Dunkirk – Nolan’s stirring ode to the indefatigable human spirit

War does not determine who is right – only who is left

– Anonymous

INTRO

Still remember thinking that this bloke has finally lost it on hearing that auteur filmmaker #ChristopherNolan was next making a war film. Not that his last few films were not good. DARK KNIGHT RISES, INCEPTION or INTERSTELLAR were all very good, extraordinary in parts even. But then with MEMENTO, PRESTIGE and THE DARK KNIGHT, Nolan had set lofty standards. Nolan’s competition was Nolan himself. And why, pray a #War film? From #DavidLean (BRIDGE ON RIVER KWAI) and #Coppola (APOCALYPSE NOW) to #Kubrick (FULL METAL JACKET) and #Spielberg (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) not to forget #Tarantino (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) the greatest in Hollywood had explored all there was to. What new perspective could Nolan possibly bring to this genre? The English-American director answers this emphatically with DUNKIRK. And then some.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

STORY

Sir #WinstonChurchill is regarded as one of the tallest leaders in world history and not without reason. He became the British #PrimeMinister an year after the Second World War began in the year 1940. And the #BattleOfDunkirk that took place almost as soon as he assumed power was a trial by fire for Churchill, so to speak. Nolan’s film is about the evacuation of more than 3,00,000 #AlliedForces holed up in the French port of Dunkirk. If the Germans who had succeeded Europe would have fallen and who knows, the War itself would have perhaps taken a whole different course. To this day the British take inspiration from what is referred to in local parlance as the #DunkirkSpirit.

SCRIPT, SCREENPLAY & DIALOGUES

Remember the final act in THE DARK KNIGHT? Where multiple tracks (of the two ferries, Two-Face and the #Joker) all run parallel to each other building up to a deafening crescendo in the climax? Nolan uses this very edgy style of narration throughout the one half forty minutes duration of DUNKIRK. Here the nerve wracking real life incident is told through three different stories. The land, the air and the sea. Here is the catch. The battle on the beach lasts a week while action in the sea got over in a day and the air battle? That got over in an hour. The locations and the time frames are also completely varied. But Nolan, the master of the #NonLinearNarrative weaves all three so seamlessly into the narrative that you would need to pay real close attention to notice. For those who haven’t watched Nolan’s films he is considerate enough to put up the various locations & time frames on the screen.

On top of this Nolan chooses to move away from the standard template when it comes to films in this genre. One, there are no back stories told (It is only in the very end that you learn that the sailor Mr Dawson’s elder son died in battle) Instead Nolan simply air drops the audience right in the middle of the action. Two, there are no pitched gun battles, no body parts flying, no blood letting. Heck you don’t get to see the enemy even once. Three, there are no heroes or villains here. All you see is a bunch of men desperately trying to escape death. And finally the minimal dialogues compensated for by a soundtrack that is a character in it’s own right. #HansZimmer, take a bow. The result is a uniquely immersive viewing experience of the kind that one has not had at the movies. Since James Cameron’s AVATAR. Minus the #VFX. 17 years after writing MEMENTO, Nolan finally has written something that has matched up. In thought, ingenuity and execution.

TECHNICAL CREDITS

It was in the extraordinary 2008 Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN that one first came to know of the half Dutch half Swedish lensman #HoyteVanHoytema. And his work in Nolan’s last film INTERSTELLAR was magnificent too (remember the stunning visuals of the new planet where the astronauts led by Matthew McConaughey land?) But without a shred of doubt DUNKIRK is Van Hoytema’s finest hour. The aerial scenes of the fighter planes skimming the surface of the sea are itself worth the price of your cinema ticket. Or the horrifying scene where a ship deck filled with soldiers happily tucking into food attacked by a torpedo and meeting a watery grave. Hoytema’s expert lens is intimate when needed and sweeping at other times. The German maestro Hans Zimmer whose best work till date is arguably THE DARK KNIGHT (though it was a collaboration with #JamesNewtonHoward) has ably shouldered the responsibility given to him by Nolan. In a film where very little is spoken it is the haunting soundtrack by Hans Zimmer that spooks audiences creating a sense of foreboding rarely seen before at the movies.

PERFORMANCES

Nolan’s films usually boast of a stellar cast and have featured some of the greatest actors of our times from #MichaelCaine, #RobinWilliams, #GaryOldman & #MorganFreeman to #HeathLedger and Christian Bale. This time Nolan opts for a relatively new cast of lesser known actors. The only big name here is the Irish actor #KennethBranagh as a Commander of the #RoyalNavy. Watch the scene at the end where looking at the hundreds of small fishing boats (famous in history as the little ships of Dunkirk) arriving to rescue his men, a despondent Branagh becomes hopeful at the chance of being able to get home. And gives the film one of it’s only emotional scenes. Poignant! Tom Hardy does not count simply because there is only so much acting you can do with most of your face covered in a plane’s cockpit. What is it that Nolan has against Hardy, one wonders for this is twice in a row (after DARK KNIGHT RISES) this has happened. English theatre veteran #MarkRylance who won an Oscar a couple of years ago for Spielberg’s BRIDGE OF SPIES is rivetting as the sailor determined to play his part in rescuing as many soldiers as possible.

DUNKIRK really belongs to a bunch of newcomers who all shine. Ex boyband singer Harry Styles is surprisingly good in a role with grey shades and comes into his own in the scene where he is holed up in a trawler used by the Germans for ‘target practice’ Nolan regular Cillian Murphy is effective as a on-the-edge soldier rescued at sea by Mr Dawson and his son but his role is limited. Tom Glynn-Carney is solid as Rylance’s son Peter who must show maturity beyond his years in the face of great adversity. The surprise package of the film is the duo of Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard. In many ways it is through the eyes of these two young lads that the whole action unfolds before the audience. From the incredibly scene right at the start of DUNKIRK where the two carry a wounded man on the stretcher on to a ship about to leave, the narrative follows the various attempts by these two to escape only to end up in a bigger mess. Barnard as the French soldier posing to be a British one named Gibson in order to get to safe shores is outstanding. Inspite of having almost no dialogues in the film you can always sense from his demeanor that something bad is about to happen. Like in the scene where he is monitoring the deck for an escape route while the others are helping themselves to food & drink. The heartbreaking scene where he drowns in the end stays with you long after the film has ended.

DIRECTION

Christopher Nolan has a body of work which other directors can only dream of. His films have grossed upwards of $4 billion in box office receipts. At the same time they are visceral enough to appeal to the most harsh of critics even making him unique in Hollywood. For all those who felt that his last three films did not match up to the gargantuan expectations that a Nolan creation generates DUNKIRK should prove to be a thoroughly invigorating experience. Is this his best film? That is difficult to say given that his films have all traversed a variety of genres but must say that this is his most assured work till date. Watch the way he weaves Winston Churchill’s stirring speech into the narrative at the end and you know that you are watching a master at the peak of his powers. Will end this review with a few lines from that very speech.

” We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets
We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ”

VERDICT

DUNKIRK is by far the best movie of this year and will be a difficult act to match let alone surpass. It is also among the TOP 3 films of Nolan and it might just get him the nod at the Oscars at the end of the year. If you can, watch it on an IMAX screen for a truly epic viewing experience.

Daniel Day-Lewis calls it quits – The end of an era

 It was at a young, impressionable age that one got to see #DanielDay-Lewis in the incredibly depressing #MyLeftFoot and not knowing any better (remember that this was the pre #Google age) assuming that he was actually like that. A person suffering from #CerebralPalsy capable of only controlling one body part – his left foot. But one suspects it had a bit to do with the #Craft as well. And a lot of madness. For the part Day-Lewis actually spent weeks at a cerebral palsy clinic learning to speak like the character in the film does. All through the shoot he remained confined to his #Wheelchair even having unit hands actually feed him food. All this in the name of preparing for a role. Every actor will tell you about that one role for which they would gladly give their right arm. Day-Lewis gave it his all. For every role that he ever played on the big screen. So when the British thespian announced a couple of days ago that he was hanging his boots, one hopes that this is just one of those #Brain-Fade moments.

Like when he was playing the lead role in #Hamlet at the prestigious #NationalTheatre at #London and to the amazement of everyone left the stage abruptly midway through his performance before collapsing backstage. He was to remark later that he had seen his own father standing (on the stage) that fateful day staring back at Daniel Day-Lewis. The actor subsequently denied having literally seen his father’s ghost that day but that was #1989. Day-Lewis has never returned to the stage again. But then he has different from actors of his generation. #Different in every sense of the much abused word. Unlike many great actors who have these heartrending tales of struggles & tribulations that dot their journey to stardom, Day-Lewis had none. He came from a fairly well-to-do British family (#Posh in his own words) and never really had to worry about where his next meal came from. Some would say that this afforded him the luxury to have five year long breaks between his roles (he has done only five films in the last two decades) Day-Lewis would simply call it being #Steadfast.

For an actor of the calibre that Daniel Day-Lewis possesses it is perhaps very important to retain this enigmatic charm. You know, it lends just that bit of mystery, that bit of aura which is missing in actors nowadays. So no matter how many pounds an actor put on for that dream role or how well another actor nailed a rare accent in the quest for perfection it is already a lost cause. Not so with Day-Lewis. So this whole disappearing act that he does after every epochal performance is as important for us as an audience as it is for him as an actor. One fondly remembers the time when he went off the radar after filming the very underrated #TheBoxer. For five years after that he went to work as a #Cobbler in #Italy under the tutelage of the great #StefanoBemer. Whatever was the logic behind what he did seems to have worked just fine. In 2002, Day-Lewis returned to play his most bad-ass role, Bill #TheButcher Cutter in #Scorsese’s violent #GangsOfNewYork.

Even as Day-Lewis announced his decision to ‘stop working as an actor’ (the words of his rep) he has still one last ace up his sleeve – #PaulThomasAnderson’s PHANTOM THREAD. That in itself in rare, Day-Lewis has only collaborated with only director on more than one film. Which was the Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan (with whom he actually did three films) Whether Day-Lewis stays true to his word or whether all this is part of the prep work for a new role as an actor retiring from the profession (as a smart alec remarked on a social networking site) one thing is for certain. When Anderson’s film releases THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

ALIEN COVENANT – Ridley Scott is back with a bang

 Get away from her, you b***ch – Ellen Ripley in the ALIENS

INTRO

39 years ago, Sir Ridley Scott directed what was only his second film and it was called #ALIEN. Widely considered to be the greatest #Sci-Fi #Horror film of all time it spawned a sequel seven years later called the #ALIENS which the visionary #JamesCameron made and it became an instant classic. 25 years and half a dozen unimpressive sequels later Scott returned to direct the ALIEN series with #PROMETHEUS in #2012. Though visually path breaking the film could not sustain audience interest and it failed to provide the spark needed to revitalise the franchise. Undeterred the British filmmaker is back with ALIEN COVENANT a film whose teasers have got audiences agog with excitement of the kind not seen in decades.

STORY

The year is #2104. #Covenant is a colony ship that is on a space voyage (which will take approximately seven years to complete if everything goes to plan)to some remote planet looking for human settlement with over 2000 people in deep freeze sleep with a thousand odd embryos to boot. To nobody’s surprise the ill fated ship meets with an accident and the inhabitants make a disastrous decision to detour to a completely different planet. And so begins the mayhem, carnage and blood letting. Sounds familiar? Absolutely.

SCRIPT & SCREENPLAY

Does one have to see PROMETHEUS to make sense of what is happening in #ALIENCOVENANT? Fortunately, not and this works quite well as a stand alone film. The sombre opening sequence involving a philosophical debate between the character of #MichaelFassbender (reprising his role from PROMETHEUS) and his father (Guy Pearce in a fleeting appearance) does nothing to prepare the audiences for what is to follow. Over the next two hours there is hardly a dull moment in the film which has it’s requisite share of scream-out-loud moments. And the writers John Logan and Dante Harper do a fantastic job in sticking to the brief given by Scott. ALIEN COVENANT never becomes drab, heavy handed and boring. Which is exactly what the problem with PROMETHEUS was.

One of the big reasons for the unprecedented success of the original ALIEN films was the superb character of the fiesty, never-say-die #Ripley brought to life by #SigourneyWeaver. And let us be frank, #KatherineWaterston might have her own charm but she cannot hold a candle to Ripley. Ridley Scott seems to realise this only too well. Which is why he introduces the double whammy of Michael Fassbender into ALIEN COVENANT. How successful this film eventually turns out will depend to a large extent on how well the characters of David and Walter are received by fans.

TECHNICAL CREDITS

One of the big pluses of the original ALIEN was it’s extraordinary soundtrack composed by the great #JerryGoldsmith. Which is why the choice of Australian singer and song writer #JedKurzel is an inspired one and he sure does not disappoint. There are enough moments throughout ALIEN COVENANT where the dark, eerie score will remind you of the 1979 original. Like all other Scott films and PROMETHEUS in particular this one also is a scorcher when it comes to visual extravagance. The eye catching landscapes, breathtaking mountains and water bodies that dot this mysterious planet are all proof that when it comes to production values Scott is still master of all that he surveys.

PERFORMANCES

Compare Katherine’s Daniel to Weaver’s Ripley and you will find her falling way short but see her performance in isolation and it is quite a good job she does. But ALIEN COVENANT well and truly belongs to the identical looking twins played by Michael Fassbender and he manages to keep audiences glued right till the end credits with his magnetic performance. With two more prequels on the cards, Fassbender is one big reason to look forward to.

DIRECTION

With directors like #ClintEastwood, #WoodyAllen, #JeanGodard and now Ridley Scott all directing films well into their 80s sure seems like it is just a number for these evergreen filmmakers. Scott who seemed to have blown the chance to breathe life into the ALIEN franchise five years ago doggedly persists with ALIEN COVENANT which clearly is the best film in this franchise since #1986. The success of this film will pave the way for the two mammoth prequels that are in the pipeline. Whether Scott himself helms them remains to be seen.

VERDICT

ALIEN COVENANT is a worthy third film in the trilogy that consists of the 1979 original ALIEN and the 1986 smash hit ALIENS. Watch it to relive the horror unleashed by the #Xenomorphs. All over again.

Beauty & the Beast 3D – Enchanting then, mesmerising now

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more
intelligent read them more fairy tales – Albert Einstein

INTRO

When French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve better known as Madame de Villeneuve wrote La Belle et la Bete way back in the 17th century little did she know that three hundred years down the line, it would continue to fascinate filmmakers and audiences the world over? For the record, before this, there have been no less than nine movie adaptations of this timeless fairy tale. And one is not even talking about the ones made for stage and television. To no one’s great surprise, Disney which seems to have a natural flair for adapting such classic fables to film produced the most successful version of them all in the year 1991. It made over $400 million back then and even snared a couple of awards at the Academy’s. Which brings us to the question – What’s new this time?

STORY

A young and beautiful girl must live as the prisoner in a castle with a fearsome Beast in order to save her father’s life. The Beast tries desperately to woo the beauty who has dreams of marrying a handsome prince some day. Here is the twist in the tale. The Beast was actually a prince till a curse did him in and meeting the young girl is serendipity. And we all know what will happen next. This is a fairy tale remember? (albeit a dark one)
TECHNICAL CREDITSOne of the mainstays of most Disney animation films has been the music. Right from the 1991 version of this very film to the classic LION KING and this 3D version does not disappoint either. The music by Alan Menken (a regular at Disney who won the Oscar for his score in the 1991 version) which is superb, is further elevated to greater heights by the lavish production values, the absolutely stunning visuals and the masterly lens work by Tobias Schliessler (for whom this is a totally new genre) Among the songs ‘Be our Guest’ which one is informed has been sung by Ewan McGregor is a real gem as is the duet sungby Ariana Grande & John Legend which has incidentally become a huge hit online. The piece de resistance has to be the song ‘Gaston’ Here you have the sidekick (Josh Gad) professing his love for the villain of the piece, though not in some many words. Gay underpinnings? Disney you have surely come a long way.

PERFORMANCES

Now one has never been a huge fan of either the Harry Potter films nor of the leading lady of the franchise, Emma Watson. So it was disappointing to learn that she was picked to play this titular role which she seems ill equipped to play. But credit must go to the writers and the director of the film for writing a character that is so well rounded. The character is quite endearing. Dan Stevens as the Beast has the tough job of trying to emote inspite of layers of make up and CGI seen in the light of which he is fairly all right. The scene stealers of the show are the villain Luke Evans(as Gaston) and his mercurial side kick, LeFou (a brilliant Josh Gad)

The real stars of the film are the tremendous ensemble which includes the who’s who of the acting world. If you know the story of this fairy tale well you would also know that along with the prince all those residing at the castle had got cursed. Which is why you have Stanley Tucci playing a piano, Sir Ian McKellen as a clock, Emma Thompson as a teapot and Ewan McGregor becoming a candlestick. There are other objects too and they all have just one purpose – to make the beauty fall in love with the beast.

DIRECTION
This live action fantasy marks a return to form for Academy award winner Bill Condon who after a smashing debut in GODS AND MONSTERS had disappointed hugely with his choice of films (read TWILIGHT) Right from the very first scene where the prince is turned by an enchantress into the Beast, this one is very entertaining and keeps the audiences invested in the drama till the very end. After LA LA LAND wowed folks the world over, the BEAUTY & THE BEAST 3D is another musical that hits all the right notes. Here is to more singing and dancing at the movies.

VERDICT

Even if you have watched the older version umpteen number of times, this one is still worth a watch. As far as Disney is concerned they have a winner on their hands, one that is set up sweep the box office. All over the world.

LOGAN – The last hurrah of Wolverine

I am not always good and noble. I am the hero of this story but I have my off moments

– P.G.Wodehouse

INTRO

The above lines perhaps describe best the enigmatic superhero from the Marvel Comics, Wolverine. Of all the #Mutant characters created by writer #StanLee, the ones that fans love the most has to be this brooding ageless wonder with a penchant for blood letting. And those fearsome claws which cut through his own flesh before wreaking havoc on his enemies. He is a loner who drinks heavily and like all antiheroes he has scant regard for authority. No wonder that James Howlett (Logan’s birth name) got three stand alone films. In 2009, #X-Men Origins:Wolverine released to a tepid response which delayed production of the second in the series titled The Wolverine. Released in 2013 the film helmed by James Mangold was a much better effort and received a thumbs up from fans. Thus setting it up nicely for what is touted to be the swansong for this iconic character.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

STORY

The year is 2029. Logan is aging more and healing less. His bete noire, the wretched #Admantium is finally getting the better of him. Not just binge drinking now, Logan is now hooked to prescription drugs. Sign of the times? His friend, Professor X is not doing much better either and having seizures every now and then. Enter this mysterious young girl who Logan agrees to escort (albeit reluctantly) to a place that is ironically called Eden. The rest of the movie is all about this journey that unfolds almost completely in the deserts (a first for the franchise)

TECHNICAL CREDITS

The first glimpse of LOGAN was accompanied by the poignant voice of #JohnnyCash singing ‘Hurt’ and that pretty much set the tone for what was to follow. The background score of the film is haunting, fiery and dark which heightens the viewing experience by several notches. Acclaimed English lensman John Mathieson who is a regular on #RidleyScott films (the Academy Award winning GLADIATOR included) does a swell job in LOGAN. As the film relies less on CGI and more on raw, foot stomping action in a desert no less, the challenge for Mathieson is to keep it as real as possible. And he does. The editor Michael McCusker has collaborated with director Mangold before and the understanding shows. At a little over two hours. LOGAN is a film that always moves at an even keel.

PERFORMANCES

Patrick Stewart as the aging (and ailing) Professor does what the role demands of him which is not much anyway. It is half English, half Spanish actress Dafne Keen who stumps you with her quiet yet disconcerting presence as Logan’s daughter. Be it the more emotional moments (which are few and far in between)or the action set pieces (which there is abundance of) she gets it all right. Heck she even has those claws that make Logan so dangerous.Here is to seeing more of this talented actress.

#HughJackman totally owns this film. Right from the very first scene where he gets beaten to pulp before coming back strong with those claws making bloody contact with bodily parts flying all over the place, this is a surreal performance. Here is a character that he has lived for the better part of two decades spanning over nine feature films. And Jackman gives LOGAN a terrific sendoff. Bitter and angry with a world that has no use for mutants anymore, you get to see the full force of his anger in LOGAN. There is no holding back here. And then there is the gentle,caring side which shines through in many scenes that he has with the character of Laura. These scenes thankfully do not seem contrived but are rather heartfelt and real. While you are at it, watch out for the artificial mutant X-24 who is a mirror image of Jackman. It is poetic justice that when the end comes Logan dies in the arms of the female clone who was created from his own blood.

In #LOGAN there are no-holds-barred. Be it the fearsome action sequences or the colourful language that Logan speaks nothing gets trimmed or glossed over. Mangold decides to put it all out there and in some style. For fans of Wolverine, LOGAN is just the release (pun intended) that they have waited long years for. The makers of LOGAN seems to have inspired by these lines by immortal lines by #DylanThomas.

‘Do not go gently into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage,rage against the dying of the light’

As we made our way out of the cinema halls, my first words to my friend were “Got any Beer?”

OSCARS 2017 – A night of high drama, controversy and a shocking climax

damien-chazelle-best-director
Damien Chazelle Best Director – Oscar

It was a stunning twist in the tale. And right at the end, mind you. The kind that Indian descent director M. Night Shyamalan would have been proud of. When veteran actor & filmmaker Warren Beatty announced that the musical ‘La La Land’ had taken home the most coveted #Oscar of the evening, for Best Picture and even as the makers of the Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling starrer were halfway through their acceptance speech, came the shocker. The award was given then to the poignant ‘Moonlight’ and you could literally hear the collective gasps of all folks gathered in the #DolbyTheatre for the glittering ceremony. Beatty had supposedly been given the wrong cue cards. Really?! In many ways it was a climax that went very well with the narrative of the evening. An evening mired in protests & controversies that had little to do with cinema itself.

The tone for what was to follow was set at the outset itself. Popular talk show host and comedian #JimmyKimmel in his opening salvo took generous potshots at controversial US President #DonaldTrump and even mouthed the ‘Meryl Streep is overrated’ bit for dramatic effect. It was an #OscarAwards night that many expected to be dominated by everybody’s favorite musical #LaLaLand but though the film did quite well for itself (Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography) with 6 nods in all it was not exactly a sweep. The first major award of the night was quite historic with black actor Mahershala Ali winning the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of a drug peddler in ‘Moonlight’ This made Ali (born Eric Gilmore) the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar award. Coming after 88 Oscar Award ceremonies, this one was long overdue. Very long. And coming a day after a kin of the more famous ‘M.Ali’ (boxing legend Ali’s son) was harangued at US airports, it made for truly powerful symbolism.

oscar-best-actors
Best Actors and Supporting Actors – Oscar

Black Americans clearly held sway in this year’s Oscar Awards with three time nominated actress Viola Davis finally snaring her first Oscar for her gutwrenching performance in ‘Fences’ To add a bit of trivia this award makes Viola the first black woman to win the ‘Holy Trinity’ of awards with the Oscars, the Emmys and the Tony awards all in her kitty. Though critics suggest that the award to Viola this year was less for the performance in Fences and more for her consistent performances in the last few years. The other controversial moment of the night was when the Iranian film ‘The Salesman’ walked off with the Oscar for Best #ForeignLanguage film. Seen in light of the recent blanket ban on entry of immigrants of certain Muslim countries (that includes Iran) into the US it makes for some very absorbing discussion. The director of the film, who was boycotting the awards ceremony in a symbolic gesture made sure to send a video recording across. No surprises for guessing who he lambasted. Equally interesting was the fact that #AnoushehAnsari, an Iranian American accepted the award on the filmmaker’s behalf. Ansari incidentally is the first woman space explorer to do it with her own money.

If you thought that was all, there was more. In what is a dramatic turn of events for the actor, Casey Affleck won the Best Actor award for his bravura performance in the little seen/heard ‘Manchester by the Sea’ And unlike last year when everyone was rooting for DiCaprio there were not many expecting that Casey (brother of the more famous Affleck) would romp home. For this good looking, undeniably talented actor whose on screen exploits have thus been overshadowed by a dark past with serious accusation of inappropriate behavior with his female colleagues on set this is perhaps redemption time.

How to become a film critic – The essential guide

In the 2007 smash hit animated film ‘Ratatouille’ the character of the Chef Gusteau famously remarks ” Anybody can cook.” Something on similar lines can be said about the job of a film critic. Anybody can critique. As long as you love watching cinema. Sounds too simple? But this is indeed a fact. When you are writing a review or even two every week all through the year, that means having to watch fifty odd films of which perhaps just half a dozen stay with you after the curtains have come down. And of these even lesser number of films are worth revisiting. Even by way of a review. Having said that, regardless of whether a film is good bad or avoidable there is always a takeaway from it. And remember this. To critique a bad film is nothing short of social service. If the film viewing experience has not been a memorable one for you it becomes even more imperative that others cinephiles are given advance notice.

The job of a film critic comes with a quirk that is all it’s own. Where the ones reviewing a film neednot really have first hand knowledge of making a film themselves. And yet they are at complete libertyto trash a film that is not to their liking.One even personally knew of a film critic who took it uponhimself to give a thumbs down to all those films that he could not really understand. Besides cricket,cinema and politics are subjects where everyone in this country (read India) seems to anyway regardthemselves as experts.It is another matter altogether that when these film critics themselves triedtheir hand at making a film, the end results were nothing to crow about. Be it the legendary RogerEbert in far away Hollywood or our very own Khalid Mohammed in Hindi cinema.

Thanks to the internet explosion, the job of critiquing a film has all of a sudden become a viable proposition for those interested. Where earlier it was a pre requisite of sorts to have a degree in either journalism or even mass communication before one could start reviewing films for a newspaper, today there are hundreds of portals online related to films where you could start writing. All you have to do is to badmouth a big budget film featuring stalwarts and your two minutes of fame is assured. Earlier a smart alec filmmaker could rip off a film from the west (or the east if you like) adapt it to Indian sensibilities and walk away with all the plaudits. Not anymore. The audience has wisened up.
The new generation film buffs have access to cinema from all over the world making them so well informed that a lot of times, by viewing just the teaser of a forthcoming film they are able to figure out which European/Korean film is the ‘inspiration’ behind a film. So exposure to a diverse range of cinema from all over is one criteria paramount to becoming a film critic. And it does not hurt if as a film critic you have a way with words, a sense of humour and a gift of the gab.On top of it technology today gives you the option to broadcast you opinions  live, to the entire world.

But all this may still not suffice for there are enough folks out there all vying for the attention of a reader. Which is exactly why it is important that you carve a niche for yourself. By using catchy words & phrases (Two Thumbs Up was one such phrase made memorable by Ebert) and by working out a format and style of reviewing that is all your own. And no, narrating a story line by line with spoilers
galore does not qualify as film criticism. That is just being a party pooper.

ROAD TO THE OSCARS 2017 – Jimmy Kimmel in the house

A few weeks ago popular talk show host Jimmy Kimmel finally ended all the speculations, rumours and  suspense about who will be hosting the 89th Oscar Awards by confirming that he would be the one doing the honours. The ceremonies which started way back in the year 1929 have had the who’s who of Hollywood hosting it. From legendary singers and dancers like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra to the greatest of comics like Jerry Lewis, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Martin to all time great actors like Jack Lemmon, Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine and of course, talk show hosts like David Letterman, Ellen Degeneres and now Jimmy Kimmel. Above all, one must mention the famous comedian Bob Hope who got to host the show for a mindboggling 19 times. Billy Crystal having hosted the Oscars nine times in all comes a distant second.

The 30th Oscar Awards that took place in the year 1958 were unique in the sense that for the first time an animated character was co-hosting the show. With luminaries like David Niven, James Stewart and Jack Lemmon for company, the Donald Duck cartoon made this a memorable year. There has been those rare occasions too when those guys who have been chosen to host the show have also been nominated for an Oscar award. This has happened only six times in the eighty nine times the Oscars ceremonies have been held and the most recent instance was in the year 2011 when actor James Franco hosted the show. In the very same year he was nominated in the Best Actor category for the film ‘127 Hours’But that is a burden every Oscar Award host has to shoulder.LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 23: Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks onstage during the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Truth is that the Oscars have not been doing all that good in the last decade or so. And we are talking
purely in terms of TRPs (television rating points) and audience reviews which have been quite
disappointing year on year. In fact many critics rate the 2011 Oscars hosted by actor James Franco &
actress Anne Hathaway as probably the worst in it’s history. Truth is that hosting an Oscar Award
ceremony is one of the most tricky jobs to accomplish. For one the critics will be relentless in their
nitpicking regardless of how good or bad you were. In fact a host even gets blamed for things he has no
say or control over. For example if the show goes on far too long, has too many awards and tons of
montage the host is hardly responsible for it.

It goes without saying then that Jimmy Kimmel has his job cut out for him. What may have swung the vote in his favour was his great success a few months earlier at the Emmy Awards. If he can do an encore when the Oscars take place towards the end of next month there will be no stopping Kimmel. What might or might not prove to be a decisive factor is that unlike previous hosts of the Oscars, Kimmel has no experience in working in a film for the big screen. It is a different matter that he understands the medium of TV better than most from the industry. After all, he has ruled the roost in this medium for a long time now. He would do well to take a leaf out of the book of previous hosts who wowed audiences and critics alike. Like in 2014 when the host Ellen DeGeneres ordered pizza for the Oscar nominees and it was all spontaneous. And hope he takes care not to repeat the blunderous act of his ertswhile predecessor and legendary talk show host, David Letterman.

Road To The Oscars 2017 – VFX and Animation

Last week, the Academy announced what they like to call the preliminary shortlist of films that have been selected in the category of Visual Effects for the year 2016. This includes twenty films selected by the Academy’s Executive Committee for Visual Effects. In a few weeks the same members of this committee will bring the number of films in this category to 10. Thereafter a voting process involving  all the members of the Academy will decide which five of these 10 films will win a nomination for the 89th Oscar Awards. Though the Academy recognised the importance of special effects in the very first award function in the year 1928 itself, perhaps no other Academy award category has gone through a journey as strange and varied as that of Visual Effects. Call it a roller coaster if you may.

It began with the award being dubbed as ‘Best Engineering Award’ which after a few years got rechristened to ‘Special Achievement Award for Special Effects’ then the Academy changed it again to ‘Best Special Effects’ till in the 1960s when it got renamed yet again to ‘Best Special Visual Effects’ before finally the current name of the awards aka ‘Best Visual Effects’ came into vogue in the late 1970s. It took an incredible four decades for the Academy to actually zero in on the right name for
this category. Then there is this whole story of the number of films that got nominated for the award. Though this number is usually limited to three, there are have been enough instances when there was not even a single nomination in this category and then the rare occasion when up to five films got nods for the purpose of nomination.

 

Yet it is in this category that some of the most celebrated film makers in the history of cinema have been honoured. From Stanley Kubrick to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to James Cameron. In what has been a recent trend, all of the 6 superhero films made in 2016 have made it to the initial list of twenty films. Of these films the best chance has to be that of ‘The Jungle Book’ which is an eclectic mix of animation and live action. The other film which one would consider as a dark horse has to be the Marvel comic hero film ‘Doctor Strange’ that has perhaps more VFX scenes than any other film this year.  And it helped that the film has won over both critics and audiences alike. The only problem is that in all these years, no film based on the Marvel Comics has ever won an Oscar. Not one.

Another record this year has been that of 27 films which have been submitted for the Oscar Awards in the Animated Feature Film category. It is the most recent entrant to the Oscar awards and was presented first in the year 2001. Pixar film studios has been the one to beat with a mind boggling eight wins and ten nominations in this last decade and half. Which is why it is difficult to look beyond Pixar’s ‘Finding Dory’ which is an immensely well received sequel to the original ‘Finding Nemo’ There is an outside chance for Sony’s ‘The Red Turtle’ which won plaudits at all the leading festivals. And one must mention a word about the Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ for the simple reason that it made a billion dollars at the box office this year. Not easy to talk against those kind of numbers.

In the end, who wins will be known only at the end of February next year. All one can wish is ‘Let the best one win.’

Road To The Oscars 2017 – Foreign films making waves

 

On Sunday, February 26th 2017 the Oscar Awards will be televised live on the ABC Television Network and it will be viewed by a mammoth audience in more than 225 countries all over the globe. That should give one a fair idea as to why the Oscars are regarded as the biggest and the most eagerly awaited of all the various awards that will be given out over the next few weeks. In fact the months between November and February are referred to as awards season on account of a dozen and more film awards that are handed out in this very period. Of them awards like the Golden Globe, the BAFTA (British Academy Awards)and the SAG awards (Screen Actors Guild) which are presented before the Oscars are regarded by industry insiders as good indicators of who is likely to emerge as a winner at the Oscars. Not always but a lot many times that is indeed the case.
Though Oscar Awards have been presented since the year 1929, it was only in the year 1956 that the Academy first announced awards in the category of Foreign Language films and it was the legendary Italian director, Federico Fellini’s ‘La Strada’ which had the honour of winning the first ever Oscar in this category. This year in celebration of its 60th anniversary, the Academy has painstakingly made a montage of all past acceptance speeches. Along with it, they have also created a gallery containing posters of all those who won in the Foreign Language Film category. Both of these will surely be a delight for all film aficionados. Last week when the Academy called for submission, a massive eighty five countries submitted films from their respective nations for consideration in the Foreign Language Film category for the 89th Academy Awards.
By the way, 85 is a new record when it comes to the number of countries that have submitted their films in the Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars topping last year’s 81 films. Does this mean that the Oscars are gaining in popularity worldwide year on year. Next you will have a bunch of Academy foreign committees consisting of members from practically every department of film making sitting down to prune this down to a shortlist of nine films before the final five nominations are announced. What makes the Foreign Language Film category unique in comparison to all the other Academy category awards is that it is presented to the country as a whole and not to any one individual related to the film as such. Though normally, it is the film’s producer and/or director who accepts the Oscar award.
One of the criticisms of the Oscars when it comes to foreign language films is that almost nine out of ten winners are all European filmmakers. In this a chunk of the awards and nominations have gone to Italy. Matter of fact, last year’s winner was from Hungary and the film was called ‘Son of Saul’ In an interesting aside, this year will be the first time a film from the country of Yemen has been submitted for the Oscars. Coming to the film which one thinks has a good shot, there are actually a couple worth a mention. First up is the Mexican film ‘Desierto’ that is produced by Oscar award winning director Alfonso Cuaron (of Gravity fame) and is directed by his son Jonas Cuaron. Jonas was incidentally credited with writing Gravity. This violent saga of Mexican migrants trying to illegally cross over into US has wowed the festival circuit and is a good bet this year.
Another film that one fancies is the Spanish film ‘Julieta’ directed by the controversial Oscar winning Pedro Aldomovar. It had the critics mesmerised at Cannes earlier this year. But will it snare the big one? Let us wait and watch.