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Mar 10

Posted on Monday, March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

a reluctant man goes out in search of harmony, a half-hearted pursuit he heads back from to find dissonance.

i recognise where i am. i am on foot on the road that leads to bommanahalli signal from home. its dark, its night nearing dawn. all the streetlights are lit, its a rare sign. half the lamps here never work on the best of days. i seem to know where i am going, although I never question why. there is something off about the way things are. the petrol bunk that’s supposed to function 24 hours is open, well-lit but there is no one manning it. its not abnormal at a godforsaken hour.

when i reach the signal, it doesn’t strike me at first but then it sinks in. there aren’t any vehicles on the ever busy hosur road. that certainly is strange, even if the watch shows 5 am. not just that, there isn’t anyone about, not a soul. where is a everybody? it is 5 am but there has got to be cabs plying and interstate buses entering the city. the milkmen and newspaper men whose profession behests a pre-dawn presence are nowhere to be seen either.

i jog the stretch from the bommanahalli signal to silkboard. i can live with the absence of people and vehicles but the resultant silence is disconcerting. i land my feet heavily on my sneakers to send ripples through the silence and keep me company. it works but the moment i stop, it envelopes me back, shrouding me in its mystery. this is going to take more than just running. i have never walked this flyover on foot so i look around and at its highest point there is a cool breeze blowing and the jogging had tired me out so i take a break and sit on the wall. it reminds me of a bridge somewhere that had water gushing underneath. here there is only the black road and no vehicles on it either.

as i pass koramangala bda complex and head towards sony world signal and notice that all establishments are open, their signboards lit but there are no people in it, my discomfort starts to become unsettling and it reminds me of a movie i had watched long ago. not to allude that sony world signal was times square or that i was tom cruise but things here are getting blown out of all proportion that if i looked at the mirror, i wasn’t sure what i will see.

all along the way home, things were the same. just broad strokes of absence and silence. i reach home, climb up the stairs, enter the kitchen and get myself a drink. i am sweating profusely and also dead tired. a nap should fix things real well i think and enter my bedroom. who is this sleeping in my bed? i get closer and realise its me, however that can be. there is no doubt that, that there, that is me. there is a book open in my hands and enough space in the bed for the two of us. i creep back in silently and when i wake up, the book slips away from my fingers.

Mar 10

Posted on Monday, March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

this week’s episode of true detective had an interesting line – “you know sometimes people mistake a child, as an answer for something. you know, like a way to change their story”. presumptuous lines although in the context of extracting a confession from a devil-worshipper that gives birth for sacrifice, they are not impertinent. as an aside, this show is interesting although this episode was a bit weak, relatively.

a child does change your story but that should be a consequence not a cause, like a marriage – although the countless films with “oru kaal kattu potta ellam sari aayidum” dialogue might disagree. i stuck rigidly to my habits and slacker schedule after marriage, thanks to an impervious self and an accommodating wife. the son however has seeped into a self weakened by love and responsibility. i perhaps for the first time understand the word “busy” although it doesn’t carry the negative connotation usually associated with the word.

the wife, like all new mothers has been wrapped around the son’s 5mm little finger. its endearing to observe this unique relationship of selfless-giving blossom from close quarters. a life nourished for months as one in the womb fails to take a self of its own just because the cord is cut. it lingers as one at least for the initial few years until a division of the self happens forming two distinct minds.

my mother, the new grandma has had a massive transformation as well, perhaps to keep up with us. apart from frequently recollecting her motherhood and enjoying the grandson’s gibberish and gooey kisses, has had a fresh lease of energy to learn new things. from veena and keyboard to tailoring classes for designer blouses to improve her expert level, she really has gone all the way to change her story.

Mar 10

Posted on Monday, March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

“the characters and events in this movie are fictional, any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental”. if this was the effort a fiction took to declare its stand on the subject being portrayed, albeit for self-serving reasons like avoiding a lawsuit or backlash, shouldn’t movies that claim to be based on ‘true events’ be more honest and responsible? does one have to watch movies always to be ‘entertained’? guaranteed that entertainment value is an essential common denominator, but why should a documentary or a biography be judged on entertainment value? this is basically the problem where movies ‘based on true events’ act like tabloids sensationalizing a fact to titillate.

it is ok when a movie like ‘the conjuring’ does it (yes it is supposed to be based on true events) but when a movie like ‘argo’ does it, you are essentially alienating a race for a false sense of superiority. one of my fav movies for this year ‘dallas buyers club’ is supposed to be based on true events too but two of the supporting characters in the tale did not even exist in real life. it was a creative liberty but it did not alter how it told the actual tale of the protagonist, who was of more importance. it did not twist facts to make one appear more saintly than he is. ron woodroof is portrayed as a racist homophobe. that to me honesty in telling a story based on true events. when a true event your story is based on is ‘x slapped y’, you cannot embellish it into ‘y slapped x first’, ‘y instigated x, x slapped y’ and so on. that is simply deplorable and dishonest.

Mar 10

Posted on Monday, March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

hands on the cheek with the bright white light of the conference room oblivious to the monotonous drone, there is a spot on the veneer of the conference table. it cannot be wear and tear unless someone wore it with deliberate purpose. such wear shows intent and disgust of the proceedings. my eyes cannot tear themselves off the wear as the man talks of using getResource() along with getSingleton(). Yes, that will be the solution for all our troubles. getSingleton() people, that is the secret recipe in case you did not know.

there is coffee in the paper cup, a white board on a white wall and markers of all colors and aged projectors that cannot show a thing in the darkest of nights. that buckle of his belt, is that a bull? perhaps a goat. yes, a goat chewing a mouthful of cud on a winter’s evening in italy that inspired an italian designer and now it adorns an oversized waist like cleopatra’s crown. what has a goat or a bull got to do with an oversized human waist in a sterile conference room?

the man next to me would not feel out of place in an opera he has no clue about. i squint as if squinting my eyes at a smaller aperture at getResource() is going to make my life infinitely more meaningful. i smile at the source of the drone and nod meaningfully making the source of the drawl disproportionately proud. i glance at my watch and a grand total of 3 minutes have passed. i untie my shoelace and tie it again, repeat it with the other foot, scratch my face in an attempt to pry my eyes out of the land where time never budges. someone has a doubt in getResource(), there always has to be a guy who does and then the fire alarm goes off saving us all the ignominy

Mar 10

Posted on Monday, March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

grandma’s chicken curry, the occasional soup of lamb trotter bones, freshwater fish full of loose bones that posed a big risk to the palate and gums but braved nevertheless – i was not brought up a vegetarian when i grew up with the grandparents. my mother she was a different kettle of fish, pardon the pun. she gave up and became a vegetarian somewhere along the way, claims it was a vow she took for my good health, hasn’t looked back. for a long time when i grew up with my parents, i was turned vegetarian. i never put much thought into it, what when there were things like homework, assignments and tests to do and sports to not participate in.

this long gap of eating leaves, pulses, tubers and grains perhaps left me severely deprived that once i moved away from home, i have perhaps overcompensated. i added pork and beef to the list. it really is indefensible, i cannot pretend i don’t know where meat comes from. for someone who wants to come across as sensible, when my vegetarian friends ask how i justify loving animals on the one hand and eating them on the other, i have presented utterly horrible arguments to justify by stance. i reiterate, it really is indefensible, morally and ethically.

some of the most gory images i remember from early childhood are from passing the butchers at the small town i went to school in. it is hard to to digest when you know that your food trembled and crapped in the cage in fear as the butcher’s hand reached out for it. i am writing this to confront this hypocrite in me. i have always loved cows, grandma had a few when i was very young. another image that comes to mind vividly is of the cow that had to be given away because it was dying of old age. grandma was inconsolable and refused to eat anything and was in tears wondering what they would have done to the poor creature. i was young but it did not need explaining, it affected me plenty.

is a cow’s life worth more than that of a chicken? are either of them worth more than that of a mosquito you swat? is ‘i eat because it tastes good’ a good enough argument? maybe we give ourselves more importance than we ought to. we did not choose our palate, nor our digestive system, being omnivores as we are. we ought not to feel superior and feel this moral obligation to protect something lower in the evolutionary and food chain perhaps, or perhaps we do, its a matter of personal choice and until then i have this cognitive dissonance to deal with.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

sometime in september i started reading proust’s remembrance of things past/in search of lost time vol 1 (swann’s way). he filled 7 volumes of 500+ pages each with words that tumbled out in a chain out of the protagonist’s involuntary memory triggered as he tastes a piece of cake dipped in tea. i never got past 100 pages or so and chucked it as i found it a very difficult read and wondered why it was so highly rated. i realize now after 3 months what a big influence just those 100 pages may have had in my thought and writing since. i should pick it back up and finish reading it in the new year.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

we would know the year is ending when the calenders started to arrive, usually around the first week of december but sometimes as early as november. it helped to have relatives in all sorts of small businesses as each one would give us one or sometimes even a bunch to distribute, as a keepsake that doubled as an advertisement. i would collect them, sort them by their appearance and usefulness and wait with anticipation until the 1st and choose appropriate spots for each chosen one to hang, depose the old, and dispose the rest. the few diaries for the fresh year that i got were tastelessly abused to practice math.

the daily calenders, blending the arcane with the mundane, hosted a whole gamut of useless information from a daily horoscope to moon phases to astrological predictions for a lizard landing on various parts of your person, required everyday attention of tearing away the pages or rubberbanding the days as a bunch – something that’s fun at first but quickly becomes a chore long before march arrived. the monthly planners required lesser maintenance and were more useful as well to spot that oncoming holiday and so adorned each room. of course, spotting and counting holidays in a new calender had to have been an essential exercise for most if not all of us.

another year is ending, no calenders have arrived. physical calenders are almost an outdated entity – its a testament to how much time, how many years have passed since those days i am fondly writing about. new years’ have so far been an affair reminding me of the future or just the year gone by, but once a few quantifiable bunch of decades go by, it has also slowly become a good vantage point to gaze backward at time and inward at the self.

if you have read until this point of this probably incoherent reminiscence, let me stop right here and wish you a very, very happy new year!

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

grandpa is 80 but still tills the fields. he doesn’t have the need, nor does it give him joy. he can only see through one eye, cataract took the other decades back, his best days are behind him and he is not as strong as he used to be. why then does a man his age toil I ask him and his reply is a candid “must do”. does “must do” translate to “purpose”? care for his crop perhaps must keep him content.

he takes immense pride in his produce and a failed harvest means a lot more than just financial loss. he refuses to budge from the village if the farm needs irrigation or his shrubs need tending. he thinks it a shame when the paddy fields develop leafspots or a section of the farm wilts. to let his crop shredded by locusts or succumb to weeds or to let a field lie fallow is an affront to his honor.

there is one thing very striking about this place. the sky feels deeper than what i have seen elsewhere, the sun brighter, and the light a very brilliant, harsh, dazzling white. the dew is set heavy on the grass that grows on the sloping banks of the field where i walk, the frogs scatter away frightened and there is the occasional water snake that slithers away making the hair on my back stand up. when it rains, the slush can go knee deep and when its dry, nothing survives here but insects. sitting on the steps of the big old well that is crumbling from the sides as plants have grown through its walls, i figure out the meaning of “must do”.

all his life he has been subjected to nature’s harshness. to survive, you have to push back or else the well will collapse, the locusts will shred or the soil will go arid and uncultivable. his spirit and vigor is inspiring and i make a mental note to look for it within myself in times of trouble. i end my meditation and walk the steps back up the well, to home, to grandma’s yummy dosa and chicken curry.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

there is a man standing on a dark infinite room on a pale floor. the floor is lit with a dull diffused glow, the only light source in the bleak vast expanse. after trudging and stumbling along for what could have been days or years, he finds a ladder. with utmost curiosity he examines it, there is no mistaking what it is. after testing its legs suspiciously and standing on the first rung with curiosity he beings to inch up. a ladder after all is no use unless climbed.

his dull lit floor was vanishing and with it, his bearings of 360 degrees, to be replaced by the two directions – north or south. is this the equivalent of jack’s beanstalk? the stairway to heaven? a jubilant excitement takes over the mixed emotions. what could go wrong with moving up. the dull flatlands offered him no excitement and so with anticipation he climbs on, the fight against gravity filling him with hope.

after what could have been days or years, he got homesick. all he wanted was a moment’s rest on his dull glowing floor, to rest his tired muscles, his back and his head. he hugged the rugged rails and rested his head on a rung when the unfathomable happened. the rung beneath his left foot had fallen off and with great difficulty he clung and hoisted himself up a rung or two. he waited with suspicion and what he feared happened – with a metronomic accuracy, the rungs were falling off from under him, they had been from the time he started but he was too busy to notice. there was no way now but up. he climbed now not with hope but trepidation.

the paradise he dreamt of was never coming, he longed for the day when he would put his hand up and instead of the rung would feel a floor, a helping hand, something, anything but this familiar rung after unwelcoming rung that they always gripped. he had had enough. he let himself fall with the rungs, lost consciousness and woke up after what could have been days or years on his dull and dearest, welcoming floor. he lay there curled up, laughing and delirious at his unbelievable luck that had restored him his floor, his love.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

is he fasting because it comes easy for him? we know he means well and for most of us going without even one meal is hard, so lets all agree fasting straight for 7 days or so is no mean feat. difficulty is relative so if the idea is to achieve something difficult to you and for that achievement to stand as barter for something more tangible, then perhaps the old man must up his ante a bit. why only use fast as the means? is it because you have become good at it?

we must also consider another aspect here, that not of difficulty or barter but that of threat, slow death and extortion. maybe standing upside down for 12 hours, buried neck deep in the sand for 100 days or refusing to use the restroom days on end don’t achieve the same intended effect. the idea of this post was not to ridicule and not written all in jest but to see what ‘fast’ means and why it is chosen as the means.

for someone who has fasted many times for days, does the 100th fast hold the same meaning as the first? maybe you are doing it because you enjoy it anyway?

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

in all the love and effort expended over the decades, her senses and sensibilities have waned away like cheese grated over pasta. she is slow to understand, quick to misunderstand, often ungrateful, very forgetful, letting the milk boil and spill over, the dosa burn and her plants waterlogged, her vision and thoughts focused on distant objects, like a vivekananda looking into the far distance but without the vision, literally and metaphorically. she is not here but somewhere else, like the phone she has lost.

this is probably where i will be in a couple of decades, hearing but not registering, looking but seeing through, eating savory and tasting ash, with perpetually dilated pupils, for i am doomed to care as much. i will probably close my eyes, clench my teeth, clench my fists and be cross with myself for misplacing my glasses. there will be no reprieve, love and care seem to have their caveats.

could this be lived any differently? would faith help? does love always blind or numb all senses over time? faith in religion and god finds reasons to fear when nothing goes wrong and reasons to justify when something does, its cruel and stupid at the same time. there aren’t many ways and there is no magical, undiscovered, unique way for this sentient being to live. there can be fashionable excuses and excusable extremes – mere siren songs, their very existence based on the norm, making them absurd to be justified useful as they will simply vary with the norm of the day.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

“thani oru manithanukku unavillai enil indha jagathinai erithiduvom”

would bharathiyar have supported food security bill? “burning the world if it could feed the hungry” borders on anarchism. i am surprised it did not get (mis)used by our finance minister who loves quoting from the thirukkural, bharathiar or ancient tamil texts to garner support for his budget or for promoting his policies and manifestos.

in his romantic, poetic heart bharathi was a socialist and a lot of times an anarchist. the roots of it can be traced to his poverty that ebbs forth unrelentingly in his ‘lakshmi devi – saran pugudhal’ where he calls the efforts of the poor fruitless – like a light swallowed by a deep dark well (‘kinattrinulle moozhgiya vilakkinai pol, seivadhellam kettu mudivadhum’). there are countless other poems that substantiate the hardships he went through being very poor.

writing as he did under the british rule, anarchism was a given and his socialism is the ideal, romantic form of socialism – not the vote bank version prevalent today. one we have today is designed to keep people barely alive just so they can vote. it is designed to make them as lazy as can be and subservient to the political masters – neither of which bharathi would have voted for – ‘vaedikkai manithar’ shows the steely resolve he wants men to have, subservience is not bharathi.

remembered the lines that started this post as i was having lunch today and the thought led to this post. wonder what ideals of his he would he have changed if he lived and wrote today.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

i talked less and i wrote near nothing because i used to think that everything that has to be said has been said before and everything which deserved to be penned, is already on a paper somewhere, possibly even in print with millions of copies in circulation if the words were worth the life of the dead tree they were printed on.

this was the fallacy of uniqueness i fell prey to – that every idea and every expression of it had to be unique when nothing about any of us is. if each of us were meant to be so unique why do we all have two ears, two noses, two eyes and one mouth and not some arbitrary number of each, except in horror films? and yet each of us dont look unique – almost. if not, we get to accessorize ourselves to be in sync with our inner selves, which we tend to think are unique but again it can be summarized by the human condition with some deviations and exceptions.

i sat drinking my tea after a post-lunch siesta on a winter’s evening – the kind of day where one cannot differentiate 6pm from 6am. when i woke up, i had gone for the toothbrush and spread paste on it when i heard more traffic noises from far than usual that reminded me it was evening and not the morning. some useful yet useless insights surface on such evenings. when i reluctantly brushed, i remembered a line from some random kaufman film that went like ‘there has been nothing new in films since fellini invented the mockumentary’ – yet there are films, films and more films, year after year, thousands of them in all languages, most of them bad even at rehashing, a quest for uniqueness not stopping their existence.

the useful, useless insight here being that i had to write even if i had nothing unique or worthwhile to say, like this post, as its not going to kill any trees in a hurry. someday it might lead to something worthwhile than these snippets that are starting to sound like prefaces and prologues.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

you thought i was looking away. i was only looking at us from the future, of us looking fondly at our little one yet unborn, like little vignettes peeping at each other. you wore your black and white pattern dress in the sun and i my bright cornflower blue polo shirt that day, we were trying to look our brightest best, hoping to mask our morbid selves.

we had our shelter by the beach with friends dearest and a miserly host who had not the food to feed our famished bellies and ravenous appetites. we spent the evening watching the sunset buried in water and sand. twilight then with you and our friends din’t shed a shred of melancholy as is made out in poetry and prose. at dinner, i laughed at the man who was celebrating his first anniversary and professed his undying love for his better half, in public, on a microphone. i laughed? i rebuked, smirked and scorned.

it was early morning and we had gone to pick shells by the beach, there was a lone fisherman tending his net in an otherwise deserted beach and this funny bird which wanted to catch fish but couldn’t fly and was afraid of the water. it would trot up the glistening wake of the waves as quickly as it can and poke the wet sand at least for a crab and run back in time to the shore before the next wave lashed in. that was me then, the funny bird.

we were at a fort that afternoon, built in the early 16th century by the portuguese, captured by the dutch in the 17th century, sold to a king in the 18th century and seized by the british and used as army barracks in the 20th and now a peaceful, beautiful historical monument in the 21st, a bit like our own lives, forts that never saw peace, haunted, hunted and ravaged as forts but finding their peace and purpose as weary beautiful monuments.

in retrospect am glad that the dilemma of that dawn paved its way for the golden light of this day. when i shot this picture of shells that day, i had s&g running in my head with ‘cast in our indifference, like shells upon the shore’ but now i feel that it was our indifference which was cast into the shells upon that shore.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

somewhere along the way i have let my tube of cynicism run dry. i have folded the crimp, rolled it up to the neck and squeezed every last bit in an effort to soothe my rotten soul. all it did was whiten and brighten the muck doing little to cleanse it. i talked in riddles, penned distractions, imagined vulgarities, built a shell and sat nestled in its cozy warmth. it reinforced itself, fed its own offal and grew. i made it a habit and it offered me an escape from everything i wanted to run away from. habits can work up contempt or comfort, sometimes both. this habit of cynicism oozed comfort and trickled contempt that built up ever so slowly.

like the man that was conned into sitting inside a well in some murakami novel, the soul that lands at the bottom of the well can only be rescued when this contempt runs over the brim. until then it can sit in the bottom, waiting for the few minutes of sunlight in the day and the stars at night. soon the passing of the light and dark, the stars and the occasional moon that shows itself over the mouth of the well will get to it enough to shatter the shell, traverse the well, transcend and prevail. there is no longer the need for this cloak, this balm, these insecure delusions. it has its time, serves its purpose and runs its course.

its not all curtains for you cynicism my old friend, as negativity and positivity alternate, its not prudent to claim one prevails over the other but for now, its goodbye.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

inane questions in the shower – what sense would you lose, if you had to give up one? not my ears please was my first response, thanks to the song in my head and on my lips. do you even need ears to listen to the song in your head? will the hot water from the shower feel the same if i couldn’t hear the spray, the splash or the hum of it flowing through the gutter?

the eyes were the next obvious ones to protect from falling prey to my thought experiment. how would i even get to the shower to conduct my thought experiments without my eyes? i cant move about, write, nor read, nor learn anything confined to letters – ruled out. taste? are we talking senseless tongues? are we mad? that dum biriyani and t-bone steak tasting like ash? no thank you.

i cant risk losing the feel of wind in my hair, the change of seasons or the touch of my loved ones, touch be spared. losing the sense of smell would probably also take the taste out of my food but then it would perhaps be the least disruptive, like having a perpetual cold. i finish my shower and smell the shower gel, just to be sure my world wasn’t kafkaesque.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

there he is, repeatedly calling himself an artist, trying to look like he doesn’t try. what’s not shocking, satirical or ironic isn’t worthy of his time. says he sees beauty and claims we don’t. there is not an accomplishment in the day for him if he doesn’t find cunning ways to condescend and stand on the heads of the ones he has put down. in his mission to edify and deliver us from ourselves, spends many a night trying to look like he doesn’t try. in case no one notices he is one, blows his horn till kingdom come and repeats he is an artist, lest we forget.

Jan 1

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

the extended weekend had begun and the festival exodus had commenced. the city was empty, the rains were threatening and i was out without my car, preempting the exodus traffic long after the purge was complete – very me. walking around koramangala was never more pleasurable and the empty restaurants were a welcome sight to me, perhaps not for the owners. i got myself a takeaway and got into the first auto i sighted, and to avoid getting drenched agreed for the dreaded one-and-a-half charge.

the driver, a clean-cut man in early forties, started a conversation about how lovely bangalore was without the crowd and the traffic. he reminisced about the bangalore from the 90s, with its boulevards, unstressed roads and its laid-back charm. he did however mention the day was bad for him in terms of getting ‘savari’ in a bangalore sans its loathsome crowd. the conversation continued and when the driver got to know kannada was not my mother-tongue, complimented heavily on my authentic almost ‘north-kannadiga’ accent (his words, not mine).

i told him i was brought up in a village in TN, near arcot and the driver, to my surprise says he was from timiri, near vellore in TN but was brought up in bangalore from his very early childhood. i asked him if he could speak tamil and after a customary couple of sentences in my favorite language, we involuntarily switched back to kannada. i was amused by how, both of us, not having our roots in bangalore, felt the city as our home, to the extent of discussing how nice bangalore was, without its ‘crowd’. perhaps, speaking kannada, gave us the right to feel marginally superior to the ‘relatively recent’ migrant populace that had left for the festival, to their homes still in their hometowns.

this superiority albeit superficial, is shallow and misplaced, as bangalore has welcomed a lot of us with open arms over the years, and made us its own. kanndigas must be the most warm and welcoming lot and to be one with them, one must embrace that warmth and extend it to the ones newer to the city. having never really put any thought into it in the 10 years i’ve been here, the auto ride dawned on me the fact that this is my hometown now and despite all its warts, i loved it dearly.

Jan 1

read between june-dec ’13

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

lucky jim, kingsley amis, 1954 – am a sucker for brit humour of self loathing and deprecation, be it on print or on tv and found this book on a few top brit comic reading lists. it pokes endlessly at the british class system, academia and relationships with hilarious results and instead of being an all-out plotless laugh riot, makes one curious to know what happens next and hence becomes a difficult read to ration towards the end. there is as much irreverence here as there is some well-thought out exchanges between jim and margaret peel and also between jim and christine towards the end that’s worthy of classic litrary prose which might put some people off if they were expecting humour à la pg wodehouse. 9/10

the moon is a harsh mistress, robert a. heinlein, 1966 – reading this book was like having a very difficult relationship that was so fascinating that you could not break up. i love hard sci-fi but this was ingenious to the level of alienating and punishing the reader but rewarding in the end once done. the moon is a penal colony, rebelling for its freedom from the federated nations on earth and what ensues resembles the american revolution and heinlein borrows heavily from it. the characterization of mike the computer was second only to HAL in 2001: a space odyssey. there is as much hard science here as there is politics and soft sciences tending a lovely balance a lot of scifi books can only dream to achieve. 9/10

the magic mountain, thomas mann – i feel like i have trekked the text – no kidding. there are parts that are excruciatingly difficult like the exchanges between settembrini and naphtha so much so that i dreaded whenever they made their entry. set in a sanatorium in the alps, the narrative never once leaves the confines of the berghof and revolves around its inmates in the protagonist hans castorp, his cousin joachim, clavdia chauchat and peepekorn towards the end – written primarily as allegories for humanism, radical thought, love, dedication and excess. there are parts where the characters represent countries of pre-ww1 europe as well where the author uses a lot of clever literary devices and motifs. ruminations on time is one of the recurring themes throughout the book and one which i loved the most. not an easy read by any means – a better translation could have made it marginally easier perhaps but trekking is not supposed to be easy – it is difficult, demands a lot but then when you reach the summit, you feel satisfied and then recollect all that you have seen – the same applies for this book. 8/10

the narrow corner, somerset maugham, 1932 – a bit too short for a novel and way too weak compared to his other works, this deserved to be a short rather than a novel. strong points are the interesting characters, the asian setting like in ‘the painted veil’ with traces of eastern philosophy that he later went on to expand in ‘the razor’s edge’, and maugham’s resignation which is very apparent that it looked as though he wrote himself into dr. saunders. the plot meanders along with the tide but packs a punch in the end with some captivating maugham prose of unbiased observation and resignation. can be read after reading the other better works like ‘of human bondage’, ‘the razor’s edge’, ‘the painted veil’ or even ‘cakes and ale’. 7.5/10

hegemony or survival, noam chomsky, 2004 – i had no idea this book would be this good in its depth of the subject matter. chomsky covers US foreign policy using cuba and iraq as case studies and brings in nicaragua, turkey, far east as examples to substantiate what he calls ‘the grand imperial strategy’. this should be essential reading to offset the obvious bias of mainstream media. just in case you start to suspect a lot of this can be propaganda, you start verifying a few random references and citations and realize, the man has done his background research well enough as roughly 15% of the book is notes and references. at a time when war can be waged without even declaring one, the book reads very ominous. looking forward to reading chomsky’s more recent works. very highly recommended. 9/10

 

Jan 1

watched in nov/dec ’13

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

the conjuring, 2013 – thrilled and chilled in parts but had an absolute rama narayanan movie ending (exorcising the evil spirit with neem leaves types). the cinematography and the production values were excellent (all that retro equipment in tapes, cameras, monitoring equipment added nicely) but the movie still resorted to darkness, shocks and innocent props for its horror. i like movies that horrify you in the light of the day like ‘the shining’ or ‘the birds’ and consider those as the best classics of the genre. the conjuring is better than the run-of-the-mill horror but is no way near any of the classics. 7.2/10

delicatessen, jeunet and caro, 1991 – if wes anderson, miyazaki and terry gilliam ever made a movie together, this is probably how it would look, except this one predates some of their work. to marry surrealism with a fairy tale like fantasy and to make the grotesque look endearing and to make quirkiness an art form is commendable. extremely creative and cute but unlike amelie that overdid the cuteness a bit and tended to be preachy, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea – (clue: involves making a meal out of men, literally). 8/10

wake in fright, ted kotcheff, 1971 – psychological drama set in the harsh outback. john grant is stuck and has a slow degradation in the yabba turning into a gambler and an alcoholic. the yabba with its heat, lack of hygiene, its devils that love their hell to death and the slow personal transformation and disintegration of the main character are shot beautifully. there is a shocking and gruesome sequence of hunting kangaroos which left a very bad taste (shot from real professional culling). this was very similar and as good as ‘deliverance’, another realistic adventure set in the harsh outdoors of the appalachian trail. the performances are seamless and this is regarded as one of the best australian films although it was made my an englishman – maybe that distance is required to observe a culture unbiased, like nobokov’s lolita or wim wenders’ paris texas. 8.5/10

le samourai, melville, 1967 – moves at a glacial pace and yet keeps you riveted to the goings on. this is my first melville film and i am extremely impressed, as impressed i was with my first godard film. the plot is so simple as to be summarized in 4-5 lines but the treatment is realistic with an abstraction in the plot and a meticulous attention to detail. jef costello is a french assassin who sticks to the samurai code and in the end commits seppuku – its as simple as that but yet you come away with more questions than answers due to some clever scripting. in recent times there two movies that were so similar in temperament to le samourai – ‘the american’ and ‘drive’, especially the latter which is thematically very similar. excellent classic thriller, must watch for the stylistic direction. 8.6/10

enron: the smartest guys in the room, alex gibney, 2005 – we have heard about the enron scandal on and off for years, of it having originated from not having adequate checks and balances, of arthur anderson colluding, of big banks from merrill lynch to citi being involved, of mark-to-market accounting, the california blackouts, the dabhol power plant in india and of unbridled greed but how does it all come together? this documentary is superb in its coverage and presentation of the subject and is a must watch for a definitive understanding. the book is supposed to be more in-depth as well but the movie does a great job in telling the story without sensationalizing it but keeping it interesting with timelines and facts based on investigative journalism. 8.2/10

the night of the hunter – was average until about 45 mins and went downhill on a freefall for the next 45. not very often i’ve been this disappointed with a movie that is rated this highly (in the imdb top 250) while being old (1955). it seemed poorly adapted from a stage script, with cheesy sets, horrible acting and a plot that just turned campy, replete with a lynch mob and a absolutely bizarre climax. was it a mystery/thriller or a morality tale or a children’s fable? who can tell! – 6/10

prisoners, denis villeneuve, 2013 – a bit of gone baby gone/mystic river meets zodiac and excellent while it lasted even at 2.5 hours, as it didn’t have a dull moment. only when the movie ends and the credits roll, the inevitable questions crop up and if you look closer, you can spot a lazy writing or two, excusable nevertheless as the movie entertains well as a thriller. hugh jackman was good, the direction very david fincher-ish but the drama element of loss could have been done better as it only covered jackman’s arc and comfortably left the others less developed. 7.8/10

the burmese harp, kon ichikawa, 1956 – set towards the end of WW2 in burma where the japanese troops were trying to beat a retreat to thailand on foot, a war-weary, conscientious japanese soldier who is gifted in playing a burmese harp and uses it to signal danger to his troops, has one last mission to carry out – to make a troop cornered in triangle mountain to surrender. he fails and ends up a buddist monk. thematically similar to apocalypse now in terms of a soldier becoming estranged in a far away land with a vacant look in his eyes and turning to spirituality. if war/spiritual/musical/b&w is not your cup of tea, stay away from this. on the other hand, if you tick all 4 boxes, there are probably not many movies where you find that combination. 7.5/10

after hours, martin scorsese, 1985 – excellent surreal, nocturnal black comedy on the lines of some of luis bunuel’s works with the feel of polanski’s ‘the tenant’. after having watched it very late into the night, i had difficulty remembering if i had watched the movie or dreamed it. the plot is excellent and moves at a breezy pace of cool night air with visuals of empty bars, vacant streets, neon signs and noises of the night. the plot can be interpreted as a lucid dream, a black comedy or a psych thriller, each to varying effect and depth. there is a lot of frantic yet fluid camera as seen in scorsese’s goodfellas and the editing as well was superb. maybe this is one of his very underrated works. 8.0/10

happiness, todd solandz, 1998 – how black do you like your comedy? this one is disturbingly dark and it is very hard to digest what i have just seen. can a movie be equal parts moving, funny, dark, disgusting, disturbing and pointless? if the movie evokes such diverse reactions, maybe the director has achieved what he set out to do. i am not a big fan of ‘shocking for the sake of shocking’ or ‘art is meant to evoke through shock’ justifications and this one had its fair share of such scenes not all of which were unnecessary. the good thing though is that it never glorifies the villainy but merely sets out to explore and presents it realistically. the script, characters and acting were top notch but this movie really needs a stomach and its ironically named happiness. 7.3/10

Jan 1

watched in sept/oct ’13

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

the abyss, james cameron, 1989 – had been putting off watching the 170 min special edition because of the sheer length. took the plunge into the abyss yesterday and was mesmerized. the claustrophobic setting in the subs, oil rigs and ROVs thousands of feet in the deep seas kept me absolutely enthralled. would this movie have worked with the same plot and characters in a different setting? (arctic? space?, i am not so sure) there isn’t much in terms of plot, the usual unsuitable-for-the-task crew, neurotic-gun-nut villain, the not-so-evil aliens and the we-humans-are-so-f’ed-up discourse and the usual cliches that come along with it. it really did work for me despite these just because of the setting. fascinating. 8/10

pather panchali, satyajit ray, 1955 – this is cinematic perfection achieved through a passion and obsession with realism. the acting or the scene situations never looked forced, the camera capturing the beauty in life, strife and squalor, the mood melancholic without ever getting melodramatic. the characters were all so real with their flaws, with durga being the occasional thief, apu the quarrelsome but kind brother, karuna extremely antagonistic to the grandmother and the old lady equally up to the task and hari being somewhere in between the caring provider and a lackadaisical loser and the neighbour and her hard-as-nails demeanor that gives way to much kindness later on.

there are so many memorable scenes – the one with durga and apu and the stray dog following the sweet seller by the lake where the camera captures their gait through the reflection on the lake, the one where they run towards the train in the fields with apu pretending to be a prince, every scene involving the old hag and the kittens, of durga waltzing through the guava orchard stealing and of the fate that befalls durga.

for being a tragedy, it is strangely uplifting and that to me is a huge achievement. i can’t believe i have put this off for so long. movie for a meditative sunday afternoon. 9/10

shadow of a doubt, alfred hitchcock, 1943 – being one of his earlier works, there are glimpses of the master but this perhaps is the weakest hitchcock movie i’ve watched. the theme he wanted to establish was that a serial killer could live undetected living a normal life in our midst; this however has since been overdone and so soured the experience a bit. seen from that perspective, you can see how this movie was an important influence to many movie-makers later on. it was supposedly the master of suspense’s favorite movie as well – he must have had his reasons. 7.2/10

the prestige, christopher nolan, 2006 – re-watched. one of my fav nolan films along with the dark knight and inception. there is a lot of effort in the script to keep the secret till the end and then pull it off as one neat trick at the climax – much like what borden (bale) in the movie thinks is the neatest magic trick. there are gimmicks that can awe in magic but the best magic trick requires sacrifice and that is precisely what nolan achieves with the nuances in the script to pull off the neat plot twist to awe the viewer without coming across as gimmicky. both christian bale and hugh jackman pull off excellent performances and the direction is top notch, holding the viewer’s attention frame after frame, much like a magician would captivate his audience. do watch if you haven’t yet. 8.5/10

pina, wim wenders, 2011 – one can split hairs over what this should be called. it was more a tribute than it was documentary. i had never heard of pina bausch or her works but was blown away by her choreography and her incorporation of natural elements – be it a stone, a tree, water or gravity into the movements. it would have helped if there were more interviews interspersed along with the visuals as it felt a bit too monotonous and sometimes even tedious and repetitive towards the middle portion. apparently pina died just before the filming started so wenders had little choice but to show her solely through her work, as performed by her dance company. gorgeously shot (check the trailer on youtube) and would have been even more wonderful in 3D. without better coverage of pina the person, the movie felt incomplete. 7.5/10

the lunchbox, ritesh batra, 2013 – had a lot of things going for it – the acting by all the 3 characters irrfan khan, nawazuddin siddiqui and nimrat kaur were splendid and the camera captured a lot of beauty in the mundane and the direction was excellent. the lack of loud garish background score was a big plus and i very much loved how the ambient noises of a bustling metropolis, the alleyways or the familiar middle-class household, with the sound from the kitchen complimented by the sound of a television added to the visuals. the script however was a bit of a let down as the only way the plot moved forward was in the notes exchanged between the characters through the lunchbox which was baby steps every 10 minutes. if the relationship between the minor characters like the daughter, the neighbour and the husband were established better, this would have been an outstanding movie. the core theme of the movie was relationships between a husband and the wife – be it between saajan and his dead wife (holding on to a dead relationship), Ila and her husband (letting a relationship die voluntarily), the neighbour and her senile, comatose husband (acceptance of a dead relationship) contrasted with shaikh getting married to the one he elopes with (hope in a new relationship). the dynamics between saajan and shaikh were portrayed excellently and to me the most powerful scene of the movie was saajan watching the neighbour’s family of parents and kids through the window having dinner together while smoking and snubbing a cigarette alone in the balcony – masterclass. this is the second best indian movie i’ve watched this year after ship of theseus. please go and watch, this is worth a view. 8.3/10

the straight story, david lynch, 1999 – re-watched. tells the story of alvin straight’s journey interstate on a lawn mower to meet his ailing brother with whom he has a long standing dispute. beautifully shot with a lot of memorable sequences that make me go back to this movie every few years. lacks the epic-ness of what such a journey should have been since it is constrained to a handful of important encounters on his way and hence quantizes his hardship. mild life lessons, cinematography and an uncharacteristic david lynch direction make this a breezy watch. 8/10

gattaca, andrew niccol, 1997 – re-watched. a dystopia similar to the sort written by aldous huxley in ‘brave new world’ where genetic engineering leads to serious anthropological consequences. but unlike brave new world, instead of getting itself embroiled in philosophical tangents or entangled in hard science, the plot centers around relatable characters which is one of the movie’s biggest positives. the photography is unique in its vision of dystopia where the brightest it gets is of a sunset dusk or of the bright fluorescence of artificial lights with the rest shot in alleys. must watch if you like dystopic fiction. 8/10

howl’s moving castle, hayao miyazaki, 2004 – such excellent surreal visuals and creativity but this has to be my least favorite miyazaki film thanks to a boring plot and not so memorable characters. seriously, what was up with the ‘witch of the waste’ or with howl looking effeminate with christian bale’s voice!? perhaps my biggest mistake was watching this with the english audio, maybe a lot was lost in translation. the final 30 minutes or so totally lost the plot and i couldn’t wait for the movie to end. 6/10

gravity, alfonso cuarón, 2013 – visually splendid and showcases the latest tech in vfx. we are accustomed traditionally to zooming and panning in 2D and 3D adds a bit of depth but we never move in a dimension that’s contrary to the gravity which acts as a invisible point of reference. gravity, does away with gravity and makes the camera move in true 3D with some outrageous camera angles in low earth orbits. other than the visual effects, the production values were splendid as well with the ISS looking like the ISS and the equipment, be it the soyuz or the shenzhou capsule looking exactly like the originals. the action with the satellite debris and the visuals of our blue planet from low earth orbits sends down chills and awe at the same time.

it is highly unfortunate that a movie that got so much of this nailed suffered from a thorough lack of understanding of basic science – what was this mysterious force that was pulling clooney away from the tether when his momentum had totally stopped? how does one move a ship from one orbit to another merely by pointing it and pressing on forward? wouldn’t that put them in an elliptical orbit? the satellite debris raining as it did from the opposite direction of the orbit made no sense either, eye candy though it was.

the movie also failed by lacking human touch for a survival tale. even danny boyle’s 127 hours, boring though it was, tried to establish who the character was through flashbacks to make us care for their survival. i would think that’s survival tale 101. the dialogues were pedestrian and character development non-existent. but, even with all these flaws, this movie is still a riveting watch on IMAX 3D. i thought of it just as a demo film for the vfx tech and for the IMAX experience. 7.5/10

halloween, john carpenter, 1978 – was craving classic horror and chose this and was not disappointed for the most part as it was tastefully done for thrills. of the movies’ 1.5 hour runtime, the first 45 mins do drag without much of the chills but the last 30 mins or so makes up for it pretty well. the soundtrack was pretty much the one note kinds and can get annoying on its 30th repeat (looks like john carpenter handled the background score as well). some of the scenes were reminiscent of psycho with the first person killer view cam where you get an exclusive coverage of the victim’s scream and some reminded me of the original texas chainsaw massacre. but knives vs chainsaws for horror is a no-brainer. 7.5/10

mr. nobody, jaco van dormael, 2009 – sci-fi based on the theory that every possible outcome of a coin toss is a reality until the coin is tossed and the result is known. takes this premise onto decisions and choices and contends that memory has all possible outcomes in it unless an angel erases it just before birth and what transpires is an experiment where the angel doesn’t. with this established, the movie was fun but stayed steadily in the drama/romance category (not that there is anything wrong with it) after that. later on multiple premises are presented, some big words like string theory, big bang, time-space relation and reversal of time when the expansion of the universe stops etc. are bandied about pointlessly only to make itself reach further than it ought to have. every frame of this movie was pretty (for lack of a better word), probably made to look so in post-processing and the acting good but it was the script and its runtime which was its undoing. 7.2/10

the color of paradise, majid majidi, 1999 – not since terrence malick and andrei tarkovsky have i seen a director shoot nature this gorgeously to give us an immersive experience of the elements on the frame. this movie was a joy to watch and i cannot find a single fault with anything. it was so full of life, its characters endearing, its symbolism poignant and visuals splendid. revolving around 3 main characters of the blind kid mohammad, his father hossein and his grandmother, majidi brings forth every possible human emotion through his plot. there is a lot of depth in seemingly random scenes of mohammad rescuing a fledgling bird, the grandma rescuing the fish caught in the banks and hossein missing the turtle near the climax (air,water,land?), showing who is truly blind. i can go on and on about the background score used, the performance of all the actors, the scene of meeting between mohammad and the blind carpenter, the kids running over the colorful mountain collecting flowers for the dye and the ending in the rapids that was so realistically shot. this is a must watch, if only to get a glimpse of the beauty of iran and its culture. 9/10

mouchette, robert bresson, 1967 – the movie holds your attention well for its pretty short runtime of 78 mins and the characterization of the little girl mouchette was beautiful and makes you feel her agony. the visuals are extremely poetic, aesthetic, but the acting was mediocre stage variety and the scenes start and end haphazardly as if it were badly edited and there is a lot of religious symbolism that subtly establishes how forsaken by god, mouchette’s life is. for very large portions of the film, there are hardly any dialogues but the plot moves forward so well without it as if paying tribute to silent films. with all that said, and having watched a couple of bresson films now, i still do not _get_ him, i dont get why he is worshiped as much as he is by a lot of my favorite directors. perhaps looking for greatness is not the right way to approach a bresson film and i might realize it when am older. 7.5/10

the royal tanenbaums, wes anderson, 2001 – shot in his trademark quirky story book style, with endearing, unique and warm characters, this movie had a lot more plot and heart than his other enchanting films. the soundtrack is exquisite and worth a special mention as it should be when elliott smith, nick drake, the rolling stones and the beatles come together in the same film. of humor there is a lot, but not of the ‘laugh of out loud’ variety but the ‘silently smile’ to ‘wide grin on face’ variety and there are a plethora of quotable quotes from the film. gene hackman and paltrow sit well in the wes anderson world with fitting performances. this is a movie for a rainy day as it will invariably pick your spirits up. 8/10

Jan 1

watched in july/august ’13

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

in the heat of the night, norman jewison, 1967 – there was a lot of racial subtext in an otherwise straight-forward murder mystery. i read up a bit of background for the time the movie came out and the racist context made sense. sidney poitier and rod steiger were both great in their roles and the direction was spot-on in capturing the heat and the night – the hissing of summer lawns, the ubiquitous coke bottle, sweat on the foreheads and soda fountains were presented subtly to show the heat. the scene in the greenhouse in the cotton plantation with endicott was classic. wonder if tarantino was inspired for django unchained from this scene. the soundtrack from the ray charles opening to the end was nice and melded well into the scenes. landmark film. 8.1/10

akira, katsuhiro otomo, 1988 – japanese anime cyberpunk action that is regarded as one of the best ever made and quite rightly so when it comes to the visuals. unlike some of the other anime i’ve seen on tv, akira had more detail in each frame and animation wasn’t restricted to the main character’s movements on a frozen background, courtesy the huge budget for the time the movie came out. the amount of detail was overwhelming and might push anime lovers to watch it again and again. the plot was complex to the extent of being bit difficult to follow and convoluted to the extent of making no sense at times which could have been avoided but i guess that’s what defines the genre. watch it for the style and watch it in japanese with english subs as the english dub apparently is too funny unintentionally. 7.6/10

ship of theseus, anand gandhi, 2012 – first few minutes of the movie were enough to quell my apprehensions and put me at ease, i knew i was in for a treat. there hasn’t been anything of this pedigree from indian cinema in the recent times – of indian characters, our stories and our values but shot with european sensibilities. three discreet story-lines, each distinct and unique, of a blind photographer, a monk who campaigns against animal testing and the story of an illegal organ trade come together unforced against the backdrop of the theseus paradox. the camera captures a lot of beauty in the mundane, the dialogues simple without being hackneyed, the performances good and the script being the absolute star make this a splendid debut for anand gandhi. the direction was perfect as the director understood the space the viewer needed to assimilate and think – there were quite a far few shots of wind on green fields, monks walking across wind farms, clatter of feet over a millipede, crystalline forms on rocks in a cave etc. that lingered right after a powerful scene to let you use your imagination to develop the characters – masterful. the music was restrained to the point of being not present for the most part (which sometimes works for a movie of this sort), the cinematography perhaps was limited by the budget and the gear with which the movie was shot. please go and show your support, this one is worth watching. 8.4/10

mariyaan, bharat bala, 2013 – splendid cinematography and awesome performance by dhanush and parvathi menon are where the superlatives end. the first and second half are two distinctly different movies with the first half belonging somewhere in the 90s and the second drawing inspiration from extremely poor hollywood characterization of gun-toting african rebels/pirates/terrorists (must they always scream nonsense and spray bullets in the air and always be in a celebratory mood when they are not screaming?). there is no semblance of screenplay anywhere in the movie and the continuity goofs with dhanush’s hair are mind-boggling (no am not nitpicking, it is just so poorly done and in-your-face), perhaps bharat bala’s lack of feature length experience shows starkly. will dhanush ever be in another aadukalam? i feel the same sorrow for dhanush and his performances in movies like raanjhanaa and this that i have always felt whenever a good a.r rahman soundtrack was wasted by a poor movie. pretty but poor film – not a ‘must watch’, so watch if you must. 6/10

wings of desire, wim wenders, 1987 – an angel that has seen all eternity, denounces the forever to take the human form for the ‘now’. in a way it is an attempt to celebrate human lives but ironically, the first 1.5 hours of the movie’s runtime with mundane human lives that the angel longed for, was excruciatingly boring to watch. after starting off with some powerful monologues, the movie drifted into the pretentious zone and camped there extensively. the cinematography was splendid and the berlin shot by wenders was aesthetically pleasing. i loved wim wenders’ ‘paris, texas’ a lot and expected something as good but was let down. 6.5/10

dead man, jim jarmusch, 1995 – trippy western steeped in symbolism. if the title was not a sufficient clue, the movie opens with ‘it is preferable not to travel with a dead man’, what follows draws heavily on native-american spirituality, william blake’s works and the western genre. there are sufficient clues left to the viewer on what might have transpired before johnny depp’s (william blake) death if you want to develop a coherent plot by psychoanalyzing the screenplay. what the movie tries to achieve however is the journey of his spirit post death, its acceptance of all virtues and vices human. the climax with the indian and the bounty hunter killing each other for me symbolized how good or evil did not matter to the spirit past that point. the b/w photography was excellent and i loved everything about the movie except neil young’s soundtrack. he couldn’t have spent more than a couple of hours on this, perhaps fiddling on his guitar while watching the movie. it was too one-dimensional and jarring to the extent of being uncomfortable. 8/10

thalaiva, tamil, 2013 – noisy, garish and unsettling. it is 2013 and yet there are movies like these. 2/10

mama, 2013 – garden variety horror. was hoping for better as it was produced by guillermo del toro. was so so. 5/10

traffic, steven soderbergh, 2000 – i started the movie at 1:30 am and did not have much hopes of watching the whole thing but it made me sit up and see it through till 4 am. excellent performances by benicio del toro and michael douglas. good script, direction and taut editing kept me engaged. the sheer number of characters din’t help the character development as the plot took priority. 7.5/10

mud, jeff nichols, 2012 – almost all of the movie is shot outdoors and its atmospheric, spacey soundtrack complements the visuals well. the two kids had believable performances and matthew mcconaughey’s performance was oscar worthy but might very well have been sidelined and forgotten as april movies haven’t historically fared well with the feb oscars. jeff nichols takes a simple straight-forward plot and weaves a convincing drama out of it that involves parenting, love, loss and an adventure set on the beautiful missisippi river. visuals and drama comparable to badlands, days of heaven and paris, texas. 8.1/10

oblivion, joseph kosinski, 2013 – scifi as a genre is too broad and for hollywood it is mostly scifi-action or scifi-thriller. i prefer a scifi-drama on the lines of solyaris or stalker. this fell in the scifi-action/mystery segment (poor cousin of dark city, matrix) with an unimaginative story, poor science, plot holes and excellent visual effects. yeah, it has tom cruise. 6.5/10

don’t look now, nicholas roeg, 1973 – rated as one of the best brit movies ever made, this artsy horror/thriller is perhaps a wee bit overrated. it moves along at a glacial pace with a lot of importance given to walking about in venice, amusing at first but quickly becomes a tedium. the editing is superlative, as it must be in a movie about premonitions as the pictures from the present and future flit past to interrupt the above mentioned glacial pace. ending is quite predictable for horror movies, they either try to spill forth a moral to redeem themselves or quickly try to enter the thriller territory after camping on the borders of horror all through by dismissing all things supernatural. this one though sets itself apart by pulling off a quick one in the last minute that is guaranteed to leave you in splits. 6.3/10

the hudsucker proxy, coen brothers, 1994 – one part satire and one part screwball comedy where i liked the satire best, the screwball not so much, not being a fan of the style. weakest coen bros film i’ve seen but it still has the trademark direction, roger deakins cinematography, smart visual effects using scale models and quirky wit, though it works here somewhat inconsistently. 7/10

wild strawberries, ingmar bergman, 1957 – re-watched. a 80 year old lonesome, cold-hearted man’s mind flits in and out of dreams, reality, conscious, subconscious, past and present all within a day as he drives across the swedish coastline with his daughter-in-law and some random people hitching a ride. moving performances, simple story, unforgettable characters and fantastic dream sequences make it very memorable. its quite amazing how you can watch this movie at various points of time in your life and connect to different characters each time. definitely worth watching once every few years. 9/10

american psycho, mary harron, 2000 – told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator (christian bale), the movie takes creative liberties to shock you with outrageous amounts of violence. the script is smart and uses the narrative to mix the real with the unreal lucid visions from the subconscious but leaves everything open-ended and up to the viewer’s disposition. christian bale was awesome here, as he usually is, hacking his victims with axes, knives and chainsaws while giving them his take on 80s pop music, and the direction good. good psychological thriller, if you dont mind the slasher feel (there is even a tribute to texas chainsaw massacre). 7.8/10

now you see me, 2013 – resorts to gimmicks for twists instead of a subtle misdirection. doesn’t work either as a heist film or a magic film as it expects a suspension of not just disbelief but also your sense of aesthetic (garish), sound (loud) and time (boring). in short, asks too much and rewards nothing. the maker probably wanted to do a ‘ocean’s 11′ meets ‘the prestige’ but instead made this botched up mess. 5.5/10

Jan 1

watched in june ’13

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

the places beyond the pines, derek cianfrance, 2012 – excellent drama in 3 acts with an extremely strong first and third act. if you like the first portion, blue valentine from the same director is a must watch but unlike blue valentine, he reaches for something much bigger in scope and in the process has written a modern greek tragedy. ryan gosling is absolutely brilliant although he has a screen presence only in the first act. the camera work and direction were unintrusive and takes you as close to the characters as possible and as far away as needed which i felt was masterful. the scene with ryan gosling riding his bike between the pines will remain etched in memory for a long time. 8.2/10

the fall, tarsem singh, 2006 – not many films can compete with this film visually. it is one of those films that you can watch on mute and still gape at the visuals and watch till the end. with that said, the movie did have a reasonable story and characters and quirky humor to substantiate interest. the camera wanders around the world with filming locations across almost 25 countries (a substantial portion shot in jodhpur/agra/ladakh) to bring out pleasing eye-candy from across the globe. highly recommended as demo movie for your latest hi-def appliance. 8/10

ranjhanaa, 2013 – there were times when i felt this movie might never end and i might be trapped in it until i was 60. i shudder to think what this movie would be without dhanush, not that he could shovel and shoulder this garbage on his own to anything refreshing as this was garbage with an ‘unrecyclable’ tag on it. the only time i noticed the movie had a.r rahman
soundtrack was when i glanced at the end credits. although the reviews had ripped sonam kapooor to shreds, i must admit she was alright, unlike the abhay deol bloke whose role and performance were both unpardonable. crawls like a caterpillar, icky and repulsive – 5/10

man of steel, 2013 – high hopes set up by the character development and base laid in the first 1 hour of the movie squandered by pointless ‘larger than life’ action a la matrix revolutions and cringe-worthy soundtrack of the second half. its rife with plot holes – if it was possible for kryptonites to undergo 300 cycles of somatic restructuring in the phantom zone or whatever balderdash it was without being demolished in krypton, why dint they do it for themselves rather than sending their prisoners there? why was lois lane asked by general zod to accompany superman into the ship? henry cavill as superman and amy adams as lois lane were ok but the movie was let down in entirety by plot, soundtrack and graphics which were all well below average – 6/10

Jan 1

watched in may ’13

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

tokyo story, yasujiro ozu, 1953 – an ageing couple from serene onomichi decide to visit their children and grandchildren in bustling tokyo. this is about as straight-forward and unassuming one can get to put across a profound point. none of the characters are used as props to drive home the desolation faced by the old couple. though it might look like the couple are wronged by their children on the outset, there is more to it if you observe the subtle tint of character ozu portrays on them to convey how their parenting might have been. everything about this movie is undramatic and subtle like bergman’s wild strawberries and unlike say, kurosawa’s ikiru which is very similar and a masterpiece in its own right but kurosawa’s tremendous style sometimes overshadows the storyline. 9/10

red, 2010, plot from a penny novelette, morgan freeman for the posters, bruce willis for the stereotype saving grace, john malkovich with desperate measures and a hotchpotch of helen mirren, tv movie cliches, guns and explosions. 5.5/10

iron man 3, 2013 – the climax was imaginative and ben kingsley as mandarin was funny but that was all there was to it. the 3D technology was horrible in some segments where the proportion of a chopper close to the eye and people in the ruins a mile away were totally off. this persisted for quite a few scenes and was very distracting (in IMAX 3D). a movie like iron man has to be fun and we have had enough of the introspecting superhero in nolan’s dark knight trilogy and this whole faux seriousness has lost its novelty. ones expecting another avengers or the first iron man movie might be disappointed. wafer-thin plot and not enough wit. 6.3/10

aaranya kaandam, thiagarajan kumararaja, 2011- in terms of breaking the mold, this is by far the best tamil film i’ve seen in recent times. i feel bad for not supporting it in the theaters, the producer made a big loss and we might not see another film like this. the script is inspired by movies like trainspotting, pulp fiction or lock stock, the theme music with grand piano chords, chimes and sad violin was a bit too similar to wong kar wai’s ‘in the mood for love’ but that’s all forgivable because the film has made them its own without appearing too unoriginal. there is quite a bit of old ilayaraja music played over fm radio recorded as part of ambient noises in most of the first half of the film which added a lot of oomph.

the dialogues were sharp and laced with wit and the characters with names like kodukapuli, sappai, subbu, singa perumal, pasupathy were every bit unique in their thought and action as their names. the camera was extremely experimental with a lot of aronofsky and danny boyle influence. the acting must have lacked quite a bit but the director made up for it smartly with his setting and angles. the plot unravels like a game of chess with each character trying to outwit the other and ends quite fittingly.

the version i watched was short by 40 mins with expletives beeped and obscenities chopped from the actual runtime which is pretty bad but unfortunately it was the only good print i could find. we might never see a proper DVD release either. it saddens me that the movie did not click with the audience when trash like mankatha or billa are received well. 8.5/10
cool hand luke – rewatched after almost 5 years. the last time was turbulent and this movie back then meant a lot and still does. the line “sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand” was a life-changer. there are several iconic scenes i love – the drunk, grinning paul newman after he has cut the heads off parking meters, the warden saying “what we got here is failure to communicate” (made immortal by guns n’ roses using it in the opening of their song ‘civil war’), the scene where paul newman quips “i can eat fifty eggs” and the wager that follows, and the one with him playing plastic jesus on the banjo and the climax in the empty church and his conversation with an absent god. there are thematic similarities between cool hand luke and one flew over the cuckoo’s nest in that one reminds you of the other. definitely worth a watch if you like ‘man against the system’ type movies. 8.3/10

belle de jour, luis bunuel, 1967 – i felt a tad disappointed that this film had such a straight-forward story driven plot for a french new wave film. on second-thought this morning, it probably didn’t at all but lead me cleverly towards believing so. bunuel blends reality, dreams and daydream fantasies to build an environment of sexuality and the consequential morality where it is hard to agree on which part was real and which was fantasy/dream. he keeps it from getting into the absurd surrealist territory like it does in movies like ‘the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie’ or ‘that obscure object of desire’ where it is obvious and that helps this film tremendously especially with the editing that enables such believable transitions that lead to multiple interpritations. 8/10

the big lebowski, coen bros., 1998 – i love the coen brothers and have loved every single movie they have made and the love affair started with this movie, a decade ago. every movie they have ever made lies somewhere in the spectrum between comedy/satire/crime with each one having a slightly different blend. jeff bridges as ‘the dude’ insisting to be called ‘the dude’ when someone calls him lebowski and knocking back ‘white russians’ while being mixed with small time crooks, bowling and his quest to find a rug to hold his living room together is one of the most memorable characters ever created on cinema. was as hilarious in this re-watch last week as it was the first time. 8.3/10

naduvula konjam pakkatha kaanom, balaji tharaneetharan, 2012 – i am loving where tamil cinema is going with every movie starring vijay sethupathy irrespective of the director becoming a delight to watch. how many jokes can you pull off through a character suffering from a short-term memory loss? quite a lot it turns out. it was a laugh riot from the beginning till the end but at a runtime of close to 2.5 hours was definitely way too long. there were quite a lot of scenes that added nothing to the movie and at times very poorly acted as the amateur actors struggled with anything except comedy that I wished were snipped out. much fun nevertheless. 7.2/10

soodhu kavvum, nalan kumaraswamy, 2013 – good effort at black comedy with a few scenes that ended up being tacky. as much as the movie was fun, the fatigue hit hard in the last 30 mins. this is a movie which should not have been any longer than 1.5 hours. the background score esp. the bits with just drums was extremely annoying and just did not gel well with the visuals. the movie as a whole seemed to work extremely well with the audience and for most of the first half, did with me too but the extremely long runtime and the crazy senseless plot in the second half was lost on me. 6.5/10
back to the future, robert zemeckis, 1985 – simple, fun sci-fi featuring time-travel in its most elementary form to build a plot that is humorous and entertaining. over-the-top acting, effects and cliches actually add to the fun as the movie never takes itself too seriously with its nonchalant story-telling. fun for all ages. 8/10

lars and the real girl, craig gillespie, 2007 – treads a fine line between drama and farce. reading the plot synopsis, it is extremely hard to expect how the movie transpires, at least in the first 30 minutes. it does get very predictable like a spring following a winter later on but that doesn’t make the drama any less endearing or any more sappy. spring following winter is actually used symbolically with almost all movie shot in winter. ryan gosling and the entire cast along with the lovely understated piano score add credibility to what might have fallen flat on its face otherwise. i’ve loved ryan gosling in ‘drive’ and ‘blue valentine’ and this is as strong as his performance in ‘blue valentine’. the script in the middle-portion of the film could have been bit better as it failed to engage after the novelty wore off. the community going all out to support ryan’s delusion was also not believable as it was not fleshed out properly. 7.5/10

the fly, david cronenberg, 1986 – terrifying movie that was so well done and thought out unlike the run-of-the-mill scare and gore-fests. instead of the initial quiet phase in horror movies where you know what is gonna come, the quiet phase here is actually used for some character and plot development that hooks you and fascinates you and keeps you well strapped to your seat for all the horror and gore that unfurls in the end. where the film sort of wins is that if you are an avid fan of drama and can relate and empathize with the characters, you might not even see this as horror. that to me was the film’s biggest plus. do not watch if you get spooked easy.

there was an episode in one of the seasons of ‘breaking bad’ which was named ‘the fly’. it was one of the most bizarre arty episodes of BB. i now realize that it was a tribute to this movie! david cronenberg is absolutely versatile as a movie-maker. having watched and liked ‘eastern promises’ and ‘a history of violence’ which are very recent, i was curious how he was as a filmmaker in the 80s. i’m now a big fan and want to dig out all the sci-fi/horror movies he made back then. 7.8/10

true romance, tony scott, 1993 – if i hadn’t known who had written the script, i would have still guessed 5 minutes into the film. this movie came out between reservoir dogs and pulp fiction and the script has enough and more shades of both in it. this could have easily been a 8+ movie if the climax was at least remotely believable. excellent thriller nevertheless and with a cast like gary oldman, dennis hopper, christopher walken and at least 5 more big names, the acting was never its weak point. i wonder if tarantino was inspired by ‘badlands’ when he sketched the general outline of the script, the narrative was very similar too. definitely worth a watch for tarantino’s script and wit. 7.8/10

manos: the hands of fate, 1966 – so terribad its good. this is the mercedes benz of bad movies. the script, acting, background music, direction, editing and even the camera sucked. it takes immense precision to assemble such a talentless bunch together in a single movie. you are guaranteed to be clawing your eyes by the time the end credits roll. absolute MUST WATCH if you love b-movies. 1/10

May 12

Posted on Sunday, May 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

i am glad to be sitting by the window. its night and all i can see are dead towns but i am still glad to be sitting by the window with my nose to the wind. the blur of houses, lights and shops take form only to become a blur again as we pass. there must be people here to whom this blur must mean everything. to us, the strangest it stays intangible and strange. one must take foot to feel form. to ones at a distance flitting, nothing changes form. alight, set foot and grasp. can we?

the wind brings the news of the moment. the weak woo the weaker in their quest to become strong. i wonder what makes one weak or strong and decide the weak will never wonder, with the caveat that i might be wrong. more dead towns invite. more wind in my hair and i reach my destination. set foot and take form i remember. i talk to the wind. i tell the blur that the littlest it has changed makes the littlest i have, feel exaggerated. what form must i take i ask? it says stay put and it will forge. i oblige

May 12

Posted on Sunday, May 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

the wind now blows unabated but it will take a lot to wash over the wrath of the sun and drive the heat out of the traps the living rooms present. the horizon is crimson and a crescent hangs high and proud, the streetlights come on early and grandpa is sitting out on the thinnai. maggie pants a sigh of relief at the breeze and plops near grandpas feet.

my great-grandpa lived close and I can see that house in part ruins in the distance. he is no more but he lives in my memories unscathed by time. we shared a special connection in our addiction to a board-game. we played after breakfast and before lunch or after lunch and before the evening coffee but never after 6 due to some superstition. my great-grandma would assure that her husband is not bored in his ripe old-age from his sitting by ensuring she gathered me from granma’s for a game.

the game was beautifully designed and great-grandpa taught most of my virtues and strategies (they really do have to go hand-in-hand) through it. there are 12 pieces each per player, the objective being to move all of them from ‘home’ to ‘finish’. there are 13 sections of 6 moves to navigate so each piece needs 80 moves to get to finish (78 + 2 needed for start and finish). Of the 13 sections, 10 were common for both players which great-grandpa liked to call the war-zone, he was a big fan of the mahabharata and kept a tattered old book that he read everyday. we played with stones and tamarind seeds. i always chose the seeds. they were smooth and uniform and i liked that.

you get no rewards for finishing 11 with one stuck on its lonesome journey to the end, slaughtered by the opposition repeatedly as they marched to the finish. the strategy must include safety of all 12 pieces moving together – more or less. it was played on two flat and long metal dice so it was important not to get the last piece stuck needing a 1 or 2 for finish, you could play an hour without luck. a piece moving through the unsafe zone always needs backup. sometimes you have to see the big picture and let a piece be lost for a restart if it helps the safety of the others. number-crunching of how much of your dice-work would be lost was important to make that decision. great-grandpa taught priority in decisions more than anything through that game. it was important to see the smaller move in the context of a bigger picture. it of course helped that no piece can be irretrievably lost. the rules of the game, though complex, were friendly.

With my memories burning so bright, i almost forget its twilight. the birds are moving across the sky in flocks. they do seem to be of the same feather. the sun is down but the breeze fights its losing battle against the heat. the sun, unaware of it’s love has charred us black. the night and the wind soothes our sun-loved skins but time and gravity will wear us down. maggie has had enough of all this and wants to go back in for her dinner of kibble. she knows how important it is to work on the task at hand.

May 12

Posted on Sunday, May 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

there is something wonderful about reading a book under a skylight. maybe it is the teasing aroma of lunch from the kitchen or the chirps and squawks of birds outside. its warm and it will get unbearably hot soon. cold water will never taste so good and a simple quenching can feel like an out-of-body experience. it is a throwback to my days of growing up here – my mind likes to pretend it is, although i cover the length of the house in much fewer strides now and can reach the loft without a ladder and stuff in the attic don’t interest me no more. the wooden beams on this very ceiling taught me to count and the cows in the backyard taught me to chew.

the book is open before me but my eyes flit away from the lines and onto the blinding skylight. there are a few cracks in it. i have no doubt that the 11 grandchildren that have walked this house have played a part. there are a few cracks in the house itself and termites have made some parts their own. the gardens are untended and that has brought a lot more ants and birds than from my childhood. the vicious owl with its fearsome screeching is still present in that hole in the tamarind tree far back. it might not be the same owl but i cant tell. do owls live that long? the tree itself is dying.

we live, we relive as we live. we might be outlived or we may outlive our loved ones but we will die. the things we love will die. the joy we experience in living is defined by death. like the pleasure of cold water on this hot day, one has no purpose without the other.

the joy my grandparents experience today come solely from their 11 grandchildren. that dreadful owl i see now is probably the grandson of the one that terrorized my childhood. this is life and this is how it is meant to be lived as long as the sun behind that skylight stays lit. how did this book about the supernatural get me into all this musing?

 

May 12

read after sept, 2012

Posted on Sunday, May 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

an artist of the floating world, kazuo ishiguro – a self-portrait of an artist, told through hazy recollections, drifting in and out of events, people and places across an entire lifetime, heavily marred by a misinterpretation of the self which is ishiguro’s specialty. i’d rate this higher than his ‘the remains of the day’ and ‘never let me go’ – 9.5/10

the hungry tide, amitav ghosh spins anthropology, islands in the sundarbans, rilke’s poetry and mythology into a compelling tale of adventure. you can feel yourself floating through the tide country in a boat, with a crocodile lazing at the banks of a island filled with mangroves, rife with the royal bengal tiger and its fearsome stripes of fire and black and gangetic dolphins swimming sideways spurting sprouts of water on the surface. well researched thesis presented as a work of fiction – 8.5/10

too far to go, john updike – perhaps the best book i’ve read this year, this book was beautiful in the way it wrote of thoughts, the mind and the mundane. on separating from his wife for over 20 years, from a patchy see-saw relationship that blows hot and cold, the man says on the phone to his wife as he checks-into his hotel, “i feel i’ve given birth to a black hole”.

here is another one of my fav parts.

“there are four forces: love, habit, time, and boredom. Love and habit at short range are immensely powerful, but time, lacking a minus charge, accumulates inexorably, and with its brother boredom levels all.”

10/10

what i talk about when i talk about running, haruki murakami, 2007 – i thought this was a work of fiction but its a memoir about running sprinkled with mild philosophy. was surprised to know murakami has completed 25 marathons, 1 ultra marathon (60+ miles) and a handful of triathlons in-between all his writing. he portrays running as the charm that keeps his rich water-vein of inspiration for writing alive. good short read if you like his books. 7/10

the war of the worlds, h.g wells – with hg wells’ ability to blend scifi with deteriorating social values, here is another on the lines of the invisible man, time machine and the island of dr. moreau. although science has come a long way since the book was written and we now even have a rover on mars, it doesn’t tarnish the tale much. it can feel a little bit repetitive at times and the references to the english counties and descriptions of how disaster spread from one to another a bit tedious. like the author’s other works i’ve read a bit better than this one. 7.2/10

wilt, tom sharpe – impressionable wife, dull marriage and a dead-end job teaching day release courses to gasfitters, printers and apprentice butchers has wilt scheming to put his wife down a deep shaft, without her consent of course. events take an unpredictable and hilarious course as an american couple, a drunken vicar, an inflatable doll, and a police inspector with the singular intention of seeing wilt behind bars get involved. farce of the highest order 10/10

parthiban kanavu, kalki – has some vague similarities with the count of monte cristo in plot in that there is a banishing, an island, a return in disguise, vengeance and reuniting with the loved one while regaining the crown etc. other than being set in the time of the cholas and the pallavas and with some references thrown in every now and then of that time, this is a simple page turner like a dan brown novel. reading in tamil however is awesome. 6/10

on the road, kerouac – reads more as a high-on-substances travelogue than a novel. the idea of what the book stands for is bigger than the book itself and that is what is keeping it fueled and alive after all these years. the writing is splendid and words rush out and slap, coax, cuddle and kick but it is more of a lather, rinse, repeat of small towns, cities, road, no money, steal cars, hitch rides, con, get drunk, get stoned, bop, jazz, get laid, search for jobs, fail miserably, move on, find everything exotic and find life oh-so-awesome. it could perhaps be one of the most misunderstood books of all time. for a better road novel that holds water to its hype, read lolita. 6.5/10

kafka on the shore, murakami, 2002 – like his other works, there are multiple narratives that converge, ample musical (beethoven’s archduke trio is used as the theme of redemption) and movie references (lot of inspiration from truffaut’s the 400 blows) that are integral to the story but unlike the other works though, here surrealism is used as a metaphor or as an abstract concept that comes across at times as gimmicky. murakami makes it a point to remind us through his protagonists that it is not important that we don’t understand but one must go through the experience nevertheless. the biblical reference to frogs raining from the sky in PTA’s magnolia as divine intervention was used in this book too which was interesting. i had to check which came out first. perhaps the tv series LOST is very very highly inspired by murakami’s depiction of limbo in this book as well. not my favorite murakami (i love the wind-up bird and the recent 1Q84 the best) but still very interesting and immersive. 7.5/10

May 12

watched since sept 2012

Posted on Sunday, May 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

prometheus, ridley scott, 2012 – good scifi with spaceships and aliens are hard to come by. this was very flawed but fun and entertaining. could have cut down on the gooey horror element. 7.5/10

the passenger, antonioni, 1975 – was thoroughly impressed when i watched 8 years back but remembered near nothing of it except the brilliant white light and the white houses. the re-watch made me love it again. alienation in north africa, sahara desert, barcelona, andalusia shot in a laid-back fashion in blinding white light in places where nothing ever happens. watch it for the visuals and a rare, restrained jack nicholson. 8.2/10

touch of evil, orson welles, 1958 – much as i loved the cinematography and direction, i don’t understand why welles is lauded so much for this as the plot and sub-plot were very loosely tied up. even the technique wasn’t new as it reminded me a lot of ‘the third man’ that came a decade earlier. 7.4/10

moon, duncan jones, 2009 – there are big budget, big effects, sacrificed storyline scifis which form the majority and then movies like moon. this scifi/thriller was an excellent entertainer. sam rockwell reminded me of edward norton (in a good way). directed by duncan jones who also happens to be david bowie’s son. never a dull moment in this thought provoker – 8.4/10

the kid with the bike (le gamin au vélo), 2011 – stellar performance from the boy for a story that could have used a bit more depth in plot as well as characters as it felt like one of stories from a moral science book. good cinematography and stunning performance from the kid make this a good watch still. couldn’t help but feel that this could have been so much better. also felt as if the director was paying homage to truffaut’s the 400 blows. extremely similar plot, similar styles in shots and a climax scene directly lifted from another one of truffaut’s movies which i cant seem to get the name of – 7.2/10

echelon conspiracy, 2009 – every once in a while comes a urge to watch something absolutely stupid and this movie did not disappoint me on that front – 5.0/10

argo, 2012 – ok as a movie, lacklustre as a movie ‘based on a true story’ as it came more as something which was ‘inspired from true events’. the dramatics was definitely from lazy writing than from the CIA files. if there had to have the thriller element, it could have been better written in. 7.1/10

hugo, 2011 – i am very late to the party but glad i turned up. an hour or so into the movie, the main storyline pales down and takes a secondary role and it is the allusions to movies and cultural history of the past that takes centre stage. it was fun unraveling references to jules verne’s, fritz lang’s metropolis and the cabinet of dr caligari. a rare beauty, visually brilliant, missed watching this in 3D. 9/10

the intouchables, 2011 – surprise package of the week. this movie was innovative and fresh in its comedy without pulling cheap laugh gags or being overly melodramatic (the movie is about a tetraplegic) and by sustaining the drama element through out. highly recommended comedy. loved the use of nina simone’s ‘feeling good’ for a paralyzed man paragliding. 8.2/10

a streetcar named desire, elia kazan, 1951 – timeless performance by a young marlon brando. the hero of the movie however is the script that sculpts each character with a flying chisel losing no time which is typical of broadway adaptations. elia kazan seems to have spiced up the play by leaving certain things open to interpritation. excellent classic – 8.3/10

cloud atlas, 2012 – watching cloud atlas is a daunting task. it asks for your every minute of its 2.5 hour runtime. it feels like an epic and rightly so as it spans centuries, involves multitudes of characters, some extremely challenging editing and costumes, special effects and a script that embraces the concept of karma subtly. there is a generous sprinkling of Easter eggs that you will only uncover in your 4th viewing. its hard to absolutely love a movie like this in first viewing but a movie that makes you want to watch it a few more times has already made you love it but only you don’t know it yet – 8.5/10

the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, luis bunuel, 1972 – hilarious and surreal satire on the unsated appetite of 6 people who sit down to dine multiple times throughout the movie but always get interrupted by unreal situations, guaranteed to leave you scratching your head with a grin. charm of the absurd. 7.8/10

naan E, 2012 – if it had stuck to its imaginative comedy, it could have perhaps turned up a whole lot better. the romance/revenge theme was stale. the animation looked dated by atleast a decade. 5.5/10

once upon a time in anatolia, nuri bilge ceylan, turkish, 2011 – set in the anatolian steppes, the first hour and half of the movie is shot entirely with headlights from cars and another good part in lantern light. the movie is an unsolved, make-what-you-want plot, with 90 mins spent searching to exhume the victim and the rest spent developing the characters as ambiguously as possible. the acting was top notch and the script and direction reminiscent of tarkovsky films. at over 180 mins, this is not going to be an easy watch. 7.7/10

mulholland drive – i re-watch mulholland drive every two years or so for no specific reason. in this 5th viewing, i took away a totally new interpretation and i can’t think of any other movie with this much re-watch value. comfort food. 9/10

skyfall, 2012 – the first 15 mins and the last 30 mins were what i was looking for. the in-between was a mishmash of die hard, the dark knight and mission impossible franchise. i don’t mind that bond drinks heineken or that he uses sawed-off shotgun and dynamite but the product placements could have been avoided. about the villain who is lauded as the best bond villain so far, i think it has more to do with the nonchalant villain stereotype that has been made famous by the joker, bane or no country for old men than the role of javier bardem in this movie. bit let down. 7.2/10

the divide, 2011 – grotesque and bleak and not even in a good way. watched in two sittings as it was intolerable and was completed only because of a morbid curiosity to find out what happens anyway. all i was looking for was a fun b-movie and this wasn’t even that. 4.5/10

looper, 2012 – nice sci-fi that refused to be pegged as big budget scifi (Read big effects, bad plot) or a movie about time travel that takes it to preposterous levels. it had a good story and good characters and a time travel that took the one eventuality premise very seriously. it had its share of ‘eh what’ in the rainmaker bit and the telekinesis climax but overall very watchable – 7.5/10

the conversation, francis ford coppola, 1974 – re-watched. made between godfather 1 and godfather 2, this gem is sometimes overlooked. the plot unravels from the perspective of the paranoid harry caul, a private audio surveillance expert with a lofty sense of self (played by gene hackman) and expectedly leads the viewer down erratic paths of interpretation thereby setting up a twist ending. top-notch cinematography and the thrill of solving the mystery along with the protagonist keeps one glued. 8.2/10

taste of cherry, abbas kiarostami, persian, 1997 – a man tired of living wants to kill himself and so goes forth in search of someone who would bury him. His conversation with random people who he hopes will do the task for him form the rest of the movie. the movie traipses around religion, spirituality and existentialism but doesn’t satisfy wholly. the long shots and audio in the foreground with visuals as backdrop technique while intended to make the viewer think, can seem dull and dreary with not enough food for thought. – 7.3/10

ikiru, akira kurosawa, 1952 – i have fascination for reading/watching about lives of the old confronting an approaching death. lynch’s ‘the straight story’, bergman’s ‘autumn sonata’ or ishiguro’s ‘the remains of the day’ and ‘an artist of the floating world’, all approach it differently. ikiru tells the story of a terminally ill man with a dead-end job that makes a change not through a narcissistic bucket list but by creating a marginally better world for the ones who need it. to tell a story like this without sappy sentimentality (not that there is anything wrong with that) is commendable. the camera work through out the movie, especially in the 10 minutes or so of tokyo night life was brilliant. 8.5/10

adaptation – re-watched for the umpteenth time. fun script, super performances by nicolas cage and meryl streep. a narcissistic script writer with a writer’s block, writes himself into his drab script about orchids. – 7.7/10

pizza, 2012 – finally managed to watch this movie and loved every bit of it. vijay sethupathy’s performance was excellent although the supporting cast could have done better. the script and the direction reflected the fun that was had in creating the movie and that is exactly what defines this movie and gives it life. the whole sequence shot in the house in scattered flashlight was genius and kept the tension on. the script gave access to using cliched horror elements without cheating the audience.

django unchained, 2013 – can style, slo mos and soundtrack alone shore up a movie without a strong storyline and script? tarantino almost manages to but the 165 min runtime eventually neutralizes all effort. there was a lot of sam peckinpah in the shotgun kills and sergio leone in the landscape shots and the soundtrack was absolutely beautiful. the usual tarantino wit, though present, was lacking punch (the villagers with the bags on their heads quibbling over where the holes for eyes should be, for example). the performances, though good din’t feel natural because of the quirkiness inherent to tarantino characters. strictly for the fanboys. 7.2/10

les miserables, tom hooper, 2012 – 158 min musical based on alain boublil’s musical based on victor hugo’s novel. the visuals are stunning and the performances, almost every one of them spell-binding. anne hathaway as fantine and hugh jackman as jean valjean were outstanding while sacha baron cohen as thenardier is a proof to the man’s versatility in comedy. bit tough to endure the 30-45 mins on screen in the middle portion of the film if you are not into musicals/19th century plots that rely on characters running into each other repeatedly but sitting through the whole length is very rewarding. there are quite a lot of moments in the film that will endure like the book has endured. i have a urge to sing my review :p – 8.1/10

silver linings playbook – very average tv fare. shocked to see it is nominated for 8 oscars, perhaps i missed something there. started off well enough to hold the attention and for a large part i expected the movie to redeem itself but it simply kept adding more and more holes and unbelievable character behavior to the plot. i got the know after the end of the film that the genre of the film was comedy. must have been a typo. 6.5/10

life of pi, ang lee, 2012 – with great skepticism i avoided this movie for as long as i could. on a dull sunday with nothing to do, i ended up watching it on 3D in a screen nearby. the first 20 minutes were like nails on chalkboard because of the horrible accents and acting but then on i was utterly blown away. i refrain from watching movies that i love as books because there could be nothing equal to one’s own imagination. this movie has equaled and in parts surpassed what i had visualized when i read the book. i kept watching and wondering how did they ever pull this off. the vfx was superlative. the script stays as close to the book as possible for the adventure but the director has left subtle clues on his stand by adding the lotus flower sequence in (lotus flower in the forest in the beginning). the lotus flower with the tooth in the mangrove forest and meerkats sequence could be a pi’s delusion stemming from that initial scene thereby making the atheist stance more supportable but only subtly. glad i watched and din’t give it a pass with my prejudices. 8.2/10

Lincoln, spielberg, 2012 – there are mere actors and then there is DDL who inhabits characters rather than enacting them. for the most part, it felt as if spielberg din’t shoot this film conventionally but time-traveled and shot this from the 19th century. the content of the movie had universal appeal though it was very american and to some extent failed to engage me because i had no appetite for the finer nuances of politics or to history but still it was not dull or boring even for a minute. it would help if you have prior knowledge as the film doesn’t delve deep. 7.6/10

the hustler, robert rossen, 1961 – claustrophobic drama of hustling around straight pool. the film explores talent and character in the context of winning and then questions winning itself. paul newman delivers a convincing performance as fast eddie and the direction is clean and the dialogues crisp with no frills. the b/w photography is brilliant capturing the drama, the pool action, the nighttime, the smoky pool room or the great outdoors in the rare scene when it ventures out. one of my fav 4 newman films along with cool hand luke, butch cassidy and the sting. 8.4/10

brazil, terry gilliam, 1985 – if fellini ever shot that scifi he kept shooting in 8 and a half, it could have turned up like brazil. set in the future with things from the past (literally), the art design of this movie blew me away. this is a funny and dark version of orwell’s 1984 with the usual terry gilliam style of shooting with wide angle lens and odd tilted angles and exhorbitantly detailed sets. if you like fear and loathing and monty python movies, this is a must. watch the 94 min version of it. I ended up with the 142 min director’s cut which had its dull moments. 7.5/10

the master, 2012 – paul thomas anderson’s fascination with cults and how they break out and what sustains them continues. if it was the church of the third revelation in ‘there will be blood’, here it is a cult based on pseudo science inadvertently similar to scientology. the movie, although it looks like a straight-forward drama, is anything but that. philip seymour hoffman, joaquin phoenix and amy adams portray what feel like 3 different dimensions of a single character (much like the freud’s id, ego and superego). the visuals are splendid and the direction masterful. the jonny greenwood soundtrack complements the mood well. both hoffmann and phoenix were phenomenal and totally deserve their nominations. i know daniel day lewis probably has this in the bag but joaquin phoenix as freddie quell was outstanding in a complex role and i hope he gets his due. this is by far my favorite film of 2012 but unfortunately it is not nominated for best picture/director – 9/10

beasts of the southern wild, 2012 – a drama/adventure set in a bayou in louisiana, told from the perspective of a 6 year old facing her fears of responsibility and a harsh nature with storms and floods that she has to fight everyday. the performance of the kid and the dad were phenomenal but the shaky cam was not; it is time this technique is given a burial. it doesn’t take one any close to the action or make a film gritty than it gives one a terrible headache. not an easy watch if strife, death and decay are not your thing. nature isn’t all discovery channel wallpapers and this film beats that point in repeatedly, in creative ways. 8/10

there will be blood, paul thomas anderson, 2007 – re-watched with the wife. having just watched the intriguing ‘the master’ i was craving for more PTA so picked this. watch it for daniel day-lewis, the jonny greenwood soundtrack, gorgeous shots of the american west and splendid character development of the two protagonists. works as a simple psychological drama or as a movie with religion vs capitalism subtext and ends up satisfactory in both. i wish ‘no country for old men’ shared the best picture with this. it would be on my top 10 movies of the decade without a doubt. 9.5/10

rushmore, wes anderson, 1998 – brilliant to boring, many times over in the short span of 90 mins is rushmore. the wes anderson of moonrise kingdom and fantastic mr.fox has his origins in this odd film which challenges the viewers mind by flitting between reality and fantasy. these quick transitions between the real world and wes anderson world create a dissonance in the viewer causing conflict and dissatisfaction. in his recent movies, the story is set in the wes anderson world which mirrors real world but not in its entirety as an awkward sweet fantasy reigns dominant and is consistent throughout the course of the film. maybe he mastered this over time. rushmore is rated highly by wes anderson fans but i find his recent popular movies more palatable. 7.1/10

his girl friday, 1940 – the script was decent and at times witty having been adapted from a play but the style of having multiple people talk at the same time seized being funny after about the first time they did it. maybe the modern sitcom has its roots in comedies like this and it has saturated the comedy receptors or perhaps screwball comedy is just not my thing or maybe some movies simply dont age well. 6.5/10

zero dark thirty – reasonable thriller, good direction, great soundtrack, mediocre performances and absolutely shoddy writing. the movie is supposed to be about maya’s obsession with finding bin laden but we are given little to no background as to why this is or what makes her tick. the characters are ill developed with no exception and what we see is a loose narration capturing discrete events dispersed with a cinematic bombing here and there that you certainly would not have missed reading in the newspapers in the last decade. we are given an american PoV of how this might be closure and for a large part the one-sidedness of storytelling makes it comes across as propaganda. 7/10

amour – excruciatingly slow and painful watch as it trudged on towards its predictable, painful end. must every movie that portrays suffering be labelled great? the lead performances were both outstanding portraying senility but its unfortunate it was not put to good use. there are some outstanding films on similar subjects of terminal illness and senility that are actually watchable and thought-provoking. hanake is no bergman and his premise rings hollow. (as i write this, it has won the best foreign film.) 7/10

dead man’s shoes, 2004 – stylish and violent retribution in the english countryside set to some beautiful acoustic guitar folk music. although violence is one of the main themes, this movie doesn’t actually glorify violence. the story unwinds through flashbacks gently through the length of the film making you question the proportion of the payback until what actually happened is revealed close to the climax. highly recommended brit flick. the soundtrack is worth a listen separately as well (calexico, smog, adem etc. and closes with m.ward’s dead man) – 8/10

the secret world of arriety, yonebayashi/miyazaki, 2010 – another gem from studio ghibli without the “epicness” of a ‘spirited away’. unlike other classics like spirited away, princess mononoke etc., this is not directed by miyazaki but the script is his. murakami explored little people who cause trouble in 1Q84 but here little people are shown as ‘borrowers’ from our world. there is an abundance of imagination, tastefully crafted frames, lovable characters and sound mixing for an immersive experience. the experience however demanded more depth in the plot which could have used more work for the relatively saggy middle portion of the movie. worth a watch but there are a lot of better works by studio ghibli and miyazaki. 7.5/10

pan’s labyrinth, 2006 – a child fantasizes an escape from the civil war torn spain, submissive mother and a ruthless step-father with the help of a faun. one of my favorite films of the genre as it never slips totally into the unreal. judicial use of cgi,captivating frames of the woods and the underworld with superlative performances from all the main characters and excellent direction makes this a movie i’ll keep coming back to. 8.5/10

wreck it ralph, 2012 – tribute to video games from the arcade classics to modern FPS, it was fun recognizing characters from mario, sonic the hedgehog, pacman, street fighter etc. the tribute did not end with the characters but also had references to boss levels, secret levels, glitches built right into the plot as integral elements. the plot even had a secondary mission and a primary mission built into its structure. insert coins and have an excellent trip down memory lane. – 8.1/10

sunshine, danny boyle, 2007 – fits somewhere between prometheus and alien. the summary read ‘a team of astronauts are sent to re-ignite a dying sun’. i felt there were more chances of a plot like this ending up as a dud but i was pleasantly surprised. the visuals were stunning, the soundtrack chilling and the performances perfect. one of boyle’s best along with trainspotting and 28 days later. worth a watch if you love scifi thrillers and their lovable flaws. 7.6/10

barton fink, coen brothers, 1991 – the script was too smart to the extent of being too full of itself. there are so many interpretations and possibilities that you can spend days ruminating and then re-watching. you can interpret it as an allegory, self-reference or as straight-forward angst against hollywood or all of the above. i could see this as being an inspiration for movies like adaptation and mulholland drive. claustrophobic camera and sublime performances from pretty much everyone adds to the script. lots of comedy in between is an added bonus. probably my most fav coen brothers film at this point. 9.5/10

paris, texas, wim wenders, 1981 – visually the best film set in America i’ve seen although the director and production company are german (lynch’s ‘the straight story’ comes close). this is slow, moody and gorgeous. there isn’t much in terms of a story but even the thinnest of storylines can be propped up by subtleties of character and just visuals. much of the character development was smartly done with unspoken dialogue. if you like films of terrence malick, this is a must watch. 9.0/10

la strada, fellini, 1954 – a film about simple people in a traveling circus that clown about, quarrel, live in filth and struggle to make ends meet. must there be a tragedy set in squalor? ( is this where director bala draws his inspiration from?) despite my misgivings about the misery running deep like rabbit holes, this is a gritty film and has more than a bunch of laughs and lovable characters in zampano and gelsomina who seem to have been built for their respective roles. not my favorite fellini film but worth a watch. 7.7/10

2001, a space odyssey – it was time for a re-watch. missed the apes, the mission to jupiter, the moon, the monolith and of course HAL. spent most of this time wondering about how certain shots were executed especially the zero gravity and space scenes. the last 30 minutes were bizarre as ever as always and precipitating a new interpretation each time. benchmark for any movie aspiring to be a good scifi. 9.5/10

withnail & i, bruce robinson, 1987 – bit hard to classify this as comedy although quite a few scenes in the first hour will make you break into laughter. the movie then slowly turns into a character study, a drama without a plot but a dramatic end. the similarities with my favorite brit sitcom peep show are extensive. primed for laughs, you expect the romp to continue but then comes the unexpected sadness, not tragedy of epic proportions but a mild, mellow sadness, such as that exists in life itself. the problem though is that there is almost no plot and the film survives solely on its smart and humorous script. 7.4/10

die hard – a palate cleanser was of absolute necessity and it was no wonder i was craving to watch die hard – fun, well-made, beat-up-the-bad-guy action movie with sardonic one-liners and thrills aplenty. comfort food that is still fun. yippie ki-yay! 8.1/10

the perks of being a wallflower, stephen chbosky, 2012 – there was a bit of worry that this might be one of those teen rom-coms but it wasn’t and i was glad. its a teen coming of age drama set in the caustic high-school environs of the american suburbs. the script was good with the main characters all getting enough screen time for their own story arcs that sit well in the overall theme of chronic isolation. good soundtrack based on tracks from the 70-80s and a strict adherence to the book shore up the movie. one thing that irked me a bit was that for kids who seemingly having a good taste in music (the smiths, nick drake, dexys), they took the whole movie to identify david bowie’s heroes! its ‘the breakfast club’ of our times – 7.8/10

tokyo story, yasujiro ozu, 1953 – an ageing couple from serene onomichi decide to visit their children and grandchildren in bustling tokyo. this is about as straight-forward and unassuming one can get to put across a profound point. none of the characters are used as props to drive home the desolation faced by the old couple. though it might look like the couple are wronged by their children on the outset, there is more to it if you observe the subtle tint of character ozu portrays on them to convey how their parenting might have been. everything about this movie is undramatic and subtle like bergman’s wild strawberries and unlike say, kurosawa’s ikiru which is very similar and a masterpiece in its own right but kurosawa’s tremendous style sometimes overshadows the storyline. 9/10

red, 2010 – plot from a penny novelette, morgan freeman for the posters, bruce willis for the stereotype saving grace, john malkovich with desperate measures and a hotchpotch of helen mirren, tv movie cliches, guns and explosions. 5.5/10

iron man 3, 2013 – the climax was imaginative and ben kingsley as mandarin was funny but that was all there was to it. the 3D technology was horrible in some segments where the proportion of a chopper close to the eye and people in the ruins a mile away were totally off. this persisted for quite a few scenes and was very distracting (in IMAX 3D). a movie like iron man has to be fun and we have had enough of the introspecting superhero in nolan’s dark knight trilogy and this whole faux seriousness has lost its novelty. ones expecting another avengers or the first iron man movie might be disappointed. wafer-thin plot and not enough wit. 6.3/10

aaranya kaandam, thiagarajan kumararaja, 2011- in terms of breaking the mold, this is by far the best tamil film i’ve seen in recent times. i feel bad for not supporting it in the theaters, the producer made a big loss and we might not see another film like this. the script is inspired by movies like trainspotting, pulp fiction or lock stock, the theme music with grand piano chords, chimes and sad violin was a bit too similar to wong kar wai’s ‘in the mood for love’ but that’s all forgivable because the film has made them its own without appearing too unoriginal. there is quite a bit of old ilayaraja music played over fm radio recorded as part of ambient noises in most of the first half of the film which added a lot of oomph.

the dialogues were sharp and laced with wit and the characters with names like kodukapuli, sappai, subbu, singa perumal, pasupathy were every bit unique in their thought and action as their names. the camera was extremely experimental with a lot of aronofsky and danny boyle influence. the acting must have lacked quite a bit but the director made up for it smartly with his setting and angles. the plot unravels like a game of chess with each character trying to outwit the other and ends quite fittingly.

the version i watched was short by 40 mins with expletives beeped and obscenities chopped from the actual runtime which is pretty bad but unfortunately it was the only good print i could find. we might never see a proper DVD release either. it saddens me that the movie did not click with the audience when trash like mankatha or billa are received well. 8.5/10

cool hand luke, 1967 – rewatched after almost 5 years. the last time was turbulent and this movie back then meant a lot and still does. the line “sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand” was a life-changer. there are several iconic scenes i love – the drunk, grinning paul newman after he has cut the heads off parking meters, the warden saying “what we got here is failure to communicate” (made immortal by guns n’ roses using it in the opening of their song ‘civil war’), the scene where paul newman quips “i can eat fifty eggs” and the wager that follows, and the one with him playing plastic jesus on the banjo and the climax in the empty church and his conversation with an absent god. there are thematic similarities between cool hand luke and one flew over the cuckoo’s nest in that one reminds you of the other. definitely worth a watch if you like ‘man against the system’ type movies. 8.3/10

Aug 7

Posted on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

cuz something is happening,
and you dont know what it is.
do you, mr. jones?