Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar: The Cameron Infection

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Call me a perv, but have you ever tried turning back to look at the audience while watching a movie? I did, while I watched Avatar not because of lame curiosity, but because I wanted to make sure I was in a real world that was good old sober and dull. People were sitting with their clumsy 3D goggles, mouths agape in wonder. One guy was dropping his popcorn, because his hand seemed to be heading away from his mouth, smearing his face with the butter. Another whistled for the seventieth time, since he’s evidently excited on seeing breasts (alien or human irrelevant) uncovered on screen, A woman didn’t realize her shirt was getting smeared by the cheese that was dripping off her burger. A little kid shooed away imaginary flies that virtually tried to buzz him through this non-existent cinemascope screen projecting a gorgeous forest that defied the most imaginative visions and the most intrinsic perspectives of our time. Me, I put back my goggles on and continued to try and virtually smell this world of unflinching beauty that literally sprouted out of the traditional, cliched mind of one of the most technically (and financially) gifted fim-makers of our generation. James Cameron certainly had no dearth of funds at his disposal for his decade old dream, after proclaiming himself the king of the world on oscarstage. And to say that he’s put his resources to good use would be like proclaiming Sam Raimi’s franchise-born-Spiderman a perfect nemesis to heath ledger’s joker: Stupid. 
Avatar is a moviegoing experience that swoops you into it’s intricate, myriad layers of red, blue, green and everything in between, brings to screen a visual experience that would set the standards for CG filming, even half a decade from now, and perhaps get recognized as an instant classic in hollywood’s history text books (it already has). Sadly, Avatar stops to a grinding halt right there, in the middle of nowhere, “on a faraway planet called Pandora.” There are characters in this film which would be of little or no consequence. There are marines wearing sleek life-support face masks, there are stoopid decision makers, there is a crippled guy, a bunch of alien-life and a DNA harvested alien ‘body’ in between. Arrange them in the proper places in the human mind’s chain of power and presto! James cameron could’ve narrated his little story through the easy vantage point of a space telescope (feasible, considering the money involved here), and we could still understand what all the bow-arrow Vs machine-warfare conflict is all about. Instead, we are put through 160 odd minutes of corny dialogues and cliched slow-mo sequences that we could lip-sync unaided. We try and mentally shoo the men, their clumsy artillery and navi away, just to take in the beauty of the backdrop locations, the floating mountains, the massive trees, the little ’spirit’ bearing forms, Tree of Souls, Tree of Voices and so on… uncluttered please.
Mr. Cameron’s aliens are designed with only one conception in mind: we humans are the inferior guys, we can never imagine aliens as anything but alike ourselves, we can never conceive of life forms in more dimensions than six, can never conceive an alien that doesn’t communicate by talking, can never accept an alien in a different mass or form. Hence, Cameron’s CG army could come up with nothing but elongated humans in a shade of gorgeous blue, who make phunny noises. They walk like humans, they talk like humans, have families like humans, cry like humans, hell even have sex like humans! Do we really need an alien to look sorrowful, scream, howl and cry transparent tears in order to make us emote? Peter Jackson brought warmth into his aliens who looked nowhere as gorgeous as these, more like interstellar prawns. Too bad he needed only 30 million, a tenth of the budget Mr. Cameron had at his command for Avatar. Probably then, District 9 would’ve had the chance to get a best pic nomination among this year’s ten golden globes nominees.
The very concept of humans making an effort to invest moolah into an expensive DNA project, just for mere socialization, in order to lay hands on the unobtanium (we dont even know why the fuck we need this mineral, just cuz it could sell at a cool 20 million a kilo?? Or make bombs, ofcourse) is plain ridiculous, especially when the typical display of menancing firepower comes and we wonder why all this ‘avatar’ effort when we’ve already harvested enough bombs to tear apart entire planets and sufficient science to dissect each rock that comes out of this mess? And no disrespect to the fairer sex, but why put in an alien woman? Why not just an asexual alien? Jst cuz we’d have a lame-ass alien-human love story?
If we were meant to feel angst at the sight of the warships felling a giant tree while a horde of aliens howled, sorry James..we know you’re just taking your time showing off.. And what’s with the metaphorical felling of the symbolic tree (monolithic) and the ‘revenge’ that the Navis take out on the men in the only way possible: by annihilating them? And what about the stupid stoopid hulking commander scar-face who seemingly takes things so personally that at one final point of time, he literally envelops the whole physiology of his army, like he’s a human Goliath? Is this all a feeble reference to the felling of the symbolic twin towers and America’s blast of fury by unleashing it’s war on terror, ultimately climaxing in the capture of the stupid stoopid dictator? Obviously these are coincidences, or a minor tweak in the American director’s psyche (like it’s okay to kill one life form, but not another). We might probably know in the collector’s edition DVD interviews.
The animals looked menacing alright, even the raptor-like birds. The moment they show some kinda mythical superior among these winged creatures, we instantly know our man is going to get that birdie and make himself warlord, and ‘protect’ these aliens. And there’s going to be that scene where he’s gonna walk among a crowd towards his alien lady-love and there are awed faces all around him, revering him blah blah..  Yeah right! Ain’t THAT subtle? Sarcasm.
Avatar was a visual feast oh yes. It’s grandeur makes you feel small, but still one with the world of immense beauty and color that is Pandora. But sorry James, you’ve just created another cliche ridden 3D fern-gully with grand views of armies charging, desperate for that earth-shattering rohirrim battle-charge effect in the return of the king. A 3D installation of Pandora alone could’ve held us in awe. You’ve just spoilt it with your unquenchable thirst for grandeur and good ol’ romance.

By Fazil (at
To view the original article, click here

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

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He sits like a man taking a hearing test, big headphones clamped over his ears, his body and face frozen, listening for a faraway sound. His name is Gerd Wiesler, and he is a captain in the Stasi, the notorious secret police of East Germany. The year is, appropriately, 1984, and he is Big Brother, watching. He sits in an attic day after day, night after night, spying on the people in the flat below.
The flat is occupied by a playwright named Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his mistress, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Wiesler (Ulrich Muehe) first saw Dreyman at the opening of one of his plays, where he was informed by a colleague that Dreyman was a valuable man: "One of our only writers who is read in the West and is loyal to our government." How can that be? Wiesler wonders. Dreyman is good-looking, successful, with a beautiful lover; he must be getting away with something. Driven by suspicion, or perhaps by envy or simple curiosity, Wiesler has Dreyman's flat wired and begins an official eavesdropping inquiry.
He doesn't find a shred of evidence that Dreyman is disloyal. Not even in whispers. Not even in guarded allusions. Not even during pillow talk. The man obviously believes in the East German version of socialism, and the implication is that not even the Stasi can believe that. They are looking for dissent and subversion because, in a way, they think a man like Dreyman should be guilty of them. Perhaps they do not believe in East Germany themselves, but have simply chosen to play for the winning team.
Wiesler is a fascinating character. His face is a mask, trained by his life to reflect no emotion. Sometimes not even his eyes move. As played in Muehe's performance of infinite subtlety, he watches Dreyman as a cat awaits a mouse. And he begins to internalize their lives -- easy, because he has no life of his own, no lover, no hobby, no distraction from his single-minded job.
Although the movie won the best foreign-language film Oscar of 2006, you may not have seen it, so I will repress certain developments. I will say that Wiesler arrives at a choice, when his piggish superior officer, the government minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), develops a lust for Christa-Maria and orders Wiesler to pin something, anything, on Dreyman so that his rival will be eliminated. But there is nothing to pin on him. A loyal spy must be true to his trade, and now Wiesler is asked to be false to prove his loyalty.
The thing is, Wiesler has no one he can really talk to. He lives in a world of such paranoia that the slightest slip can be disastrous. Consider a scene in the Stasi cafeteria when a young officer unwisely cracks an anti-government joke; Wiesler goes through the motions of laughter, and then coldly asks for the man's name. The same could happen to Wiesler. So as he proceeds through his crisis, he has no one to confide in, and there is no interior monologue to inform us of his thoughts. There is only that blank face, and the smallest indications of what he might be thinking. And then instinctive decisions that choose his course for him.
The Berlin Wall falls in 1989 (the event is seen here), and the story continues for few more years to an ironic and surprisingly satisfactory conclusion. But the movie is relevant today, as our government ignores habeas corpus, practices secret torture, and asks for the right to wiretap and eavesdrop on its citizens. Such tactics did not save East Germany; they destroyed it, by making it a country its most loyal citizens could no longer believe in. Driven by the specter of aggression from without, it countered it with aggression from within, as sort of an anti-toxin. Fearing that its citizens were disloyal, it inspired them to be. True, its enemies were real. But the West never dropped the bomb, and East Germany and the other Soviet republics imploded after essentially bombing themselves.
"The Lives of Others" is a powerful but quiet film, constructed of hidden thoughts and secret desires. It begins with Wiesler teaching a class in the theory and practice of interrogation; one chilling detail is that suspects are forced to sit on their hands, so that the chair cushion can be saved for possible use by bloodhounds. It shows how the Wall finally fell, not with a bang, but because of whispers.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Zwartboek (Black Book)

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Black Book is a hard-core war film with raw violence, intense action, graphic sexuality and a twisting plot that offers a series of surprises.
Set in the Netherlands during World War II, it is a return to director Paul Verhoeven's Dutch roots after a series of American studio movies. Verhoeven, best known for such fare as Showgirls and Basic Instinct, clearly demonstrates that he is capable of more than just sexual provocation or mindless action as in his Starship Troopers, Total Recall or RoboCop.
Black Book is an agile thriller that consistently entertains. Breaking records in the Netherlands as the highest-grossing Dutch-made film, it explores underground Resistance efforts by the Dutch during the Nazi occupation. Making observations that are both political and personal, Book is almost always cynical and knowing. One disturbing sequence involving the torture of suspected traitors evokes the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The story's focus is a Jewish woman (Carice van Houten) who forms allegiances with whomever she can in order to avoid capture by the Nazis.
Rescued by Resistance fighters, she becomes an arms smuggler, infiltrating Nazi headquarters. Abruptly seizing an opportunity, she flirts with and seduces a high-ranking Nazi soldier (The Lives of Others' dashing Sebastian Koch) in a move that changes the outcome of several lives.
Van Houten is both steely and sensual, and always convincing as the film's unflappable heroine. Koch, so terrific as the East German playwright who is targeted by the secret police in Others, further demonstrates his depth and range. His character is far more complex (and occasionally unnervingly sympathetic) than the usual cardboard-cutout Nazi officials in films.
Also excellent are Thom Hoffman as a doctor who joins the Resistance and Derek de Lint as the Resistance leader reeling from the capture of his beloved son.
Characters are refreshingly multidimensional: Protagonists are not always humane and antagonists have admirable qualities.
The film's momentum turns sluggish near the conclusion. At nearly 2½ hours, it feels a bit too long, but things are never dull. The provocatively sexual scenes, though somewhat prurient (as one might expect from Verhoeven), have an erotic charge that is startling and unusual in a war film.
Black Book's tale of espionage and uncertain alliances, with riveting performances and intriguing moral complexity, makes for an exciting and absorbing movie.

By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

Read the Original review here

Friday, November 27, 2009

Max Manus

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The eponymous hero of Max Manus was one of the more notable Norwegian resistance fighters in World War II, operating out of Oslo. After the fighting stopped he survived quietly in business until 1996. He's a figure undoubtedly still generating national pride, perhaps explaining the high praise accorded the movie from local sources. That's not to say this is a bad film by any means, but ultimately Manus' biographical wartime experiences, at least as translated to screen here, play out as something of a Boy's Own adventure, rather than a ruthlessly honest warts-and-all biopic despite the hero's final drunken introspection and occasional doubts. It's a film where the participant's have-a-go attitude and laddish enthusiasm for adventure keeps the action flowing smoothly from one escapade to another, with courage under duress, noble sacrifices, love interest and final victory almost a given.

As a portrait of continental wartime resistance shown through the increasing travails and vicissitudes of a group it belongs in the same category as the recent Female Agents (aka: Les Femmes des Ombres, 2008), Verhoeven's Black Book (aka: Zwartboek, 2006), or further back, the Dutch director's Soldier Of Orange (aka: Soldaat van Oranje, 1977). Incidentally, the latter also includes a scene where the hero meets royalty as a moment of great pride, but in place of Manus' relatively black and white view of events it offers a narrative altogether more complex and ironic, a world where loyalties are far more confused. Soldier Of Orange and Black Book both show both good and traitorous amongst the occupied - characters perhaps engendered by Verhoeven's presence as a child during the troubled times it represents. Even The Heroes Of Telemark (1965), Anthony Mann's snowbound film about the Norwegian resistance, featured a traitor or two as well as emphasising the painful, but necessary sacrifice of civilians. Those behind Max Manus are from a different generation presumably with no imperative to draw out such contradictory truths, although danger still lurks everywhere.

Of course a dose of revisionism is not the only way to make a good war film. One of the more interesting things about Max Manus is that it sandwiches the main action, set amongst the Norwegian resistance, between scenes of the hero fighting earlier as a soldier - one action in particular, a short, bloody encounter fought out in 1940 against the Soviets, before he was fighting back in Oslo. Perhaps intended to contrast the 'clean', if nervously exhausting, war on the front with the shadowy deceptions and suspense necessary elsewhere in Manus' career, these moments also serve to remind us of the type of the hero Manus was, in his own way, before fighting the Nazi occupation back at home. This is useful as, when we first see Manus in action away from such brutal certitudes of combat, his actions against the occupying forces are almost amateurish - initially working on an underground newspaper, posting flyers and plotting ludicrous assassination attempts - all with little professionalism, a fact noted by more experienced resistance fighters. Gradually however he makes his mark, notably with one daring escape from a hotel window for which he gains a small, slightly humorous reputation.

Using an escape route via Sweden, he find himself in Scotland, part of the first Norwegian volunteer force of saboteurs, being given his first assignment, now better trained and equipped when sent back home on assignment. Norway is now occupied, run by a puppet government, and something has to be done. Soon our hero is blowing up ships in Oslo harbour with limpet mines, dodging the efforts of the determinedly adversarial local Nazi Gestapo commander Fehmer (an intense performance by Ken Duken, incidentally, which at times reminds one by Ray Liotta) in locating him, as well as resolving some growing romantic issues of his own. In contrast to the earlier combat scenes it's noticeable that Manus is now more assured and calm as a fighter; in one notable moment, which might have escaped from a James Bond movie, he fires backwards at his enemies with a machine gun while escaping on a motorbike. Elsewhere the action and suspense are more convincing - including a moment when the hero accidentally shoots himself - presumably staged around documented true events. The hero's chief romantic interest is 'Tikken' Lindebraekke (Agnes Kittelsen), the resistance contact at the British embassy in Stockholm, but here emotions remain somewhat enigmatic and, to its credit, the film avoids any stereotypical resolution to their mounting tension.

Max Manus is staged with a confidence and with assured flow by its co-directors, and this, the most expensive Norwegian production to date is highly engaging. Adding considerably to this is the performance by Aksel Hennie as the hero; Hennie makes of him a very likable character, with convincing weaknesses and belief in his own mortality - a trait considerably humanising what could easily just become a nationalistic action figure. Towards the close of the movie, peace newly restored, this introspection comes to the fore as the surviving hero ponders his own moral culpability - even if the smile breaking out at the end of Max Manus for this viewer at least is less complex by way of implication than that which concludes, say, Once Upon A Time In America.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bakjwi (Thirst)

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Chan-wook Park's new film is a complex film that is not easy to classify. Nominally a horror movie, the central character is a vampire, the film actually has elements of comedy, theology, melodrama, cultural invasion (and its analog of viral invasion of a body), romance and few other things as well. It's a film that has almost too much on its mind. The film takes its own matters and mixes them with classic European literature, in this case Emile Zola's "Thérèse Raquin". It's an odd mix that doesn't always gel, but none the less has an incredible power. Here it is almost 24 hours since I saw the film at Lincoln Center (with a post film discussion by the director) and I find my cage is increasingly rattled. Its not so much what happens is bothersome, its more that its wide reaching story and its themes ring a lot of bells in retrospect.

The plot of the film has a will loved priest deciding that the best way to help mankind is to volunteer for a medical experiment to find a cure for a terrible disease. Infected with the disease he eventually succumbs and dies, but because of a transfusion of vampiric blood (its not explained) he actually survives. Hailed as a miracle worker the priest returns to the hospital where he had been ministering to the sick. Unfortunately all is not well. The priest finds that he needs blood to survive. He also finds that he has all of the typical problems of a vampire, and its no not possible for him to go out during the day. Things become even more complicated when he becomes reacquainted with a childhood friend and his family. The priest, some of his animal passions awakened becomes taken with the wife of his friend. From there it all goes sideways.

An ever changing film, this is a story that spins through a variety of genres as it tells the very human story of a man who finds that his life has been radically altered by a chance event and finds that he is no longer who he thought he was. It's a film that you have to stay with to the end because the film is forever evolving into something else. Its also a film that has a great deal on its mind and the themes its playing with are constantly being explored in a variety of ways

The film has enough going on that one could, and people probably will, write books discussing the film.

The two of the strongest parts of the film are its vampiric elements and its romance The vampire part of the tale is brilliant. There is something about how it lays out the ground rules and the nature of the "affliction" that makes such perfect sense that it kind of pushes the old vampire ideas aside. Sitting in the theater last night I found myself amazed at how impressed how well it worked. I think the fact that it played more or less straight is what is so earth shaking. Here is a vampire who just wants to have a normal life. It's contrasted with what happens later, it makes clear that living an existence of hunting humans really isn't going to work. Its not the dark world of Twilight or Lost Boys, rather its something else. I personally think that the film changes the playing field from a hip cool idea or dream into something more real and tangible. (The sequence where the powers kick in is just way cool) The romance is also wonderfully handled. Sure the sex scenes are steamy and well done, but it's the other stuff, the looks, the talk, the gestures outside of the sex that makes this special. I love the looks, the quiet stares as the forbidden couple look at each other hungering for each other and unable to act, the disappointment and heartbreak of betrayal both real and suspected, and the mad passion of possible consummation. This is one of the great screen romances of all time. It perfectly captures the feeling and emotion of deep passionate love (and lust). If you've ever loved deeply I'm guessing you'll find some part of your hear on screen, I know I did. The statement "I just wanted to spend eternity with you" has a sad poignancy to it. It's both a statement of what was the intention as well as the depth of emotion. The tragic romance will break your heart.

I won't lie to you and say that the film is perfect and great. Its not, as good as the pieces are and almost all of them are great (especially the actors who I have unjustly failed to hail as amazing) the whole doesn't always come together. The various genres, thematic elements and tones occasionally grate against each other. Frequently I was wondering where the film was going. I hung in there even though the film seemed to be wandering about aimlessly.

I liked the film a great deal. I loved the pieces more than the film as a whole. Its been pinging around in my head since I saw it, and I'm guessing that it will do so for several days more. Like or love is irrelevant since this is a film that really should be seen since it has so much going on that it will provide you with enough material to think and talk about for days afterward. One of the meatiest and most filling films of the year.

De grønne slagtere

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With Green Butchers (aka: De Grønne Slagtere) we are in the territory previously marked out by Sweeney Todd, Eating Raoul, Delicatessen and the like: art house cannibalism. The peculiar flavour of writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen's film is partly explained by this choice of subject, as well as his involvement in the Dogme film movement, having contributed scripts for Mifune (1999), The King is Alive (2000), as well as Open Hearts (2002). The Dogme movement has made a virtue of making films to a strictly naturalistic series of rules, the severity of which, whether entirely serious or not, was intended to "force the truth out of characters and settings." Green Butchers is not a Dogme film, but some of its characteristics owe themselves to an artistic manifesto which instructed its adherents to make films by all means available, even "at the cost of good taste" if necessary.

It's Jensen's second feature film after the well-received Flickering Lights (aka: Blinkende Lygter, 2000 - a film which also starred Mikkelsen and Kaas), another comedy-drama. Jensen's sly, dry humour is much in evidence here, too, as we follow the business of his two misfit butchers, 'Sweaty' Svend and pot smoking Bjarne, into the path of making meals out of unwanted humans. As critics have observed, this is a film with two intertwined threads, with much overt, and grisly, dark comedy revolving around Sven, a man who "has never been loved." He's apparently unable to show anyone the inside of his freezer without adding them to the chilled cabinet for the customers next morning, prepared as his speciality dish 'Chicky Wicky'. Bjarne's story brings to the narrative more in the way of pathos and sweetness as, while struggling with the predations of his increasingly erratic partner in butchery, he also has to come to terms with the sudden revival of his brain damaged twin brother, as well as burgeoning relationship with the slightly naïve Astrid.

Playing both Bjarne and twin Eigil, Nikolaj Lie Kaas is remarkable in giving entirely separate performances throughout, so much so that I was going to make him a name to watch, but a quick look at his filmography reveals that he has already made 28 (including one related to his portrayal here, the notorious Dogme film Idiots of 1998) of which no fewer than 20 will have appeared in the last five years! The Walkenesque Mikkelsen, who is perhaps most familiar to British and American viewers as Tristan in the recent version of King Arthur, is also memorable, offering up Svend's characteristic, sweaty, culpability whilst sporting an unnaturally high, damp forehead (an on-screen effect gained, we learn, by a watering unit ingeniously devised by the special effects department).

In the interviews which accompany the film on disc, Jensen mentions how keen he was to "make something better than farce" out of his subject matter and, if it has a fault, it is that his film occasional teeters too far in the opposite direction, refusing some obvious opportunities to show the comedy of panic or grim humour. Instead, Dogme's metier means that Green Butchers unfolds slowly, with more natural pauses and silences, and an unforced lunacy all of its own. Such deadpan absurdity frequently pays dividends (one especially relishes Svend's quiet words to the newly returned Eigel, soft toy under his arm, that he should "point the giraffe somewhere else, so that we can talk calmly again") although there have been complaints from some that a sharper edge to the bloody proceedings, other than those demonstrated by Bjarne and Svend's knives, would have been welcome. To be sure, some cannibalistic movies, such as Romero's Dawn Of The Dead bring an apt comment on consumerism. Instead Jensen's film relates slaughter back to interior matters such as Svend's compulsive, murderous need to be loved and successful - a result he eventually achieves through his marinade - or even by placing the act of butchery in a entirely different context outside of society altogether. For instance the comment by Holger, famous for his deer sausages, that "It's mythological to kill an animal and then mock it by sticking it in its own intestine." Outraged by the role that nature played in provoking the death of his parents, Bjarne sees his work as specifically an act of revenge on animals, not people, a logic that places him apart from such characters as Sweeney Todd. While the eager consumers of Chicky Wickys queue up outside the shop eager for their next portion, obvious satire is played down. In interview, the cast and writer see the film's focus elsewhere, on "coming to terms with one's fate," or learning to live at peace with oneself.

Of course interior states are always subjective rather than objective. And if the Dogme creed values strict naturalism, then Green Butchers is a film which, although related to the movement by eschewing overt dramatics, it never the less inhabits a separate, almost fantasy world of its own - another point acknowledged on the DVD's accompanying interviews. It's a place not unaopposed to the fertile and dark imaginations of Caro and Jeunet (to whose successful Delicatessen it has sometimes been compared) if without their Gallic flamboyance, and whose odd elements gradually fit into a weird whole. Indeed the last scene of the film makes the point succinctly, drawing together the principal characters in a moment that is both playful, absurd and unifying at the same time. Given the unique nature of Green Butchers (how often does one see a Danish cannibalism movie?) as well as uniformly excellent performances, it can be recommended.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hotel Rwanda

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You do not believe you can kill them all?  

Why not? Why not? We are halfway there already.

In 1994 in Rwanda, a million members of the Tutsi tribe were killed by members of the Hutu tribe in a massacre that took place while the world looked away. "Hotel Rwanda" is not the story of that massacre. It is the story of a hotel manager who saved the lives of 1,200 people by being, essentially, a very good hotel manager.

The man is named Paul Rusesabagina, and he is played by Don Cheadle as a man of quiet, steady competence in a time of chaos. This is not the kind of man the camera silhouettes against mountaintops, but the kind of man who knows how things work in the real world, who uses his skills of bribery, flattery, apology and deception to save these lives who have come into his care.

I have known a few hotel managers fairly well, and I think if I were hiring diplomats, they would make excellent candidates. They speak several languages. They are discreet. They know how to function appropriately in different cultures. They know when a bottle of scotch will repay itself six times over. They know how to handle complaints. And they know everything that happens under their roof, from the millionaire in the penthouse to the bellboy who can get you a girl.

Paul is such a hotel manager. He is a Hutu, married to a Tutsi named Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo). He has been trained in Belgium and runs the four-star Hotel Des Milles Collines in the capital city of Kigali. He does his job very well. He understands that when a general's briefcase is taken for safekeeping, it contains bottles of good scotch when it is returned. He understands that to get the imported beer he needs, a bribe must take place.

He understands that his guests are accustomed to luxury, which must be supplied even here in a tiny central African nation wedged against Tanzania, Uganda and the Congo. Do these understandings make him a bad man? Just the opposite. They make him an expert on situational ethics. The result of all the things he knows is that the hotel runs well and everyone is happy.

Then the genocide begins, suddenly, but after a long history. Rwanda's troubles began, as so many African troubles began, when European colonial powers established nations that ignored traditional tribal boundaries. Enemy tribes were forced into the same land. For years in Rwanda under the Belgians, the Tutsis ruled and killed not a few Hutu. Now the Hutus are in control, and armed troops prowl the nation, killing Tutsis.

There is a United Nations "presence" in Rwanda, represented by Col. Oliver (Nick Nolte). He sees what is happening, informs his superiors, asks for help and intervention, and is ignored. Paul Rusesabagina informs the corporate headquarters in Brussels of the growing tragedy, but the hotel in Kigali is not the chain's greatest concern. Finally it comes down to these two men acting as free-lancers to save more than a thousand lives they have somehow become responsible for.

When "Hotel Rwanda" premiered at Toronto 2004, some reviews criticized the film for focusing on Paul and the colonel, and making little effort to "depict" the genocide as a whole. But director Terry George and writer Keir Pearson have made exactly the correct decision. A film cannot be about a million murders, but it can be about how a few people respond. Paul, as it happens, is a real person, and Col. Oliver is based on one, and "Hotel Rwanda" is about what they really did. The story took shape after Pearson visited Rwanda and heard of a group of people who were saved from massacre.

Cheadle holds his performance resolutely at the human level. His character intuitively understands that only by continuing to act as a hotel manager can he achieve anything. His hotel is hardly functioning, the economy has broken down, the country is ruled by anarchy, but he puts on his suit and tie every morning and fakes business as usual -- even on a day he is so frightened, he cannot tie his tie.

He deals with a murderous Hutu general, for example, not as an enemy or an outlaw, but as a longtime client who knows that the value of a good cigar cannot be measured in cash. Paul has trained powerful people in Kigali to consider the Hotel Des Milles Collines an oasis of sophistication and decorum, and now he pretends that is still the case. It isn't, but it works as a strategy because it cues a different kind of behavior; a man who has yesterday directed a mass murder might today want to show that he knows how to behave appropriately in the hotel lobby.

Nolte's performance is also in a precise key. He came to Rwanda as a peacekeeper, and now there is no peace to keep. The nations are united in their indifference toward Rwanda. In real life, Nolte's bad-boy headlines distract from his acting gifts; here his character is steady, wise, cynical and a master of the possible. He makes a considered choice in ignoring his orders and doing what he can do, right now, right here, to save lives.

How the 1,200 people come to be "guests" in the hotel is a chance of war. Some turn left, some right, some live, some die. Paul is concerned above all with his own family. As a Hutu, he is safe, but his wife is Tutsi, his children are threatened, and in any event, he is far beyond thinking in tribal terms. He has spent years storing up goodwill and now he calls in favors. He moves the bribery up another level. He hides people in his hotel. He lies. He knows how to use a little blackmail: Sooner or later, he tells a powerful general, the world will take a reckoning of what happened in Kigali, and if Paul is not alive to testify for him, who else will be believed?

This all succeeds as riveting drama. "Hotel Rwanda" is not about hotel management, but about heroism and survival. Rusesabagina rises to the challenge. The film works not because the screen is filled with meaningless special effects, formless action and vast digital armies, but because Cheadle, Nolte and the filmmakers are interested in how two men choose to function in an impossible situation. Because we sympathize with these men, we are moved by the film.

Deep movie emotions for me usually come not when the characters are sad, but when they are good.
You will see what I mean.

ROGER EBERT / December 22, 2004

Thursday, November 19, 2009

C'est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)

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To say this movie is disturbing would be an understatement. A massive, gigantic understatement! But it is also a display of film-genius.

The movie is filmed in Black and White and is presented as a "documentary" of a serial killer. The film crew follows Benoit, the killer, around town as he recites poetry, muses on welfare and housing reform, ponders philosophy, and ... well, kills. Totally randomly.

He explains to the film crew the lessons he has learned about killing, how to stay low key, who to go after, and what potential victims are a waste of time. For Benoit, killing is an art form, but not one that should be undertaken frivolously.

There are scenes when his lunacy are briefly pierced by humanity - he counsels one of the film crew not to kill, because once you start it becomes a habit. In another scene he laments having killed a suburban family, because they had nothing good to steal, as it turned out. He proclaims that "there should be a law against" killing for no good reason.

Those who shy from blood and killing - about the most graphical violence you'll ever see "documented" in a film - should shy from this movie. But anyone with an interest in a glimpse at the darkest side of human nature will appreciate this film, not necessarily for its story or its darkness, but for its ability to make us think, and open our eyes to human behaviour we don't like to admit might exist.

During the course of the movie you become totally numb to the act of killing (or maming or torture or rape or any violent crime). It is no longer shocking when he kills yet another victim. It has become commonplace. You just sort of scratch your head and wonder - why this one? why now? why him? why her? This mental numbness is made possible by the way it is filmed - as though it were a documentary. Not long into the movie you begin to wonder if this is real, or just a movie. I wonder if this is the kind of numbness that soldiers experienced in wars like WWI, entrenched and under constant fire - to where the violence around become the norm. I read a book once called "My War Gone By, I Miss it So" (that's a whole 'nother review) in which a war-writer kept returning to the front because after experiencing violence all around him day after day after day, he could no longer live without it. In Man Bites Dog the killing is Benoit's addiction, but we, as viewers become complacent to it. We have been numbed to where it is no longer disturbing. Makes you scratch your head and wonder: is such detachment from emotion and what's right really possible???

To add to the realism, all the actors play characters with their real names. The killer's mother and grandparents in the movie - are really the actor's mother and grandparents in real life. During most of the filming they were not told it was about serial killing, just that they were in a movie with their son. So they just act normal around the son they love, only to find out in later scenes that the whole film is about killing. Imagine the look of shock on their faces to find this out - to them the story then is no longer acting but real: they've just discovered their son/grandson made a film about brutal killings and the shock shows in their faces.

Is it real? Is it a movie? What defines the difference?

When I told him about this movie, a friend mentioned that "society,as a whole, is already numb to brutal killing and violence." He's right about that. But this movie is so ridiculously brutal and violent it is more a mockery of our society's complacence to violence, not an endorsement.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Paragraph 175

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Probably history was after all, meant to be a study of human consciousness in guilt. Of course, there is always a need to realize something valuable out of the past, that a study about the past is after all a human being’s reverse-troubleshooting guide. Probably that’s the reason why there are beautiful pictures of stoic, stiff-lipped people in our high school history text-books. We like to think of ourselves as the descendants of glorious generations, men and women valiant in their own right, contributing their bit to the proud bloodlines we carry today. We read on these people, associate ourselves with the affairs of their lives, judge them for their actions, name calendar days after them, hate them, worship them, write books on them, film biopics on their lives, name our babies after them… The reason we can’t forget these people could be because they’ve either given to or taken from this world in proportions far greater than what you or me have.
Between the years 1933 and 1945 one man changed our world because he believed in something that seemed stupid at first. As time rolled into horrorfest mode, it turned into mankind’s worst-ever mistake. Something that psychologically stopped time and spun it backwards. We remember that man either because he took away from this world a chunk of our moral fiber, the scars forever etched in our minds, or probably because he gave this world freedom from the ideologies of mankind’s vilest prodigy when he hanged himself.
Today, history attests the importance of this period of madness with facts and figures that might seem absurdly horrible for our generation. We’ve all probably read enough to forget about a past like this. Biopics and documentaries have already dry-choked our tear glands at the horrifying experiences recounted by jewish survivors. Pictures of gas chambers and mass-graves have already made us numb. And just when we thought that we kneww too much to burden our consciences, comes a movie about this small group of men who disappeared off the face of the earth because of something that disturbs, intrigues and thwarts us till this day: Love, and all the stigma it carries. And for something so simple and subtle as love to take place between two people, there lies an even more absurd reasoning as to why the two people shouldn’t be of the same sex. That’s the Nazi regime’s code of stigma, also known as Paragraph 175. And no, your fat, dog-eared history text book does not consider the lives of one hundred thousand men who lived during that time, loving others…. worth mentioning. These men died unnoticed and in secret captivity, so secret that even those labor camps within which they died are today not preserved for posterity. Few of those numerous men survived. Fewer live today. And fewer still are willing to come out of their dark closets of tears and share their experiences, unscripted and undistilled to a camera crew detwrmined to make known to us such a vital, forgotten part of man’s history.
It’s pretty obvious what the contents of Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code contained, judging by the number of innocent lives it consumed, it would be more appropriate if you’d watch the movie and learn rather than have me explain it to you in a website review. What’s most unsettling is interestingly, not Paragraph 175 itself, considering the circumstances under which it took form. Rather, it’s the fact that a law that was so fatal took a hundred and twenty three years from the time it was adopted in 1871, to be finally revoked in 1994. Even after the fall of the nazi government in 1945, it still took close to fifty whole years and six amendments to finally strike it down.
Nazis killed plenty of men, women and children. You certainly wouldn’t expect the most powerful and conservative army in the world to go soft against gay men and women and suddenly endorse mutual love. Not at a time when your first-duty towards the people you love was replaced by the pride of the country and certainly not at a time when race was more important than gender. So in short, nazis did what nazis do best: kill. But, even after we thought the horrible era of an insane ideology was over and done with, heads of government still remained conservative and chose to ignore the ills of their pasts, dragging their feet through the marshes of sludge-bureaucracy.
Rob Epstein conveys all of these truths with anger and emotion, throughout while interviewing these survivors. Some, among them is a half-Jewish gay resistance fighter who posed as a Hitler Youth member to rescue his lover from a Gestapo transfer camp in an ultimately futile effort; Annette Eick, the Jewish lesbian who escaped to England with the help of a woman she loved; there’s a young man who was freed from a sentence at Dachau only to be interned again at Buchenwald, the German Christian photographer who was arrested and imprisoned for homosexuality, then joined the army on his release because he “wanted to be with men” and Pierre Seel, the French Alsatian teenager, who watched as his lover was eaten alive by dogs in the camps.
Perhaps the problem was that there were just not enough men alive today who were willing to talk about their experiences. From the outset, the pool of interviewees was certainly going to be limited, but also limited is the actual archival footage of life in the concentration camps. Instead the directors have chosen to pepper the film with well-preserved family photographs, and lively footage of gay and lesbian culture blossoming during the days of the Weimar Republic after WW1. When the inadequacy of photographic technology left us these photos of brotherly love, it’s even more bittersweetly touching. Each weather-beaten photo has a iridescent moment behind it. The everlasting intimacy and beauty in these photos already suggested love is universal.
The statistics are staggering: Between 1933 and 1945, some 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality, roughly half of them were sentenced to prison, and from 10,000 to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps. The camps were used for re-education, slave labor, castration and sadistic medical experiments. It’s believed only about 4,000 survived their ordeal. It is interesting to note that the penal code didn’t cover lesbians. The Nazis considered lesbians to be “curable.” Women were regarded, as vessels of motherhood – increasing the German population was top priority – therefore, they were exempt from mass arrest. Most lesbians went into exile or quietly married gay men. One woman, who tells her story in the film, was given exit papers and was lucky enough to escape to England.
There are only about 10 homosexuals left from this tragedy, and they interviewed eight for this special film. It was incredible and moving and, if you are not touched by their stories, then you are cast in stone.

By Fazil (at
To view the original article, click here
Wiki Paragraph 175

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman

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This is a grim yet utterly riveting film about the infamous executioner and hangman, Albert Pierrepoint. Timothy Spall delivers a compelling and outstanding performance and a surprisingly complex executioner, in surely his finest ever performance. The delightful and enchanting Juliet Stevenson is perfect as Pierrepoint's wife, Annie.

Like his earlier Danielle Cable: Eyewitness (2003), the Granada TV director Adrian Shergold has surpassed himself in his favourite genre of crime. This offering was filmed at Ealing Studios, of all places.

Pierrepoint is a fruit and veg delivery man in the humble, northern English streets of Rochdale, normally, except when he gets the call to go and hang someone, usually in London or HMP Strangeways in Manchester. He is unsurpassed as a technician of death, perfectly estimating the length of rope, etc., depending on the height and build of the person to be executed. You could call him the L S Lowry of killers, an ordinary man with a certain skill when it comes to looking at and handling other people.

He begins as a sort of trainee - who would be the instructor is this line of work? - yet sees each of his peers fade once confronted with the absolute horror of their new job, leaving him the consummate professional, always on hand when the Home Office needs a job done. For Pierrepoint, it is a vocation.

Pierrepoint always takes a deep professional pride in his work, seeing the condemned person as deserving of dignity and respect in death, no matter what their deeds in life. This creates a strange paradox, as he is forced to be clinical and brutal in helping that person to their end. However, given his professional expertise, that end is much quicker and more comfortable than other executioners and methods.

So, after 13 years in the job - merely half way through his career, which saw him hang an incredible 608 people (including the innocent Timothy Evans, and also Ruth Ellis, amongst others) - Pierrepoint is called upon to be the official British hangman at the Nuremberg Tribunals in the aftermath of World War Two. This is where he has to dispatch truly monstrous and evil people; extermination camp guards and the like. This is also where, for me, the film steps up a level.

In Nuremberg, Pierrepoint has to dispatch up to ten war criminals a day. It is a massive job on a scale for which he did not go prepared.

The British army have constructed a scaffold above ground – unlike the usual discreet prison cell and trap-door gallows – and the guilty are to go by the couple, side-by-side. And this is all to take place in one enormous, cavernous – and very apt, if you excuse the pun – aircraft hanger. The British have created a vast cathedral of hanging, the scaffold as its pulpit and Pierrepoint as its archbishop of retribution.

Nevertheless, Pierrepoint performs his dreadful task with professional brilliance, at great pains to insist on the dignity of the guilty once dead; he is horrified when some are expected to be disposed of without even a wooden coffin: 'No, that's not right', exclaims Spall, the epitome of northern disdain.

For me, the shot of the film – the true emblematic, classy shot that shows the difference between Pierrepoint and everyone else, not least his assistant (a military attaché) sitting beside him as they relax with a cigarette after yet another execution – takes place in this hanger, the cathedral of execution, the height of Pierrepoint's career.

In a close shot, Pierrepoint and his military assistant sit at either end of a table, enjoying a smoke. The military man attempts a philosophical discussion of the magnitude of what they've done. Pierrepoint has no comprehension at all, separated as he is from his assistant by the contents of the rest of the screen – the scaffold in the background, deserted after a day's work.

Pierrepoint was a lonely man yet had a typically northern showman's instinct; with his friend Tish, they perform a Flanagan and Allen style musical medley in the pub. Tish is his only friend in the world, probably more so than his wife.

The most touching scene of the film is at the end when Pierrepoint has to execute James 'Tish' Corbitt (he never knew his true name until then).

By frankiehudson from UK

Saturday, September 19, 2009


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Why do we watch Lars von Trier’s movies? We know for a fact that Lars never compromises for our sake. We know by experience that Lars’s films can affect our minds in ways that could leverage psychosis. We even know, while watching his overture-style openings that we might very soon be led down a rabbit-hole of despair and psychotic agony. Why oh why then do we keep coming back to you for more, Lars? Is it because we love the way you taunt us? Or maybe the methodical step-by-step de-stabilization of our feelings feels sublime when witnessed by us through your lens. Could be so. Or perhaps our sub-conscious mind reaches out to yours through your gorgeous nightmares, your meticulous graffiti that toys with the basic boundaries of our perceptions, walled by our emotions. You first chip away at our instincts. Then you hack away at the emotions beneath them. You expose that vulnerable side of our sensibility; drag it out onto the dirt, beat it into putty and then use it as a palette for your mad, beautiful visions of despair. And Lars, damn you, you enigmatic bastard, you’ve just done it again. I’m awed.

For those new to the artistic vision of this Danish genius, most of the reviews that this movie (or any of Lars’ for that matter) is generating could be well…. misleading could be an understatement. Lars von Trier’s movies are meant to provoke and taunt you. Subtlety is a sin. Emotions of the most powerfully affecting nature are stripped off all cinematic sentimentality and thrown at you. You simply HAVE to involve yourself with his films. Probably the reason why his movies are best watched in seclusion. You’d either love his movies to the point where it gets so personal that an off hand remark by someone else could leave you completely unhinged, or yes.. turn violent, find a gun (or buy one) and shoot that screen in front of you. Average reviews in this regard could very well be considered impossible, or even stupid.

So bare is the essence of Antichrist that Lars von Trier carries the whole movie solely (and literally) on his modern anti-theological versions of Adam, Eve and Eden. We see them locked in passionate intimacy while their child dies (this, being filmed in a brilliant five minute black & white sequence that redefines cinematography). We also see them do unimaginable and inconceivable things to each other; things that could make us question the very essence of their sanity. Yet in my opinion, I’ve never seen a screen couple that could emote so much love and so much grief. Charlotte Gainsborough and Williem Dafoe literally carry the movie on themselves and their brilliant body language. I’m at a loss for words to laud these brilliant actors, especially Charlotte.

Lars von Trier usually bases his work around a focal suffering female character. In Breaking the Waves, Emily Watson stars as a woman whose husband becomes paralyzed and encourages her to sleep with other men; in ‘Dogville,’ Nicole Kidman’s character is raped and enslaved; and in ‘Dancer in the Dark,’ Bjork plays a woman who is slowly going blind and eventually falsely accused of a crime she did not commit. Similarly, Charlotte here is the grieving mother of a dead child who falls to its death at exactly the same moment when she’s in the throes of ecstasy with her husband. She firmly attaches herself to the belief that she is somehow responsible for her child’s death. Her intense grief turns her despair upon herself. Her therapist-husband convinces her against taking medication, claiming that the doctors just want to keep her drugged. Grief is not a disease, he tells her. He then takes it upon himself to help his wife. Ethical questions are raised here in the form of His monstrous ego. He seeks out her fears through a series of psychic sessions and constructs a fear-pyramid. She reveals to him that she has nightmares about their forest cabin, the reason for which unfolds later. In an act of “confronting one’s fear” He decides to bring her to the woods and treat her. This is where nature comes in. It takes over both of them and wreaks havoc on both of their fears and perversions.

Towards the final chapter of the movie, we see that the cycle of nature is complete in its reprisal of its role as Eden. Instead of Adam and Eve discovering evil, by consuming the fruit of Eden, Eden brings about evil by consuming the fears of him and her. This is where many critics have argued about the misogynic attitude of the film. It’s actually the opposite. The female character simply embraces the evil that she believes women are capable of, seeming to reiterate the prejudices of the material she’s been researching.

In the epilogue, we see Him consuming berries while a horde of faceless women climb up, towards him. The scene could be interpreted in a dozen ways, depending on the way you look at the film as a whole. For example, why use black and white for the prologue and epilogue? Why does a fox wear a bell? Who are the other women? Are they moving past Him or converging on him? Why are the baby’s playthings tied to balloons? Could the symbol of the female sex in the poster’s lettering suggest something? The questions, if posted here could only spoil the movie for those who haven’t watched it.

Of course, my interpretation of the movie could be wrong. Von Trier himself states in this interview that the work on the script did not follow his usual modus operandi. Scenes were added for no reason. Images were composed free of logic or dramatic thinking. They often came from dreams he was having at the time (of his depression), or dreams he’d had earlier in his life.

I’ve witnessed such powerful symbolism, till now only in Korean films by Kim-Ki-Duk and Luis Bunel. Lars von Trier along with his cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire) has created a surreal, shocking masterpiece of art. I’ve said the same thing about Dancer in the Dark, and I’ll say it again for Antichrist: It’s a profoundly beautiful film. It is unfathomable to me that anything else will wreak such transcendent cinematic havoc for a long time to come. And if there is indeed a wreak, there is no seemingly capable person to do it other that Lars himself.

By Fazil (at
To view the original article, click here

Cannes: Antichrist
Roger Ebert: Antichrist: Devil's Advocate

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Black Friday

Calling Black Friday a bollywood film is possibly the worst possible remark you could make on a film that kicks open so many manholes on the tarmac of this dirt-road that's become of the Indian judicial system. Black Friday never made it to many theaters in India. But thanks to a bunch of movie critics, people like Anurag Kashyap who are passionate about film making, people who elevate it's status beyond that of plain simple entertaiment slash art included 'power' in its definition, and the Locarno International Film Festival, Black Friday reaches out to people like me three years after it was 'released', touches my heart, caresses it, toys it with some pitch black humour, then ceaslessly sticks needles in it and makes it bleed in agony.

I'm not a mumbaiite, haven't even visited the city. But there's so much I hear everyday about 'the city that never sleeps' of this part of the world, in every form of human communiqe possible. Media used in a loosely generalized term could be just one of them. When people refer to it as the cultural heart of india, I sometimes begin to think of it in literal terms. So literally in fact that a pinch of that heart might spew something so basic and human on your face. That definetly is not human blood. And I'm talking about enough whatever it is that floods the entire nation's capitals, inundate it's roads, turn corporate offices and government buildings, legislative assemblies and courts of justice, slums and prisons into swamps of humanity. Messed up, fucked up and jinxed, but amoebiac, and rolling along like a huge, crazy, magnetic juggernaut that draws everyone and everything in it's path towards that heart. Everyone is affected by something in it, rather than something in it affecting everyone. And that's exactly what turns it into that juggernaut fuelled by crazy cosmos. And those who we see in this film are definitely not a part of that. Or atleast, I pray they shouldn't be.

Black Friday's prologue is an interrogation sequence that's subtly hilarious at first. As the detainee begins to blabber something in disjointed sentences, you find yourself horrified at the fact that you know what he's blabbering about. You suddenly begin to understand very clearly what the policeman is seemingly incapable of understanding. Naturally he considers all this nonsense and continues beating him, while we whisper to ourselves 'holy shit, why doesn't the motherfucker listen?'. The following scene is the scene of the blasts moments before the blood pours. Things seems so normal like as if you're watching 1993 Bombay through a CCTV camera panning these important places. The stuff that you see is every day's happenstance. The more you feel the normalcy, the more you get nervous. You know whats going to happen, because youre safe and comfortable in the future tense of this moment. You wait for it to happen, not wanting to be surprised but it succeeds in catching you unawares. A truly frightening moment in Indian cinema. And when it happens, a small part of you feels a sense of relief, while the bigger you cringes and sighs. Black Friday has descended upon Bombay. It's one-thirty in the afternoon, on the 12th of March, 1993. Curtains raise. Fire-extinguisher ready at hand, caution please.

Anurag has cleverly divided his film into chapters, as done in the book (by Husseini Zaidi) on which the movie is based. The labyrinthine police investigation, if treated in any other way could have otherwise started to feel dull, drab and dis-interesting to a movie audience more attuned to heroes, heroines, villians, fights and songs. Kashyap has just made it easier for you to digest the foaming truth. Clues, apprehensions, interrogations and confessions.. it's a huge bloody dossier by the time you re-witness the blasts towards the end of the film in a haunting epilogue. And to lovingly strip that dossier off any bureaucratic wrapper, there are the character portrayals that can challenge even the best performances of our very own, ridiculous, boringly annual film-fare awardees.

First there is Kay Kay as Inspector Rakesh Maria. He ain't your typical goody-goody-policewallah. Yet, he achieves what his role was intended for. Pressure. He makes the audience reel under the burden placed on his shoulders. So much that you feel like slapping that female journalist who glibly challenges him with human rights violation against the detainees in an interview.

Then there are Aditya Srivastava and Pawan Malhotra who portray Badshah Khan and the underworld don Tiger Memon (Spelled as Tiger Menon in the DVD for 'legal' purposes). At the beginning both these men infuse so much wrath into their characters, you begin to question after a while, the very essence of their humanity. You feel repulsed at the very notion of coming within proximity of these people. They then open their hearts out to you. You now touch your forehead and feel stupid for judging people with your conceptions. That's the purpose of these characters. Make the audience see what exactly is that which makes these people take that eye for an eye.

And finally, there is Vijay Maurya. Ah, if only there could be another film about the blasts, with a more surreal, hypothetical ending, I'd cast him as the feared Dawood Ibrahim once again and have him caned on-screen for every life the real don has cost us. Atleast that could be an empty, but visual treat for everybody. That is, in case the man himself dies a peaceful death without any remorse, far away from the eyes of the Indian judicial system. That's the effect Mr. Vijay has on you. He has a screen-time of less than five minutes. And in those minutes, you feel scared of him. You feel angry at him. You are horrifyingly awed by his power of prescence. And your body freezes as you realize the terror he so coolly, and precisely orchestrates over innocent human lives, all this a meagre by-product of the deadly commerce he indulges in. Snap. Just like that.

The camerawork is grainy, and efforts have been made to give the '90s Bombay' look to today's Mumbai. The interrogation scenes in fluorescent red gives an eerie, uneasy feel. The chase sequences are downright brilliant. If you've marveled at Danny Boyle's opening slum-roller-roaster ride at the beginning of Slumdog Millionaire, know now that those scenes were bases upon the 12-minute police chase through the crowded Dharavi slum that gets both hilarious and exhausting. That's because you're meant to feel exhausted. The film has no songs but is still as long as your everyday Hindi film. The pacing is fantastic though. Kashyap's direction, his witty lines, puns and his basic, obvious intention spews honesty for his work. He's proud of what he does, and why not?

The indian cinema industry holds an annual farce fete called the Indian Filmfare awards. They have curious categories of awards like Best Action, Best Dialogue, Best Scene of the Year, Best Story and of course, alongside all this, an entirely unique category: Best Screenplay. Beats me, who the fuck started this all shit. Not that I really care for these awards, but the amount of recognition and money it garners for movies that could be churned out of a rickety roadside potter's wheel of clay. All that is denied for movies like Black Friday. I mean, for example if Aditya Srivastava was ever nominated for his performance, god bless him, he probably wouldn't have won even if he wore a tux sewn out of currency notes. It's because of the fact that the very people who we witness in this movie, still rule is land, or rather whats underneath that.. with fists of iron.

Thankfully, less polluted lands like Cannes and Venice choose to honour people like Mr. Kashyap in their recognition of quality film making. Kashyap was a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 2004 and once again this year.

By Fazil []

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Underground is a 1995 Yugoslavian film by bosnian Emir Kusturica. It won the golden palm at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Here is my take on the movie: Firstly, if you look at the original title of the script (done by Kovacevic, NOT Kusturica) which is also given as the opening sequence line, you see that it is an allegory (the title is Once Upon A Time There Was A Country), so I don't see the point of calling the film historically wrong... It was never meant to be historically right, otherwise it would have to leave out all the consequent exaggerations so typical of Kusturica - the length of time spent in the basement, the more theatrical than movie-like acting, the visual motives and so on. This maybe a bit difficult to accept as there are some documentary sequences in there, but I see it more of a context building element than an attempt to mislead the viewer about Yugoslav history.

Secondly, people seem to like the first third of the movie for its humorous elements and I guess because they can follow the plot easily (the whole WW2 theme in the exposition, I must admit, I enjoyed as well)... The second third starts as the Allies bomb Belgrade and kill more than the Nazis did 4 years before that, so maybe the Western people are inclined to disagree with the rest based on this line, I don't know...

Thirdly, I don't see where the Serbian propaganda element kicks in ... If you think the documentary sequences of Slovenia and Croatia welcoming the Germans with glee, and Serbia fiendishly being left out, is done purposefully for slandering the Croats and Slovenes, I hate to disappoint you, but Serbia saw no such celebration, so there is nothing of that kind to show... Instead the plot balances this out as it is set in Belgrade, where the supposed wartime "heroes" of the story (never ethnically identified as Serbs) collaborate with the occupation forces when they have a personal interest in doing so, and vice versa. Again, historically there were antifascist elements throughout Yugoslavia, but it's also a fact that Croatia became a fascist independent state at the time.

Somebody mentioned the Muslim element as being totally absent, and I agree with that to an extent, but Kovacevic's novel was finished in early 1991, before the war in Bosnia escalated into what we now know. And, besides, Muslims were not considered a nation but a religious group until the end of WW2, and since there is no mention of the Caholic or Orthodox church in the movie, I don't see why there should be mention of Muslims.

I understand most Wasterners consider communism to be the Soviet kind everywhere, but I saw this movie as a commentary remark on the inequality of the proclaimed and the apparent, not of communism or Yugoslav socialism, or any -ism for that matter. Petar Popara is proclaimed an electrician, Marko Dren a poet, neither one a real politician, but both of them high ranking communists. They are petty criminals before the war who only get into the party ranks to continue their criminal activities when the war starts. Marko, the educated one, continues his criminal activities by using slave labor of the basement inhabitants to make and traffic guns after the war. He is a typical opportunist since he does this for personal gain, lies to the wretched people below that they have to do it for the war effort, and keeps Petar Popara inside in order to be with Natalija up above. This is just what makes the characters and relationships so complex, and in my opinion, the reason why this movie has a universal story. If any propaganda is shown, this one is the anti-war, anti-politician kind.

Back to the story, I especially liked the Old Man character as he is the insider. He is the only one who knows what's going on above, yet stays in the basement, he is Marko's accomplice, and he "steals time" by winding the clock backwards, which as I see it, is a comment on the Balkans always lagging behind the rest of the world based on misguided trust in people who claim to be the saviors and are "on your side." The basement youth is totally oblivious to the world, as exemplified by Jovan, Petar's son, born on the first day of the basement exodus, with the side story of going out with his dad to fight the "goddamn Germans" and not knowing the difference between the sun and the moon, based on his fathers stories and drawings(myths and realities of history as told by the idolized wise).

As for the movie being co-produced by the Serbian Broadcasting Company, I can safely say that Serbian cinematography and movie productions in the nineties were definitely not purely regime-oriented. How else would you explain RTS having co-produced Pretty Villages - Pretty Flames? Based on all this, I can't say that this movie is even in the same league as Tanovic's Oscar Winner No Man's Land someone recommended instead of Underground. That movie is a simple story of civil war told in a simple good guys - bad buys way. If I were as cynical as some other reviewers here, I could say that it was Muslim propaganda, as many other US produced movies on the Bosnian war subject, as it openly gives the impression that Serbs are the root of all evil, they are stupid and only do things if you hold a gun to their head, whereas Bosnian Muslims are fun-loving pro-Western dudes forced into waging war, but would rather listen to the Rolling Stones, and they are so altruistic that they would even help the enemy in the ditch. Talk about historically wrong...

The author is from serbia and goes under the pen-name of BOJAN-.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Auf Der Anderen Seite (At the Edge of Heaven)

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This is one of those movies that speak to your soul directly. Excellent scenario and directing, a wonderful use of the "helplessness" and "missing half" theme, and a strong moral implication related to today's ideological arena.

The complex story is well-woven and under the control of the scenarist. The storyline revolves around four or five characters, creating a couple of different stories that go on. No one among the characters are aware of the full complexity of the situation they are in, and they keep missing their destiny by a couple of seconds or by a couple of meters. The audience is fully aware of what is going on, and this creates a feeling of helplessness. One main theme therefore is that: Helplessness in the face of chance meetings - or lack thereof.

One of the main characters, arguably the main character, Nejat Aksu, (acted by Baki Davrak), is reminiscent of the writer/director himself. He is a professor in a German university, and his emotional or behavioral ties with his rural Turkish background are split. As a loner, the audience does not hear much his opinions or feelings on the issue; we have to judge by small changes of expression in close shoot-ups. He has lost his "Mediterranean" expressiveness. In contrast, Lutte's (acted by Patrycia Ziolkowska) behavior becomes more and more aggressive, as she moves geographically (and mentally) towards Turkey.

One note of interest is that all characters have a "missing half", somewhere else in the movie, but fail to get to that half, and even die trying. Nejat Aksu has lost a mother, and then loses his father. The maternal figure is there with Lutte, but Lutte is missing the father and a certain strength of will to take steps, as she later confesses in her journal. Ayten Öztürk is also missing the mother, probably she is missing a lover as well - she is unrested - she is in fact "a person you likes to struggle" as commented by Susanne Staub. Lutte's mother, Susanne Staub (by Hanna Schygulla) is missing a daughter eventually. This contributes to the feeling of helplessness, but also adds a moral tone, implying that solutions to our life problems can be lying closer than it would appear to us.

A very touching scene in the movie is when Susanne is in front of the window, watching the Muslim man walk to the prayer. She is explained by Nejat Aksu the significance of the festivities, and she realizes that she is closer to Turkey than she imagines. In that scene, she takes a step towards making a posthumous peace with her daughter, which she direly needs. The scene is symbolic in the sense that it reflects the political arena.

The writer and the director Akin is an acute observer. The contrast between Istanbul and Bremen are first laid out with striking effectiveness, then the similarities in the human emotional range are brought out to contribute to the reconciliation towards the end. In effect, the audience is presented with a moral tone: To find the missing half, you have to actually "travel", geographically and mentally, to the other half, and make your peace with it. The other half, is of course, Germany and Turkey, West and East.

The end is particular: Two important questions are unresolved. Are we then to assume that our characters are lost without hope? No, because Susanne Staub and Nejat Aksu have already taken the first steps to "reconcile with their missing half".

One possibly negative point about the movie is that the director's image of the Turkish police force and lawyers is outdated by probably twenty five years. However, this is to be overlooked for the sake of cinematic language and the story.

The movie is a rare piece. It tells a story of lost chances, with an ongoing theme of "missing half" and "miss by a couple of inches". However, we have reconciliation at the end, creating a feeling of optimism but also unresolved issues which helps to add the moral tone of: "You have to go towards your missing half to reconcile".

by Sinan_Ozel from Turkey

Das Experiment (The Experminent)

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Taxi driver and freelance journalist Tarek Fahd spots an advert in a newspaper for volunteers to take part in a psychological experiment over two weeks. He arrives along with a group of others, to be divided up into prisoners and guards before being placed into a simulated prison and provided with rules, Tarek being prisoner number 77. Initially everyone is enjoying themselves but soon the guards tire of the prisoners taking the p*ss and decide it is time to clamp down on their behaviour. As they realize that they have no limit on their powers, the actions of the guards become increasingly brutal and uncaring.

Based on the infamous experiments carried out at Stanford in the 1970's, this film had it all going for it in terms of being an effective thriller while also looking at the ways that human nature will gravitate towards the cruel once they are placed in positions of power. I decided to watch this film because it seemed interesting on this basis but also very topical considering the behaviour of the US soldiers in the Iraq prisons – mostly poor 'white trash' types who were corrupted when they suddenly found themselves in a position they had never been in before – control. Like them, the characters here gradually get more extreme – just like they did in the real experiment as well. With this topicality it is no surprise that I was easily taken in by the film and was never really bored by it. Being a thriller in its own right, the film has to settle into the eventual action conclusion but even this works pretty well and doesn't detract from what has gone before in terms of interest.

This is not to say it is perfect, because it could have been much better than it was. The constant cutting to Tarek's girlfriend now and in flashback only took away from the film and she could have still played her part at the end with much less time during the main body of the film. Also it became a little too far-fetched for the sake of drama – a recent television drama in the UK did it differently by actually recreating the same experiment as opposed to this film which needed to go harder and faster in order to reach the eventual running and fighting stage! But it still works and, to be honest, it is well worth seeking out for the 'human nature' aspect alone – it had a special resonance in Germany but it is hard not to be put in a thoughtful mood given recent events in Iraqi military prisons.

The cast are roundly good and all slip one way or the other in a convincing manner. Beibtreu is good once he gets past the stage where he is making trouble for the sake of it – this is necessary to speed the descent into cruelty but it was laid on a bit thick at the start. After this his performance is much more evenly balanced and he is a good lead. I struggled to pick up the names of all the others because they were mostly unknown to me but the head guard was very good while the rest of the cast did more than just deliver their pigeon-holed characters, where really they could have been nothing more than 'prisoner who goes crazy', 'timid guard', 'angry guard', 'silent prisoner' etc – they weren't, they were all pretty real people.

Overall this is not the best thing to come to if you are after a sort of documentary drama about the original experiment but it is still a very good film. It is exciting and dramatic while still having a bit of a brain on it – an asset made more interesting by what we have seen in Iraq over the past few months with guards becoming even worse than those we see in this film! Not a perfect film but a well made one that is interesting, involving and exciting and one that is well worth looking up.

The author writes under the pen-name of 'bob the moo' from Birmingham, UK

Far From Heaven

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A man and his wife enter the office of a man who could possibly save the man from a life threatening illness. THe process includes many visits with a psychiatrist and possibly some electro-shock therapy. No, this person does not have schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. This man is a homosexual.

Yes, it is true, this man is considered "sick" but that is just one of the many skewed attitudes of the 1950's that director Todd Haynes brings to light in Far From Heaven. Julianne Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, the wife of Frank Whitaker, Dennis Quaid, who are the proud parents of two children. The live the life that people envied. A nice home, money, success, and happiness. All of that comes crashing down when Cathy discovers her husband is not who he really is.

Cathy goes to Frank's work to drop off some dinner only to discover that her husband is in the arms of another man. Frank says that he is "sick" and wants treatment. Cathy, the "super wife" is behind him 100 percent, as if he really had an illness to beat. Frnak is ashamed and doesn't want support, just some privacy while he goes through session after session of therapy to try and make him "normal".

To add to this difficulty, the family gardener passes away and his son Raymond, Dennis Haysbert, takes over. Cathy comes to confide in Raymond and find peace of mind in his attitude and his overall good nature. The neighborhood looks down on their friendship and casts a shadow on the household. Raymond, a black man, is much like Cathy, seeing not color, but people. Even in New Haven, Connecticut, the feeling of white superiority still runs through the veins of its inhabitants.

The movie from start to finish is wonderful. It is a roller-coaster of emotions. Moore, Quaid, and Haysbert give fantastic performances. Even Patricia Clarkson, who plays Cathy one true friend in the neighborhood gives a delightful performance.

It's not just the acting that gives this movie it's lift off of the ground. Haynes direction and the art direction of the film create a pallet of colors and emotions that set the mood for each seen. The film opens in autumn. The leaves are shades of red, yellow, and orange, a true autumnal foliage like you would see on a Vermont postcard. The clothing is a perfect time capsule of the 50's. Haynes also uses a lot of colored lights to directly influence the mood of a scene. The green neon light of the gay bar Frank enters gives a strange feel like an alien world. The blue light that comes in through the windows in his office at night and in their home after a party means something dramatic is taking place.

Elmer Bernstein has racked up 14 nominations for his music, including a win for Throughly Modern Millie. His score for this film is the current that pushes the story along. Like so many great composers, he doesn't create music but a character. Everything is different with the right score to back up a great story.A story and a script that Haynes wrote so beautifully. He captured the lingo that kids used in the 50's and gave us a look at how kind people can be and how despicable some are.

The issues that Haynes tackles in the film are still around today, just not taken so seriously. It is hard to think that only 50 years ago, homosexuals were looked at as sick people and the African-American community was still not welcome. To this day there are still hints of this feeling around the country, but most is left to be talked about in the privacy of our own homes.

Whether or not you are straight or gay, black or white, democrat or republican, we all are people. Haynes shows that even if two people are in harmony, it is the outside influences that can rip them apart. Hatred and tolerance cannot coexist.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Donnie Darko

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Donnie Darko is often described as a cult film. But what is it that makes a film 'cult'? Well, they usually have a hardcore fan establishment formed on the basis of the film having; quotable dialogue, memorable characters and/or scenes, a low budget, and a rather eccentric plot. Donnie Darko most certainly fits all these categories, especially the latter. It's one of those films that require more than one viewing, maybe more than two. Or three. And if The Matrix left you asking "what?" and Fight Club left you asking "how?", then Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko will simply leave you asking "HUH!?" It's c-o-n-f-u-s-i-n-g and a little odd, but ever since its release some seven years ago this unconventional suburban tale has been striking countless chords amongst us teens. Why? To be honest, there is no one answer. But what I can tell you is that Donnie Darko is black, bold and illusively cool, as fresh and provocative now as it was then. In a word: unique.

So, what's it all about? I hear you ask (including those who've seen it). Well…umm…OK…explaining to someone what Donnie Darko is actually about is about as easy as mastering a rubix-cube in less than 30 seconds, in the dark, underwater. Admittedly, it's a ridiculously perplex film but there's something just, well, brilliant about it. It's a melodrama-cum-sci-fi-cum-black comedy-cum-teen movie, with a truly mystifying plot that'll prompt all first time viewers to scratch their heads and question everything. And even though there are many who still don't really "get it" thus opting to label "it" as some strange form of sci-fi twaddle. There are many (myself included) who wholeheartedly consider it to be one of contemporary cinema's understated masterpieces.

OK, so, with that said, here it goes…Set in 1988, the film revolves around this grinning, groggy-eyed, deviant teen', Donald J. Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal). Not only does Donnie get into regular trouble at school, but he's also prone to depression, schizophrenia, sleepwalking, waking up on golf courses, hearing voices and visualizing a giant bunny-rabbit called Frank. As you may've guessed- Donnie is one messed-up kid and things get even worse when Frank tells him that the world's going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Oh, and there's also this book on time travel. And Gretchen. And Grandma Death. And there're these worm holes that kind of germinate from people's chests. There's a tornado as well. And Patrick Swayze plays a pervert. Yep, Donnie's world, or parallel world, sure is a mad one. But he tries his best to make sense of his ghostly visions: Do they hold any value or truth? Is he a modern-day messiah? Or just plain bonkers? And why has an unidentified jet engine from an unidentified aircraft landed his room? The answers do become clear-ish as Donnie unravels the mystery surrounding, well, everything. Ultimately discovering what he has to do to eradicate the madness and ease the pain. Happy ending? Sad ending? I'll yet you decide.

The real beauty of Donnie Darko and perhaps one of the reasons as to why it's so popular is besides its unique blend of every genre imaginable, it's highly ambiguous. Some things just don't make sense and frankly (no pun intended), its quality is open to interpretation: you'll either love it, hate it, or hate it watch it again and love it. I fall into the latter camp and I would venture a guess and say I'm not alone. Which is probably why it performed so badly at the box-office, grossing more in the UK (£1.1m) than in the US ($728k). However, when Darko became available on DVD word spread of its outlandish quality and it soon became a huge hit amongst us teens. Why? Again, I couldn't possibly say. It could be because it's rebellious in every sense of the word. Or because teenage heartthrob Jake Gyllenhaal is just so damn cool as the sinister protagonist. Or maybe even because the film itself expertly juggles high entertainment value- juvenile humour, endless intrigue, choking suspense- with a solemn tone as it chew on the themes of love and sacrifice, intolerance and depression, fate and redemption. Some of which, are subject-matters that many teens know all too well.

To cut a long review short, then, Donnie Darko is a pure and not-so-simple mind-boggler whose sheer weirdness does conceal its brilliance. Despite its ever growing popularity amongst teenagers like you and me, there are many who just won't take to it's challenging temperament. Granted, it is a head-scratcher and if you're one of those people who just can't bare to watch a film without having those precious answers handed to you on a silver platter, you best steer clear of this one. But, if you like your movies challenging then may I suggest (if you haven't already done so) that you pick yourself up a copy on DVD, just to see what all the fuss is about. But do not (and I repeat) do not expect to be spoon-fed the answers. Not all loose ends are tied for you and it's up to you, and you alone to press rewind and tie them for yourself.

by Jack Harding from the United Kingdom

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Before I saw Tokyo! I had heard that the three short films that make it up had nothing in common other than the common location of Tokyo but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they complement each other quite well. Each film is about a character who is unable to adapt to the society of which he or she is a part and the alienation which results. Each film also has elements that are surreal or at least unreal. Further, each protagonist in the films uses a different coping mechanism to deal with his/her surroundings; the film illustrates the effects of these mechanisms.

Part 1: Interior Design (Michel Gondry) This film is about a young couple who moves to Tokyo so the man can pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. At the beginning of the film Hiroko (the girl) is happy with her own abilities: she's somewhat artistically inclined but she has no desire to art a career. Her boyfriend criticizes her lack of ambition and she is shaken out of her complacency. To prove that she is of some use to him, Hiroko decides to apply for a retail job. Unfortunately, she goes too far in attempting to prove her worth and tries something she isn't capable of and her boyfriend ends up getting the job he didn't even really want or need. So Hiroko's in a new city with a boyfriend who is too busy working on his film and his retail job to spend any time with her and to make matters worst she is unable to find an apartment for them. As time goes on the friend she is staying with becomes impatient to be rid of them both, even explaining to another person that Hiroko (and not the boyfriend) is the problem. Gondry does an amazing job of conveying Hiroko's feelings of self doubt and worthlessness; he really builds a lot of sympathy for her in a short amount of time. Eventually, Hiroko's feelings are literalized in a surrealistic fashion as she is transformed into a piece of furniture. Her coping mechanism is becoming something less than she could be and it works to a certain extent but it also means giving up everything she ever cared about and a good part of her humanity.

Part 2: Merde (Leos Carax) This film opens with the deformed sewer dweller who comes to be called Merde crawling out of a manhole and terrorizing pedestrians on a busy Tokyo street. His hatred for mankind plays itself out humorously in this early scene: he steals things like cigarettes, crutches, and flowers from these people and introduces an element of chaos into their lives before disappearing in yet another manhole. Later on he finds some kind of abandoned subterranean military station and discovers that there is a box of live grenades there. When he next emerges it's night time and he isn't so funny anymore: he kills dozens of innocent people with these explosives. Eventually he is tried for this and he reveals his hatred for mankind in general and the Japanese specifically. He further explains that his god has ordered him to punish them for raping his mother. Merde's coping mechanism is hatred for the society he can't find a place in and his subsequent violence guarantees that he never will find a place there. This film is the least effective of the three because Merde comes across as too bizarre and unknowable to inspire sympathy and of course his actions are the most reprehensible.

Part 3: Shaking Tokyo (Joon-ho Bong) Joon-ho Bong's contribution to this cinematic triptych is the story of a hikikomori, a uniquely Japanese type of hermit. This particular man hasn't left his house in ten or eleven years. He seems perfectly content to make art of the paper products (books, pizza boxes, toilet paper rolls) he uses: he explains that he doesn't like interacting with other people or sunlight. The former is clearly exhibited by his practice of never looking at the faces of the countless delivery people who make his lifestyle possible and the latter is made clear through the dilapidated exterior which creates a sharp counterpoint to his home's fastidious interior. One day after ten years he looks into the eyes of the pizza girl and the ground literally begins to shake: this literalization of a saying is repeated several times in the film as he eventually finds the courage to leave his apartment to see the girl again. The Tokyo of this film is the most surreal of the three, the streets are completely deserted and it seems that most people are just as alienated as our protagonist, at least until another earthquake drives them out. Bong's direction is excellent in this one as there is some really great camera work and an outstanding use of visual repetition in the beginning as well as long takes and jumpcuts near the end. This protagonist's coping mechanism is shutting himself off from the world; apparently it's the most effective of the three as his decade of hibernation ends with him emerging from his cocoon and seeking out a new relationship.

The film as a whole is stronger than the sum of its parts and the theme of alienation is made all the stronger by the fact that each of these filmmakers approaches Tokyo with the outsider perspective of a foreigner.