Monday, June 28, 2010

The Invention Of Lying (2009)

A film that not many have heard about, but everyone will be forced to relate to.

When I first heard the plot of this film, I was already sold; not specifically because of the story, but the man behind it. The film's writer, director, and lead actor is Ricky Gervais - arguably the funniest man in entertainment. For those who haven't heard of him for some reason, he is responsible for creating the original The Office series (2001-03) in the UK, as well as Extras (2005-07), another brilliantly written comedy. He also happens to be a widely famous comedian, who gets a royalty check for every episode of the american version of The Office.

Back to the film. Once the first trailers were out I was quite impressed with the look and apparent storyline - in a alternate reality, where no human being has ever lied, one man (Gervais) accidentally finds himself to be the speaker of the first ever lie. Seemed funny enough, and it was supported by a great comedic cast. But it bombed at the box office. Why? I had to wait until the film came out on dvd to find out (since it was an independent film its stay at the theaters wasn't long). The first half hour was exactly as I expected, which was pretty much what the trailers had indicated. Still, knowing Gervais' style of humor, I noticed that he had paid a lot of attention to detail to background story elements in his alternate reality. It wasn't until after the protagonist realizes that he can lie, and therefore do anything he wants, that the film began to take an unexpected turn.

The remaining hour was pure screenwriting gold. The humor was top-notch of course, but it was the message within the satirical context that truly makes this film one of the most important films in history. Gervais, in about a 100 minutes, summed up human existence to this day, and then went on to demonstrate why we do what we do.
By this time one doesn't see the film as a comedy - something I'd blame the distribution studio's marketing team for misleading trailers (something I'd mentioned before with Fight Club).The goal of the film was self-reflection - which eventually led to its downfall in the general public. But I believe Gervais probably expected that to happen (he seems to know his audience pretty well). Perhaps he knew that the general movie-going audience doesn't want to be told its stupid for believing in anything. I'd argue that that wasn't the message - and that the real message of the film was that it is important to think about why we believe in things in the first place, and then any choice we make regarding that belief is for our own inner-satisfaction - but a message like that cannot be expected to be accepted by the majority. Tag along the fact that Gervais is known to be an atheist, and along with the content its safe to say the film wasn't the first choice for (religious) family movie nights.

Obviously my analysis of the film is only understandable once its been seen. So its safe to say I am a huge fan of Gervais and this film, and would recommend anything the man makes. Also from what I've observed the film seems to be doing pretty well in dvd rentals, thanks to word-of-mouth, the most trusted form of marketing. While the film may not reach the cult status of Fight Club, I still believe it may get its due in the coming years, and finally be seen as an attempt to bring humor to mankind's apparent lack of purpose.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Directors - creme de la creme

By Lakshya Dutta
....who are still active and only getting better.

Martin Scorsese
He has made so many great films in his time that naming even a couple that stand out would do injustice to the rest. He is an artist, and his every frame is masterfully constructed. He's done every genre: drama, crime, horror, suspense, biography, comedy, musical, documentary - and delivered classics each time. Leonardo Dicaprio, who has collaborated with Scorsese in 4 films, calls him "the film encyclopedia". A true living legend.

Steven Spielberg
He has worked with everyone. His movies earn oscars, and are also huge blockbusters at the box office. He runs successful TV and film production companies that, along with his directorial jobs, make him the richest artist in hollywood. He is most popular for directing Jurassic Park (1993), Jaws (1975), Indiana Jones and E.T. (1982); but I would also suggest watching:Schindler's List (1993), Empire of the Sun (1987) , Munich (2005), The Terminal (2004), and The Color Purple (2005).

Woody Allen
A better writer than a director, he has a few misses every decade or so. Still his best work is in the hall of fame and its the content of his films that sets him apart from the rest. His scripts don't have dialogues - only descriptions and plot points, and the rest is improvisation. This technique is highly risky for a film crew as well as a studio, but Allen delivers every time. Some like his humor, while some like his take on morality; his films have everything for everyone - philosophy, comedy, suspense, drama, satire - mostly all in one! While most people prefer his earlier works (Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and her Sisters (1986)), I would consider myself a fan of his newer films, my favorites being Match Point (2005), and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) (watch this one for improvised dialogue).

Quentin Tarantino
I will always watch anything he makes. His scripts are true genius. And he knows it. What's even better - he doesn't just direct; he creates art with his camera, where every scene is beautifully crafted and framed. He even publishes his screenplays to share his gift (the ego is part of the package I guess). His films have form and content both, and are perfectly executed. But what impresses me most about his work is how he learned how to do it - he used to work at a video rental store, so he watched everything. When someone asked him what film school he went to, his reply was "I didn't go to film school, I went to films." More on his films later.

Christopher Nolan
As I mentioned in an earlier post, this man made superhero films real. His first film is still one of the most innovative screenplays I have ever come across. His style is modern-Scorsese, plus he writes his own scripts. For these reasons he happens to be the most sought-after director in hollywood and also one of the most highly paid. And he's just getting started. Within only a decade of entering the industry, he has written and directed 6 films, and 5 of those names can be found on the Best 250 Films of All Time List ( When the studio saw how he made superhero films profitable and oscar-worthy, they asked him to reboot the Superman Franchise, which he will be writing and producing in the coming years.

Jab We Met, we fell in love!

Where do I begin? Even before JWM hit the theaters, it had me super excited. I could barely resist the temptation of watching it day 1. 
The establishing shot where the subtle, restrained Aditya Kashyap (Shahid) walks away from everyone and everything, directionless, had me hooked. 
The subsequent shot - introducing Geet (Kareena), an idyllic - transported me to an entirely different world. Geet's life is perfect. Her world is perfect. She is in love with everything around her - the city (even though everyone around cribs about how crowded it is), the hills, the mountains (even though she's clueless of the difference between the two) and herself ("main apni favorite hun")! The sikhni from Bhatinda runs the show hands down (even overshadowing Aditya in bits).
The fun begins where the chalk and cheese characters meet for the first time (video below). It's a joy ride, thereafter.

Besides the crackling chemistry between the leads, I think it's the simple story and even simpler, relatable characters that make it one of the most memorable films.

Our hero and heroine not once use the trite 'I Love You' to express their love for each other. Geet articulates her feelings in the last shot (without 'I love you,' mind you!). And Aditya's silence speaks louder than words.

The last shot actually reminded me of my favorite dialogue by Shahid (Ladki bhagane ka ilzaam mere sar pe hai aur mujhe ladki bhi nahi mil rahi hai -- superb timings, Shahid). He finally gets his due ;)

A wonderfully executed film you won't tire watching repeatedly. Did I say I've done it 25 times already? :)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Raavan: Boring!

It's very unsettling a feeling when a movie drags and drags without taking the story ahead. I had no great expectations after having seen the trailer. Something in my heart told me this one won't work.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Greatest Hollywood Films of All Time: Part I

To me a great film is basically anything that makes me think so much after the first viewing that a second viewing is unavoidable.

Fight Club (1999)

A crazy film. When it first released, the studio was so scared that an
adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's story about a "generation of men raised by women" would be so unappealing to the general public that they were forced to advertise the film as a literal "Fight Club". Now I was one of the lucky few who saw the film post-critical success; but when it hit the theaters it was a big flop. The problem was obvious: its commercials were attracting the wrong crowd. A masterpiece of modern-literary genius was being sold as an action flick. The result was underwhelming to say the least - but once the word got around about the film's actual plot of "moral impotency to global anarchy", the film was a critical success and a cult hit - and now, more than 10 years later, a rare post-release commercial success, thanks to DVD sales and collector editions. One of the first things that one learns in a screenplay writing class is that narration exhibits weakness in writing. Fight Club is a true exception to that rule, where the narrator is a separate character in itself. From fist-fights to vans filled with napalm explosives to clever & thought-provoking dialogues - the film inserts you in the mind of its unnamed narrator. At the end of the film we hope that there was a Tyler Durden in all of us, only to make us realize that there is, and how this fantasy world of Fight Club may become a reality if we let our Tyler Durdens run our lives. It's hard to do justice to the film's plot by trying to capture it in a couple of sentences - so all I will say to whoever hasn't seen Fight Club is go experience it yourself. And once you have, you will never forget the name "Tyler Durden". Greatness Elements: Direction, the cast and characters, the plot.

The Dark Knight (2008)
This film made superhero films real. A sequel to Batman Begins (2005), the first true adaptation of the most complicated comic book hero, The Dark Knight was bigger and better in every aspect. Every other superhero, and by extension the superhero films, live in a world where almost anything is possible - mythical characters and creatures, superpowers, even time travel, among other things. But in the current Batman Franchise the only fictional element is the name of its city. Everything else is as real as any other drama film. It is not about a superhuman beating up bad guys with guns and getting the girl, but about a man who is struggling with his pain while protecting the lives of the few good people left in his city. The film makes you believe Batman can exist. With its plot, the cast, and especially the Joker, itt is perhaps the only super-hero film that didn't depend on its protagonist to excel. Greatness Elements: Direction, screenplay, the Joker.

The Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-90)
A truly unique set of films that I wish I had experienced in person during its release. These three films, together and individually, have everything - action, drama, comedy, romance, and most importantly TIME TRAVEL. It is perhaps the only non-geeky mainstream sci-fi film. Directed by a man who has mastered storytelling and has a specialty in fantasy elements - Robert Zemeckis, who later directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Forrest Gump (1994), etc. The story and mythology of these films will never get old, and it is perhaps the only one I would hate to see remade. The 70's and 80's of hollywood were ruled by two men - George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Together, these two had 3 critically and commercially successful trilogies. George Lucas created the most successful film franchise of all time - Star Wars, one that has earned him over $10 billion over the past 30 years, making him have to never work again and still one of the richest men in hollywood. He and Steven Spielberg, who were and are great friends, collaborated on another franchise - Indiana Jones, with Lucas as writer and Spielberg as director. The third franchise, produced by Spielberg, was Back To The Future. Today, a film franchise is no longer governed by the same rules. Nowadays no matter how absurd the story may be, any film that earns twice its budget is "green lit" automatically by the studio for a sequel and a possible franchise. It has come to a point where the studios are forced to make more money. An example would be the recent comedy The Hangover (2009), which is getting a sequel for no other reason than to recreate the luck it had the first time. Besides the exception of the current Batman franchise (which may still be spoiled due to the studio forcing the director and writer to make the third film since the second one made over $1 billion), the Back To The Future trilogy is perhaps the last franchise where the sequels were made only because the creative team behind the films believed they were important to the overall story, and the "The End" at the end of the third film was taken seriously. However, I wouldn't be surprised if in the years ahead we saw a "re-imagination" of the franchise, something I would always be skeptical about as a huge fan of the originals. Greatness Elements: Story, characters, and the crazy situations they find themselves in.
Greatest Hollywood Films Of All TIme: Part II - The Tarantino Magic
Greatest Hollywood Films of All Times: Part III - Pixar
Greatest Hollywood Films of All Time: Part IV