A Hijacking -- An Unsparing Realism

                                   There is a Hollywood hostage action movie named "Under Siege", starring Steven Seagal. In the film, he works as a cook and has a back-story as a commando and mixed martial artist. A rebellious hero who outwits the baddies in a series of wild action set-pieces. The screenwriters have  extorted maximum melodrama from the spiraling disorder. These things doesn't happen in Tobias Lindholm’s psychological drama “A Hijacking" (Kapringen, 2012), even though he has used a boat that was once held by pirates for real. 

                                This intense story about a group of seamen begins in the Indian Ocean where the ship’s cook and family man Mikkel ( Pilou Asbæk) is calling his wife and daughter back home. He is aboard in a sparsely populated cargo ship operating in the Indian Ocean. Later, we unceremoniously cut back to the ship, where the crew has already been overpowered by a larger, gang of Somali freebooters. Back in Copenhagen, the shipping company's frazzled Ceo Peter (Soren Malling) decides to lead the hostage talks himself. He is aided by a British professional negotiator Connor. On the Somalian side, Omar (Asgar), a shady intermediary, who claims himself as only an interpreter, demands a ransom of 15 million dollars. The Danes in the shipping office returns the call with an paltry offer of $250,000. At that point, we might guess that we’re in for a lengthy, psychologically fraught battle of wills.

                                  Tobias Lindholm is best known for his screenwriting skills. His collaboration with Thomas Vinterberg in "Submarine" and "The Hunt" (a superior psychological drama) proves that he’s the one to watch out, who eschews sensationalism at every turn in a tightly wounded narratives. The hostage situation, which runs to well over 125 days doesn't feel unnaturally long in a film of 102 minutes. Lindholm beings up the tension through rigorous realism, austere style. He boldly skips the violent crusade --  boarding of the vessel by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean -- and focuses more on boardroom politics, which has a stunning final-act landing the crucial emotional blow.

                                   Asbaek as the cook tether the movie without resorting to any loud grandstanding. Malling as the consummate corporate guy, Peter, gives an unnerving performance. He is the man who is caught outside his comfort zone. He feels responsible to his crew and their distressed families, but also caught between the board (who wants to wrap at a minimal cost) and hijackers' unreasonable demands.  
                                    "A Hijacking" is a powerful film and wholly engaging from start to finish. It astoundingly conveys the tedium of confinement of both captors and captured trapped aboard a ship. 


A Hijacking (Kapringen) -- IMDb

Epic -- Big on Visuals and Small on Originality

                                 Animation often reminds kids that when they get big, they shouldn't forget about the little creatures or plants. This implicit message is connoted through various animated pictures from Pixar's "A Bug's Life" to Studio Ghibli's "The Secret World of Arrietty." The kids could often relate themselves to these tiny heroes, who crave for adventures while not getting crushed by the giant movers and shakers or adults. Blue Sky Studios' latest animated movie "Epic" (2013) has the same ultra-familiar ring, like a girl getting miniaturized and a diminutive universe, but it is a reasonably entertaining and adeptly crafted movie, which will satisfy family audiences. 

                                   The adventurous animated film's characters are based on children’s author William Joyce’s “The Leaf Men.” The characters along with the movie is surely more swollen in scope and tone than Joyce’s Eco-themed picture book. The 'Leaf Men' are portrayed as a race of bug-size soldiers who maintain the order and balance of the natural world. They ride on hummingbirds and fight against the forces of decay -- creatures known as the Boggans. An estranged teenage girl, Mary Katherine (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) visits her obsessed father in the woods. Her father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis) is obsessed in proving the existence of a secret miniscule civilized world.

                                    Katherine's arrival to the woods coincides with a major once-a-century event among leaf men. On a full moon, Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) selects a bud in which she will imbue her spirit and from which will grow a new queen. The evil Boggans, led by Mandrake (Christopher Waltz) attacks the ceremony, and the dying queen passes the bud along to Mary Katherine (the bud shrinks her to the size of the tiny forest men). Later, M.K. accompanies warrior Leafmen Ronin (Colin Farrell) and troublesome teenager Nod (Josh Hutcherson) to safeguard the pod that holds the promise for the Leafmen's future. 

                                 Director Chris Wedge (Ice Age) works out some moments of wonder and some magical animation, even though the film soars through trees for Avatar-esque high-flying excitement and takes off every tiny-people yarn from various movies. For a film-literate child of 8 or 9, the plot of "Epic" is a familiar territory, but it is nonetheless executed with professionalism and a few dashes of panache. The five credited screenwriters may be the reason for script imbalances. Usual Hollywood plot devices are devoted to M.K’s father issues and romance with Nod. These attempts to wring emotional payoff comes up very dry. Aziz Ansari and Chris O' Dowd as the wisecracking slug provide some comic relief. 

                                  Presented in 3D, the film is noteworthy for its depictions of leaf men characters,  swinging through the woods, with image depth that practically hypnotizes. The animation provides a more ecologically accurate view of the forest than one usually sees on film. There is nothing new or original in "Epic" but it is worth a watch for its enthralling visuals and well-grounded Eco-friendly message. 


Epic -- IMDb 

Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy" -- A Brief Analysis

                                  After a two decade absence, Hitchcock returned to England to make the engrossing mystery thriller, "Frenzy" (1972). This was also his most commercially successful film since the release of "Psycho" in 1960. The film has no major stars (like his numerous Hollywood masterpieces) -- it’s more of an ensemble piece, with England's most respectable stage actors, such as Alec McCowen, Anna Massey, and Billie Whitelaw. 

                                   The story is set in London, where women are strangled with neckties by a psychopath. When Brenda Blaney is killed in the office of her dating agency, suspicion falls on her ex-husband, the unsympathetic ex-squadron leader Richard Blaney. The murderer is his friend -- a mummy's boy -- a likeable grocer Bob Rusk, who has 'certain peculiarities' when it comes to women. Inspector Oxford is assigned the case. Blaney goes on the run, is helped by girlfriend Babs and hides out at the Porters'.

                                   When Babs goes to pick up her clothes, she's met by Rusk and killed. Rusk puts her body in a potato bag and then onto a truck. When her returns home, Rusk realizes his tiepin is missing and so goes back to the truck, but the truck starts on its journey with Rusk in the back trying to pry his tiepin from Babs' dead fingers. He gets off at a truck stop. When Blaney turns up at Rusk's for help, Rusk takes him in and hands him over to the police -- Blaney now knows Rusk is the killer and vows to kill him. 

                                  While serving life sentence in prison, Blaney throws himself down the stairs, is put into hospital and escapes. Sneaking into Rusk's room, Blaney smashes an iron bar into the head of the sleeper, only to find it's murdered girl. Inspector Oxford enters, waits and Rusk enters with a trunk. Oxford says, "Mr. Rusk, you're not wearing your tie." 

                                   "Frenzy" was girded with a superior script by Anthony Shaffer and by an excellent cast, particularly Barry Foster as Rusk. The viewers knows very early who the real murderer is, so the interest lies in hoping for the rescue of the hero. This scenario has been used a lot of times by Hitchcock but he once again made a first-rate dramatic thriller.

                                  "Frenzy" is filled with many of Hitchcock's visual ideas: like the helicopter shot down the Thames over the credits; When Rusk picks up Babs, we see a tracking shot up his stairs -- then it's completely quiet, we go back down the stairs and out to Convent Garden, the sound growing; When Blaney escapes from the hospital, there's high shot showing him blend in with the doctors and then make his way out. The trial scene, at the end is shot in an excellent manner. We hear Blaney's trial as snatches of sound when a guard opens and closes the door, anxious to hear the verdict --  otherwise it is silent. 

                                  This film also has the Hitchcock cameo. You can see him, wearing a bowler hat and is in the crowd, engrossed by the dead body. "Frenzy" has echoes of the London of "The Lodger" (1927), although it is more explicit in its handling of rape and murder. Also, we have a horrible hero, who is somehow more believable because of his awful behavior. This is one of the suspense master's best and his least appreciated film -- a creative boost after many minor slumps.

Frenzy -- IMDb 

Roger Ebert Review 

Bunuel and the Bourgeoisie

                                       Bunuel's uncompromising attitude towards the bourgeoisie has been forcefully expressed both in his films and elsewhere. In his autobiography, he has described the opposition of the surrealists to the society in which they found themselves. He was attracted in 1929 by what he regarded as the moral character of Surrealism, whose essence was to reject bourgeois society in favor of completely different values. He describes the wrong with bourgeois morality like this: "I am against conventional morality -- Middle-class morality. One must fight it. It is a morality founded on our most unjust social institutions -- religion, fatherland, family culture -- everything that people call the pillars of society."

                                     Four decades later, when he had turned his back on the surrealists, Bunuel observed that his view of bourgeoisie had not changed. He said, "The final sense of my films is this: to repeat, over and over again, in case anyone forgets it or believes the contrary, that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds." His films, throughout his career, set out to mock, disturb and undermine the established order of things. Indeed, he consistently places the bourgeoisie under the microscope, subjecting it to as close a scrutiny as he would have done the behavior of insects, had be become an entomologist.

                                   High on the list of Bunuel's favorite items for detailed examination, inside and outside, is the bourgeois home, be it country mansion or city house or apartment. The former makes its first extended appearance in "L' age d' or" (Age of Gold, 1930), when, as cars bring guests to the villa of the Marquis of X, the camera picks out the huge wrought-iron gates and railings that surround the fortress-like pile immediately behind them. Thirty two years later, in 1962, a similar episode marks the beginning of the "The Exterminating Angel" as the servants leave the splendid mansion of their master, Edmundo Nobile, and the camera reveals even more massive gates, which close with a huge clang, more suggestive of a castle than house.

                                  In "The Diary of a Chambermaid", released two years later, Celestine arrives at the country mansion of her new employer, Monsieur Rabour, where we observe gates and railings which, though less ornate than those in the two earlier films, are equally strong. In each case we are presented with an image that suggests wealth power of the bourgeois inhabitants of these houses who use that wealth to exclude unwelcome intruders and trespassers. On the other hand, the defenses they construct can also be seen as something that cuts them off from the world at large, turning them in on themselves, emphasizing their self-containment and inward-looking nature.

                                Bunuel's houses, furthermore, are not confined to one country, for the three mentioned above are located, respectively, in Italy, South America and France, the implication being that the bourgeoisie is much the same wherever it exists. And the process continues today, they still protect and isolate themselves from the outside world by means of security locks and alarm systems. They live, in effect, in their own self-contained world.

                                  As gates and railings suggest certain characteristics of bourgeois life, so do the gardens that lie immediately inside them. As the lovers in "Age of Gold" escape into the gardens of the Marquis of X, they do so along a pathway flanked by beautiful trees and, in the foreground, an elegant vase placed on a pedestal. At the end of the garden they approach a neatly cut hedge, behind which cypresses rise at regular intervals, and in front of which there are flower beds and wicker garden chairs placed on either side of a classical statue. In short, the garden of the Marquis of X have a formality and elegance that reflect the importance of these characteristics in bourgeois life as a whole. All is meticulous and studied control.

                                In other films, notably in "Viridiana", Bunuel depicts neglected estates or gardens out of control in order to suggest the state of mind of their owners, but the formal garden described above is as much a part as his depiction of and comment on the nature of the bourgeoisie as the elegant interior of their houses. The other important detail in Bunuel's major films is the great shots of entrance halls, drawing rooms, dining-halls, bedrooms and corridors.

                                The bourgeois dining-room has particular pride  of place in "Viridiana" and "The Exterminating Angel." In the former, the absence of Viridiana and Jorge allows the beggar to enter the main house and make use of the dining-room in order to fill their stomachs. Their meal ends in chaos, with wine spilled, glasses and plates smashed, and food hurled around the room, but even so we are able to form a clear impression of this splendid room. In "The Exterminating Angel", the dining-room in which Nobile entertains his sophisticated guests is even more magnificent. Plates and cutlery are perfectly arranged on the white-table cloth, a great chandelier occupies the center of the ceiling, and paintings and tapestries decorate the walls.

Penultimate scene in "Viridiana" resembling Davinci's "Last Supper"

                               Bourgeois society, because it is basically patriarchal, is also shown by Bunuel to relegate woman to a position of secondary importance. To a large extent, this attitude towards woman was attributed to the influence of the church. In "Age of Gold", the elegant bourgeois woman who accompany their dinner-jacketed husbands to the Marquis of X's dinner party are little more than accessories, helped out of the car on arrival, clinging to their spouse's arm as they enter the house, smiling and paying dutiful attention to the men's conversation but clearly playing little serious part in it. And much the same can be said of the woman in "The Exterminating Angel" and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie."

                                  Severine in "Belle de Jour" has a flawless beauty and beautiful wardrobe, which make her the most elegant wife in the whole of Bunuel's cinema, but, her bourgeois husband fails to treat her as a woman of flesh and blood, seriously neglecting her deep sexual desires. Women as the victims of male exploitation are also, of course, very frequent. Tristana is used by Don Lupe for his sexual gratification and, because she is financially dependent on him. He undoubtedly regards her as an attractive accessory, a young woman for whom he buys quite elegant clothes, and whom he likes to show off when they go out walking. Similarly, Viridiana, the totally innocent novice nun, becomes the object of the sexual desires of Don Jaime and his more predatory son, Jorge.

                                Drugged by the former so that he can possess her, she is, after his death, subjected to Jorge's sexual innuendo. And when, at the end of the film, she becomes his mistress, sharing him with the servant, Ramona, it is perfectly clear that both woman will be dispensed with when Jorge has become tired of them. While Bunuel Pillories the bourgeoisie for many things, he also highlights its complacency, emotional paralysis and lack of imagination. In "The Exterminating Angel" Nobile's bourgeois companions complacently accept the fact that they are unable to leave the drawing-room at the end of the evening. They merely sit around, remove their jackets when it is time to go to sleep, and, when daylight arrives, attempt to continue their normal activities. After weeks of captivity and lacking food and water, they become desperate and bourgeois sophistication is transformed into animal savagery, but release from their plight quickly restores their habitual complacency, for when we see them in church they are once again their former shelves.

Exterminating Angel: Trapped Inside the Dining-room
                                    The repetitious and stereotyped nature of bourgeois activity suggests, in addition, a lack of imagination. Throughout Bunuel's films, elegant houses echo each other, one dinner-party is much like another, encounters, gestures and conversations are constantly repeated, and little happens that is unpredictable. In such circumstances there is clearly little scope for the imagination, which implies the very opposite of activities that are dull, repetitious and devoid of excitement.

                                    Bunuel also great delight in shocking bourgeois' complacency to the very foundations. In "Viridiana", the drunken behavior of the beggars, which almost wrecks the elegant dining room of Don Jaime's house, is an unwelcome shock to Jorge and Viridiana when they return to the house. And in "Tristana", the episode in which Tristana and Horacio kiss in public certainly ruffles the feathers of the bourgeois family that witnesses it.

                                  Much more common, in Bunuel's films, is the disruption of the normal pattern of bourgeois life by unpredictable and unexpected events, of which "The Exterminating Angel" offers a number of relevant examples. Firstly, before Nobile and his guests arrive at his house for dinner, the servants and cooks decide to leave for unexplained reasons, much to the dismays of their masters and thereby disrupting preparations for the rest of the evening. At the end of the ending, as we have seen, Nobile's guests prepare to leave the drawing-room. And prior to this, we see that their conversation, although distinguished by the shape and formal structure that normally characterizes bourgeois dialogue, is shot through with unintended comments and observations, as if they have no control over what they are saying.
                                Bunuel uses dreams and horror stories to disturb the elegant surface of bourgeois behavior, but, in doing so, he also makes a complacent bourgeoisie aware that there are things buried deep in its own unconscious that it may prefer to hide or ignore, but which at any moment may rise to the surface. A rather different threat to bourgeois composure is to be found in political activity of different kinds, as the terrorist attack in "The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie" suggests. Indeed, bourgeois seems in Bunuel's films to be constantly on edge, ever aware of its vulnerability to outside forces that threaten its conservative way of life. For this reason, as we have seen, it goes to considerable lengths to protect itself by means of walls, railings and gates against all manner of intruders, be they, burglars, terrorists or revolutionaries, but the threat of disruption is always present. 

                                Bunuel's scrutiny of bourgeoisie is comprehensive and minute, engaging his attention from his first film to last, even if in later years his attitude becomes not so much outraged as mocking and ironic. Bunuel's background was, by his own admission, extremely bourgeois: much more so than that of many of his surrealist companions. But, in the later years, his life-style, distinguished by austerity, largely reflected his anti-bourgeois stance. It is said that, Bunuel's bedroom was as austere as a monk's cell. The director, seventy-three at the time, slept on wooden boards, covering himself only with a rough blanket. Even though Bunuel's income greatly increased after movies like "Belle de Jour", the simplicity of his life was not affected. 

                                  The surrealists wished to explode the social order and to transform life itself. But, Bunuel seems to have realized from an early stage the ultimate futility of that aim, that 'we do not live in the best of possible worlds', and that the most a creative artist can do is express that view in whatever form he sees fit. 

 Luis Bunuel -- Wikipedia

Luis Bunuel Quotes

Luis Bunuel -- Harvard Film Archive

Bunuel -- Guardian

Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville" -- A Brief Analysis

                                 In 1962, Godard turned his attention to science fiction with his intriguing Italian-language short "Il Nuovo Mondo" (The New World). The 20 minute film was made as part of a anthology, which also featured contributions from Pasolini, Rossellini and Gregoretti. Godard wasn't the only New Wave director to show an interest in science fiction. Chris Marker's "The Pier" (La Jetee) also displays an influence and Truffaut's first color film, "Fahrenheit 451", was an adaptation of a fantasy written by Ray Bradbury. 

                                  For Godard, "Il Nuovo Mondo" pointed the way to a full-length film, "Alphaville", which was said to be shot in two weeks at the end of 1965. This dystopian vision proved a typically Godardian blend of genres -- a hard-boiled sci-fi flick with elements from comic books and pop art. The film won Godard the Golden Bear at the 1965 Berlin Film Festival and remains one of his most popular works. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Godard in "Alphaville" is the creation of the hermetic, high-security city of Alphaville itself. 

Godard's "Il Nuovo Mondo":

                                   Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) is a stone-faced secret agent from the Outland, who arrives at a hotel in Alphaville and checks in under the guise of Ivan Johnson, newspaper reporter. Each of this hotel's rooms comes with its own jukebox, bible and sinisterly seductive bathing assistant. The 'James Bond' like secret agent is in town on a deadly mission: to put an end to the rule of a giant, emotionless computer called Alpha 60 that runs the city of Alphaville, where love is illegal. 

                                   In Alphaville, people who behave illogically are assassinated and no one understands the meaning of "conscience." To succeed, Caution must find and bring back or liquidate the mysterious professor Von Braun, the brains behind the machine. When Caution meets the professor's beautiful daughter, Natacha (Anna Karina), he is determined to save her from this cold world and escort her safely to the Outland. 

                                 In "Alphaville", Godard eschewed building the expensive, expansive sets, typically favored by sci-fi directors, and instead shot the film on the streets of Paris. Some great Parisian locations were handpicked and then injected with a futuristic sheen, as in the short "The New World", thanks to Raoul Coutard's steely black and white cinematography. Dark, impersonal and neon-lit, the city itself becomes a character in the film, more foreboding and perhaps more threatening than even the enigmatic professor himself. 

                              At the center of Alphaville is the iconic Constantine, who Godard likened to a solid block in the film. Constantine appears in every scene here. With his heavy, wrinkled brow, haunted eyes and craggy, pockmarked face, he's quite a sight. Constantine's performance of unerring conviction holds the movie together. He plays Caution without so much as a knowing wink that he's assuming the kind of role that he made his own in a host of 1950s and 1960s detective films. 

                              How does one describe Alphaville to someone who hasn't been there? The swimming pool killings, the hotel's different class of seductresses, the belching bullfrog narration -- this is a unique world. It's perhaps best not to concern yourself with the plot but instead savor the film's incidental delights, such as Caution sparking his cigarette lighter with a bullet from his pistol or bludgeoning an attacker to the sound of a beautiful music. There's some fine costume design too, from the standard-issue hats and macs for the boys to Karina's exquisite outfits and the seductresses' sexy dresses. 

                             "Alphaville" is a bizarre and beguiling slice of science fiction with an arresting visual design. The eerie atmospherics will linger long after the film has finished. 


Alphaville -- IMDb                       

Side Effects -- Top Notch Neo-Noir

                               Steven Soderbergh's fourth movie -- "Side Effects" (2013) -- released in the past one and a half year seems to be another distinct kind of cinematic pleasure. Soderbergh -- who's indicated that he's tired of film-making and may retire (he is currently doing a movie with Matt Damon)-- has had an usual career. He has made various narrative experiments and benighted projects ("Schizopolis", "The Good German", "The Girlfriend Experience", "Solaris") that were sometimes more involving for him to make than for the audiences to experience. His new film "Side Effects" doesn't belong to that category, it goes with his success list (like "Out of Sight", "Ocean's Eleven", "Traffic", "The Limey").

                                Looking at the trailer and title, the film looked like antidepressants gone haywire kind of story. I thought it  might expose the savage nature of our pill-popping, Pharmaceutical Nation culture. But, that's just a backdrop for this twisty adult thriller. "Side Effects" has got a delectably complex plot, which might work better on you if experienced in an information blackout. The term "Psychological Thriller" -- associated with this movie -- is more in the vein of Hitchcock rather than Polanski.

                                 The film starts by introducing us 28 year old Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara). She is skeletal, vacant-eyed and applies lip-stick before visiting her husband. Emily is a devoted wife and she is eagerly awaiting for the release of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) from prison. Martin was a convicted insider trader, serving a four year sentence. Once Martin is back from the prison sentence, Emily  finds herself suffering from a suicidal depression. Emily works as a graphic designer and one day after work rams her car into a parking garage wall.

                                The suicide attempt brings her to the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a shrink who appends his income from his upscale midtown private practice with hospital work and pharmaceutical consulting. Banks cares about his patients, going so far as to make a visit to Emily’s former therapist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Siebert recommends a drug Ablixa for Emily. Emily's boss offers Cilexa, whereas the wife of Martin's friend swears by Effexor. Finally, Banks goes for Ablixa and Emily finds some relief, but the pill has one highly undesirable side effect: Sleep-walking and sometimes sleep-snacking. It's best to end the plot summary here, keeping in mind, the twitchy nature of the film. 

                              Although "Side Effects" is a twisty thriller, the plot elements have avoided some extreme or overtly sensationalistic themes. The doctor-patient relationship follows the real world rules. There's no attempt to bring in a sexual relationship between Jonathan and Emily, because that's how things seemingly go in many Hollywood movies. The screenplay by Scott Z. Burns has traversed through many sub-genres: a medical melodrama, mordant expose of the pharmaceutical industry, a courtroom procedural and also an Hitchcockian thriller. The atmospheric lines like, "Imagine if everything you ever wanted turned up and called itself your life" are of the highest quality.

                                 Director Steven Soderbergh deserves full credit for making us to go along for the ride. He didn't just stop at directing but also edited the film and done the camerawork (under pseudonyms). Like his previous ventures, "Contagion" and "Magic Mike" (about flesh trade), he once again points out, but never in a instructive manner, just how broken our systems have become, whether medical, governmental, or economic. Soderbergh has expertly shot depending on the locations: emergency rooms and massive psychiatric center re imbued with sickly greens and grays, while the posh Manhattan spots are percolated through flattening golds and amber. 

                                 Rooney Mara, as Emily, displays equal parts of feral intensity and heavy mystery. She seems at vulnerable as well as emotionally remote --  a character that served her well both as Mark Zuckerberg’s ex in "The Social Network" and as the hacker-punk heroine of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Channing Tatum has grown as a performer over the years (his third movie with Soderbergh). Jude Law thrives here as Dr. Banks and is perfectly capable of handling the ambiguities of his role. Catherine-Zeta Jones performed well as the cold, austere therapist. 

                               "Side Effects" is not Soderbergh's best, but it never loses one moment of your attention. It makes no grand statements or summations but is effortlessly artful and entertaining.


Side Effects -- IMDb 

Upstream Color -- Mind-bending Inquisitive Fiction

                                   Shane Carruth was known previously for his deliberate obscurity. When his feature film debut, "Primer" (2004) emerged nearly a decade ago it seemed contrarily inscrutable, a film made by and for the mathematical wizards. The film didn't even invited the scrutiny of close reading. "Primer" is now almost defined by its stylish impenetrability, a quality as much a blessing to its cult status as liability to its reputation with serious critics. After that labyrinthine drama, Shane Carruth has followed up on the promise of his debut, with yet another puzzle-box film called "Upstream Color (2013)." 

                                   Understanding everything you watch on the screen is not Carruth's agenda, even though he pins us to our seats even when we're not exactly sure what's going on. The film is like watching someone's dream, that's both unnerving and compelling. "Upstream Color" belongs partly to sci-fi and romance genre -- devastating and uplifting in equal parts. Plot synopsis for movies like this hardly does any justice to its scope. So, I will just try to draw out things which might aid the first time-viewers (need not fear for the spoilers). 

                                     A mysterious man (Thiago Martins), who experiments on lot of bio-engineered worms, attacks and kidnaps a young woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz). She seems to be a unwilling participant is some kind of bizarre experiments. The worm is ingested into her body. She is brainwashed and robbed while under the influence of the worm and an apparently hypnosis-inducing drug. All her savings are cleared out. Later, she beings to notice the worms crawling inside her skin and tries to cut them out to no avail. 

                                   Kris is rescued by a older gentleman -- using various samples of sounds to attract her to a pig farm -- and through some bizarre surgical procedure, he draws out the worm inside her and deposits it in a pig. Some time later, when Kris was treated for mental disorders, meets and falls madly in love with Jeff (Carruth). Jeff is an unemployed financial-sector employee who not only had the same experience but some of the same thoughts as Amy. A bond forms among them, which might be true love and certainly steels their declaration to get to the bottom of this deep mystery. 

                                   This synopsis has omitted some of the film's most baffling elements, like the central place Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" plays in the narrative or why that old gentleman materializes in people's lives. Those things might be an abstract allegory of discovering the world anew, where the literal-minded may be left out. Carruth's direction and complex framework invokes Malick and Lynch, both in narrative and tactile lyricism. Carruth makes even the mundane things, like turning on the water in a sink or stacking poker chips, look like something you’ve never seen before.

                                    "Upstream Color" is densely edited, which blends with the shallow-focus compositions to produce an experience of near-continual disorientation. What's really great about his film is the director's navigation of the river of ideas, along with emphatic acting (especially Seimetz's haunting performance), vivid cinematography and a musical score (also by Carruth) that’s at once triumphal and mournful.

                                     Before watching the film, remember to suspend the old rules and enjoy the delicious feeling of exploring uncharted territory, because some of the points can be maddening (but only if you let them). "Upstream Color" presents us with a glimpse of the vastness of existence and of our inner nature. In the end, you will feel like you've been pulled into a scary yet compelling dream. 


Upstream Color -- IMDb 

Kon -Tiki -- A Good Straight-Forward Adventure Movie

                                Norway's most expensive cinematic production to date, "Kon-Tiki" (2012) is about one of the greatest sea voyages of the 20th century. The movie re-enacts the real-life ventures of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl on his legendary 5,000-mile voyage by raft from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. A 1951 documentary titled "Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft" was made by Heyerdahl himself and won the Best Documentary Oscar.

                                   The film starts from Thor's childhood, with a scene in which he almost drowns in a frozen pond. Then it shifts to 1937, where the grown-up naturalist Thor (Pal Sverre Hagen) resides in Polynesia and imagines himself as a new Darwin. His lives with his beautiful wife Liv (Agnes Kittelsen) and among the natives. The couple is subjected to many kinds primitive tropical hardships. Thor Heyerdahl is not only shown as a eccentric character but also as a guy, who is largely oblivious of the feelings of others. 

                               Over the years he has developed a theory (which was considered unconventional and rejected by every publisher in New York) -- that 1,500 years earlier, the Polynesian islands were not discovered by Asians, as was the accepted belief of the day, but by South American Incas. He proposed that, they made nearly 5,000-mile trek through often-rough seas to their destination by the guidance of their god Tiki. Thor's travels to New York but his trusted sponsor turns down the chance to underwrite his proposed 4,000-mile trek. 

                              Disapproved by scientific community, Thor sets out to prove his theory by sailing the 4,300-mile route from Peru to Polynesia himself. He decides to make the journey using only materials available thousands of years ago. He recruits three Norwegians (radio operator Knute, a sailor­ named Erik and Herman, a former refrigerator salesman and engineer) and one eccentric Swedish guy, who is the camera operator. As the movie grows on us, so does the characters, especially Thor—showing the odd contrasts, childish but brash and oblivious to the needs and problems of everyone else, including the wife and son he deserted back home. 

                                 Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg get the facts down efficiently in an well researched array of details. The real journey might be the documentation of lulling repetitions of everyday life (like catching fish, cooking, sending out radio messages ) with few hazards here and there. Whereas, the film-makers, through their filter, makes every mishap to near-catastrophic scope to heighten the stakes (the violent story, an incident in which their on-board parrot, Lorita, bites through a radio wire, and the danger of omnipresent sharks). Though the film succeeds as a sheer epic spectacle, it misses out the hallucinatory surreality that comes with spending 101 days marooned at sea. 

                                  In the film, there are many petty squabbles among the crew. Heyerdahl struggles to maintain his authority and engineer Watzinger repeatedly falls into panics. A lot of these dramatic accounts aren’t even true. The real-life crew had an impeccable harmony and the real-life Watzinger was a handsome and capable scientist who served in the elite Norwegian Royal Guard. All these may undermine the movie's esteem as an educational tool, there's no denying its status as a rousing and thoroughly enjoyable adventure.

                              The technical aspects of "Kon-Tiki" are excellent and was beautifully shot by Geir Hartly Andreassen (Locations across Norway, Maldives, Thailand and Malta are gorgeously shot). The film finishes with an epilogue reminding us that adventures distract us from life’s challenges but do not erase them. Most historians and anthropologists still remain skeptical about the theory of east-to-west migration across the Pacific, but there’s much to admire in this adventure -- a man who never veered from the course he set.

                             Devoid of meaningful character explorations, "Kon-Tiki" is an excellent visual treat than a visceral one.


Kon-Tiki Expedition -- Wikipedia

Kon-Tiki -- IMDb