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Legacy of Spielberg September 19, 2006

Posted by haxx in film makers.
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I am sandeep, new kid on the blog. This blog doesn’t restricts itself to just reviewing movies but cater to the larger community of movie buffs in DA-IICT by talking all things cinema. In that regard my first post is about one of the great directors Steven Speilberg. Unfortunately or fortunately, in the middle of my writing i found an article by one of my friends, which aptly conveyed everything i wanna say about Speilberg’s films. Hence i am presenting his article here with few changes. Hope you enjoy.

Steven Spielberg has had an amazing career as a director; he has made a string of hit movies and has unquestionably changed filmmaking (for better or for worse, I won’t argue which). But do you realize his last truly great movie was released over thirteen years ago?I kid you not, for the last thirteen years while he has made good movies and many movies that will go down as being “classics”, his last truly great movie, Jurassic Park, came out thirteen years ago. From that time to now, Spielberg has directed ten movies, most are very good and some are just fine, but not one of them is truly great. They are, in chronological order: Schindler’s List, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Minority Report, Catch Me if You Can, The Terminal, War of the Worlds, and Munich.
Okay, so what makes a movie great? After viewing it you need to ask yourself a series of questions. Did it take you somewhere you hadn’t been before, show you something you hadn’t seen? Did it leave you with a sense of wonder and awe? Did it make you think? Was it good, was it fun, did it show you the world in a whole new light? What about the characters, plot, and storytelling? Were you intrigued and enthralled, engrossed and enraptured?A group of Spielberg’s films from Jurassic Park to now are what I will refer to as the historical epics (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich, and to a lesser extent but it still fits the category, Amistad) are all good movies, but none actually approaches greatness. Every time Spielberg makes one of these epics there is a certain tangible feel to them, they all feel a little desperate. Spielberg may be the greatest popcorn filmmaker ever, but his attempts at more serious, dramatic fare are lacking. Each time he goes and makes one of these historical epics one cannot help but watch and feel as though Spielberg is desperately trying to earn a place as a serious filmmaker, a filmmaker that has changed not just the way movies are made but the way people see the world.

Schindler’s List is certainly the strongest of these historical epics, the one with the most gravitas, and yet even Schindler’s List is discussed in critical circles more for its representation of the Holocaust and whether or not the depiction is well constructed. One of the arguments against this film is that to tell the story of what happened to six million Jewish people, Spielberg chose to deify a Nazi; it is less the story of what happened to the Jewish people and what they did to save themselves and each other than it is about how a Nazi came to their aid. Granted, Spielberg depicted atrocities with a brutal honesty and unflinching eye, but these horrifying depictions do not make for a great movie. Saving Private Ryan suffers from this problem as well. Spielberg was able to recreate D-Day and some of the horrors of war with an unflinching brutality and a realism not heretofore put on screen, but that does not make for a great movie. There is, as with Schindler’s List, an undeniable import attached to the film, and it is a good movie, but outside of the war scenes, the movie did not fire on all cylinders. The plot was certainly lacking, and almost seemed as though it were completely an excuse to make the movie so that he could accomplish his true goal of creating the battle footage.

As for the two other historical epics, while they are both good, both worth watching, and will both teach you a little about American history (not every detail is correct), neither is arguably great. That just leaves us with The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Minority Report, Catch Me if You Can, The Terminal, and War of the Worlds.

Two of these are easily dismissed. The Lost World is but a hollow sequel, a mere shadow of the original film. From the thinnest of thin excuses that get Ian Malcolm to go back to the island on to the unleashing of a dinosaur in San Diego, this cannot be classified as a “great” movie. Minority Report, like The Lost World, is full of enough plot holes that while it is perfectly enjoyable – and who doesn’t like a good mystery? – it’s just not great.

The Terminal is a perfectly fun film — it’s light, it’s airy, it’s so transparent and flimsy that it’s practically not there — Tom Hanks doing Andy Kaufman’s “Foreign Man” for two hours and Stanley Tucci hating him for no particular reason. It’s a moderately amusing series of vignettes that just don’t hold together well enough or long enough or cause the audience to care enough to make this a great movie.

Artificial Intelligence: A.I., while it has other flaws, is dismissed from the list of great movies due to what has become a common Spielberg problem — his inability to end movies. If he had shortened the movie by fifteen minutes, cutting out the final footnote and postscript, he may have had a winner. The story is intriguing, the characters well drawn, and it has a great look and feel. But, by the time the credits finally roll he’s lost too much of the audience; he has let himself get too carried away and loses the heart of the picture.

War of the Worlds, you say? Just not possible. No way. The (SPOILER ALERT) son can’t be alive at the end of the movie. We actually get to see him go over the hill; everything explodes on the other side of the hill. The son is dead. A dead person doesn’t magically turn around and get to live again in order to make a happy ending. And, speaking of the ending, the machines dying off at the end felt false. It wasn’t properly built into the movie earlier, it just made it seem as though Spielberg decided now that Tom Cruise has made it to Boston the movie should end and since the movie should end the machines must die. That does not make a movie great.

That leaves just Catch Me if You Can. Probably Spielberg’s best work (not including the historical epics) since Jurassic Park. It’s fun and light, without being as flimsy as The Terminal. It has some substance to it without being as heavy-handed as Saving Private Ryan. Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio are hugely bright spots in the picture. Ask some of the questions required for greatness: did it take you somewhere you hadn’t been before, show you something you hadn’t seen? Or was your thought walking out only, “Wow, I can’t believe that guy got away with so much?” Another one of the things that stops the movie from being great is Spielberg himself. Unfortunately Mr. Spielberg has set the bar so high that many of his films simply don’t meet it. Would you honestly include this movie in with E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jaws? Is it that much fun?

Jurassic Park accomplishes each and every one of the criteria for a great movie. Its scope is far greater than Catch Me if You Can, and when the lights come up after it, you’re simply awestruck. The man made dinosaurs come to life. And while he was doing that he also told an incredible story and managed to paint vivid characters. It is the work of a master director at the top of his game. There are huge questions asked in it about science and technology and where the world will take us, and where we can take the world. There are questions asked about what makes a person good, what is right, what is wrong, and what makes a family. Big and small, grandiose and humble, Jurassic Park takes a look at everything and does it in purely mesmerizing style.

Spielberg’s name most certainly appears in the pantheon of great directors, and not terribly far from the top of the list. His recent films, while good, don’t have the same kind of pizzazz he was once able to put forth. I don’t believe it’s a question of him forever having lost what it was that made him great — it’s still there and I’m sure he can (and one day will) find it. Now that is a day I will be thankful to be in the theater.

And I truly believe life will find a way.

Cinema of relationships September 9, 2006

Posted by ujj in inside story, Reviews.
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Appu trilogy and The bicycle theives have one great thing in common. Both the films show things important to a mans survival in a very trivial manner.This is a great thing because it is not easy to show them without emphasising on them. For instance, it is important for a father to have the support of a small child and to do that the father tries to placate the child in a very rude way, infact ostentatiously shouting at him. To the audience it is all too frivolous, but I feel things like these are the substance of films depicting “realism”. In Apur Sansar, Appu has his first good meal after many days, thanks to his friend, the food has a euphoric effect on him, he is so high that even in indigence, he is ready to reject a job offer to pursue his ambitions. This also seems as one of the comic scenes of the film, but having watched the film, several times, I felt it speaks a lot about the relationships Appu has had over the years. His sister combed his hair for school, his father did enough to get him Diwali crackers, his mother saved money to send him to school in Calcutta so in fact all his happiness is attributed to people he was related to. He never did anything himself that made him as happy, and now his friends presence gives him a strange confidence and strength to go on and chase his dreams.
If we consider these films as being “realistic”, which most of us would agree with, then one must agree that a cinema of realism is a cinema depicting relationships, as if one observes a characters life in vacuum, he would have nothing but virtual strings of relationships. The only happiness in the life of the old aunt of Durga are perhaps the moments when Durga brings her a fruit. Durga is the only person who “openly” cares for her and gives her enough reason to stay on in the house in spite of regular taunts from the mother of Durga. She comes back when Appu is born, as his birth gives her a reason to feel “usable” again, as she is the one who will tell them stories etc. Every character in Appu trilogy has had certain experiences, and almost all of these have been due to the presence of other people around them. Some of the exceptions that can be cited are the experiences of Appus father during the time he has gone to the city to earn money (Pather Panchali). These experiences are not important to the film, not because we are noat concerned with the father, but because whatever things happen to him in the city, happen because of people not important to the film. Same experiences like the simple meeting with a Bengali traveller who comes to their house in Benaras, becomes important as meeting a person coming from ones own place is an important relationship. some might argue that those scenes are unimportant, but actually these incidents bring a sense of reality into the film.
Riccis friend Baicco tries to help him find his bicycle, though they are not successful, it is interesting to note the way some people totally unrelated to Ricci, a young man and an old man, probably working with Baicco, are trying help him. For a few moments Ricci and those two unknown people are sharing a relationship of achieving a common goal. In one of the light scenes of the film, the father and the child are having dinner at one of the restaurants not affordable by them, and Ricci says, that if “your mom were to see us”, this I felt was too wonderful a real thing to say in a film, makes me feel Ricci, his son and his wife are for real. Both the trilogy and bicycle thieves may also be argued to be films showing economic dependence, social stratification and/or effects of industrialization/development, but if we were to go one layer deeper, one would notice the important thing are the relationships a man shares. These may be with his co-workers, his boss, his friends, his neighbours, his family or economic relationships. Relationships are important in any real thing. The two works of cinema shot at different parts of the globe (probably once inspired the other) have this thing in common and this is the thing that make them different and at the same time so obviously real.

Anand Patwardhan September 5, 2006

Posted by ujj in film makers, Reviews.
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Indian Governments have blatantly ignored parallel cinema, more so documentariesAnand Patwardhan and even more those that have exposed them and their mortal policies. Even more disgusting has been injustice given to people behind such works of real-life-art. Anand Patwardhan, one such documentary maker driven by the need to show the not so pretty picture of Indian society, has recently won the case of the ban imposed on one of his documentaries Father, Son and the holy war. The SC has ordered the DD to telecast the film in the next two months. The film perspicaciously looks at the relationship between religion and sexist tendencies woven into the religion of the majority. In the words of Gail Minault, University of Texas Austin, the film presents

Rampant machismo is never a pretty sight, and this two-part video contains a lot of excruciating imagery and some brutal truths. Part One, “Trial by Fire,” opens with flames in the dark, licking at the shops of Muslims in Bombay in the post-Babari Masjid riots of late 1992.

and

Part Two, “Hero Pharmacy,” continues the parallel between defense of culture as narrowly interpreted and the fear of impotence. From the pitch of the peddler of potency pills to scenes of little boys mobbing the popular cultural icon, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, in his visit to Bombay, the high value placed upon phallic masculinity is conveyed in no uncertain terms.

In his visit to the DA-IICT campus on 25th Feb 2006 (one of the highlights of Synapse’06), an utter perfectionist and outright critical Anand, though unhappy with the campus’s film screening equipment, satisfied every breathing soul with his answers to questions he must have faced over a hundred million times, after the screening of his documentary In the name of God .

Interview of Anand Patwardhan here.

Filmography and Awards here .

Dhoom 2 September 1, 2006

Posted by ujj in previews.
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The trailer of Dhoom 2 makes Tom Cruise’s tall building swing in MI III look like childs play. Dhoom, its prequel, introduced to the Indian film industry the bad_biker_boyz. The cutsom bikes became the latest hip show-off and sunglasses an essential accessory for a bike. John Abrahams hunkish looks with off-beat attitude (gotta give it to him, the guy never got caught!) won several billion hearts in Dhoom and to do justice to that image who else other than the greek god-bod of Bollywood, Hrithik Roshan, would havel played the role of the bad hero in Dhoom 2. The other unique selling point of Dhoom 2 is the fantabulously gorgeous looking Aishwarya, the trailer however doesnt clarify whether shes a good girl or bad 😦

With the success of Dhoom, Dhoom 2 is expected to crash all records. My only contention is, whether the story will be original or not. Krrish, the most sucessful film of this year so far, had surprising similarities with Paycheck (remember the computer that can predict the future, that part was lifted!). I just hope that Hrithik is not after some computer disc and he doesnt transcend down inverted from the ceiling in a high security zone to copy the disc from a computer. Also to not to ignore Abhishek Bachan, I think he will provide ample support as a co-actor and so will Bipasha.

Music seems to be great and so do the graphics and cinematography. Dhoom had a song by Tata Young, I just hope theres Alizée in this one! . A nice moi Alizee for the credits!