Compliance - Disturbing Stupidity of Humans

                           In movies, nowadays the words "inspired by true events" has become a over-rated phrase. Most of the time we end up seeing a highly fictionalized account of a true incident. That's not the case with Craig Zobel's queasy thriller "Compliance." The movie is based on series of real-life prank calls in reported at fast-food chain restaurant nationwide, in USA. The case was called "strip-search prank-call scam." I didn't know about the facts or details about this case, but watching this movie you find yourself getting angry with Zobel, assuming that he was amping up the severity of real events for dramatic effect. Make no mistake, the real-life incident is as harrowing as the shown in the screen. 

                           The movie opens at a fast-food joint on a busy Friday night. Sandra (Ann Dowd) is the manager and the day is already off to a horrible start. One of the staff has forgot to close the freezer the night before, and they have failed to order enough bacon for the coming onslaught of customers.  Becky (Dreama Walker) is a attractive young blonde working the register. The exhausted Sandra, later, takes a call from a police officer named "Daniels" (Pat Healy). He asks Sandra, does she have an attractive blond working for her? Yes says Sandra, its Becky. Daniels says there's been a problem, that he is 100% sure that Becky has stolen money from a customer's purse. 

                          Daniels says he is tied up at the moment, but the money has to be found soon and he also warns that this is not just a simple case of theft. On the officer's instructions, Sandra calls Becky to in her office and reluctantly asks her to empty the pockets. Becky is panic-stricken but goes along with this, hoping to avoid being arrested by the police. With a mixture of flattery and firm authority, Daniels gets Sandra to question Becky, occasionally getting her on the phone and badgering her directly. Now, he says to Sandra that she must strip-search Becky. She hesitates at first, but he explains that if she doesn't, he'll have to bring Becky in and she'll spend the night in jail. That's only the start of the series of degrading incidents and what's jarring enough is that not only Sandra but multiple employees of the store went along with this hoax. 

                          The caller 'Officer Daniels' is a gleeful sociopath. He sits before his computer, eating sandwiches and is manipulating Sandra. He probes with innocent questions and authoritative reassurances to find and exploit weaknesses that will lead to compliance. He just doesn't control the humans at the other end of the line, but also passes along that authority, to give them their own power to wield as well. 

                           In 1961, the Milgram experiment showed that given a lawful authority figure issuing orders and taking responsibility, people will do as they're told, even if that means causing another person severe pain; and in the 1971 Stanford prison experiment normal people were given the roles of prisoner and guard. In the end, they played out the expectations of those assignments, often to cruel ends. These experiments and Zobel's film suggests that people will do almost anything, even harm other people, to please authority figures. When a interviewer asks Sandra, why she did those gruesome things to Becky, she answers "Because I was told to", just like the common response of "I was just following orders" given by officers when asked about gassing Jews during World War II. 

                         You might think that this is just one incident. One true event doesn't show the whole attributes of humans. Yeah, that's correct. But, "Compliance" just shows one of the 70 reported cases. We might think that in that position, recognizing a sexual predator is a simple thing, but the fact that more than 70 similar cases were reported in 30 states of USA (over a period of 10 years), provides an alarming evidence to the contrary. 

                          Director Craig Zobel has put together a adept, sympathetic but unsparing re-enactment of a small-scale atrocity. If not for Zobel's basic sense of discretion,  the movie's most shocking and credulity-straining turn would arguably have been even more nauseating. Zobel's cast plays their characters with natural, understated performances. Walker does the incredibly difficult role. Covered at times only by a small apron, she remains as the ultimate portrayal of vulnerability. Ann Dowd does the Oscar-worthy, pitch-perfect role of Sandra, a manager whose minor insecurities becomes major failings. The final scene, in which Dowd  eventually recognizes what she has done, is subtly devastating. Sandra's role in the scam might be being stupid and gullible, but her willingness to deny responsibility allows her to play a part. 

                          Through "Compliance", Zobel comes up with a timely message: if we aren’t prepared to question authority, we might risk losing our dignity as human beings. This tale will definitely make you angry and it's not an easy movie to watch. You might call it a exploitation or expose, anyhow it will stay with you long after the visuals have faded from the screen. 


Compliance - IMDb 

Rated R for language and sexual content/nudity

Lincoln - A Biopic of Unparalleled Magnificence

                           Steven Spielberg -- the master of spectacle -- don't need an introduction or more accolades. He is famous for his alien and dinosaur movies. But, it's also high-time to acknowledge him as the great actor's director. Twenty years ago, Liam Neeson cemented his reputation under the direction of Spielberg in "Schindler's List." Now, his latest historical epic bestows us with a multi-nuanced performance of Daniel Day-Lewis -- two time Oscar Winner. Delivering an unimpeachable performance as the United States most revered president, Lewis has lived as "Lincoln" (2012). The masterful drama, "Lincoln" also does one thing which is kind of impossible to achieve : Spielberg has made politics exciting. 

                          Lincoln isn't your traditional biopic. The movie was originally envisioned as the sprawling biopic covering the entirety of the 16th President’s life. But, thankfully the movie was focuses on the intense final months of Lincoln’s second term, in which he successfully passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, thus ending slavery, and brought the Civil War to an end before being assassinated. Spielberg shows Lincoln's private and public struggle to free both the slaves and end the war. 

                        The film opens with mud and blood in the American civil war battlefield, where Union and Confederate soldiers are hacking and slashing at each other. After powerfully depicting the violence of war at its hand-to-hand ugliest, we see through the floor of congress. Even though, there is no blood spilled here, another war -- a cold war -- was going on in the Capitol’s sacred halls, this one fought with bullying ornateness, angry denunciations, sharp attacks, and plenty of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing. The president, Lincoln is in a duel dilemmas: how to bring the war between the states to an end, and how to eradicate slavery, once and for all. 

                        In the House of Representatives, he needs to pass the 13th amendment (to abolish slavery). To attain this, he must avert even a single Republican defection and gain at least 20 votes from Democrats. Apart from the president no one thinks the Amendment stands a chance of passing in the Senate and the House, and many thinks that the Emancipation Proclamation was only a wartime measure. Lincoln is relentless, “I am the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power. You will procure me these votes,” he orders. The movie is all about his tactics, some of which would be considered "dirty" (even though not by today's dubious standards). 

                      Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner has based their story from Doris Kearns Goodwin's  history  book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Only few writers could make politics as compelling as Kushner does here. The gifted Pulitzer Prize winning screenwriter has --previously collaborated with Spielberg on the 2005 Oscar nominated “Munich,” -- done a commendable job of clarifying the positions and personalities of the two dozen or so political players. By showcasing Lincoln's most momentous stark moments, both Spielberg and Kushner has uncovered the unpredictably human nature of a democracy’s greatest battle in action. Janusz Kaminski's conservative framing -- Spielberg's favorite cinematographer -- recalls the heavily shadowed Renaissance paintings. He adds a lot to the rich feel of the superbly detailed production design by Rick Carter (another Spielberg regular).

                     Director Spielberg, has earlier admitted that he has been obsessed with the 16th president since he was a boy. As an auteur, he has clearly honored the man and has made a motion picture befitting his stature. His attempts at revealing the human side of Lincoln is the movie's grandest moments, thanks to Daniel's exemplary performance and the cast that surrounds him. There are some Spielberg’s visual hallmarks, particularly the ethereal blown-out windows and the sharp juxtaposition of light and dark, though he  has mostly adopted a more nuanced and highly restrained directorial style that gives the actors plenty of room to work. 

                     Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln comes forth as a man of many faces, a figure of raw paradoxes and contradictions. He presents Lincoln as the playful storyteller, a great raconteur, a fierce power broker, a shrewd commander in chief, a vulnerable father and a loving yet ruthless husband. Lewis carries the weight of history at the same time he is also rooted in the day-to-day emergencies of statesmanship."Lincoln" has a stupendous amount of supporting actors, and despite being enormous it never feels overwhelming. Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln is an loving, but emotionally unstable wife. Sally perfectly exhibits Mary's greatest fear, which is losing another child to the war. Tommy Lee Jones as the radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens comes very close to stealing the movie with a performance of ethical purity and calm. I hope he bags the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

                   James Spader as Lincoln's political operative and David Strathairn as secretary of State, William Seward also give their best performance to steal the show. The 87 year old Hal Holbrook has a field day by acting as Preston Blair. There are also other good actors in the cast as well, including Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Hawkes and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose roles, this year are really astonishing in its versatility. 

                  In "Lincoln", Lincoln's life takes a secondary position  to the ideological conflict between two opposing ideas -- an end to slavery, or an end to war. So, it is captivating to see what it really took to secure Lincoln's legacy as the "Great Emancipator." You might have read a lot about Lincoln in history books but there were things in Spielberg's Lincoln of which you will be surely unaware. This isn't a hagiography, and in the end we are left not with a impenetrable iconic image, but with a flesh-and-blood man who felt compelled to make something right and did literally everything in his power to accomplish it. 

                   If you think “Lincoln” is too chatty — too full of ideas and characters, too much for the Twitter-generation, then you better restrict yourself with the unpalatable "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."


Lincoln - IMDb

Man with a Movie Camera - A Revolutionary Cinematic Experiment

                          Godffrey Reggio's mesmerizing 1983 "Koyaanisqatsi", Ron Fricke's dazzling, inevitable images in "Baraka" and the recent "Samsara" all paints the wordless images of the modern technological world running amuck. However, there is grand-father to these cinematic experiements. It is Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" (1929). For a Russian film made in 1929, it amounts to a catalog of all the tricks, movies can perform.

                       Dziga Vertov is a Polish-born Soviet director. After working on the Soviet newsreel and various other documentaries, he directed a manifesto for stripped down film-making, "an experiment in cinematic communication of real events without the help of intertitles, without the help of a story, without the help of theatre."Vertov takes us to see his homeland and people through his camera's perspectives. The documentary commences by showing inside a movie theater. It visually signals that we are about to witness a film process itself in inventive ways. As people pile up to the music, the projectionist gets ready for the screening. And so, we see the camera in question, intercutting footage of its position to make certain that we are paying attention to his artistry. 

                       "Man with a Movie Camera" is a chronicle of city life. An amalgamation of vignettes, each smartly cut to give a viewer, a feel for the frantic world of post-revolutionary Russia. All humans -- in Moscow and Odessa -- are here in this movie: from tramps  in the parks to the tourists on dry land. Each individuals rituals is entwined with the footage of others until dusk. Through the camera, we see couples signing their wedding certificate, followed by the less-ecstatic couples signing their divorce certificate. There are also some galvanizing shots of a woman giving birth, which is intercut with the procession of an open coffin.

                       Vertov and his co-creator, cinematographer and brother Mikhail Kaufman, along with the film cuts is the real star of this documentary. His camera is always moving at a rapid pace and even takes a bow at the final moments. Many innovative cinematography techniques such as variable camera speeds, dissolves, split-screen effects and superimposed montages gives us intoxicating visuals. Nothing is impossible in front of this camera, from shots of an oncoming train, which appears to practically run Kaufman over, to animated prawns scrambling over one another on a plate. Here, the cameraman also takes role of a magician and stuntman.

                       The film cuts has an amazing fluidity to it. The cross-cuts between all images, creates an increasingly hypnotic viewing experience. One of the excellent sequence shows still photographs of peoples and roads along with the editing process before revealing the these same things in moving images. Man with a Movie Camera has a huge impact than ever thanks to a brilliant new score by The Cinematic Orchestra. Vertov always intended his movie to be accompanied by music and he would be pleased by TCO's work. The soundtrack is astoundingly  effective, soaring along with the rush of images. Words simply can't describe the feelings conveyed by the music and Vertov.

                    A man traveling with a movie camera in a 1929 Russia. That kind of sounds like a dry premise, but brace yourself for a shock. For the 65 minutes, the movie is a whirling delight, elation, a kinetic  overload of motion and unrestrained optimism. Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" is a pioneering experiment that stands as an icon for cinephiles all around the world. Like Bunuel's landmark surrealistic short "Andalusian Dog", it still remains as a fascinating souvenir. 

Best of the Best Blogathon - A Potpourri of Vestiges

Man with a Movie Camera - IMDb

Roger Ebert - Great Movies

Cloud Atlas - A Genre-breaking, Mind-Blowing, Ambitious Masterpiece

                            "Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future."
                           — Sonmi (Cloud Atlas)

                        Every human being in this world have roots in the past and branches reaching for the future.We are connected with our ancestors or with other peoples in many ways. Separation is a kind of deception. After death, we somehow pass into another realm. What remains here at last is our stories. The stories bear witness to who we are and what we have experienced. When we share the tales, they flourishes and joins with others. The stories we tell takes care of us in some ways. In this desperate modern world, a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. So, we need to put a story in other people's memory and that is how the they will care of themselves and others.

                         David Mitchell’s celebrated 2004 unfilmable novel, "Cloud Atlas" is one of those stories -- a multilayered narrative, with six stories -- that spans five centuries, intersecting various themes like freedom, love, truth in an ever-changing, ever-hostile world. One category of viewers will label this movie as 'an unmitigated disaster', or 'a over-long mess of crossing story-lines' or 'a bloated movie with kooky characters.' Other viewers will pronounce 'Cloud Atlas' as 'intense' , 'masterpiece' or 'a wildly ambitious film.'

                        I belong to the later category. I see this movie as an unparalleled achievement, an rhapsodic overlapping of stories and cultures that builds to a cinematic intensity like no other. Yeah, there is a emotional disconnect with the material, but the powerful and amazing visuals makes up for it. Another important thing: if you want to decode the thin strands that connect each stories, you better do it in the second viewing. The first time embark upon its visual style. 

         Cloud Atlas encloses six different story-lines and datelines. The first tale in 1849 is of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), a San Francisco notary. He makes a Pacific Ocean crossing with a shipment of gold and the story relates an unlikely friendship that develops between Adam and a slave (David Gyasi). The second story -- occurs in Belgium, 1936 -- is about a young musician, Ben Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), who leaves behind his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy) to go on a quest for fortune and fame. In his quest, he joins the aging composer (Jim Broadbent) -- turns out to have some dirty tricks of his own up his sleeve. 

               The third tale set in based upon a conspiracy, which focuses on journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry). She is writing a article about possible corruption and malfeasance at a nuclear power plant. Rufus Sixsmith, an aging physicist (Frobisher's lover) is willing to help Luisa, but danger lurks in the form of a ruthless hit man (Hugo Weaving). The fourth story, set in 2012 England -- with a dose of comedy -- is about a publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), with money troubles. He goes to his brother (Hugh Grant) for a loan. But his brother takes a revenge on Timothy for his past sins by committing him to a nursing home that is actually like a prison. 

                The fifth tale is set in 2144, Seoul, is about Sonmi (Doona Bae), an independent fabricant (cloned servant). She recalls her story, on how she was saved from death by a freedom fighter (Jim Sturgess) and their battles against the military forces. The sixth tale, set in 2346 -- post-apocalyptic Hawaii -- is about Zachry (Tom Hanks), a simple goat-herder, who has survived a planetary catastrophe and lives in a rural community. They worship a goddess named Sonmi. When Zachary befriends a woman (Halle Berry) who belongs to a technologically advanced culture, the future of both their peoples change. 

                 Wachowski's (Andy and Lana) earlier films like "Matrix trilogy", "V for Vendetta" hook viewers from the opening scene, whereas "Cloud Atlas" functions more like a symphony, laying out snatches of all six separate strands and gradually building toward grand movements. The first tale and the two future-set segments are directed by Wachowski's, while Tom Tykwer manages the other three episodes. They beguile us with various tales commendably, while stringing them together with a series of interconnected themes, most of which revolve around personal responsibility for one’s life and future. Wachowski's are really unafraid to challenge us with unexpected detours and gadgets, such as the dense jargon-speak used in the post-apocalyptic future. The triplets didn't shy away from big ideas about interconnected lives and reborn souls. You will find certain character shifts as you’d find in a Dickens or Dostoevsky novel.

                  Cloud Atlas, photographed by Frank Griebe and John Toll, has the most powerful visuals. It has several eye-popping scenes, especially during the 22nd century story, where comparisons to Blade Runner and the Star Wars prequels will be made, but the effects work is no less effective. Philosophically, the movie depicts a universe that is ever flowing and infinite, one in which it’s really impossible to clearly distinguish the past, the present and the distant future. Thematically, the movie passed boundaries of location and time, gender and race and tells a tale that implies the nature of humanity is beyond all those limits.

                     "Cloud Atlas" is blessed with A-list of actors: Hanks, Halle Berry, Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Sturgess, Ben Winshaw, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. The most fun part in watching each story is watching the same actors appearing as different characters of sometimes different races. Hanks plays heroic in some segments, and remains devilish in other tales. Hanks and Berry are destined for love — the couple who get together at the end of the picture — though in a couple of the stories they make no more than a nodding acquaintance. Broadbent fully reinvents himself as a briny sea captain, a world-famous composer and has great fun as a man trapped in a retirement home. He also appears in a couple other bit roles so cleverly disguised by makeup, where viewers might not recognize him on first viewing.

                     Sometimes the actors don't necessarily play their own gender, like Hugo Weaving, who makes up a scary female nurse at that retirement home. Weaving appears in all six stories in full villain mode. The most emotional character in the movie is the non-human Sonmi-451, played by Korean actress Doona Bae. The make-ups are great for all the actors, but no amount of real or digital makeup can make Caucasians convincingly look Asian, and vice-versa). 

                  The grandness of "Cloud Atlas" demands a kind of awe from viewers, and even when it doesn’t exactly work for you, it still exerts a compelling sense of commitment to both the wonders of storytelling and the idea of the interconnectedness of lives across time and space. I haven't read Mitchell's novel, but it is said that, in the novel, readers must draw their own connections between the tales, with only the recurring motive of a birthmark to suggest the continuity of a single soul across time. However, the movie makes the congruities clearer, as Adam Ewing's Pacific journal is read by Frobischer and the journalist, becomes consumed with the letters the young English musician wrote to his lover. 

                      The literal minded people will point out dozens of flaws in this movie, but looking for plot-holes and meaning or a sense of cosmic convergence in may only take the viewer down the path to dissatisfaction and frustration. Take it as a transcendent experience, where each story settles down and achieves the almost magical feat of pulling together most of the threads it so vigorously tangles at the outset. In the end, the film  leaves us with multiple resolutions but one moist thought, which is resonated by Adam Ewing : “What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” 

                    "Cloud Atlas" is energizing, exciting, coherent, ambitious and it is a movie as big as our world itself. 


Cloud Atlas - IMDb

Miracle on 34th Street - Quintessential Christmas Classic

                         Are you one of the skeptic who believe in the idea of a Santa Claus? If yes and if you want to stay a non-believer then don't see George Seaton's Miracle on 34th Street (1947). It gleams with Christmas spirit and goodwill that are mostly thin in the other so-called Christmas films. Along with "Its A Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story" (1983), 'Miracle' is a definitive classic, which gets us in the holiday spirit and leaves us with a warm feeling no matter how many times you see it.

                        This quintessential feel-good movie tells the story of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) -- a high-spirited old man, who actually believes he is Santa Claus. Kris is hired by Macy's department store to be their in-store Santa. He insists his employer, Doris (Maureen O' Hara), that he is the real Santa Claus. Doris is divorced workaholic supervisor, who has a smart second grade daughter Susan (Natalie Wood). She asks her child not to believe in Santa Claus or fairy tales. So, Kris' assertion scares Doris. 

                        In the meantime, their neighbor, a handsome bachelor lawyer, Fred (John Payne), doesn’t understand why Doris vows on bringing her daughter up in a matter-of-fact world, when childish wonder is what she really needs. But, where Fred fails in making Doris understand, Kris succeeds: the old man and the young girl become friends. Maybe he can get her - and her mother - to have faith, to believe in something unprovable and providential, such as, Santa Claus.

                      If the real Santa Claus want to retire or take a vacation,then a guy like Edmund Gwenn might be the right candidate. He plays Kris Kringle with such natural and warm benevolence. Gwenn's charm with little Susan and his genuine attitude of generosity toward everybody are cherishable in any dark day. Natalie wood as Susan is so adorable and sweet, who can even melt the most blackened disbeliever's heart.  

                     This is one the rare movie to win both the Oscars for screenplay (Seaton) and story (Valentine Davies). The genius of the screenplay is that no one ever authoritatively declares that Kris to be Santa, nor does it prove in any way that Santa even exists. Like Susan and Doris, we viewers also slowly begin to gain faith in the unprovable. The sharply written tale even makes smart, edgy observations about corrupt politics and cheap psychology. The movie final moments has a legal case, which forms the crux. The case touches the much larger issue of having faith in anything, let alone Santa. That scene is rife with possibilities for getting too sentimental, but the clever script remains true and confident to the story.

                    Those who dislike to watch black-and-white version could see the colorized version rather than the mawkish 1994 remake under the same name. Watch "Miracle on 34th Street" this Christmas to feel how kindness and decency will win over even the most cynical hearts, without ever getting too mushy on us.


Miracle on 34th Street - IMDb

Frankenweenie - Tim Burton's Nostlagic, Funny and Gothic Tale

                            Director Tim Burton is famous for his fusion of the whimsical and the macabre -- both makes up for his best ("Edward Scissorhands, Ed wood, Big Fish) and mediocre films (Mars Attacks!, Dark Shadows). He once again finds the perfect balance in his latest stop-motion animation movie "Frankenweenie." It is a remake of Burton's live-action 1984 short of the same name. 

                          When Burton made the short movie in 1984, the guys at Disney decided to fire him. The family-friendly conglomerate found his movie very scary for the kids. Now, the same film studio, twenty eight years later, has handed Mr.Burton $39 million to remake the same story, in stop-motion, and also in black and white (Disney, in 1994, has acknowledged its short-sightedness, releasing the first Frankenweenie on videotape and then putting it on the Nightmare Before Christmas DVD as an extra.)

                         As the title of the movie suggests, it is Burton's take on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and its numerous cinematic incarnations. The hero is a lonely young boy Victor Frakenstein (Tahan).Victor's parents (Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara) worry that he is too much of an outsider, but in truth he doesn't mind his status of outcast. His town is called as 'New Holland', and in typical Burton fashion, is populated with endearing oddballs and weirdos. Victor's has only one true friend in the town: it's his dog Sparky. When his beloved dog Sparky is killed in an accident, the boy is inspired by his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), to re-animate the pet’s corpse by harnessing lightning in his makeshift attic laboratory. Once Victor's badly sewn-back-together dog is discovered, his classmates also try dabbling with life, death and electricity, creating havoc and terror.

                         Burton always loves stop-motion animation, because of its ability to endow imagination. The animation here is unmistakably clean for stop-motion. Horror movie buffs and fans of Burton's work will find visual citations in every fastidiously designed frame. Scriptwriter John August (in their fifth collaboration) invest the movie with a sense of genuine love and affection, not just for the classical horror movies they’re referencing, but for the characters and their situations. For a mere 87 minutes long film, the script makes sure that there’s not enough time for Burton to go off the rails as he does in so many of his films. 

                       Frankenweenie's content looks like it's appropriate for children but this is one instance when adults are likely to derive more pleasure than their offspring. Yeah, at times it is scary, but then it’s funny, and, finally, it’s moving, both in its foolproof boy-meets-dog sentimentality and in the ease with which Burton connects the dots of his own history and that of the movies he cherishes. 

                       Watch Burton's "Frankenweenie", because it brims with social satire, nostalgia horror, self-parody, wit and emotional insight. 


Frankenweenie - IMDb 

Samsara - The Images of Inevitability

                        What's a movie? Mostly, it's a juxtaposition of images and the relationships between them. Yeah, you need images and then some kind of a story to relate those pictures. That 's the common way to make a movie. So, I suppose a film with no dialogues and no narrative in the ordinary sense, is just an extreme or pure version of the form. Film-maker Ron Fricke followed that purest form in his globe-trotting visual marvel Baraka (1992) and as cinematographer on Koyaanisqatsi (1982). Now, he is back with a bang a new film, “Samsara,” (2012) shot in a vibrant and grand 70-millimeter format — including some remarkable time-lapse photography.

                       Fricke and his co-editor/producer Magidson, for their new film,  has photographed over a period of five years, beginning in 2007, in 25 different countries. So, what do we see? Breathtaking cinematography, beguiling images portraying the vastness and variety of nature, city life, sacred sites, and religious rituals. Watching these wordless collection of images, they some how conjure up a combination of curiosity and awe in the viewer. But, don't ask why or how these images relate to each other. To ask questions is to totally miss the point. The film is just an bombardment of diverse imagery that shifts so rapidly from one locale and one theme to the next that you almost feel like a prisoner to the filmmaker’s muse. Consider yourself as an extra-terrestrial sight-seer examining a planet called 'Earth.'

                   "Samsara" is a sanskrit word, which literally means “continuous flow.” The word refers to the ongoing cycle of life and death, decay and renewal -- the wheel of life. Over the years, I have seen "Baraka" many times. Each viewing expands our knowingness of the world and enables us to widen the circle of our compassion. The same kind of spiritual journey is evident in Samsara, where Fricke and Magidson take us on a quest to a greater understanding and appreciation of the human condition and a reverence for the beauty and power of the natural world.

Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson
                     Director Fricke enraptures you with natural and man-made sights. Most of the sequences are mind-blowing: the spewing lava of an volcano; astounding real rock formations that seem to have been created artificially; the wrecked houses left behind by a horrific sand storm; devotions of young Buddhist monks; a montage of babies being baptized; a shirtless man, his body completely covered with tattoos, tenderly cradling his child.

                     Samsara is mostly non-judgmental in its depiction of humanity. It projects the planet's stark division between rich and poor, and a species that seems obsessed with killing and violence on one hand and a godlike reshaping of itself on the other. The same kind and civilization has also produced the fabulously ornate medieval mosques of the Near East, the cathedrals of Europe, the breathtakingly bold architecture of the great cities. Even when you are watching unforgettable sequences, like showing the workers loading chunks of sulfur from a mine (in China, I think), or factory-produced chickens being sucked to their doom through a roving machine, I don’t think the filmmakers doesn't insert any personal opinions. 

                      Are those images showcases, 'the necessary evil' of our modern world? We simply see what it is and can't go no further than that, since the movie doesn't offer either a cure or an prediction. In the end, words doesn't do any kind of justice to "Samsara", whether mine or anyone else's. Anyway the movie requires a certain degree of submission. It's vast panorama of stunning visuals and the ideas they evoke give us pause and cause us to rethink the world in ways both instinctual and rational. 

                     "Samsara" is a hypnotic, transcendental and socially conscious head-trip cinema. Along with "Baraka", it's a film to treasure all your life.


Samsara - IMDb

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Heartfelt Portrait of Adolescence

                         Novelist and first-time director Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a high-school coming-of-age-story. Yeah, you'd be right to approach that kind of tale with a caution. Most of the movies that tackles the pitfalls and highlands of adolescence is fraught with tedious cliche and too often written by people misremembering their own distant youth. The narrative follows certain conventions so closely, that we think we know what's coming around every bend. But, when you come across something different from all these cliches, it hits you, leaving a greater impact. The high school outsider story, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" belongs to that kind, which tweaks the formulas and creates a crater of a impact in our mind. 

        High school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a loner. Charlie's best friend has recently committed suicide.   He has blackouts and a constant mysterious vision of a doting aunt who died when he was 7 and he is on psychiatric meds -- lots of them. But he's got caring parents (McDermott and Kate Walsh) and a solid family. At school, Charlie is teased by bullies and he manages like a convict, counting down the days until he graduates. Since the movie takes place in the 90's, there is no widespread Internet usage, where misfits have an access to others of their ilk.
              Charlie days as a wallflower and loser comes to an end when he is rescued from a state of limbo by an eccentric gay classmate, Patrick (Ezra Miller), who sees something soulful inside him. Patrick is very close to Sam (Emma Watson), his step-sister and a exuberant play-mate. Charlie is so sure that Sam is his soul-mate with a lack of confidence and love of the same music that matches his own. But, of course, Sam has a boyfriend, and she just wants to be friends with Charlie, so far as he can tell. 

                  Eventually Charlie becomes a member of Patrick's circle of friends and even dates the talkative Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). There's also something dark lurking in the back of his mind and, when things start going badly, he begins to lose his composure as his life spirals out of control. 

               It's fairly common for screenwriters to adapt a novel, but a novelist who adapts his sensational novel for the screen, and then actually directs the movie? That's kind of unheard. But debutant film-maker Chbosky makes perfect sense. His script is perceptive about the exhilaration of soul-piercing first love. He also trusts his viewers to understand the underlying meaning of moments without throwing in a lot of unnecessary explanations. That kind of direction requires a more nuanced level of acting and the three main characters are very adept at pulling it off. 

               Ezra Miller frightened us as the pretty, cold mass-killer in "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Here, as Patrick, the same guy shocks us by exhibiting warmth and woundedness. As Sam, Emma Watson calibrates from the "Harry Potter" franchise into a nice role, where her character, despite seeming so perfect to Charlie, must overcome her own doubts and fears. Watson incites a convincing, semitransparent fragility to her role. As 'wallflower' Charlie, Lerman was previously known for his title role in "Percy Jackson", but he is far better here, balancing the exhilaration of finally fitting into a group with the difficulty of staying there, while trying to keep himself together. He gives Charlie the looks of a innocent guy and the awkwardness was never overplayed. 

                 We might have thought of ourselves as 'outsiders' during high school. That's the way of adolescence. The Perks of Being a Wallflower perfectly captures this ineptness, the loneliness, and the unusual fellowship that accompany being on the outside looking in. The movie is also finally optimistic: it says and expresses that high school is not necessarily a bad place to be... it's just different. Many movies of the past has conveyed this message, but it's very much essential for now, in this gun packing, hate-driven world. 

                Watch "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and cheer Charlie on his journey of self-discovery and personal transformation.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower - IMDb 

Pi - Mathematical Madness

                          Pi is a mathematical notation, which is commonly used to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The letter 'Pi' is taken from a character in the Greek alphabet roughly equivalent to the English "p." Pi also represents the complex, chaotic world of mathematics. Has there has been any movie to interpret this composite world of number theory? Director Darren Aronofsky's (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) debut feature "Pi" (1998) fulfills that requirement; a film full of turbo-charged visuals that takes us inside the head of a human calculator.

                         Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras was one of the pioneer to postulate that numbers underlie the meaning of the universe. Since then, aspirational mathematical geniuses have sought a theory of everything in numerology. This black and white, low-budget sci-fi movie delves into this quest. It blends in questions about God and infinity with the personal struggle of one man to regain control of his life."Pi" is also only recommended for the most daring movie-goer given its arcane subject matter and its claustrophobic feel.

         Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a mathematical brainiac who suffers from blinding migraine headaches. He reasons that everything can be understood through mathematics and he wants to understand everything. He is preoccupied with unlocking the chaos of the stock market by decoding the numerical pattern that holds it all together. Max thinks that the notation 'Pi' -- he knows it contains 216 digits -- is omnipresent. He founds the notation, hiding in everything from stock prices to religious texts.

                Max soon finds himself wanted by ruthless corporate types, like Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart) of a New York brokerage firm. He is also sought out by Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), a Rabbi, who believes his figures and final answer will be a communication route to God. Even though, many people are interested in Max's quest, the only person he has time for is his teacher and mentor (Mark Margolis). Max's brilliance in mathematics, however, comes at a price. He is in a bizarre state of consciousness, and, on one occasion, discovers a brain lying on the ground in a New York City subway station. 

                  If "Pi" sounds like a lot of bragging ideas for a 85 minute movie, that's why it succeeds. It doesn't go extremes in explaining the specifics of the equations or formulas. Director Aronofsky engulfs us in Max's world. He has written the script under the assumption that the viewers may be interested in a "thinking-man's" thriller and the movie is not traditional in any way. Shot in black and white on a $60,000 budget, he has used the spiral as a image system to great effect in repeating motifs of Max's self dialogue and increasing drug use. Aronofsky's surrealistic nods to David Lynch's "Eraserhead" are also evident in the explorations. 

                  The inspired storytelling in 'Pi' is ingenious in its infinitely complex concepts that are somehow still accessible and fascinating. It is a film is a movie about nothing but mathematics, and yet it's so hypnotic that it welds you to your seat, eyes locked on the screen. The movie, right from the first frame, leads us to a very strange place, and I'm particularly impressed with the economical means, both financially and artistically, by which Aronofsky gets there. The performances are mainly solid are throughout the movie, with Sean Gullette portraying an cinematic loner. He gives a one-note performance which totally sells the sublimated passion of genuine intellectual obsession.

                 Although the movie is quite complex, the message is a quite simple one: life does not fit into neat patterns, and complete control is impossible. It also works as a perfect character study of an obsessed individual whose single-minded goal blinds him to everything else, including health, friendship, love, and even sanity. In the end, "Pi" does manages to drive home some thought-provoking questions about our digital age, numerology, and the hubris involved in all projects designed to decode the mystery of the universe.
                  "Pi" is the cerebral, minimalist, Kafka-esque thriller, which is pure and unadorned. This movie is a lesson to aspiring movie-makers everywhere.


Arbitrage - In the vein of Classic Hitchcock

                       Nicholas Jarecki's slick and striking directorial debut, "Arbitrage" is a financial sector thriller, grounded in our turbulent sociopolitical contexts. With the name like "Arbitrage" you might expect a movie about the labyrinth of the world's financial systems. Yeah, there is little of that, but it doesn't demand a viewer to know all about the hedge funds. In fact, it plays in a straightforward manner and often remind us that that thrillers do not have to be action-packed to generate tension. 

         Robert Miller (Richard Gere) doesn't have a single problem. He has many problems, and they are multiplying in minutes. He is a billionaire and a wall street Oracle. He looks like a sage on the surface, but you should see what's going on underneath. Miller is married to Ellen (Susan Sarandon) and has two children. They are also working for him. His daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), is smart as a whip and is the company's chief accountant, while his less talented son (Austin Lysy) remains a disappointment to him. Apart from a loving family, Miller has a affair with a French artist named Julie (Laetitia Casta), whom he constantly slips away to see.

                 He is also on the brink of ruin: Miller’s company is up for sale, not only that it is also up for federal audit, and he has illegally borrowed more than $400-million to cover the huge numbers gap between what he is charging for his business and what it is really worth. On the other hand, the lender is getting nervous and immediately wants his money back. So, Miller has to do what he can to keep the fraud hidden, his daughter totally in the dark about the whole situation and the Internal Revenue Service at bay.

                 At this worst moment, an unexpected accident occurs, that kills his mistress Julie. Fearful that negative publicity will bury the sale of his company, Miller flees away from the scene and calls Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of his former chauffeur, to help him out. The car crash now attracts a bloodhound detective, Michael Bryer (Tim Roth). Will Miller get himself out of this mess?

                  Is Robert Miller, a ruthless, selfish villain? By normal standards, yes. He doesn't care about laws or anybody, and yet there is something about Miller, which is to say something about Richard Gere's performance, that makes him fascinating to watch. Gere's Miller is compelling and nuanced, delineating humanity out of a man who would otherwise join the ranks as the loathsome poster children of greed at its worst. Gere has always been underestimated as an actor and mostly singled out for his handsome face, but in "Arbitrage" he wonderfully explores the dark side that lies underneath that glossy exterior.

                The supporting performances from great actors like Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and 'The Wire's' Reg E. Cathey are all too strong to let Arbitrage sink beneath contrivance. Even though this is a straightforward thriller, the screenplay by Jarecki keeps us guessing till the end. There is no incomprehensible twists here, but the movie unspools in a convincingly believable fashion that defies predictability. As a director Jarecki displays a sure hand in navigating tricky material and also has drawn excellent performances from all the actors involved, especially Gere.

                Alfred Hitchcock has always given a cautionary advice that cinematic suspense trumps morality. In Arbitrage, we intellectually know that Miller is a criminal who deserves to be punished, but what we feel emotionally is different -- that we want him to somehow slip through the ordeal unscathed. While the specific crime may have gone unpunished, but their weight will not immediately—or perhaps ever—dissipate.  

                 Arbitrage does a delicate job of exposing entrenched forces which are very good at insuring their continuing success with business as usual. It is the high-minded archetype, which proves that smart and dedicated performers can drive a compelling narrative.


Aarohanam - An Optimistic Tale of a Invigorated Woman

                        In Tamil cinema, movies about mental disorders have mostly been a cliche. It is either used to show a hero's bravado or villains' ruthlessness. Another thing is also extremely rare in Tamil cinema, its the movies about the power of women. Lakshmy Ramakrishnan's non-linear tale"Aarohanam" takes both these rarities and gives us a sensational non-judgmental movie. This is a unflinching portrayal of mental depression among women without being sentimental and loud. 

                        The story here is very simple: The life of Nirmala, a vegetable vendor who raises her kids single-handedly after her husband deserts her another woman. That's not unheard story. Most of the Tamil cinema hero's flashbacks contains something like this story. But "Aaraohanam" altogether travels in a different path. The movie starts in an interesting way, where two rich socialites, Sandy and Jay joyfully share the details of their lives and are on their way to the launch of Sandy's website. The chat about their busy lives comes to a halt, when they accidentally run over a woman. 

                         Then comes the intriguing tale of the woman they have run over. Senthil and his sister Selvi, whose marriage is a few days away finds that their mother, Nirmala is missing. Over the years, Nirmala has put up with her husband's ill-natured words, and thousand other toils, has brought up her children by doing odd jobs, from selling insurance to vegetables. At time she suffers from extreme mood-swings, even though she has had a great determination to succeed in life. What is her problem? and what has happened after the accident forms the latter part of the movie. 

                        Lakshmy Ramakrishnan, in her feature-film debut, has taken a challenging subject like "Bi-polar Disorder" and has handled it with a finesse. She has selected a excellent cast and has accumulated perfect emotions from the actors. Mental disorders are often seen in serial-killer movies, but here the movie not only  shows the illness in a subtle, non-sentimental manner, but also celebrates the optimistic side of that problem. There is also no black-and-white characters here. The movie doesn't show poor people as saints and rich people as arrogant, mirthless people.

                       Viji Chandrasekhar is the perfect choice for Nirmala. She exudes a great energy in her role and the mood-swings are done in a falutless, non-dramatic manner. Most of the characters represented here resembles the ones you might have seen in your neighborhood or family. Be it the faithful beggar or caring-Muslim Neighbour, or Nirmala or MLA, we have met or seen them somewhere. Most of the Tamil films, miss that kind of characterization, but Aarohanam is spot-on target. The crafty and dazzling cinematography by Shanmugasundaram deserves a special mention, and the editing takes the movie to a different, exciting level. K's music is unobtrusive and is in sync with the script.

                          There are some minor glitches in the screenplay especially towards the end, but they don't change our overall movie experience. Aarohanam is more engaging than any one of the recent big-budget star-vehicles. It delivers a valid message and will surely be one of the best Tamil films, this year. I am very glad that I had the chance to watch this meaningful and mature Tamil cinema.


Trouble with the Curve - Sweet and Entertaining, but not Memorable

                      Clint Eastwood, at the age of 82,  is not the only actor of his age to be working steadily, but he is the only one who continues to develop, benefiting from his already known and much praised sense of ease and naturalism in front of the camera. That's Clint Eastwood as an actor, but as a director he is far most accomplished and one of the best senior filmmakers around. Robert Lorenz's "Trouble with the Curve" reminds that there is a reason he has been a movie star all these years; his gravely voice is in good form, his grunts and groans still sound threatening. It's also the first time he has starred as an actor in somebody else’s work since “In the Line of Fire” (1993). 

                     Trouble with the Curve plays like a weird tangent to Gran Torino, or the flip-side to Moneyball, or just moves like the eccentric output of a rookie screenwriter, Randy Brown. However, the movie is an agreeable entertainment, in spite of everything. The movie can be simply watched for its valedictory tone struck by the golden star.

     Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is the most acclaimed baseball scout, who has stayed the best thanks to his finally honed skills, love of the game, and common sense. Gus' computer-savvy officials of the Atlanta Braves (Matthew Lillard), figures it’s time for him to retire. Pete (John Goodman), Gus' buddy for 30 years, still believes he has what it takes and asks them to allow Gus to check out the high school baseball star in North Carolina everyone is talking about. But, Gus is almost and tries hard to hide the condition. He barely sees a baseball and can’t even walk through his own home without busting into furniture.

                      The only person who could help Gus with his assignment is the only person he would never ask: his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a smart, powerful associate at an law firm. She has never felt to be close to her father, who was ill-equipped to be a single parent after the death of his wife.Mickey gets to know of her father's condition and decides to accompany him on the trip. Over Gus' objections she joins him and  they repeatedly run into Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former prospect Gus scouted years ago. What happens from there is very much predictable. 

                 Clint Eastwood is not a great or versatile actor like De Niro, Brando or Al Pacino, but within his limited range of characters he knows just what to do. We have all liked him dearest when he’s at his most hard-boiled -- from the 'Dollars trilogy' to 'Gran Torino.'  He is enjoyable once again and gives a compelling screen presence. Clint has always been the craggy, cantankerous guy, so the emotional impact upon us when he breaks down as he sings “You Are My Sunshine” at his wife’s grave, is deceptively powerful. That's like watching a furtive tear from a tough Grandfather.

                  The other excellent performance comes from Amy Adams as a feisty and strong-willed young woman. It's a pleasure to witness her trading barbs with her father and to see her hit a baseball in practice with a spontaneous cartwheel. Timberlake is impressive with his easy-going performance as Johnny. Director Lorenz, who has worked as a producer and assistant director to Eastwood for many years, seems to have plainly transferred the sentimental and corny script by Randy Brown onto the big screen.

                 This is one of the old-time easy-going movie with an occasionally preposterous story and satisfying performances. "Trouble with the Curve" mostly looks like a game, with nothing much at stake, but Eastwood and Adams make the father-daughter melodramatic journey more entertaining than it has the right to be. 


Trouble with the Curve - IMDb