Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Book Review: Open-eyed Meditations

Meditation is an essential tool for introspection. It helps you to look deep into your self and come up with fresh insights that is inherent within you. According to Indian thought, every knowledge that a man needs to live in the world is already provided to him. It is coded inside his subconscious. To uncover this knowledge, it only requires a patient quest into oneself. This quest itself is termed  introspection. Meditation is one practical way to do introspection. It is done by concentrating hard on only a single aspect and avoiding every other distractions, caused by self as well as the world.

Most of the ancient knowledge from India developed after undergoing a thorough polishing through meditation. All the vedopanishads, sciences and epics of India are fruits of countless hours of meditational thought undergone by several saints and teachers. That is the reason why all these works contain timeless spiritual as well as practical- real world wisdom in equal measures. For the benefit of common men, who were tied up with the living, conscious world, saints embedded the knowledge gained through meditation into tales with which they can relate easily.

The intention behind the writing of Indian epics was not just the entertainment of the masses, but their upliftment in life. The intention was to cause an awakening of sorts after understanding the principles of thoughts generated through meditation retold as relatable stories. Mahabharatha and Ramayana were stories depicting conflicts between kings. But these were conflicts that happen universally in human minds. These were tough choices and dilemmas that men faced and still faces every moment in his life. These were about how to deal with a merciless world effectively without compromising on one's innate goodness and sense of justice.

Open-eyed Meditations is a book written by Shubha Vilas that aspires to interpret some of the wisdom emanated through our epics and find out how it can be beneficial to modern living. I had read some parts of his series Ramayana- The game of life, which concentrated on retelling Ramayana in a way that would be helpful to practically use it in our everyday life. This book also has a similar approach, but instead of a structured retelling, it consists of simple essays that deals with individual issues that we face daily and remedial measures that can be adopted from classics. This is more like a self help reference guide, that can be consulted easily by using the content section which, I find more practical and effective.

The book consists of sixty four short essays about topics as varied as professional choices, mental health and marital relations. Each chapter has a clear example from either Ramayana or Mahabharatha from which we can learn how they tackled similar issues and how we too can take a similar approach in our life. Each chapter has a crisp summary in its end which is really helpful for future reading and referencing.

The topics covered in the book is pretty exhaustive, so I would have loved if the chapters were clubbed into sections dedicated to a particular aspect of life- like profession, relationships, family, society etc. It could made it more user friendly.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Jolly Good LLB 2

I didn't watch the first part of Jolly LLB starring Arshad Warsi. But I've heard pretty good reviews of the movie. The second part was a bit controversial when the makers decided to cast Akshay as the lead and up the stakes. Fans of the first movie were pretty vocal about this decision, but Arshad decided to stand with the director.

I am not in a position to comment about the differences between them, but the second part is a good one time watch. It tackles a serious issue in a semi serious manner, satires the legal system in a healthy way without getting preachy and never loses focus. The story is nothing new or original. But the narration is thankfully devoid of clutter.

For a change Akshay never try to go overboard with comedy or action, even with ample opportunities present. That decision turned out to be a wise one. It is the supporting cast who does a great job. Even the minor ones deserve a pat on their backs. The moments to watch out happens between the judge, played by Saurabh Shukla and the opposite lawyer played by Annu Kapoor.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Manchester by the Sea : To Be Or Not To Be...

Manchester by the Sea is nominated for Oscars. I would love if it wins one for the best picture. Actually I would love if Silence wins, but as I told before, its the Blade Runner of 2016. And it's not even nominated. Coming back to Manchester By The Sea, I don't think it'll win the best picture award. It doesn't have any narrative gimmicks, no social realistic theme and not even an existential conflict. It just has a protagonist who let his chances of redemption pass. So the award jury too probably will give it a pass.

But that doesn't make it any lesser movie than the one that is going to end up winning it (La La Land?). It is a very personal story about a man who lost everything once and is not interested in rebuilding it. He passes all the chances of redemption that the life throws at his way. Casey Affleck shines in a career defining role and gets full support from a perfect script, the director and all the supporting cast.

All That Man Is by David Szalay: A Warm Portrayal of Male Psyche

All That Man Is is written by David Szalay and was short listed for Man Booker prize 2016. Though it is listed as a novel, it is actually a collection of nine stories with many recurring elements and themes. Basically it is a portrayal of manhood through specimens of nine European men of different ages and at diverse stages of life.

The book starts with the story about Simon, a young introvert British teenager, sightseeing in Berlin along with his friend. It ends with the story of his knighted grandfather Tony who is seventy three and recuperating from surgery. In between there are diverse stories about men of many ages and social status facing testing life situations where either love, money or in most cases both are at stake.

All the protagonists are invariably flawed men in humiliating circumstances, mostly of their own making. Some are indifferent, some are with bloated egos and most of them totally break down. The stories are pretty bleak, but told with a very mild dose of humor and with much sympathy. They are so realistic that they have the potential to be case studies of psychologists.

All nine stories feature their protagonists in international journeys- some of them holidays, some personal errands and some business trips. Invariably while they are in a foreign situation, they face an issue where a tough choice has to be taken which can affect their life. The stakes- sex, love, money, job, assets and ultimately life- build up as the age goes up. The book is an existential comedy.

Buy the book :

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hell Or High Water: Resurrection of Westerns

There's nothing new in Hell Or High Water, the Oscar nominated heist movie directed by David Mackenzie. It is essentially a western movie set in modern times, with many elements derived from great movies of yesterdays. Even the character of Jeff Bridges getting ready for his retirement after cracking a final case reminds you of Tommy Lee Jones from No Country For Old Man. The decadence, crazy bravado, casual violence, all the usual point outs of the genre are thrown at the viewer. There's even a cowboy-Indian duel albeit with words and in good spirits.

But none of this stands in the way of enjoying this well crafted, gritty character drama. The movie is shot picturesquely, with a pacy, razor sharp narration and specimens of wonderful acting. I loved the care given on the minute details that tells a lot about the setting and the characters. It also helped to do away with a lot of exposition.

The movie follows two brothers who team up with a plan to rescue their barn from loan shark banks by robbing them and two Rangers who are out to nab them. The heist plan is pretty basic, but interesting nevertheless when we review how it finally ties up all the loose ends. The violence is kept minimum, but once unleashed, gets effective and shocking. The movie plods to the climax with clockwork precision and every component of it works well within the whole. It's a must 'watch'.

Nocturnal Animals : A Novel Within A Movie...

Nocturnal Animals is an acclaimed psychological thriller movie directed by Tom Ford. It is intense and dark with a unique novel-within-movie structure of narration. A women receive a book from her novelist ex-husband. The movie moves in three parallel routes- the present reality, the novel that she reads and the flashback of their life together.

I loved the movie for the finesse with which the three narratives are blended. The biggest pleasure was watching them culminate in an awesome climax, the like of which I have never seen in my life. The depiction of the novel is very violent and dark. The plot of the novel is very basic, but that part got the benefit from some great acting talent that elevated it and bridged the remaining two narratives solidly.

I loved the parts that established the parallels between the novel and the events from real life. There is no real connection between plot of the novel and reality, but the way it is visualised, we get convinced. This adds ambiguity to the plot. We are left doubting whether it is intended by the writer or is it just the imagination of the reader.

The visual tone of the movie is reminiscent of the thrillers that used to be made in late eighties and nineties. It was good because these days we never get to see that style. Background score is excellent and contributes in adding impact to the visuals. The movie has a relentless pace with frequent cutting from one plot to another. I think after Nightcrawler, it is the first time I am watching such a good thriller.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Eileen : A Dark Comedy About Dreary Existence

Eileen, the 2016 Man Booker shortlisted novel by Ottessa Moshfegh is not the kind of book that normally appeals to me. It is the story of a woman who has very low self esteem, living a dismal and pathetic existence. Nothing dramatic happens in the first three quarters, except routine, dreary existence of her, always wallowing in self pity. But still, while reading it, I wasn't able to put the book down. There's something about this dark comedy that touches and make you empathetic.

Eileen is a young women doing a boring job in a children's prison (correctional facility is not an appropriate name for it, as told in the story). A motherless child, she lives with her drunkard and senile father, in a dilapidated home, performing her daughterly duties like a slave, albeit hating him and wears her dead mother's ill fitting clothes. She is a social disaster, never been loved or cared by any and her self pity and self indulgence never let her engage in social relations. Her plan to run away from her home in search of a better future never materialises.

All this changed when one day a new staff is appointed at the prison. Rebecca is just the opposite of her. She's pretty, a great talker, well dressed, well mannered and most importantly, she is friendly with Eileen. Eileen is ready to go to any lengths for maintaining her first chance of starting a social relation. But what is the true intention of Rebecca?

The book is narrated in Eileen's point of view. Like the mental state of her, the narrative is a long rant that moves in times and coils around. But in spite of the wallowing, repetitive nature of it, the narration has a charm that makes it hard to put down the book. It is an easy read that took me just hours to finish.

More than the plot, the author gives priority to the premise. She makes us live Eileen's existence, which believe me, is rather uncomfortable. But the subtle black humor and a satisfying resolution, which is impossible to see coming, makes it a worthy read.

Buy the book :

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Monster Calls- An Anti-Fairy Tale

A Monster Calls is another among the 2016 movies that was favorited by critics but fell flat at the ticket counter. I watched it and felt that it is an amazing fantasy, a very personal tale about confronting your deepest fears and carrying on with life. Why didn't more people appreciate this movie?

These days we want our movies clearly and safely bracketed. We are uncomfortable when we see a movie that we expected to be a fantasy with a boy playing the lead discuss dark topics like death fear. This movie was unsuitable for kids who these days are totally safeguarded from uncomfortable truths and certainties of life. Adults will definitely not watch it because it is about a walking, talking tree that appears to help a boy.

This is the story of a boy whose mother is dying from cancer and he has repeated nightmares about she falling into an abyss in spite of him trying to hold on her. The prospect of living with his grandmother, who is a strict and dominating lady is another turn off for him. He gets socially inept, suffer in studies and get regularly bullied at school. When things go from bad to worse, a tree monster appears to tell him three stories. After the third story is told, the kid has to tell his story, the truth.

A Monster Calls is a movie that is basically a fantasy, but defies its conventions. The fairy tales that the monster recounts aren't actually fairy tales. In them, seemingly good people do unspeakable wrongs, and bad ones are spared. The monster tries to make the boy realise that pent up emotions are not going to help. Sometimes it becomes necessary to burst open and do bad things. And doing bad things need not make you punishable always. He understands that humans are complex beings and cannot be labelled good or bad.

A Monster Calls is a film that has potential to appeal adults and matured children who didn't grow up all padded up from the sharp edges of the world. It is a treasure trove of wisdom, not the quick fix type that Hollywood regularly churns out in the kids-friendly tag. It speak of a real world, real sorrows and real challenges. 

Everybody Wants Some!!...- Great Plot-less Fun

Roger Ebert used the adjective anthropological in the review of a movie directed by Richard Linklater. All his acclaimed movies serve simultaneously as wholesome entertainers and strong social commentaries. His movies are mostly plot-less affairs, but based on great characters and solid dialogue.

Everybody Wants Some.., his latest, follows the tradition. A spiritual successor of his earlier movie Dazed And Confused, this movie follows Jake, a newbie baseball player on his first weekend before college starts. Jake has just arrived into college after a successful stint as a high school baseball player and learns that he has to stay with his fellow team members in a separate house. He has a whole weekend to pass before college begins. The movie follows his interactions with his team mates and all the fun and games of one-upmanship they have in those two days.

The movie, like every other Linklater film, relies heavily on strong characterisation instead of a structured plot. Here you find genuinely etched characters who display distinct world views and temperaments, but are totally relatable. Linklater uses these characters by making them interact in different social situations to create humor as well as social commentary. The movie is totally fun and enjoyable.

Jake and his friends, being sportsmen and team mates, uses every other situation to gauge their companions and to prove that they are one step ahead in competition. Failure, even in minor affairs causes much frustration. In the highly competitive world of college baseball, a stepping stone to being professionals, it becomes essential for survival.

Tremendously stylish and featuring a killer soundtrack its a must watch movie.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Silence: Scorsese On Religion, Faith and Suffering...

Silence, the latest by Martin Scorsese got just one nomination for Academy Awards. La La Land got 14, the highest ever. If you see Silence, you will understand why. Silence is not the kind of movie that wins at Oscar or create magic at box office. It is the kind of movie that after a decade, people may watch with awe and wonder why it failed when it was released. It is not Forrest Gump or Shakespeare in Love. It is Shawshank Redemption. It is 2001: A Space Oddesey. It is Blade Runner.

Silence is a period movie set in 17th Century Japan. Japanese monarchy is heavily coming down on converted native Christians and European priests who relentlessly try to import the religion. They are tortured brutally and made to apostate by stepping on a stone figure of Christ. When news reaches that Father Ferreira is captured and has apostated Christianity to become a Japanese, his two disciples decides to smuggle themselves into Japan and find out the truth. The movie follows their painful journey- in both physical and spiritual sense to find their mentor.

Silence is a companion piece to Scorsese's much derided masterpiece, The Last Temptation of Christ. Both movies are meandering, difficult ones that test the viewer's patience. But once you break the mould, both movies are immensely rewarding, I would even say meditational experiences.

Both movies have protagonists on whom greatness is thrust upon, who continually try to decipher God's messages to show them their way and get desperate when they fails to hear from him. Both movies need an emotional and intellectual maturity from audience who has to figure out that, it is not what is shown that is intended. They need the viewers to see through elaborate symbolism and decode the intent of the director.

Silence is a movie that gives you enough freedom to intellectually and emotionally involve with it. I feel that Scorsese is daring the audience to introspect about their faith and believes, engage with the movie, accept or even disagree with the concepts that it put forward.

You can watch this movie in many levels. The easiest would be the literal one, in which Japanese Buddhists torture converted Christians and force them brutally to abandon the religion. I saw it as the fight between a steadfast individual's believes and the social reality. A powerful drama about, how surrendering to greater good can be liberating. It resonates with my idea about one's religion being a very deeply private affair that should stay within his soul. I was clapping my hands when I watched the last shot of the movie, because that was what I felt pure faith should be.

I will not recommend this movie. Please don't even think of watching this movie if you are not ready to put your effort on it. It demands that much. If you are just in for mindless entertainment, you are going to lose your money and three hours of your life.

His Bloody Project: Account of a Gruesome Crime

His Bloody Project is a novel by Graeme Macrea Burnet that was short listed for Man Booker prize, 2016. It is a historic crime novel based on the Scottish peasant life of 19th century. The novel narrates the story of a young man in late teens who end up murdering three persons in cold blood and is awaiting trial. His brutal act marks the title of the book.

The story is told as a collection of  documents acquired accidently by the author about a long forgotten crime. The main body of the novel is an account narrated by Roderic Macrea, a teenager imprisoned for murder, on the insistence of his lawyer. He writes about the events that lead to his desparate action. It also contains legal testimonies of the people of his village, a paper by a criminologist about his involvement in the case, post mortem report and trial report.

The novel maintains its intriguing style for its whole length and manages to keep the reader invested. It is successful in making us feel inside that the truth is not what that meets the eye and there is something more than what's revealed. It exploits the unreliable narrator technique. Instead of being just an account of a gruesome action, events that lead to it and the aftermath, it stands as a powerful character study of a young man who is in the midst of tremendous pressure due to his conflicts with the society and family.

The novel also is a study on inequalities, abuse of power and existence of class in society. Though the background of the story is the Scottish croft system, I felt that there is a universality to it. In some form or other, our society displays the same callousness and absence of empathy. We can observe the distrust between people of different social structures of our society.

His Bloody Project is a remarkable novel that mirrors the contemporary reality in the guise of historical crime fiction.

Buy the book:

Sunday, January 29, 2017

La La Land : A revival of Musicals

La La Land starts with a long musical and dance number in one shot happening on a highway. That and the retro looking opening titles clearly indicates that we're about to watch a movie that is intended as a tribute to the musicals of the Golden era of Hollywood. I've watched only very few of them. I can remember Gene Kelly starrer iconic movie, Singing in the Rain and old classic The Wizard of Oz. But being an Indian, I will never have an issue with appreciating Hollywood musicals. Most of our movies, be in any genre, feature song and dance sequences.

The title La La Land refers to a place that can exist only in fiction, in dreams. La La Land also denotes Los Angeles, the city of angels, of Hollywood, the place were dreams realise. This is a story about two dreamers, strugglers who falls in love in the city of angels. He is a pianist and a jazz puritan, who dreams of reviving the genre that is on its deathbed. She is an aspiring actress, working as a waitress and trying to audition for a dream role.

Their love is told through songs and dances that are beautifully staged in dream like setups. I used the word staged deliberately, because the movie, following closely the tradition of musicals from the bygone era, doesn't portray any semblance of realism in any shot. Yet the narration, instead of feeling made up and artificial, has a strong sincerity that force us to believe in them and their tribulations. The love story and the following breakup seems very genuine.

While watching it I was thinking that the movie looks and feels good, but the plot is pretty dated. But Damien Chazzelle, who shocked me with his astonishing drama Whiplash, had better plans. It is the climax that elevates it into a whole higher level. The climax, which was devoid of any dramatics was one of the best that I saw ever.

La La Land is a movie about movies, jazz, ambition, struggles, dreams and dancing in love. More importantly it is movie about the ability to let go of our great assets in order to achieve the passion of life.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

(Na)Kaabil: Short of Expectations

Just like this week's other release Raees, Kaabil serves its audience a generous dose of worn out clichés. The movie tried to blend the revenge plot of Mohra with the logic of Aankhen (the Akshay starrer). But it failed to replicate the raw energy of the former or the smartness of the latter. Story follows a blind man who avenge his blind wife's death.

The treatment reminds you of movies that used to be made 20 years back. At that time, makers never worried about viewers questioning plot holes. (Spoilers ahead) Sanjay Gupta is in an illusion that time hasn't changed. His hero kills a guy after a bloody fight, drops a towel on the dead body and boasts not leaving an evidence for police. The fact is that there are enough finger and DNA prints lying around and the proof of crime is just short of a red banner with Hrithik's name, address and Aadhar number printed on it being displayed on the spot. For Sanjay Gupta's policemen, forensic science is a very foreign science.

The movie is a good show case of Hrithik Roshan. He displays wit and vulnerability in equal measure without much bother about the catastrophe that the plot is leading to. He is the saving grace of Kaabil. The supporting cast were really good, but never get any chance to shine. I hated the acting of heroine and her appearances in the second half of the movie. Misplaced songs were another spoil sport.

There were several scenes that really stimulated my interest. I was expecting that from that point, things are going to pick up. But unfortunately it was not to be. The scenes that hero exacts his revenge is supposed to be the backbone of the movie. The build up towards them were genuinely interesting, but at the time that matters, we find that our hero doesn't have any semblance of a plan with him. Somehow by luck things fall in place. The title of the movie should ideally be Khush-kismat (Lucky).

Friday, January 27, 2017

Raees And The Fall...

Raees is a gangster movie and comes generously packed with all the regular clichés of the genre. There are very few elements that we never watched before in better movies. The film makers were able to execute some of them successfully while sadly certain elements remain sore thumps.

Raees is the story of the rise and fall of a spirit smuggler who loves to call himself a business man. Set in Gujarat, the movie is based on alcohol prohibition. It shows us what happens when availability of a commodity is made scarce by legally banning it among a group of people who have the reputation of the biggest business minded ones. Raees has an ingenious business mentality and a daring criminal mentality. He scales the ranks effortlessly. The spoilsport is an officer named Majumdar who is hell bend on taking him out.

As I told, the plot just follows the worn out path of countless other mafia flicks. The difference is the characterisation of the protagonist. In other movies either the guy is forced to a life of crime by circumstances or is a born criminal. In Raees, the lead character had no such compulsions. Any doubt of a strain of criminality running in his blood is soon quelled by scenes showing his compassion. As per him, he is doing business and he will do whatever is good for business.

Though initially we see Raees turning around some situations to his advantage by some quick thinking, that part of the plot soon dries out. I was disappointed because that was what fascinated me in the beginning. The second best thing in the movie are the confrontations of Shahrukh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Both actors shows off their best in those moments and the makers have included a lot of impressive combination scenes. 

No other supporting characters put up any remarkable show and are content with being perfectly good fillers. I have an issue with the action scenes. Recent Hindi movies had some amazing action sequences. But in Raees fights appear shoddy. The songs also break the pace of the movie and contribute little to the plot. 

If we put aside the matter that this is just a movie and meant for enjoyment, Raees put forward some serious doubts. Is it healthy to show a man doing illegal business by selling banned and spurious products that can harm the health of public, being a hero of the society? There are many movies that deals with the same subject including the great Godfather. But that movie never wanted the audience sympathising with the guy. He was a corrupt and bad man, who nevertheless had certain ethical codes and stood by it. Though audience loved him and gets sad when things go rough, they feel that whatever bad deal the person got, he deserved it. The same is the case with its Indian clones like Nayagan, Sathya or Once Upon A Time in Mumbai. 

What Raees tries to do is to emotionally manipulate the viewer into rooting for the bad guy. It seemed unnatural for me. I lost it when they showed him bash up violently an anti-alcohol possession (that was led by a corrupt politician) just because it was harmful for his business. It was okay if they left it like that. But what made it worse was the pathetic justifications that came afterwards. 

Though the makers have denied it, Raees is based on an actual criminal from Gujarat. Just a look at his biography in Wikipedia will confirm the parallels. This person was responsible for supplying RDX for Mumbai blasts. Raees team includes this also in the story and justifies it as a mistake. And to make it worse, he is given secular credentials. An antihero movie can be interesting if the power of judgement lies with the audience. Otherwise it is just manipulative...

Book Review: A Mother Dies

One of the most difficult experience one has to sail through in life is to face the fact that someone very dear, someone whom one took for granted, is no more. A Mother Dies, a short book of just around 50 pages written by Arusha Topazzini deals with such an issue in her life when her mother passed away. It is very personal and heartfelt account about her mother and their relationship.

At the same time, it is also a universal theme, because in this world there will only be very few lucky people who never had to endure the pain of losing. The writer was able to bring this universality in her writing. It makes you relive the days when you had similar experiences. I feel it has a therapeutic value, when after reading about another person's life, you get a chance to go through your own past, your pain, reevaluate your life and appreciate the value of those who passed by and those who are still with us.

A Mother Dies is available at Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Moonlight: A Delicate Movie

Imagine a movie that's simple, delicate and very life-like. Moonlight is that movie. Its a very sincere film about the growing up of a shy, introvert, bullied boy into a tough nut. It's about identifying oneself in an unforgiving world. It's about choices that you take in life and how they work in your transitions. It's also about relations, friendship and love.

The movie depicts three stages from the life of Chiron, a black kid living with an abusive and possessive mother. The first part titled Little, deals with bullied Chiron's budding relation with a drug dealer who tries to fill the gap of a father figure. Second part is titled Chiron and here we see a teenaged boy trying to come in terms with social pressure, parental neglect, budding sexuality and betrayal.

Third part titled Black, features a transformed Chiron who has become a drug boss like his mentor from the first segment. He tries to bring some sanity to the troubled relationship with his mother. Also he attempts to rekindle his one-kiss relation with his friend Kevin who calls him after a decade. But for that he has to resolve the issue of a betrayal.

The best thing about the movie is the characterisation of Chiron. Though three different actors portrayed him in three segments, all of them succeeds in bringing a surprising consistency to the character. It is well evident in the third segment in which he physically looks menacing and beefed up, but displays deep down the same vulnerability as in previous parts. The supporting actors were also fabulous.

The movie is filmed in a very sober manner, with minimum exposition. It follows a natural flow that is so rare to see these days. It reminded me of the movie Fruitvale Station that I saw some time back. It was about the wrongful killing of a black man by police. Though it was a sharp social movie exploring racial tensions and this one is a mellow psychological drama, the focus of both movies was on realism. There was a sincerity in both attempts.

I loved that the three parts of the movie were titled by the names that different people call the protagonist. Each title when looked back, makes complete sense and gives precious insights about his behaviours in that segment. Probably Moonlight is the best movie that I watched recently. It's sincere, beautiful and universally significant.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Moana: Latest In Assembly Line Animation

Moana is the latest animation movie that is gobbling all the critical and commercial appreciation that's coming it's way. Last year, I think except The Good Dinosaur, all major animation movies by Hollywood did good business. Not surprising, because the general quality of the rendering is top class. Most movies had a solid premise and a charm that attracts kids, their target audience.

Ok, Sausage Party was an exception. It was an adult comedy and a sleeper hit of 2016. I saw that and felt it was hilarious for around half an hour, and then it turned repetitive and too derivative of movies that it was trying to parody. The Secret Life Of Pets, another animation movie that I watched was also too similar to past hits. Zootopia was a genuinely good movie which was a fresh breath of air.

Coming back to Moana, the Disney movie won't dissappoint kids. It is a fun ride that contains an inspirational strain. The characters are appealing and well portrayed by the voice actors. It's also a musical and the songs are impressive. It has a message about preserving nature subtly embedded into the story. It's a perfect movie to take the kids to.

My issue is the assembly line sensibility that it displays. The plot is very predictable and formula driven. Elements of it are assembled from several other movies. The movie is about a quest and the stakes are high. But it doesn't show onscreen. Even the resolution is very abrupt that any surprise it generates may turn to disappointment if you think of it afterwards.

Motives of the demigod played by The Rock is unexplainable in any regards even after inserting a feeble back story. Though his antics are fun to watch. The film makers' struggle to insert some payoffs by the climax has resulted in some really silly scenes that doesn't gel with the movie.

Moana is like a McDonald's burger. You know what you are going to get. There is no point in complaining as that's all you're going to get. No more, no less.

The Sympathizer : Complex Duality..

Vietnam war is a much repeated plot point in American movies and novels. The plight of soldiers has been repeated so often that it has been turned to a clichéd plot device. Making a lead character a Vietnam veteran automatically injects him with a new level of maturity, outlook and weariness and makes any further exposition needless.

The Sympathizer is the first work of fiction that I encountered which tells the Vietnamese perspective of  the war. In American books and movies, even the ones that are sympathetic, Vietnamese are either faceless victims or perpetrators of violence.

The Sympathizer is the Pulitzer prize winning novel of 2016 written by debutant novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen. The book has its protagonist a half Vietnamese- half French unnamed man. He fights with Southern Vietnamese army along with US army, but is actually a sympathizer, an undercover Communist spy.

The novel portrays his dual nature that accepts both perspectives. It proves to be a handicap for him because both sides actually wants from him unflinching loyalty to their individual causes and unlimited hatred against other side.

The book is written in first person singular narrative and when the protagonist becomes aware of his dual nature, turns to first person plural 'we' in the final chapter. The narration, which is matter-of-fact in the beginning, slowly turns more complex as the story progress. The mechanical recounting of events give way to personal narrative which, as time progress even involves fantastical elements.

The Sympathizer is an intense and profound novel that is primarily about Vietnam war, but deals with contemporary issues like migration, alienation and futility of blind idealism. It is a worrying portrayal of how the society tends to keep apart the individual who are broad minded in outlook.

Read the blogpost on the 2016 Man Booker award winning novel The Sellout by Paul Beatty.

Buy the book:

The Dance of Reality: An Unreal Movie Experience

According to Alexandro Jodorowsky, reality is just a dance created by our imaginations. The Dance of Reality, his first movie in 23 years, is a validation of that statement. It is an autobiographical movie that is as much fantasy as musical. The movie is about his growing up in Chile and his relationship with his parents. The movie uses heavy dose of surrealism, which means there is lot in it than what meets our eye and there is also high probability that you are not going to make much sense out of it.

The movie portrays Jodorowsky's life as a kid, his search for an identity and the part played by his parents and society in its formation. An integral part of the movie is the spiritual journey that his father who is a Stalinist and an atheist, makes, which concludes in him realising his true nature and identity. His mother who delivers her speeches in an operatic singing tone appears docile and silly, but soon proves that she is really the pillar that emotionally and spiritually supports the family.

The first thing that strikes you while watching The Dance of Reality is its insane color sense. To say the movie is colorful will be an understatement. Complementing it's visual tone are the images that accompany it and the poetic dialogues. Out of the world is the only suitable adjective. Though it is biopic, do not expect any realism. Jodorowsky claims whatever shown in the movie is real, but portrayed through art. So we see a theosophist in a loin cloth dancing on beaches, a piece of rock when tied to balloons floating in sky and people walking on streets always wearing face masks.

This treatment is deliberately done. I feel the reason is to make the viewer uncomfortable and aware that there is something hidden underneath of what is being shown. Probably like how his masterpiece El Topo used insane violence to alienate viewers and make them seek the meaning of it all.

I feel Jodorowsky crafts beautiful visual puzzles aimed at the audience in every scene making them take part in the creative process. He make sure that they doesn't just go along with him while watching the movie. His aim is to make them try and make sense of his puzzles or question him even if they are unable to answer them.

The use of violence and sex is much mellowed in this movie when compared to El Topo, his other and much older movie that I watched. But still there are numerous scenes that has potential to cause discomfort, like the one in which his mother cures his father of plague. Several imagery and ideas seems reappearing from El Topo, but overall this movie has a more positive vibe to it. The Dance of Reality is a beautiful poetic puzzle of a movie that demands audience participation in appreciating it.

Read my blogpost on Jodorowsky's Dune, a documentary about the failed attempt to make the world's best movie.

Read my blog post on El Topo  another masterpiece by Alexandro Jodorowsky. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

XXX: Xander Cage is Back and Ridiculous

What makes a good sequel? I feel it is the upgrade that you do to the basic idea of the original like in the case of Fast and Furious franchise. Every succeeding movie covers the previous installments, brings back the good characters, increase the stakes and never compromise on the quality. XXX series already squandered the chance when they made State of the Union, a very substandard sequel in terms of everything that was XXX. I consider it an excuse rather than a sequel. Now they are back with XXX: Return of Xander Cage.

...and screws it up again.

This one is still a few steps below the first part in every element- action, stunts, pace, suspense, plot, characters. The movie looks good, Vin Diesel is OK, Deepika and Donnie Yen are awesome. I am really happy to watch Yen getting noticed in Hollywood. He is a terrific actor. Deepika Padukone makes her presence felt. A few stunts are indeed breath taking. And that about sums up the good things of Return of Xander Cage. Ok, and the entry of Neymer in the first scene.

A gadget that can control satellites is stolen by a bunch of former XXX operatives and Xander Cage, who has feigned his death, is the only person capable of fixing the situation. He goes on the mission after recruiting some new members.

We had seen how bad the idea of recruiting new members backfired in Expendables 3.  The same issue repeats. All we get is a bunch of uninteresting nitwits whom we are to suffer for the entire running time. Other minor characters are also a pain to watch.

The character introductions never reveal anything interesting and take up half the movie. By the time some action set pieces start showing, we cease to care. There was a scene that was more ridiculous than the Batman- Superman patch up that we saw last year.

Tony Jaa got a raw deal. Here is a guy who has proved that he can carry an entire martial arts movie on his knees and all he do is appear. The only relief is that his role is a tad longer than the blink-and-you'll-miss-me one that he did in that Fast and Furious movie.

The stunts come no-where near the original. While XXX was made as a fun alternative to serious spy flicks like James Bond ones, this one tries to imitate Expendables and Fast and Furious. While XXX had some great music, this one is a letdown. The plot is an excuse, no context, no suspense and totally predictable.

The only surprise twist they finally came up was to remind us of the bad aftertaste of XXX: State of Union by bringing back the guy who made it unwatchable. The better alternative to XXX: Return of Xander Cage is a rewatch of the original.