s chances for supporting actor. The screenplay nomination contends with the dizzyingly intricate “Inception”, and the sweeping-but-comic “King’s Speech”, both of which I think will leave it trailing. Finally, there’s Annette Bening’s best actress nomination. This right here is possibly the closest the movie could come to snatching Oscar victory, but there’s a raging insane ballerina fighting tooth-and-nail for this one, and the way things look right now, it’s probably Natalie Portman for the gold.

Friday, February 18, 2011


(As featured on Critical Twenties. To read it there, follow this link.)

Slow motion punch to face and shimmering, flying drops of sweat/blood/saliva? Check.

Protagonist severely losing, till his trainer murmurs something inspirational about love /friendship/family/America in his ear and immediately turns the match around? Check.

At least one or two training montages set to a rousing tune? Check.

Ding-ding-ding, you made Boxer Movie Bingo!

That’s the trouble with making a movie about boxing. It is simply impossible to avoid the tropes. And then, everybody will do you the enormous disservice of comparing your movie to “Raging Bull” — you just can’t come out looking good from a comparison with Robert De Niro’s brand of crazy. However, if you can ignore the superficial clichés and the de rigueur “underdog wins against all odds” plot, “The Fighter” makes for a very good watch.

This is the story of the welterweight professional boxer, “Irish” Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) and how he overcame enormous difficulties before he finally took the WBU Light Welterweight title. Unlike other fighters, Micky’s problems did not include the mob or poverty or race or a barely controlled temper; his problem was his family. His large, overwhelming, smothering-in-love family, who make his decisions for him, apparently for his own good.

And then, there is his half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christan Bale), whom Micky and the entire family idolize and worship like a hero. Dicky could have been numbered among the greatest boxers, if it weren’t for his debilitating crack cocaine addiction. But all of them turn a blind eye to his drug problem, because Dicky once fought and knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard. They still live in that moment, despite that fact that it happened years ago and Dicky does not even have a semblance of a boxing career any more. He could make a come back any old time, they figured, and in the meanwhile, he would help his little brother Micky make a name for himself. So sure were they of Dicky’s prowess that none of them thought Micky had a chance in hell without Dicky’s expertise. Sadly, even Micky ended up believing in that. Dicky may be high all the time, but his word was gold. Admiration can be a funny thing like that.

Micky’s problem is clear, almost 5 minutes into the movie. He just doesn’t want to take responsibility for himself—be it his failures or his successes. He’d much rather place the weight of the decision-making on his megalomaniac mother or his unreliable drug addict brother. This way, if nothing works out, he can shrug his shoulders and say he tried. When the clear error of trusting his mother and brother is made obvious to him, he shifts the burden on his girlfriend and father, who are more than happy to get a piece of the Micky Ward pie. In these moments, you really want to shake him and say, “Be more in control of your life, goddammit!” That is why his real victory doesn’t come within the boxing ring, but when he finally takes the reins for his life.

Oddly enough, the most defining scenes from this movie were not of the boxing matches or even of the lead actor, Mark Wahlberg, but were those of his large family of sisters and father and other relatives, all presided by the matriarch, Alice (Melissa Leo). There is one scene when he is with his girlfriend (Amy Adams), and he is arguing with his mother, and his group of sycophantic chorus of sisters take their cues from his mother to disagree with him in unison. They are like a laughter track from a sitcom or a flock of squawking birds animated by Pixar, and brilliantly effective in conveying the sort of bull-headed mentality of popular opinion one must sometimes put up with. Sure they seem caricature-like, but that is precisely what the director intended. And Melissa Leo is superb, as Alice, sitting in the centre of her web, manipulating and controlling, knowing exactly how to guilt-trip her sons. Many are anticipating her to take the Best Supporting Actress Oscar later this month, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she did.

Mark Wahlberg’s self-effacing performances have finally found a place, it seems. In “The Departed”, he was almost invisible behind all the Hollywood heavyweights, and in “The Lovely Bones”, Stanley Tucci stole the show. But in this movie, he is the yin to Christian Bale’s yang. Christian Bale’s wired performance as Dicky Eklund and his manic energy was one of the real standouts of this movie, and completely deserving of the Oscar he will probably receive. But even Bale’s addict personality would have seemed out of place and discordant, if it were not for the strong, steady reliability that Wahlberg radiates through the movie; and Wahlberg’s character would have been anchorless were it not for Bale’s animal magnetism. They really do complete each other.

Ultimately, despite having a superb supporting cast and a lead actor who did not try to dominate the film, “The Fighter” is simply not one for the ages. The lead up to the climax lacked tension, because, as far as the audience were concerned, Micky had already had his victory where it mattered—at home. So the outcome of the climax boxing match was fairly obvious. In fact, if you read the real Micky Ward’s biography, you’ll find that he fought exactly like every single movie boxer in a climactic scene– he’d taken a severe beating for several rounds and then land that one punch that turns the tables. That was his signature move. So you cant really blame the movie makers for the rather predictable finish. Besides, Micky Ward seems like such an overall nice guy, you really are happy for him and his successes. In any case, ‘suspenseful, shocking climax’ was really not what the director was going for, but it would have been nice if he’d aimed for ‘thunderous ending’ or something to that effect.

There were plenty of great moments of cinema too– Dicky’s slow realization of what his life had become in reality is a stunning piece of drama. The way the boxing matches were shot: from the perspective of the spectators, so the noise of the crowd is loud and overwhelming, puts the movie-watcher right there in a ringside seat. This one won’t be winning any Best Picture awards but I’d recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking for an excellent movie to watch on a Friday night, which is really all that is going to matter three days after the Oscar mania has died down.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Funny forgives a lot.

Messy thrillers, stilted dramas, ponderous epics - throw in the right dash of humour and you have a redeemable movie. More than anything else, this formula works wonders in the rom-com genre : when the rom isn't quite right, you better be nailing the com. And hell, this movie nails it.

The title, besides being accurate, also kind of gives away the entire plot if you've watched more than two movies in this genre. Obviously, there's going to be some kind of pact between the two impossibly good-looking-and-charming-leads (Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher here) where they indulge in non-committal sex, which is going to be lots of fun at first, till someone develops feelings and the equation is hurt. It is then left for the jilter to realize that he/she reciprocates said feelings in the same capacity, and is further ready to act on them. This realization is often preceded by a misunderstanding that the carelessness of the jilter may have cost them their one true love. Kisses and tears and tear-stained-kisses will follow.

Okay, yes, you say, so its formulaic to a fault - and as I've noted before, its going to be difficult for any entry in this genre to transcend the limited trappings that going down this road invoke. No Strings Attached does not transcend the formula on that level. It very, very clearly sticks to the beaten path, resolutely refusing to throw up any kind of narrative unconventionality. The issues that the characters have with being with each are inorganic - the script refuses to really let you understand where they're coming from, and with this kind of two-dimensionality of characterization, the romance doesn't really come alive.

That said, I kind of loved this movie.

Because, seriously, funny forgives a LOT. And like I've mentioned, this movie is often hilarious. A lot of the jokes are steeped in extreme raunch, which is often outrageous and yet never distasteful. The humour varies from bizarre exchanges, to witty quips, through to a series of set pieces that masterfully build up in hilarity. The cast crackles in these situations many of which stayed with me till long after, my possible favourite moment being the sight of a tear streaked Natalie Portman wailing along to Bleeding love while stuffing her face with a box-full of muffins. Its a wonderful payoff to a stray joke set up much earlier in the movie, and it generated enough goodwill to make me give this movie a hearty recommendation.

Also, I can't get the damn song out of my head. Darn that Leona Lewis.

Monday, February 14, 2011


(As published on Critical Twenties. To read it there, follow this link).

Between the 500 million status updates reading, “Just watched that Facebook movie and it is awesome/totally untrue/misogynistic/loveXXX” and Zadie Smith’s review, it’s all been said, and then some. The only movie that I’ve spent more time reading about is “Inception” and its three million crackpot theories. So instead of another review about how this movie totez defines my(?) LOLtastic generation, how about we discuss its prospects at your office’s Oscar betting pool?

Let’s do the easy ones first: Aaron Sorkin is practically a shoo-in for the Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Award. If nothing else, “The Social Network” (TSN) was a dialogue-centric movie. It didn’t underestimate its viewers and it didn’t come off like a bunch of guys wildly hypothesizing on what “smart folk probably sound like”. Sorkin has years of experience writing snappy, witty dialogue for the critically acclaimed TV show, “The West Wing“, and it really comes through in this movie. Besides, Sorkin was the one who wrote, “You can’t handle the truth!“. Give the man an Oscar already.

If it were up to me, I’d give the Best Cinematography award to “Inception” just for the zero gravity fight scene. Otherwise, it’s a close call between Black Swan and TSN. Despite being a movie about entitled computer nerds, TSN was a visually stunning movie, especially the (now much-talked about) Henley Royal Regatta scene. But “Black Swan” just had more opportunities to showcase creative artistic devices and moody lighting, what with all the beautiful women looking scared/ flitting gracefully across the set.

As the (apparently fictional) stony-faced, socially inept Mark Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg was chillingly convincing. From the odd gait to the twisted lips, Eisenberg played the part to perfection. But his real achievement was, despite having to play such an unrelatable character who almost seems robotic at times, he managed to humanize him. While the audience’s sympathies may have been with Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) at having been shafted by his best friend, it was Eisenberg who claimed our empathy. The Best Actor Award– will Jesse win it? Doubt it. He’d have to beat Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech“. Everybody knows that the Academy has an enormous crush on the British monarchy and can barely restrain itself from flinging all its statuettes at movies about them. And Colin has already won at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, both of which are considered good indicators of which direction the wind is blowing. Besides, there was something so endearing about Colin impotently gasping for words, unable to express himself. If Colin wins this one, you won’t hear any cries of protest from the TSN bandwagon.

As for the Best Director Award, the Coen brothers won recently, so I doubt they’ll be taking the trophy home this time. Tom Hooper though, is the dark horse who just may end up taking the prize home, after his recent win at the Directors Guild Awards. For me, it is a close call between Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher—both of whom have made iconic movies in the past and are extremely deserving of every accolade being heaped on them for their latest effort. Fincher ought to beat out Aronofsky because it takes a special kind of skill to make a movie where computer programming+vodka shots is passed off as a nail-biting action scene, and actually manage to get us cheering wildly.

People saw the non-nomination of “The Dark Knight” in the Best Picture category as an egregious lapse on the Academy’s part. [The AMPAS should have been publicly flogged, drawn and quartered. - Alok] Lest they be called doddering old snobs who love them some prunes, the Academy made some major changes to update themselves to accommodate the v2.0 crowd. This meant having younger hosts for the ceremony and having 10 nominations for Best Picture so the cooler movies get nominated too. This whole get-with-the-programme strategy of the Academy also meant they had to invite Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart to the ceremony, but so long as the draw the line at Snookie, I think we can all agree that it’s a fair trade-off, now that movies like “District 9” are finally getting their due.

Of course, it will be a few more centuries before the Academy actually starts giving the Best Picture Oscar to certain genres of movies, so we can safely rule out the following movies from this year’s contenders: “Toy Story 3″ (token animated movie), “Inception” (token sci-fi movie), “Winter’s Bone” (token hard-hitting indie movie) and “The Kids are All Right” (token quirky family drama).

This leaves the following serious contenders: “True Grit”, “The King’s Speech”, “127 Hours”, “Black Swan”, and TSN. Of these, I’ve a very strong feeling that the victor will be TSN. This is, after all, The Year of Facebook. Zuckerberg has been constantly in the news, becoming Time magazine’s Person of the Year and donating millions to charity. Contrary to what Zuckerberg’s PR people feared, TSN does not vilify him. He comes off as an incredibly dedicated, simple guy who is, despite all his billions, just a boy at heart; which is far better press than bequeathing all your money to charity can buy.

A couple of weeks ago, Delhi had a minor earthquake in the middle of the night. All the shaking woke me up, and since my computer was right there, I lost no time in updating my Facebook status to “Earthquake!” patting myself on the back for being the first. And that’s when I noticed that at least 3 people had already updated their statuses about the earthquake. This could only mean one thing: these people were updating their Facebook statuses during the earthquake instead of, oh I don’t know, crawling to safety under their desks.

Yes I don’t think we need to worry about the imminent zombie apocalypse finishing off humanity any more—we’ve already lost our sense of self-preservation. Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg! How about, in retaliation we get Hollywood to make a movie about how you (probably) stabbed your best friend in the back, make it a box office success AND critically acclaimed (you know the twain rarely meet) and ironically talk about it endlessly on Facebook?

Your move, Zuckerberg.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


So, you know those movies where a guy finds out he has two months to live and sets about doing all those things he wanted to and rebuilds friendships and generally leaves the world a better place? This isn't one of those.

Javier Bardem, in his Oscar-nominated performance, plays Uxbal, a man of complex moral choices. He contracts with an underground ring of pirated manufactured goods that exploits Chinese labourers, and yet, regularly pleads with their employers to provide them with better working conditions. He bribes policemen on a regular basis, but regularly visits his African illegal immigrant employees and their families. He keeps going back to his wreck of a wife to rekindle their wreck of a relationship, but is a loving father and is the one stable thing in his children's lives. He skives pennies off every single deal he makes, and yet, is unflinchingly generous to anybody in need. If anybody other than Bardem has played Uxbal, it would have been unconvincing and discordant. But, Bardem, being the incredibly diverse actor we know and love, he makes Uxbal work.

My favourite scene is the movie is when his maddening wife comes back home high as a kite and romantically says, "Look at the stars in the sky. Aren't they beautiful?" To which Uxbal replies, "Marambra, those are not stars, that's your nervous system."

With many movies or books, you gain a new insight every time you watch it. These movies are works of art because of those layers that each have a story tell, but without disturbing the other layers. In fact, a truly good movie has more than just one story to tell-- take any really good movie apart, and you'll find that it resonates with people for completely different reasons.

I for one didn't see it, but apparently in Ben-Hur, Gore Vidal created a homoerotic subtext to the relationship between Messala and Ben-Hur-- with Messala as the rejected, vindictive lover and get this, Charlton Heston was deliberately kept in the dark about this! Adds so much background to the movie, doesn't it?

Or take Singin' in the Rain, which could be a delightful little musical with those now-classic songs. But also such a cheeky satire of the film industry -- and still so relevant today! (Too bad we have more Lina Lamonts than Kathy Seldens nowadays) And do I even need to mention the historical and cultural significance of the songs, "Beautiful Girl" and "Broadway Melody"?

Biutiful tries very hard to be one of those movies: it could be a movie about a dying man and his choices, it could be a movie about racial tension in Barcelona, it could be a movie about a (non-quirky) dysfunctional family, it could be a movie about the grimness of poverty. Unfortunately, what we saw on screen was a movie about none of these things. It tries so hard to be everything, that the layers clash with each other, leaving the viewer most dissatisfied. No doubt Bardem was great as usual, but even his broad, manly shoulders were not enough to carry this movie.

I suppose a movie that tries to show how contradictory people can be, is bound to be contradictory itself, and therefore very unsatisfying. Which is unfortunate, because the director Alejandro González Iñárritu has shown us in the past, with 21 grams and Babel that he is extremely capable of handling very disparate elements and creating a great movie. Alejandro, it would do you well to remember what a great Jedi Master once said, "Do or do not. There is no try."

Friday, February 4, 2011


After every season of Dexter, I ask myself, "How in the golden globes are they going to top that next year?" And every year they find a way, and how.

For those who haven't watched Seasons 1-4, stop right here: Spoilers ahead. Also, go do yourselves a favour and watch them all. For those who haven't yet watched season 5, don't worry-- I wont give away any endings to the mysteries, but I will be discussing the plot lines.

The Dexter Morgan we knew from season 1 is all but gone. That Dexter didn't feel human, was disconnected, had no sense of the past, felt no emotion or bond with anybody. Everyday was a charade for him. He relied on nobody, and needed none to lean on. His devotion to his father, Harry was unquestioned: as far as he knew, Harry saved him and equipped him for the battle that would be life. But, like I said, that Dexter is gone.

Somewhere between discovering his bloody past and the relentless love, tolerance and devotion showed by his sister, Rita, her kids and even his colleagues, Dexter was practically dragged back into society, kicking and screaming. And we were all so happy for his self-discovery at the end of season 4, when he realized that he didn't need to be a monster; that he could be a good father and a loving husband, that his smiles and jokes need no longer be a charade. Which is why, it hurt so bad, at the end of season 4 when he discovers Rita and Harrison in the bathroom.

Season 5 picks up the story, right from the moment when he discovers Rita. Dexter is numb and blames himself for her death, feels himself regressing back into his non-human self, when he never had to feel any pain or emotion. When he did not bring death to people who loved him selflessly. It isn't easy for him to close himself off from people anymore-- too many people count on him, especially his three children. And his guilt for Rita's death wont be easily assuaged. He decides to undergo some old fashioned murder-therapy by killing an odious man who has been murdering young women-- except, the kill goes horribly wrong. Turns out, this chap has a live victim in his house, and she saw everything.

While the last season was about Dexter's anxiety about being a good father, this season has him trying very hard to be a father to adolescent Astor. And boy is she a handful! He worries that little Harrison too would be 'born in blood' like him, having been witness to his mother's murder. He fears that his little 10-month old son will also be haunted by a Dark Passenger.

The other interesting change is that Dexter has almost unconsciously become dependent on people. In the other seasons, he realized that he HAD to be alone-- his last efforts to confide in people went so terribly wrong, what with crazy Lila and crazier Miguel Prado. But this season, he knows he cant do it alone anymore, and doesn't even try. From a Superhero Irish nurse to another person who was 'born in blood'-- he needs them now. And that perhaps, is Dexter's biggest milestone in humanization.

The other masterfully portrayed subject was his coming to terms with Rita's death. In the beginning, Dexter never loved anybody, not even Rita. She was a useful cover because she had two lovely children and was too emotionally scarred to want to be intimate with him. But it changed-- she wanted more from him. Perhaps that was one of the biggest factors in his humanization: that she refused to believe in his darkness, but only in his inherent goodness, and that she felt he would be a great father. He suddenly wanted nothing more than to live a normal life, and be the person she thought he was. And when she died, he realizes that all those things he felt for her and the turmoil from her loss is what everybody calls 'love'. He realizes that he is capable of love, after all.

In the last season, Dexter was Arthur Mitchell's apprentice (sort of) but this time, he takes on the role of the master to an apprentice. And it makes for a very fresh insight into Dexter's psyche because we've never seen him work with anybody before (except those disastrous times in seasons 2 and 3). His apprentice is played by the lovely Julia Stiles whose combination of steel and sadness is breathtaking. And Dexter's interaction with her has never made him seem more human.

While Season 4 ended on a bitter note, that he was some kind of an ill-luck charm for everybody around him and that he could never have that normal life, season 5 ends on a very hopeful note. Perhaps his son wont have sociopathic tendencies after all, perhaps he will be able to live the normal life and best of all, perhaps he may be able to say goodbye to his Dark Passenger.

My only quibble with season 5 was that the central antagonist was just not satisfying, after having watched John Lithgow's consummate portrayal of Arthur Mitchell in season 4. Arthur Mitchell has to be one of the coldest and most well-developed antagonists to have graced the television, so it is understandable that bettering that act would have been nothing short of a miracle.

(Read on only if you have watched Season 5)

As you may know,
Dexter has been renewed for a season 6. What can we expect from this season? Well, for one, the whole Kyle Butler angle was not resolved in season 5, so that will probably come back (along with the Mitchell family).

Second, Quinn now knows for sure that Dexter has something to hide, but will he do anything about it, given how cozy things are getting with him and Debra? Or might this be the season when Debra learns the truth about her brother?

Astor's no longer a child and nor is Cody, so he'd have to be especially careful about his nocturnal activities now given how sneaky and curious kids are (assuming they come back to live with him).

Finally, the big question on everybody's minds is, will Lumen come back? While I want her to, I don't think she will. What Dexter and her had was an idyll, and I don't doubt what they had was true love. Now that her vengeance is complete, it is only right for her to move on and for Dexter to let her go. But my greatest hope for season 6 is that Dexter is finally able to let go of his inner demons.