murtaza_mma

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Reviews

Phantom Thread
(2017)

A formidable work of immense pain and beauty
If Ismail Merchant were alive today, James Ivory would have been tempted to don the director's hat once again for at least one more Merchant-Ivory classic after watching Phantom Thread. What Paul Thomas Anderson creates here is not just vintage Merchant-Ivory but it is also a reminder of the influence Stanley Kubrick (all that lighting, sets, and costumes oozing with impeccable period detail), Jonathan Demme (all those intense close ups), and Max Ophüls (all those dolly/tracking shots) have had on Anderson.

But of course it's not just a Paul Thomas Anderson film (so what if he has written and shot it himself!) because the film wouldn't have been possible without the performances delivered by the inimitable Daniel Day Lewis and the alluringly charming Vicky Krieps. It's a travesty that the latter got snubbed by the Oscar Jury. I just can't remember the last time two actors shared such intense screen chemistry. Perhaps, we will have to go back to The English Patient. If this indeed proves to be Lewis' swansong then certainly it's a befitting one. Like a chameleon he gives us another of his immaculate performances that make us suffer just as we watch him suffer. As for Krieps, she plays her enchanting character with coldness and warmth in equal parts. She is both a goddess of kindness and love and a man's worst nightmare.

Paul Thomas Anderson concocts a heady cognac of such passion, pain, and cruelty that only a bleak ending would have done it the justice it deserved but strangely he opts for a rather merry closure that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Maybe he was catering to the casual viewer standing at the ticket window who wouldn't care much for a film with bleak ending. But I wonder why a casual viewer would care for a movie like Phantom Thread anyway? Having said that the ending aside Phantom Thread is a formidable work of immense pain and beauty that must be watched by anyone who takes his/her cinema just as seriously as a fussy English dressmaker takes his stitching.

For more on world cinema please visit my film site "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

The Lost City of Z
(2016)

Percy Fawcett comes across as a thinking man's Indiana Jones
It's really heartening to see Hollywood still making such movies... it's heartbreaking to see American audiences snubbing it even as they continue to embrace the dumb superhero films. Had David Lean made Embrace of the Serpent then perhaps it would have looked like The Lost City of Z.

Here is a film that reminded me of so many great movies. A discernible viewer would find shades of Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, The New World, The Wages of Fear, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Charlie Hunnam plays an English explorer Percy Fawcett who comes across as a thinking man's Indiana Jones. The movie also features deeply nuanced performances from one of my modern favorites, Robert Pattinson, and the intelligently beautiful Sienna Miller.

Kudos to director James Gray for his vision and courage to realize a film like The Lost City of Z. If you love the kind of films that I have talked about in the review then certainly you cannot afford to give this film a miss.

For more on world cinema please visit my film site "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

The Cloud Door
(1994)

Mani Kaul's cinematic genius underlined
I wasn't aware until very recently that the great Indian filmmaker Mani Kaul made an erotic film titled 'The Cloud Door' back in 1994 with the ravishing Anu Agarwal (remember Aashiqui?) in the central role of a mysterious courtesan. Within a short run time of 20 odd minutes, Mani Kaul gives a demonstration of his cinematic mastery.

Had Kaul been born in Europe he would have been hailed as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Nonetheless, Kaul is to Indian cinema what Andrei Tarkovsky is to the Russian cinema. One cannot really think of another Indian filmmaker who succeeded in constantly reinventing the form. Some may mention Kumar Shahani but his body of work clearly pales in comparison to Kaul's formidable oeuvre which includes masterworks like Duvidha, Uski Roti, and Siddheshwari.

Coming back to 'The Cloud Door,' I encourage you all to watch it (you can find it on YouTube) but please don't hold it against me if you can't see much beyond its breathtaking images, a voluptuous woman and her naughty parrot that keeps repeating erotic verses, and a laughing fish. And because it's Mani Kaul at work, it is quite possible that the fish may be laughing at our ignorance that compels us to find purpose in a great artist's creative imagination.

P.S. It's a real pity that when Anurag Kashyap asked Mani Kaul about his films the master told him that he himself would love to watch them again if somehow Kashyap could help locate them for him.

For more on world cinema please visit my film site "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

The Man in the High Castle
(2015)

The alternate reality envisioned by the great Philip K. Dick brought to life
Finally finished the first season of The Man in the High Castle and I must say that I am impressed! Ever imagined what would have happened had the Nazis prevailed during the Second World War? Well, here is your chance to witness the alternate reality and thank the Almighty that the Nazis were vanquished before it was too late. The Man in the High Castle presents such intriguing characters and subplots that they would blow any thinking viewer's mind. Speaking of the characters, I haven't seen so many complex caricatures in a single series. We have the wise Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi, the gritty Obergruppenführer John Smith, the pretty Juliana Crain and her troubled lover Frank Frink, the charming but duplicitous Joe Blake, the no-nonsense Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido, and the greedy but tenacious salesman Robert Childan, among others. If that's not enough we also have a senile and surprisingly peace-loving Adolf Hitler at our disposal. The rest of the supporting cast is no less remarkable such as the sadistic Marshall who doesn't think twice before terminating his victims in cold blood.

The attention to the period detail is striking. The series has already won a well deserved Emmy for its Title Design. The eerie tone of the series is set right from the title theme song '"Edelweiss" borrowed (but completely transformed) from The Sound Of Music. Of course, it wouldn't have been what it is today without its brilliant parallel editing that at times seems greatly inspired by the Baptism Sequence from the The Godfather. In a nutshell, The Man in the High Castle is absolutely brilliant and impossible to forget.

P.S. I must confess that after watching the pilot it was a bit difficult to decide. But the subsequent episodes have constantly improved. It is not like Game of Thrones where half of the season is spent on setting up the season's finale, for every episode takes us deeper into the alternate reality originally envisioned by the great Philip K. Dick. The reviews for the second season have been quite encouraging and we can expect the third season by the end of 2017. So there's enough time if you want to catch up on the first two seasons before the third one goes live.

For more please visit my film site "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

A Face in the Crowd
(1957)

Elia Kazan's naked portrait of fame
Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd is a naked portrait of fame and what it can do to a man in the absence of morality. It is not just a film but a prophecy that's more relevant today then ever. Many who have watched the film would feel that Kazan predicted the rise of Donald J. Trump more than 50 years in advance. Demagoguery today sells like hot cakes and A Face In The Crowd presents a haunting take on how television serves as the perfect conduit for its propagation.

The film revolves around a fast talking country boy named Lonesome Rhodes who goes on to become a television sensation who is sought after by advertisers, business magnates and politicians. Rhodes, in his own words, is 'not just an entertainer, but an influence, a welder of opinion, a force'. But since it was the '50s driven by the idealistic belief that morality must ultimately triumph, Lonesome's larger than life story could not be completed without dichotomizing his meteoric rise with his great fall. Kazan's visionary direction is brilliantly complimented by Andy Griffith who delivers one of the greatest performances in all cinema only to be snubbed by The Academy. The film also features an unforgettable performance from Patricia Neal who steals almost every scene she features in. The passion that the two of them exude in the scenes they are together is something that most actors of today would struggle to achieve even after resorting to nudity.

'A Face in the Crowd' is a reminder of what Hollywood once stood for. It is really heartbreaking to see what Hollywood has been reduced to today. There was a time it focused on real stories of substance that told so much about the different sides of humanity: the virtues, the vices and the follies. Those stores served as great lessons on morality, hypocrisy and hubris. Today all Hollywood seems capable of offering are endless superhero franchises, high on style but with little substance. It is high time the creatively and emotionally bankrupt Studio Bosses revisited a film like 'A Face in the Crowd'.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film site "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

One-Eyed Jacks
(1961)

There is, there was, and there will always be one Marlon Brando
Before Clint Eastwood, there was Sam Peckinpah. Before Peckinpah, there was Sergio Leone. But before Leone there was Marlon Brando and One- Eyed Jacks. It is impossible to think of Unforgiven, The Wild Bunch, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, or even The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance without One-Eyed Jacks. Here is a film which Peckinpah couldn't realize and one that Kubrick abandoned. It was Brando's destiny to produce, direct and act in it. The result was a commercial disaster. It was also in many ways the end of a remarkable phase in Brando's acting career. For anyone interested in studying his stellar career, it is essential to divide it in two phases i.e. career before and career after One-Eyed Jacks.

After the failure of the film, Brando ceased to be the actor he once was. The fascination for cinematic art got replaced by cynicism and although he would go on to deliver unforgettable performances in movies like The Godfather, Last Tango in Paris and Queimada, his charming innocent side would permanently be lost.

In order to truly appreciate the complexity of One-Eyed Jacks one will probably have to watch at least a dozen other Westerns. Here is a film that marks a departure from the tenets and values established by the Classic Westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks. The characters here aren't necessarily good or bad and perhaps that's what makes them more relatable. Take the case of Brando's Rio who is arguably one of the genre's foremost anti-heroes. He isn't beyond cheating women or shooting his adversary in his back and yet he has certain heroic qualities. He is willing to take the bullet for his partner. Similarly, Dad Longworth isn't all evil. He has his own share of virtues unlike the Classic Western villains.

On a whole, One-Eyed Jacks is one of the greatest Westerns ever made. The performances are topnotch: be it Brando, Karl Malden, Ben Johnson, Katy Jurado, or even Slim Pickens. Groundbreaking and far ahead of its time, One-Eyed Jacks is a testament to Brando's commitment to the cinematic artform before he suffered from disillusionment. Thanks to the brilliant restoration supervised by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, One-Eyed Jacks looks just as refreshing today as it would have looked in the good old days of VistaVision. If you are a Western fan or appreciate good cinema, here is a film that you just cannot afford to miss.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film site "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Hacksaw Ridge
(2016)

A formidable anti-war film elevated by a sublime performance from Andrew Garfield
Hacksaw Ridge is a formidable anti-war film that's closer to popular war films like Saving Private Ryan and Platoon than anti-war masterpieces like Full Metal Jacket and Paths of Glory. The film is elevated by sublime performances from Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, and the lovely Teresa Palmer. Mel Gibson is certainly back with a bang and seems to be following the footsteps of Clint Eastwood. All we need from Gibson now is a Revisionist Western. Speaking of Gibson, his choice of including the archive footage of Private Doss and other survivors from the Battle of Okinawa helps add a lot of weight to the film.

With as many as 6 Oscar nominations to its credit, Hacksaw Ridge is certainly one of the biggest films of the year. Apart from the brilliant screenplay and direction, it is Garfield's performance that makes Hacksaw Ridge what it is. 2016 proved to be an incredible year for Garfield who delivered not one but two great performances-- the other being his turn of a stoic Jesuit Priest in Martin Scorsese's Silence. It's an interesting coincidence that in both these films, Garfield played a Christian pacifist. A real pity is that Garfield didn't get a second nomination for his sublime performance in Silence which is even better than his brilliant turn in Hacksaw Ridge.

Hacksaw Ridge looks set to win the Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. A win in any other category would be a real bonus.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Blue Jay
(2016)

If you are a hopeless romantic then this film is certainly for you
Are you in love? Or, do you want to fall in love? Or, are you heart broken? Whatever the case may be, Alex Lehmann's Blue Jay is the perfect remedy. Here is a film so honestly made that it will make your heart melt. Blue Jay is essentially a two handler about two former high school lovers who bump into each other for the first time in two decades.

It is an awkward situation at first. But soon it develops into a very memorable day for the both of them. There are moments of immense joy and pain as they revisit their past through their present. It's like experiencing catharsis. Indie films, when they are really good, can really pack a punch because they are not bound by the liability to placate the Studio bosses, thereby allowing greater liberty to the filmmaker. And, Blue Jay is a very well made indie film and certainly one of the better indies that I have ever seen.

One of the greatest strengths of the film are the acting performances of Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson. The two of them look so natural (the choice monochrome of course helps... color would have drastically toned down the intensity). Both the actors demonstrate a great range of emotions. Duplass looks the more volatile of the two but it is as per the demand of the character. As for Paulson, her smile seems capable of speaking a thousand words. Together, they create magic, which, I daresay, most Hollywood A- listers fail to create these days.

The film has its share of flaws but overall it makes for a wonderful movie viewing experience. If you are a hopeless romantic then this film is certainly for you

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Arrival
(2016)

Boring and inconsequential film that tries to look down on its viewers
I wish Arrival was half as good as critics around the world are projecting it to be. Hailing a movie as a masterpiece just because it is different is pretty much the worst thing that art connoisseurs can do.

Apparently, the critics are raving about the Sci-Fi film because it takes a departure from Hollywood style of filmmaking. But departure alone is not enough. A movie should first and foremost succeed in elucidating the subject at hand for the audiences to the last detail. Arrival, for example, talks about certain symbols that the aliens seem to use and the protagonist who is a language expert slowly learns them but the viewers are never afforded that luxury. Right from the onset film assumes that the viewers are incapable of understanding such intellectual stuff. I mean our two protagonists are supposed to be two of the most intelligent professionals on the planet earth. One is a world renowned language expert and the other is a theoretical physicist. What is the probability in the world that an average viewer would be able to match that intellect? Well, for your kind information, that same average viewer has paid for the ticket. Some of the most intellectual characters ever created, including Sherlock Holmes, never let things unexplained for the lesser mortals.

I don't claim to be as intelligent as Robert Langdon or Hannibal Lector, but I like to see myself as an intelligent film viewer and so I would like a filmmaker who tries to indulge me and not a filmmaker who doesn't think me capable enough to understand at least as much as his superintelligent characters. If Tarkovsky or Kubrick never thought lowly of their audiences, what makes Denis Villeneuve to look down upon the viewers? Besides, the film doesn't really offer anything that hasn't been done before in cinema.To make matters worse, it is boring and inconsequential.

The strongest aspect of Arrival is Amy Adams. But she has delivered much stronger and dynamic performances over the years. Hollywood loves to make movies about female characters who look nervous and fidgety to begin with but end up showing remarkable courage in the face of adversities. Can there be an easier way of wooing half the human race? Well, to tell the truth, the female audiences are not gullible and filmmakers cannot fool them. He had attempted something similar in Sicario and he has done it again in Arrival. Hope Denis Villeneuve would be more careful with the Blade Runner sequel.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Dog Eat Dog
(2016)

Cage and Dafoe are a sight to behold
Nicolas Cage's best performance in a long long time and who better can Paul Schrader to make it happen. After the disaster surrounding their previous collaboration Dying of the Light, a film that was tempered by the studio without Schrader's approval, Dog Eat Dog proves to be the perfect foil for both the men to showcase their talents.

Schrader limns a colorful world inhabited by cranky criminals who prefer death to living a choked up life. Crime comedy is a zone where the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Coens and Guy Ritchie thrive but Schrader here provided something completely unique.

Yes, it's a film revolving around guns, girls, money, drugs, and thugs but its hyperrealistic treatment makes it a fascinating watch. To watch Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe wreck havoc together in front of the motion picture camera is a sight to behold. Dafoe gets to play the crazier character but Cage is never the one to hold back. The scene in which his character beats a lady cop senseless is a major highlight of Cage's portrayal. While Dafoe's character takes the definition of wacko to a whole new level, Cage's calm and composed character is like a time bomb waiting to explode.

If you are a fan of Cage and/or Dafoe and/or Schrader, you simply cannot afford to miss Dog Eat Dog.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Leaving Las Vegas
(1995)

Nicolas Cage at top of the game
One wouldn't see a better portrayal of a dipsomaniac in all cinema. Nicolas Cage plays an alcoholic screenwriter who travels to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. Cage clearly is at the height of his acting abilities as he lays bare the wounded soul of a perturbed individual. One seldom gets to witness such honesty in a cinematic portrayal. As a matter of fact, Cage doesn't just portray the character but he actually lives it.

Elizabeth Shue complements Cage brilliantly while playing with great dignity the part of a hooker without making it look vulgar at any point in time. To watch Cage and Shue play two outcasts who find solace in each other is an absolute treat.

Leaving Las Vegas is a rare film about loneliness that actually celebrates life. The film both reject and embraces love. Roger Ebert summed up the film perfectly: "Few films are more despairing and yet, curiously, so hopeful as this one, which argues that even at the very end of the road, at the final extremity, we can find some solace in the offer and acceptance of love."

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Inferno
(2016)

The weakest film in the 'Robert Langdon' movie series
Despite being the weakest film in the 'Robert Langdon' movie series, Inferno succeeds in keeping the viewer engaged throughout its run- time. However, the elements of thrill and suspense significantly wane out towards its climax. Dan Brown is known for seamlessly blending history and fiction and there are truckloads of both in Inferno but perhaps what's missing are the bad guys. Also, the film is lacking in terms of carnage. There is too much talk but little action.

Speaking of the bad guys, Tom Hanks' Langdon thrives on a chilling nemesis like the one played by Ewan McGregor or Ian McKellar in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, respectively. Alas, Inferno has little to offer in this department! All it offers are minor antagonists who do little more than serve the purpose of a McGuffin.

Although, Hanks is not at his best, he stills delivers a solid performance. We all love those moments when Hanks' Langdon beguiles us with his knowledge of history with almost Sherlock Holmes-like reassurance. One wishes Inferno had more of those quintessential Langdon moments. Felicity Jones yet again justifies her casting as to why intelligent men (Dickens, Hawking, etc.) would want to fall for a woman like her. Irrfan Khan's charismatic presence can be felt throughout the movie. The thespian continues to make India proud in the global arena.

In a nutshell, watching Inferno is a must if you have watched The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. As for the rest, you can skip it if History or Literature bores you to death.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

X: Past Is Present
(2015)

A film that needs to be watched
X: Past is Present is easily of the most beautifully photographed and lyrical Indian films that I have ever watched. A collaboration of eleven filmmakers viz Abhinav Shiv Tiwari, Anu Menon, Nalan Kumarasamy, Hemant Gaba, Pratim D. Gupta, Q, Raja Sen, Rajshree Ojha, Sandeep Mohan, Sudhish Kamath and Suparn Verma, X: Past is Present stars the endlessly charming and debonair Rajat Kapoor and some of the most talented young actresses working in the industry today including Radhika Apte, Huma Qureshi, and Swara Bhaskar.

X: Past is Present is about a filmmaker who gets overcome by a bout of nostalgia when he meets a girl half his age at a party, as he is reminded of all the women in his life. Sounds like the master Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini's Otto e Mezzo aka 8 1/2? Well, be ready for the surprise of your life as X: Past is Present is nothing like anything you would have ever watched before. It is like a breath of fresh air that contemporary Indian cinema seems to be missing.

It is really a pity that a film like this went relatively unnoticed when it should have been bestowed with all kinds of accolades. Which reminds me of Chandraprakash Dwivedi's brilliant political satire Zed Plus, a gem of a film that I reviewed on IMDb some time back. Movies like these just come and go. The loss of course is entirely ours.

Of the 11 chapters in X: Past is Present, my favorite is 'Chapter III: Knot', written & directed by Raja Sen. and featuring the beautiful Huma Qureshi in a never-seen-before tantalizing avatar. How I wished the chapter never ended. Now, I know why James Bond 007 doesn't prefer the Windsor knot. Here is a film that needs to be watched.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Zed Plus
(2014)

A powerful political satire
One of the most powerful political satires in recent times, ‪Zed Plus‬ is yet another gem of a film that bombed at the Indian box-office. Directed by Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi, Zed Plus is a delectable satire on democracy and what it stands for in today's context.

The movie doesn't spare religion either and shows us though a bizarre sequence of fortuitous events how a destitute Khadim (Dargah attendant) shockingly ends up with Zed Plus security. What ensues is a fascinating game of political opportunism involving the Khadim and the top leaders of the two opposing political factions.

Zed Plus is a reminder of the sorry state of democracy in the 21st century India. It is also a warning and a great eye-opener. The movie's sad fate at the box-office also proves that Indian audiences merely want escapism in the name of cinematic entertainment. That realism is a completely unwanted entity.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

The Duellists
(1977)

The greatest achievement of Ridley Scott's highly decorated filmmaking career
While people often hail Ridley Scott as the maker of films like Gladiator, Blade Runner, and Alien, they rarely talk about his debut film ‪'The Duellists'‬ which can certainly be described as the single greatest achievement of Scott's highly decorated filmmaking career.

The Duellists has the look and the feel of a big budget film despite being shot on a budget that can be described as moderate at best. The film thrives on Scott's remarkable ability to spot and adapt untouched stories of master storytellers like Joseph Conrad (in case The Duellists) and Philip K Dick (in case of Blade Runner).

The Duellists basically tells the story of two Napoleonic officers who engage in a series of uncompleted duels that go on intermittently for years. In a nutshell, it is a tale of pride and honor, and, more importantly, obsession. Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine play their respective parts to a tee, brilliantly complementing their contrasting roles.

The movie's cinematography, editing and music are absolutely topnotch and provide the perfect foil for Scott's ingenious direction and Gerald Vaughan-Hughes' brilliant adaptation of Conrad's short story which bear a striking resemblance to Hugo's Les Miserables.

The Duellists is a underrated masterpiece and certainly deserves more attention than it has received over the last 35 years or so. There is little doubt that it is the single greatest achievement of Ridley Scott's filmmaking career. The Duellists bears quite a few similarities with Stanley Kubrick's supremely masterful 'Barry Lyndon' -- another film that deals with duels and notorious soldiers -- and can be relished back-to-back with it. The Duellists is a film that a serious film- goer simply cannot afford to miss.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

The Revenant
(2015)

A treatise on man's symbiotic relationship with mother nature
After watching The Revenant one is bound to impressed by certain aspects of the movie. One, with Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography. One just can't help but be in awe of his art.

Second, with the acting performances of ‪Leonardo DiCaprio‬ and Tom Hardy and in that order. DiCaprio's Oscar is thoroughly deserved. No argument(s) can justify otherwise, especially in comparison to the competition on offer. Given he gets to speak very little English, the part can qualify as non-English which puts DiCaprio in a very special league of Oscar winners. His performance reminds one of Tom Hank's gruelling portrayal in Cast Away. As for Hardy, he is undoubtedly robbed off an Oscar. It's his portrayal of a mangy mongrel that makes the movie deviously entertaining.

Third, of course by Inarritu's cinematic vision. The Revenant may far from being a great film (actually, that's for the time to decide) but it is nothing short of a bold statement which will inspire other leading filmmakers to push their boundaries. The film is more about survival than it's about revenge and that's where most people have got it wrong. Laymen may call it man versus wild but those with keener observation will perceive it as a treatise on man's symbiotic relationship with mother nature. The only way to watch it is on the big screen else you would be doing a great injustice to yourself.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

A Good Year
(2006)

A beautiful about life and its endless bounties
What one wouldn't give to own a vineyard in south-eastern France. What one wouldn't do to spend an evening with a beautiful French girl. Ridley Scott's A Good Year is a beautiful film about life and its endless bounties. It's a film that often goes unnoticed in the English filmmaker's body of work.

In life we sometimes get so busy that we fail to recognize what we truly desire. We even forget how to really live our lives. Lost in this modern-day madness, we get reduced to the state of machines with no feelings or emotions.

The movie revolves around a ruthless London-based banker named Max Shiner who following his uncle's death becomes the sole beneficiary of his French estate in Provence. He is so immersed in his corporate life that he doesn't even care to visit his uncle during his final days despite him being the only surviving family member.

When he learns that he has inherited his uncle's property, Shiner travels to France at once with the hope of making a quick sale. But things don't exactly go according to plan and Shiner is stuck. The time he gets to spend at the estate makes him nostalgic as he fondly remembers his childhood. How his uncle had taught him to appreciate the finer things in life--all of which he seems to have forgotten owing to his busy life. Before too long he gets enchanted by a head- strong and beautiful French girl. But time is quickly running out. Shiner must now make a final call: to sell the property and return to London or to quit his job and settle down in Provence.

A Good Year presents Russell Crowe in a very different light. For a change, we get to see his tender side. Crowe shares great chemistry with Marion Cotillard. One just can't afford to blink in between the scenes the two share. It's a pure delight to watch them play around, filling the air with passion and romance. It's impossible not to fall in love with them. The film is a testament to Ridley Scott's versatility as a filmmaker. Kudos to him for concocting a beautiful tale about life and for eliciting such memorable performances from all his actors.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Jana Aranya
(1975)

As bleak a film as Satyajit Ray ever made
As bleak a film as Ray ever made and as brutally honest and disturbing as a film can be, Jana Aranya aka The Middleman, the final chapter in the master Indian filmmaker's highly acclaimed Calcutta Trilogy, jabs us in the small of our backs, rudely reminding us of the moral corruption that surrounds our society at large.

And, like most Satyajit Ray films, it is as relevant today as it was back then. Jana Aranya is not an easy film to watch and is certainly not meant for the faint-hearted.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Road to Ladakh
(2003)

Thrill, adventure, romance and suspense, all neatly packed together
SPOILER: Recently discovered Road to Ladakh on Netflix India. The strange chemistry that Irrfan Khan and Koel Purie share is riveting to watch: their intense love-making sequence towards the end of the film simply blows one away.

It's because of films like Road to Ladakh that Irrfan succeeded in establishing himself as a versatile actor. It's a treat to see him talk so less and communicate mostly through his eyes--a hallmark of a great actor. As for Koel, she shows us that she is actually a better actress than a television show host.

There is thrill, adventure, romance and suspense on offer, all neatly packed together. At a runtime of just 50 minutes, Road to Ladakh is quite a commendable attempt on the part of the indie filmmaker Ashvin Kumar. Highly recommended!

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Sangharsh
(1999)

Sangharsh will always be remembered for Ashutosh Rana's menacing portrayal of Lajja Shankar Pandey
Often looked down upon as a Hindi remake of The Silence of the Lambs, Sangharsh will always be remembered for Ashutosh Rana's menacing portrayal of Lajja Shankar Pandey--a religious fanatic who slaughters children with the hope of gaining immortality. Such was the raw intensity in his portrayal of a disgusting child killer that it pretty much sealed the fate of his acting career as a villain. Yes, extremes often don't go well with the Indian audiences. In Dushman, his previous outing, he had played a rapist and a killer but here he seems to have gone a bit too far. Besides, strong negative roles are not easy to come by in Hindi cinema. So, we never get to see the same Ashutosh Rana again on the celluloid! The loss, of course, was entirely ours.

In Sangharsh, Akshay Kumar too delivers the finest performance of his acting career. Playing the complex part of the quick-witted Professor Aman Varma, Akshay seems to be exploring a completely different side of his acting repertoire. For once, he lets his eyes do most of the talking. The scenes he shares with Preity Zinta are quite solid. It is a pity that some of them are directly borrowed from The Silence of the Lambs. Nonetheless, the acting efforts are commendable. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was Preity Zinta who had started the trend of playing strong female characters in Hindi cinema; and it all started with Sangharsh wherein she plays a gritty CBI Officer.

Overall, Sangharsh is a very difficult film to watch. It's uncommon for Hindi films to have such high graphic content. Rana's ferality, Akshay's intensity and Preity's vulnerability make it a memorable film. The climactic sequence featuring the trio is both scary and adrenaline-pumping. The songs, although they are very good, somewhat compromise the movie's suspense element. Also, the romance between Akshay and Preity looks a bit out of place. But there is no denying that it's presented in a refreshing manner. Sangharsh is not meant for the faint-hearted. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Yalgaar
(1992)

An underrated Firoz Khan classic
An underrated Firoz Khan classic, Yalgaar takes inter-family animosity to a whole new level. Amidst a gamut of memorable performances, it is Sanjay Dutt's portrayal that packs the strongest punch. During the early '90s, Dutt was in his prime and it shows. Riding high on the success of Saajan and Sadak, he barely misses a note in a performance that is as physical (with martial arts moves a la Bruce Lee) as it is tender.

Along with its central theme of revenge, Yalgaar also touches upon the ideals of duty and love. It also succeeds in highlighting the tenderness and pain that is universally associated with the relationship between a father and a son. The action and dance sequences in the movie serve as major trendsetters for Hindi cinema. While Firoz Khan's direction is superb, some casting choices seem a bit incongruous: i) him playing Mukesh Khanna's son despite the noticeable age difference with Khanna being 20 years younger, and ii) Vicky Arora in the role of Vicky Singhaal's as the part was quite meaty and certainly deserved a better actor.

Kabir Bedi was born to play roles like Raj Pratap Singhal--an international smuggler and a mafia kingpin. There are few actors alive who can match his screen presence. The scenes which Bedi shares with Dutt are solid as a rock. Despite looking a bit old for his part, Firoz Khan brings a lot of intensity to the movie with his performance of a tough albeit emotional cop. One is reminded of earlier films like Dharmatma and Qurbani. He too shares some very high intensity scenes with Dutt. A young Manisha Koirala (although she merely appears to be reprising her role from Saudagar) is charming to watch, especially during the movie's highly memorable dance sequences (she brings the best of Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi) she shares with Vicky Arora who certainly seemed a better dancer than an actor. Yalgaar is a must watch for lovers of Hindi cinema!

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Wazir
(2016)

Bachchan enthralls yet again with a multilayered portrayal
Amitabh Bachchan delivers yet another thumping performance in #Wazir. It's so heartening to see him get such meaty roles even at the fag end of his illustrious acting career. In 2015, he mesmerized us with his remarkable turns in Shamitabh and Piku. And right at the onset of 2016, Bachchan once again enthralls us with a multilayered portrayal wherein he goes through a gamut of emotions involving jest, sarcasm, angst, melancholy, euphoria, irony, and pathos in equal bits.

Here he plays a crippled grandmaster on a personal vendetta. And despite the heavy odds stacked against him, like an adept grandmaster maneuvering his pieces on a chess board, he must devise a foolproof strategy to exact his revenge on his powerful nemesis. Farhan Akhtar, to his credit, manages to hold his own against Bachchan save a few scenes wherein Bachchan completely steals away the thunder. Vidhu Vinod Chopra's admiration for Bachchan is well known and it reflects in the strong caricature he writes for Bachchan.

Bachchan and Akhtar get good backing from the movie's supporting cast led by the beautiful Aditi Rao Hydari. Alas, Wazir's rather loose plot fails to make most of the performances at display! One wonders what the film could have been if not for the shoddy screenplay. Nonetheless, Wazir performances make it worth a watch. But don't set your expectations too high or else you are bound to be disappointed.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Dil Se..
(1998)

Mani Ratnam masterfully weaves an unforgettable tale of love in the backdrop of terrorism
A hugely underrated cinematic gem from Mani Ratnam, Dil Se till date remains Shah Rukh Khan's most mature work. Khan's devastating portrayal of an All India Radio programme executive madly in love of a mystical beauty, who he knows can never be his, carries the hallmark of an actor working at the height of his powers. No wonder Khan became the nation's heartthrob in the '90s in spite of the odd choices he made during this phase. Although he has only grown in stature since then, his later performances pale in comparison. Post mid-2000s, he has been a spent force and his most recent performances have been abysmal to say the least.

Speaking of Dil Se, it is Manisha Koirala's beguiling performance that gives the movie its soul. Austerely dressed and with minimal make-up and sparse dialogue, she sets the celluloid on fire. It's difficult to think of another Bollywood actress with such a striking combination of beauty and brains. As Meghna, she is both the hunter and the hunted: a quintessential femme fatale. There is poetry in the duo's on-screen romance and a sort of divine connect. The movie follows SRK's character through the seven stages of love: starting with infatuation and ending with obsession and ultimately death. Alas, all great tales of love are essentially tragedies! Dil Se is no different.

Mani Ratnam masterfully weaves an unforgettable tale of love in the backdrop of terrorism. A. R. Rehman's music and Santosh Sivan's cinematography beautifully add to the movie's poignancy. The dance sequences and the exotic locations of the song 'Satrangi Re' transcends the viewer to a world of Sufi romanticism and Urdu poetry. One can't really ask for more!

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Bajirao Mastani
(2015)

A cinematic spectacle marred by sombre tone, languorous pacing and lengthy runtime
Once again Sanjay Leela Bhansali aims for a Shakespearean Tragedy of Epic proportions and once again he falls short by some distance. Having said that, there is no denying that ‪‎Bajirao Mastani‬ is the definitive cinematic spectacle of the year as far as Hindi cinema is concerned.

The majestic sets, glittering costumes and swashbuckling performances add up quite well. Perhaps, making the moving in 3D would have been a good choice. Playing the legendary Maratha warrior Peshwa Bajirao, Ranveer Singh delivers the finest performance of his career. The way he takes care of his mannerisms and his Marathi accent in particular is really commendable.

As for Deepika Padukone, she has never looked prettier on the celluloid. Credit to Bhansali for looking after her leading lady so well. Priyanka Chopra playing the second fiddle to Padukone is solid as ever.

Despite all its merits Bajirao Mastani may leave some cold owing its rather sombre tone, languorous pacing and lengthy runtime. While it may not to the epic that it aims to be, it certainly deserves to be watched.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".

Spectre
(2015)

An attempted homage to the Bond films of yore
Spectre, the 24th film in the celebrated espionage franchise based on British author Ian Fleming's larger-than-life superspy, marks Daniel Craig's fourth outing as James Bond. Directed by British filmmaker Sam Mendes who previously directed Skyfall, Spectre reintroduces the supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld—the criminal mastermind heading the terrorist organization SPECTRE (now referred to as Spectre) and the archenemy of James Bond—after an absence of four decades, owing to a legal dispute, since the character's last credited appearance in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). In Spectre, Blofeld (with background and character significantly altered) is played by the two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. While Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris reprise their roles from Skyfall—that of M, Q, and Moneypenny, respectively—Spectre also stars Italian actress Monica Bellucci (who makes a brief appearance), French actress Léa Seydoux, and former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista.

Spectre weaves the story lines of the previous three Bond films— Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall—together with an overarching story arc that reveals Blofeld as the grand architect of all the evil that has pervaded Bond's life including the deaths of Vesper Lynd (Bond's love interest played by Eva Green in Casino Royale) and Olivia Mansfield aka M (the head of MI6 and Bond's superior, a recurring character, played by Judi Dench). After completing an unsanctioned mission in Mexico City ordered by the previous M through a posthumous message, Bond learns about a secret terrorist organization named Spectre. Bond is hell-bent on exposing the evil genius behind the organization but he is grounded by the current M who is furious with him for disobeying his orders.

M already has his hands full as he is facing opposition from Max Denbigh (played by Irish actor Andrew Scott) aka C—the Director- General of the Joint Security Service, a merged organization of MI5 and MI6—who wants to close down the '00' section. Bond once again defies M's orders and travels to Rome, with some assistance from Q, where he gatecrashes a Spectre meeting and identifies the leader of the organization as a ghost from his past. Bond barely escapes the clutches of a dangerous Specre assassin named Mr. Hinx (played Dave Batista) and finally meets his old foe Mr. White (a former member of Quantum, a subsidiary of Spectre, played by Jesper Christensen in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) on his deathbed. White tells Bond that he has grown disillusioned with Quantum and asks Bond to protect his daughter, Dr. Madeline Swann (played by Léa Seydoux), who can lead him to Spectre. Bond gives him his word just as a dilapidated White blows his brains out. Bond must now protect Swann and convince her to help him reach Spectre and the criminal mastermind behind it.

Spectre does have its moments but it is one of the weakest of the four films starring Craig as 007. The culprit is its weak storyline and a runtime that's the longest ever for a Bond film. Pierce Brosnan sums it up perfectly: "I thought it was too long. The story was kind of weak — it could have been condensed. It kind of went on too long. It really did… (Spectre) is neither fish nor fowl. It's neither Bond nor Bourne." While there is no dearth of thrill and adventure in here, the suspense quotient is surprisingly low especially despite being projected as the final missing piece in the puzzle that would unlock the mystery that binds the four films together. A grimmer ending on the lines of On Her Majesty's Secret Service could have worked better. However, the action is topnotch and the fight sequences featuring Daniel Craig and Dave Batista are the movie's real highlight.

Overall, Spectre proves to be a worthy addition to the James Bond film franchise but unlike Casino Royale and Skyfall it fails to leave a lasting impact. Spectre is an attempt on the part of the makers to pay homage to the classic 007 movies but the execution only reflects their confused state of mind. Ever since Daniel Craig stepped into the shoes of Bond there have been deliberate efforts to project not only a different kind of a Bond but also a different brand of 007 films. Skyfall gave us hints that the makers are finally trying to revive the old 007 motifs. With Spectre this shift looks rather forced and without proper planning. Out of a sudden the new generation of Bond lovers has been forced to content with a tacky potpourri of the old and the new. While Skyfall was a pleasant surprise, Spectre comes across as an anomaly of sorts. The creative think-tank must quickly decide if it wants to return to the classic 007 elements or build upon the new ones that Casino Royale brought in. One of the strongest points of Spectre is Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography and the movie's opening sequence is pure brilliance: while it gives the impression of an uncut tracking shot, it is actually was accomplished with the fusion of several meticulously crafted long takes with a little bit of CGI. While Daniel Craig is solid as ever, Christoph Waltz fails to be at his menacing best. The real culprit of course is weak writing and not Waltz. In fact, both Craig and Waltz deserve better from their writers. Léa Seydoux's Dr. Swann certainly has the looks to kill; it is the more ravishing that the French beauty has ever looked on the silver screen. Despite its aforementioned shortcomings, Spectre serves as a pleasant viewing experience and is a must watch for the Bond movie enthusiasts.

(This review was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges)

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