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Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Reese Witherspoon, who will always be a southern belle to me tries to reinvent herself as an ex addict on the path of self-discovery. I have a little problem associating Witherspoon with a junkie, even more so when she portrays the reckless kind. In order to cope with her mother’s untimely death to cancer, Cheryl Strayed portrayed by Witherspoon, indulges in reckless behaviour. This impulsive behavior involves sex with random strangers, addiction to heroin, multiple affairs, which ultimately end her marriage to a rather sweet and caring guy – Paul. Based on the popular memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild is Strayed’s attempt at redemption, her endeavor for a second chance at life. 

Wild offered me nothing new, that Into the Wild had not previously offered ; Into the Wild will always be one of my favourite movies of all times.  Strayed has not done anything that Christopher McCandless had not previously achieved. I am more sympathetic towards McCandless’s journey in his endeavor “to measure himself at least once, to find himself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions…” than with Strayed’s journey of salvation and introspection. 

Wild is just one long walk, along the Pacific Crest Trail, interlaced with Cheryl’s back story in the form of hallucinations. Witherspoon as Cheryl packs a comic image as a hiker who has set out to walk a trail of more than four thousand kilometres. Lugging a backpack that is heavier than her, Cheryl barely makes it to the first five miles of the trail across the Mojave Desert.  As it turns out, her difficulties have just begun; setting up tent is another ordeal thereafter which she realizes that she has carried the wrong lighter fluid for the stove. But Cheryl has spunk and she decides to battle it out. She grows accustomed to the grueling walk and meets a host of people during her walk – a solo female hiker like herself, a pair of lecherous hunters, a trio of college students, another solo male hiker, a grandmother and her little grandson. We can only hope that these encounters leave Cheryl a different person. 

Wild is definitely a treat for the audience’s eyes. Yves BĂ©langer’s cinematography captures the authentic, alluring colours and panorama of the landscapes across the Trail. Cheryl is a keen reader as the audience figures out when she fills the log books with inspirational quotes by Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Adrienne Rich and James A. Michener.  Wild seamlessly portrays the monotonous and tedious nature of enduring a journey like this. But it also reminds you that it will be lonely, full of fatigue, often blurring the reality and ultimately inflict you with a rare and exotic kind of alienation.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Broken Horses: A Tale of Brothers. A Trail of Blood.

I have never been a fan of Bollywood and I have always been vocal about that fact. Yes, I hail from the land of Bollywood but that doesn’t mean that I have to like it. As a child my father made sure that I came across no Hindi movies which he did not approve of; I grew up with the notion that only the naughty kids watch Hindi movies, and I wasn’t a naughty kid. But then I grew up and formed a mind of own and found that not all the movies in Bollywood involved singing and dancing around trees; some were actually good, talking about social issues, fighting for them and making the people aware, as should be the prerogative of a film.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra is famed Bollywood director and producer and I have seen none of his movies. But his Hollywood debut with Broken Horses at the age of 62 caught my eye. Because I am a sucker for someone who has struggled to reach the peak. Very few Indians have dared what Chopra has dared – an entire production in the land of Hollywood, with the entire cast and team from the international film community. 

Broken Horses is a tale of two orphan brothers, with the older one growing up to be on the wrong side of the law. I am assured by everyone that the movie is nothing more than an English remake of Chopra’s cult movie Parinda, which was India’s official entry for the Oscars in 1990. This is what happens when you don’t watch Bollywood movies; I haven’t seen Parinda which is why I was unaware of the plot and went to watch the movie with no expectations of Chopra’s brilliance. Set in the volatile Texas- Mexico border, Chopra attempts to make a modern day western with Broken Horses. 

The movie opens with the assassination of the border town’s sheriff, who is Buddy (Chris Marquette) and Jakey’s (Anton Yelchin) father. Fast forward to fifteen years, Buddy has stayed back and is now a hired kill for the local mob boss Julius Hench (Victor D’ Onofrio) while Jakey has moved to New York and is an established violinist. Jakey is engaged to be married to Vittoria (Maria Valverde) when Buddy calls him one day and tells him that Jakey will have to come home to see his wedding present. Though hesitant about going back home, Jakey eventually decides to go back, guilt ridden for having abandoned his sibling. Buddy’s wedding present turns out to be a stunning lakeside ranch. Immersed in further guilt, Jakey decides to visit his old music teacher and soon becomes enmeshed in the town’s violence when he is forced to kill one of Hench’s goons in self-defense. 

The story of the reunion of two estranged brothers, representing the two sides of good and evil has been a Bollywood fixture for a very long time. Sure the drama is silly and soppy and Bollywood veterans say that it is a poor caricature of Chopra’s Parinda, but I truly appreciate the effort and amount of courage that Chopra took to undertake such a magnanimous venture. There is no less melodramatic scenes in Broken Horses than you will find in a Bollywood movie, but truth be told I have seen far worse Hollywood movies. 

Broken Horses received mostly seething reviews and Hollywoodland wrote it off for being too over-dramatic and simmering with too much Bollywood flavor. Even though I could guess where the action was headed for, I enjoyed the movie.  Chopra has his own vision of a western and he sticks to it in spite of living in the twenty first century.  Despite the use of the modern concepts in the form of smartphones and border patrol, this western feels timeless with the set design echoing the golden age of Hollywood westerns. The long shots of this small border town against the sun set was exhilarating, bringing freshness to the movie. In a world where the macabre and the gory is juxtaposed with everyday living, I feel that we sometimes need to go back to the basics and remind ourselves, through silly, melodramatic movies that there is still love and goodness in the world.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wild Tales

A multi-story feature film is not a very popular genre among cine lovers. For one, having to conclude one story and then start with another story in the very next frame, interrupts the often pensive and illusory effect of the movie. And the other obvious reason is the unevenness that seeps into the film: some stories will always be better than the others, especially if multiple film makers are involved in the project. Despite these inherent drawbacks of the multi-story feature film genre, Wild Tales packs a surprise punch and comes across as a bizarre revelation.

Wild Tales is a ludicrous anthology of six stories revolving around the central theme of violence and vengeance. It is a comic take on human behavior at its extreme. Director Damian Szifron shows the audience that it is a mad, mad world we live in where if we are pushed a little or close to the edge, we are all too eager to do the worst to other.  This black comedy is filled with cynicism, with its brilliance lying in its combination of excess violence and ordinary scenarios. The violence is showcased in such a manner that even though extreme, it borders on being preposterous and outrageous. Having only one commonality, which is the theme, Szifrom says that the six stories are “the undeniable pleasure of losing control.”

Each of the stories begins mundanely until they take a Roald Dahl-ish twist which unsettles the audience. The first story is about an unexpected reunion on an airplane. Midflight, everyone on the plane realizes that everyone on board has one common acquaintance: ‘Pastarnak’, as is the name of the segment. The look of anxiety and shock of all the passengers when the airhostess announces that the co pilot is named Paternek and has locked himself in the cockpit is both funny and scary at the same time.

The next story –‘The Rats’ raises a very practical question: Once rat poison is past its expiry date, does it become more or less potent? The backdrop of this dilemma is shown to be a young woman’s desire to see her father’s oppressor punished when he walks into the diner she works at. While at one hand she wants to see the corrupt official who drove her father to suicide suffer, but at the same time she is aware of the consequence of her desire.

‘Road to Hell’ is a masterful combination of road rage and class conflict.  When a snazzy corporate fellow in his new Audi sports car overtakes a country driver in his old pick up, what ensues is mindless chaos and mayhem. 

The next two stories – ‘Little Bomb’ and ‘The Proposal’ is soaked in social satire where Szifron showcases indignation at the complacency and unresponsiveness of Argentina’s ruling classes. Simon Fischer a law abiding demolition expert vows to extract appropriate revenge when his car is towed and he is forced to pay both a fine and some more to release his car even though the space was not marked as tow away zone. ‘The Proposal’ is every rich parents’ nightmare. The parents are woken up in the middle of the night by a sobbing son, who has been drinking and has hit a pregnant woman and run from the scene. Enter the family lawyer, who hatches a plan with the father to have the family gardener take blame for the crime in return for half a million dollars. The father agrees, until he is asked by the lawyer, the prosecutor and the other investigators to be given pay offs as well. As an expert negotiator, the father manages not to get swindled by the corrupt officials while at the same time keeping his son from going to prison.
Like all Shakespeare’s comedies, the last story of Wild Tales involves a wedding. The wedding becomes a sexual transgression and a tale of vengeance when the bride gets to know that the groom had slept with a wedding guest. It is a story of love and jealousy that blows up the wedding. 

The opening credits are rolled out with a series of images of wild animals – a hawk, a bear, a tiger. The implication is that the audience will see the grizzly nature of man and that within every man resides a beast. But animals aren’t interested in vengeance; it is only humans who strive for such egomaniacal savagery.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Secret in Their Eyes

Benjamin Esposito has a tough time at the beginning of the movie; he just cannot find the right words to express his feelings. I am very much in the same boat as Benjamin. I happen to have the worst writer’s block ever. But like Benjamin, I steel myself and start afresh. 

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) attempts to write a crime book, based on a now cold case that has been haunting him since the days he came across it as a judicial criminal investigator. The audience is then shown flashes of the crime; it is violent, it is brutal and it will make you take at least one sharp breath. Benjamin is visibly disturbed by the recollection of these memories and he stops. He goes to visit his old boss, a judge Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), with whom he had worked on the case.

The meeting of old colleagues is a joyful one. But after the initial pleasantries, Benjamin comes clean about his motive behind his visit. He tells Irene that he wants to write the Morales case, which had always plagued him. Irene is clearly taken aback and is not quite agreeable with the decision and even mocks Benjamin by saying “But you are not a writer.” But she gives him her blessings and presents him with the old typewriter which Benjamin had previously used during his tenure as a criminal investigator. 

Thus, The Secret in their Eyes initiates a captivating back and forth journey through time between the 1974 and 2000 Buenos Aires. This journey makes the audience privy to both the crime and the unavowed feelings that had always existed between Benjamin and Irene. The appeal of The Secret in their Eyes lies with its enigmatic and lithe quality. The approach is deliberately digressive and ruminative. It deliberately distorts the genre lines and the story telling techniques. It is both a murder mystery and a love story. It is also a political allegory about the 1970’s Argentina, of its diseased right wing politics. In a world where killings, vanishings, and rubbing outs was an everyday affair, Argentina in the 1970s is an ideal setting for the film noir.

Benjamin’s obsession with the cold case is his attempt at redemption, for a second chance at love with the woman he had loved for the last twenty five years. Darin makes a seductively melancholic yet unexpectedly gallant hero to Villamil’s perfect woman as a tall brunette with soulful eyes.  As the title of the film suggests, The Secret in their Eyes is heavily made up with close-ups. The camera is forever gazing intently over the faces of the characters to decipher ‘the secret in their eyes.’