The Double -- What Makes You "YOU"?

                                   Two movies released last year, explored the enigmatic themes of double. In both these films, a young man crosses the path of his exact look-alike, who then gets inhibited by the other. One is Dennis Villeneuve’s “Enemy” – inspired by 2002 Jose Saramago’s novel “The Double.” The other film is British director Richard Ayoade’s “The Double” (2013) – inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella. “Enemy” and “The Double” raises the question of ‘What is self-identity?’ without giving any clear answers.  Although they explore such same themes, they are far away from being each other’s doppelganger, and “The Double” is more blackly comic than the grievous “Enemy.”

                                 Ayoade takes the densely plotted Dostoevsky novella and sets it in a nowhere land of dingy office bureaucracy. The city is full of outdated sub-way cars, undifferentiated apartment blocks, and purgatorial offices. The weather is always windy and we don’t see sunlight. The people are all dour, lonely a live according to rules. Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in this nightmarish universe. He works as a low-level office clerk. When he travels in an empty train carriage, a man comes to him and asks to move because he's sitting in his seat. Simon immediately moves. He is a man who obeys orders no matter where it is coming from. The door man at Simon’s office never seems to recognize him, insisting every time that all visitors must sign the book. Simon’s only pastime is telescope-peeping on the girl across the courtyard from his apartment.

                                The girl named Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) is Simon’s co-worker. She works in the office's giant, clanking photocopier and mostly shuns Simon and he doesn’t have any courage to speak to her. Even the telescope-peeping is obstructed by a man, living above the Hannah, who commits suicide by jumping after waving to Simon. The suicide investigators of the city happily claim that the neighborhood has the highest suicide rate. They also bet among them that if the twitchy Simon would commit suicide or not. Soon, Simon’s nightmares reach a breaking point when James Simon is hired by his company – Simon James’ physical twin and personal opposite. But, no one in the office or anywhere else seems to notice the similarity. They just chuckle over this fact. James succeeds every where the faltering Simon fails. He dazzles the hotheaded boss (Shawn Wallace) and seduces the boss’ rebellious daughter (Yasmin Paige). James is also a back-stabber as he takes credit for Simon’s unrecognized, yet genius work and also hooks up with Hannah.

                              Director Ayoade is best known for his acting roles in TV series ‘Dark Place’ and ‘IT Crowd.’ He made his directorial debut in 2010 “Submarine”, a nostalgic romantic coming-of-age-tale, set in the 1980’s Wales. It was an unusually good modern romantic tale, but “The Double” a particular aesthetic style to his direction. He has taken a big leap by tautly bringing up a powerful nightmarish cinema, tinged with black comedy. Two movies came to my mind when watching the characters and ruthless bureaucratic setting: Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” (1985) and Orson Welles’ “The Trial” (1962) – adapted from a Kafka’s dystopian tale. Ayoade and Avi Korine’s script sets the tale in an authoritarian dictatorship (run by a man called “The Colonel”), as seen in the propaganda campaign, run on TV. They have included a oddball romance, and deadpan humor to bring naturalism to an otherwise schizophrenic tale.

                             Ayoade’s direction shares the intricacies of Gilliam (plaster-faced old women and clanking office machines) and Michael Gondry, as “Enemy” shared Cronenberg’s and Lynch’s. Like “Brazil”, Ayoade makes it more a psychological study than a thriller. It repeatedly acknowledges that we are just random cogs built into a rumbling machine to run the world. At one level, we are eager to see how Simon will resist James, even though we know it all will end badly. On the other hand, we could feel that it’s just a parable for the conflict between our real personalities against our foreboding environment, to wish for something emotionally grander. 

                           Jesse Eisenberg is turning out to be a superior actor at shifting persona, with only using his expression and posture. There is no confusion as to who is the lonely and ecstatic guy. The interplay between him and Wasikowska gives both the tension and the charms. Eisenberg is signed up for playing Super Man’s super villain ‘Lex Luthor’ in the upcoming Superman-Batman movie. Watching him in “The Double”, you could feel that it is a commendable choice.

                          Director Ayoade finely juxtaposes the hollow cheerful Colonel’s ad-campaigns with the grim viewers. But, for the most part the political parable aspect remains invisible. If the director has given equal importance to the environment’s politics as much as Simon/James personality would have reached great heights like the aforementioned works from the auteurs. However, despite all these influences “The Double” (92 minutes) possess something original (even in Dostoyevsky's time, his tale is not considered original) and an artistic courage to confront a nightmare. 


Patton -- An Unbiased Biopic of an Apprehensible Megalomaniac

                                An American unbiased war movie is as hard to find as an untheatrical Bollywood movie. And, especially after 9/11 and ‘war-on-terror’, Marines, CIA and NSA in American films have waged numerous battles in the Middle-East. No other film industry in the world is as efficient as Hollywood in incorporating the fear or feeling that there is some out there to harm their country (even from outer space). In the cold war, we had numerous American actors speaking English with a Russian accent (the latest one is Kenneth Branagh in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”). For the past decade, they hired talented Middle-East actors to play ‘bad Arab’ and ‘good, faithful Arab’ (recent example is “Lone Survivor”). A pro-war movie would show shattered bodies of enemies as American Marines walk over them in glory. The offensive terms they use to call their enemies might have changed (like ‘Krauts’, ‘gooks’), but there is always a dangerous enemy. Auteurs like Oliver Stone, Coppola and Stanley Kubrick have made excellent anti-war movies, but they are often accused of clinging to a particular ideology and of insulting the memories of a common soldier fallen in the battle front.  

                               Personally, I believe in the statement ‘War Is Hell’ and would highly rate anti-war statements made in the likes of “Apocalypse Now”, “Full Metal Jacket.” But, is it really possible to make a war movie without giving way to balance than bias? Director Frank J. Schaffner’s “Patton” (1970) is one of the answers to such a question. The eight Academy Award winning film, was not only an ambiguous war movie, but also a fascinating character study. Although, “Patton” wanted audience to read the film the way he/she wanted to, it is wrongly depicted as a pro-war movie. It is referenced that President Richard Nixon was inspired by this movie to escalate the Vietnam War. Made on a budget of $12 million, “Patton” singularly depicts the weakness and strengths of Gen. George Patton Jr., an undiplomatic World War II war hero.

                            “Patton” has one of the most magnificent opening scenes. Impressively uniformed George Patton (George C. Scott) stands at attention in the backdrop of a huge American flag. With a stern expression, he delivers the famous ‘kick them in the ass’ speech and emphasizes his military philosophy. We then go to Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, situated in North Africa. It is 1943, and the American forces have recently suffered a terrible loss in the Battle of Kasserine Pass. General Omar Bradley (Karl Maden) decides that his army needs the best tank commander against the blustering German corps. Patton arrives to take command of the de-moralized US force. He fiercely disciplines them and prepares the force for fighting against notable German Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler) at El Guettar. Patton’s no-nonsense attitude clinches a victory in the Battle of El Guettar. From North Africa, Patton moves his forces to Sicily, sweeping across the island to take ‘Palermo.’

                           The victory also brings a strong desire for Patton to fight for fame against the other prominent figure of Allies -- British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Michael Bates). The invasion of Sicily flares up these men’s rivalry as Patton races to take over the city of Messina, even though he’s been ordered to stand by. All of Patton’s bravado and victory reaches a threshold point, when he physically and verbally abuses a soldier distressed by ‘battle fatigue.’ The newspapers ridicule him by comparing with the Nazis, while the bureaucrats demanded a direct apology from him. Patton offers a public apology, but he gets side-lined in the Allied forces of invasion of Europe. Patton is asked to keep his mouth shut, but his flaring speeches provide sensational news for journalists and create a ruckus for the politicians. At last, he is only used as a decoy during the Normandy invasion. However, Patton’s last glorious stride starts when he is granted command of the Third Army, which won over the last major Nazi force.

                          “Patton” is not just a biographical account of a military general. It is about a solitary man with self-imposed beliefs, who refuses to come to grips with the complexities of the 20th century. "Through the travail of ages, Midst the pomp and toils of war, Have I fought and strove and perished, Countless times upon a star. As if through a glass, and darkly, The age-old strife I see, For I fought in many guises, many names, But always me." Patton utters this poem as he stands on the battlefield when the Carthaginians fought the Romans, centuries ago. The film is imbued with moments like this, where he yearningly recalls ancient battles, believing that he actually took part in them. In another scene, after explaining his invasion plan for Sicily, a general comment, “You know, George, you’d have made a great marshal for Napoleon, if you’d lived in 18th century.” Patton answers him by saying, “Oh but I did sir, I did.” He is a military historian obsessed with the strategies followed in old battles. In yet another scene, he simply shoots two mules blocking the bridge without hesitation. However, director Schaffner doesn’t limit our views of Patton with these incidents. On an exterior account, Patton is easier to judge, but when the movie starts contemplating his internal emotions that is where it becomes complex.

                             In real life, the slapping incident is mostly said to be seen as a symbol of Patton’s implacable hostility. But, the film offers the internal conflict that goes inside him. We sense the dilemma inside him as he is about to sacrifice his troops for gaining glory against Montgomery. He slaps the soldier after this dilemma and immediately after praying for a heavily injured man, awarding him the ‘Purple Heart.’ He seems irked at that fatigued guy, because he somehow hates his own decision and the word’ coward’ is more self-directed. Patton’s life also showcases the contrasting dualities we all possess. He is a historian, well versed in the campaigns of Romans, Napoleon, Grant and Lee, but he couldn’t grasp the idea of psychology. He thinks that a man could only be shattered by bullets, not by psychological pain. Like, Patton, we might have studied a lot, but one or other time we would find hard to rein ourselves when our ego takes the better of us. A clergyman asks Patton, whether he has time to read Bible. He answers, “Every Goddamn Day!” The simple one-liner depicts the contrasting characters of Paton: a highly religious man, who also known for his cursing and temper.

                           “Patton's” another important theme lies in detailing the absurdity of self-righteousness. Wars have always brain-washed the whole population, good and bad ones alike, making them think that their side is the right side. In America and Britain, during World War II, a false sense of self-righteousness took hold and the people were brain-washed, as thousands of innocent civilians in Japan and Germany got incinerated. The media unleashed racism on Japanese, but suppressed the capitalist rhetoric for the sake of Russian allies and anti-fascist enemies. All kinds of lies joined hands in the name of patriotism. The same thing happened in Germany and in the end, lies exhumed with bodies found in concentration camps. This false sense of self-righteousness is well handled in “Patton.” Since we see the film from a war-obsessed guy’s point of view, we get increasingly mindful of the fact that wars are not about showing one’s patriotic feelings; it’s just an event for politicians and military leaders to seek glory.   

                            Does “Patton” glorifies hard-line militarism or does it satirize the circumstance? Even in the first scene, this question arises. As he stands before the huge American flag, delivering the rousing speech (“we’re not holding onto anything except the enemy; we’re going to hold him by the nose and we’re going to kick him in the ass!”), we could see both a fierce and ridiculous individual. The same question pops up at various junctions in the movie, and the answer could be derived according to your own standpoint. During its release, many critics is said to have criticized Edmund North and Coppola’s script, and Schaffner’s direction for failing to take a stand on Patton. But, it is this ambiguity that has given the classic and timeless quality for the film.
                             Patton belongs to an era, where warriors ruled over a country. His spirits have soared only when there is a war. He doesn’t see the victory in the battle as his triumph. In the end, as the Russians celebrate over Allies victory, he just sits in a table with a reclusive look. And, further he makes statements claiming that he will wage war over Russians before they become a trouble. He might have been hated by millions, but think what would have happened if he had been born in the era of Alexander or Napoleon. History would have bestowed him with accolades. But, in the period of bureaucracy and diplomacy, he is just used as a tool. At the very end, Patton soliloquizes, relating the tale of ancient Roman war heroes. He is left alone and walks with his dog apprehending the meaning of cautionary words: “all glory is fleeting.”

                             “Patton” was shot over 18 weeks in Spain, England, Morocco, Greece and America. Shot in 70m Dimension, Fred Koenkamp's cinematography does full justice to the picture’s quality. The battle sequences were shot in a grand epic style, reminiscent of David Lean movies. Apart from the war scenes, the framing was also equally adept bringing the viewers close to the personal moments. Director Schaffner made “Patton” after the smashing box-office success of “Planet of the Apes” (1968). He shows a restraint that captures sweep of the war as well as the intimacy of the characters. George C. Scott didn’t act as Patton. He looks as if he has crawled into the skin of the general (watch documentaries or footage of Patton to see how accurately he is portrayed). Since Scott, didn’t believe in warfare, he was able to capture both the violence and the vulnerability of his character. As Bradley, Karl Malden gives a wonderful performance, but gets dwarfed alongside Scott’s unstoppable performance.

Real Vs Reel 'Patton'

                           Those who have very detailed knowledge about World War II might find factual and technical errors in the movie, but for the most part it is reasonably realistic. Some might complain the cartoonish depiction of British Field Marshal Montgomery, or the wooden acting by supporting players. I feel these flaws are insignificant when compared with the large scope of the film.

                          “Patton” (171 minutes) can’t be categorized as a ‘World War II movie.’ It is a historical drama, which de-constructs the enigmas surrounding a war hero or a warrior. It provides a throbbing awareness about the ultimate complexities present within a war. 


X-Men: Days of Future Past – Contemplative Summer Blockbuster

                                  When I watched “X-Men: Last Stand” in 2006, I thought that ‘X-Men’ is yet another trilogy with a weakest final installment. The origin story of “Wolverine” although induced some interest, it was no were near ‘X2.’ At that time, from the business perspective, X-Men seemed to have reached its sell-by date. But, Matthew Vaughn’s terrific prequel ‘X-Men: First Class’ expanded the mutant gene pool by imbuing rich details and inventive set pieces. Last year’s “Wolverine” turned to be an average fare. However, at the end of the movie, we were hinted about a time travel theme, which might once again unite all mutant forces. Director Bryan Singer once again returned to franchise after ‘X2’ and we hoped for the biggest, most daring adventure yet. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) has made all our hopes come true as it re-energizes the franchise with innovative action, levity and a gripping emotional core.

                                 In time-travel films, all catastrophic events of the present are traced back to a single event. The entire world’s hope would then rest on a particular man, who takes on a mission, bound back in time and keep the said event from happening. “Days of Future Past” follows the same drill. It is 2023. The sky looks stormy and greyed-out because the mutants-killing ‘Sentinels’ have taken over control of world. Manhattan and Moscow are wrecked. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and some other mutants are confined to a Chinese safe house. Kitty Pryde/Shadow Cat (Ellen Page) must use her special abilities to send Logan’s mind into his body in 1973, so that he can amass a team to alter the future.

                               Logan first needs to convince young Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) about the mission. The job is to stop Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering Trask (Peter Dinklage), an assassination that will only escalate Trask’s Sentinel programme. Trask does Nazi-like experiments on mutants and hopes to get his hands on some DNA, believing that it would better equip his “Sentinels” to save the human race. But, the problem for Logan is that Professor X has lost all hopes and Magneto is imprisoned in the Pentagon for killing JFK.

                                Scriptwriter Simon Kinberg’s pithy one-liners and expository dialogues might serve well for franchise fans. The cheerful changes of pace within the serious drama provoke plenty of laughs. The great numbers of characters are never clumsily managed. The time travel theme allows Kinberg to bring up Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and even JFK’s assassination. The wrongness of homophobia, racism and war are briefly explored. After the disastrous “Jack the Giant Slayer”, Singer redeems himself with this film. He melds the past and the future together and riddles us with metaphors that can be enjoyed even by the uninitiated audiences. Singer is interested in showing mutants with singular gifts as figures in a larger plan rather than blessing a particular superhero with a superior screen-time. 

                              Half-dozen sub-plots, crosscutting events between past and present and a lot of gloomy exchanges doesn’t bog down the action adventure. The action set pieces, exhibited here, are one of the best of the genre. The wonderful time-freezing sequence, where ‘Quick Silver’ rearranges bullets and peoples on their tracks is a classic sequence that is worthy of the audiences’ applause. As lightning-fast ‘Quick Silver’ Evan Peters steals every scene he is in. Placing a football stadium into a corral around the White House and the Sentinels descending from their coffin-shaped air-crafts gives a fine surrealistic feeling. All these delicious special effects are well contained without eating into movie’s emotional convictions. 

                              Fassbender and McAvoy delicately unleash their pent-up feelings. Jackman’s Wolverine, although cursed to suffer the torment of having his consciousness exist in two time frames, seems to be having great fun. Patrick Stewart once again excellently delivers his monologues. Jennifer Lawrence’s eyes evoke the chill fury of a hunter and waning smile of a hunted. Since she spends most of her time running, there aren’t many character moments for her. Game of Thrones fame Peter Dinklage’s Trask is more than a regular mad tyrant of Hollywood. His survival in the end, gives us hope to possibly see the actor doing a even more complicated villain in the upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Halle Berry, Ellen Page and the rest of the high-priced cast sleepwalks through their roles.

                             Banal dialogues sometimes null the pacing and the rewriting of entire X-Men history may give us a feeling that, in the past we sat through X-Men movies that never happened. However, the climax offers pleasures, which locks many plot threads and teasingly opens others. Although “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (130 minutes) is a superhero movie and a product of a studio giant, it finely attempts at contextualizing all the fantastical action and remember that, it haven’t stuck in a rut like the ‘SpiderMan’ movies. It’s a rare, perfect summer movie that incorporates popcorn entertainment into an intriguing environment. 


Narc -- A Tenacious Police Thriller

                                 Director Joe Carnahan’s “Narc” (2002) has all the grit and violence to attain the ‘straight-to-video’ status. It was filmed with energy and bravado, but since it didn’t have a millions of dollars as budget, it became a tough sell to the masses and eventually got a limited theatrical release. “Narc” is better than a regular buddy cop thriller and it wears 70’s tough authenticity of the police flicks, as seen in “Serpico” (1973) and “The French Connection” (1971). Carnahan’s rough-hewn film-making style borrows a little from diverse sources such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino. The plot is straightforward and simple, but the script is tightly written, which makes the film to rise above the generic roots.

                             The film opens with a nauseating, hysterical hand-held foot chase as undercover cop Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) chases down a psychotic junkie, scrambling over the fences and through the projects. The chase comes to an end, when the junkie pus a knife to child’s throat. Tellis has already lost one innocent bystander to this junkie, so without thinking he fires the gun incessantly. The junkie gets hit in the head. The child is not injured, but a stray bullet hits the kid's pregnant mother, filling the pavement with blood. Following the shooting incident, Detroit narcotics officer Tellis is sent off the force for nearly 18 months. Tellis also went through a rough detox program as his wife pregnant stood by him. At home he broods over his infant son. The restless Tellis was given an opportunity by homicide captain Cheevers (Chi McBride).

                             He has to solve the murder of undercover officer Michael Calvess (Alan Van Sprang), a crime that has no single lead. Tellis’ wife is once again afraid that he will put them through a private hell, but he eventually agrees to investigate the cop murder. He also asks for Calvess’ devoted ex-partner Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) to share the case’s burden. Oak has 93% conviction rate but also known for his short temper. We follow the course of investigation as the detectives move through a unimaginably dingy crack house, where a pathetic junkie has inadvertently vaporized his own skull with a shotgun, while trying to use it as a bong. We also get to know about the straining relationship between Tellis and his wife, and also about Oak’s personal sad story.    

                             Viewers who have seen lot of cop TV shows and movies are liable to feel themselves like law officers, easily recognizing when and why someone is lying. The story of ‘Narc’ looks similar to these TV shows, but the gripping script keeps you guessing and care about the characters. Ultimately, you might feel less about the why’s of the investigation and concern more about the responses of the two central characters. Contrary to Hollywood’s buddy cop formula, Tellis and Oak never fits together. One guy ready to chuck out rules for justice, while the other play by the rules, even though he is battling the drug demons. The swaggers of the police investigations are stripped down because mainly the script never forgets about its characters’ vulnerability. Carnahan imbues a lot of energy through smacks of stylish film-making tricks. He uses the stark, colorless wintry climate of Detroit to reflect the fuzzy mindset of Tellis. The hyper-stylized techniques, as seen in Oliver Stone’s movies, never threaten to overwhelm the story and characters. Nonetheless, Carnahan could have kept down some of the repetitive flashbacks, visual stress and the constant emphasis.

                             Both Patric and Ray Liotta sink their teeth into such complex characters. The understated edgy portrayal of Patric is riveting. He fills Tellis with a boiling anxiety. Liotta, who is often seen in nonsensical B-movies, gets a good role and he happily tears into it. He exudes the unstable state and frustration that comes with investigating such violent crimes. The lack of a solid conclusion (ends with an ironic close-up of a tape-recorder, where the truth may or may not be captured) may leave the viewers wanting more, but those who only expected a explosive buddy cop movie will be immensely satisfied.

                           “Narc” (105 minutes) effectively transcends the cop thriller genre and is never afraid to take us into darker truths. It’s worth a watch for its multifaceted character and deeply felt performances. 


Whale Rider -- An Intoxicating Tale about Female Empowerment

                                     Many tribal societies have been patriarchal, where the concepts like female chief or leader is considered as abominable and an insult to Gods. In the modernized world, men from these societies have mostly forgotten their tradition and proud ancestry, embracing all the good’s and bad’s (alcohol) of Western world, but still view the idea of female empowerment as unthinkable. Ancient Maori tribes of New Zealand follow a religious custom to look for a boy, gifted with mystic abilities, to be their chieftain. Although the desolate Maori lands have fallen into the hands of colonizers, some of them fiercely believe in the 1,000 year old legend. A chief may not really descend from a whale to crusade against the invaders, but these were the only few ancient customs that might impart the next generation with the information of who they were and where did they came from?

                                   Lee Tamohari’s highly successful 1994 film “Once Were Warriors” painted a grim portrait about the Maori men, who have deigned from being great warriors to alcoholics and wife-beaters. However, director Niki Caro’s adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s 1986 novel “Whale Rider” (2002) possesses a deeply spiritual message about powerful patriarchal tradition and feel-good factor that might resonate with women all over the universe. It addresses the subject of the modern survival of indigenous people by presenting a more optimistic point-of-view than “Once Were Warriors.” The story takes place in a small fishing village in the eastern coast of New Zealand. The people are called ‘Whangara’, who believe in the legend of Paikea – demi-god ancestor arrived in New Zealand on the back of a whale. Since then, the first born of the Paikea descendant is considered as Whangara chieftain.

                                  Koro aka Paka (Rawiri Paratene) is the chief of this tribe, who is fed up with the hard modern times. He becomes extremely disappointed when his first-born son Porourangi (Cliff Curtis) exhibits no interest in becoming the next chief. When his son’s wife gets pregnant he hopes for a grandson to lead his tribe. But, unfortunately the still-born baby boy and his mother dies, leaving out a twin sister. Porourangi against his father’s wish names the girl Paikea. Grief-stricken Porourangi leaves Pai in the care of his father and mother Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton), and leaves abroad to continue his sculpting works. Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), now aged 12, often feels Koro's disappointment that she survived. But, Koro, in his own way loves Pai. Considering his early frustrations, he has bonded well with Pai, since he picks her up every day from school on his bicycle.

                              Grandma Flowers provides all the moral support Pai needs and often jokes about divorcing Koro. Porourangi’s return from Germany flares all the old conflicts. He seems estranged and makes clear that he has no intention of becoming Koro’s successor. He also reveals that he is now expecting a child with a German girlfriend and also convinces Pai to come with him to Germany. Pai gets ready to take the trip with her father, but the mystic beauty of her coastal village pulls her back. She joyously stands before Paka saying “I’m Back”, but her craggy granddad only concentrates on opening a sacred school to educate local boys in the old ways. For Koro, tradition outweighs affection and so he ignores her. But, the strong-willed Pai defy all the odds to break Koro’s rigidity.

                              The success of an under-dog story is determined by the characters with whom we must empathize, and the harsh environment he/she overcomes. Niki Caro’s script and her actors own all these fine attributes. The script deftly balances domestic drama, humor and the fantasy element. Although the key events in an under-dog story are fairly predictable, Caro retains the emotional and intellectual honesty till the end, so that most of the time, things don’t get formulaic.  Writer/director Caro is not a Maori but her respect for the culture is evident, as she is said to have taken great pains to ensure the authenticity of the film, by hiring Maori advisors and indigenous extras, and by filming in the actual place where the book is set. The important theme of the novel and film is female empowerment, but there is no feminist smugness, which might have showcased that all men are villains. Since all the characters are three-dimensional, we get to regard the story from their point-of-view. The story also has a perfect ending, where the magical presence of majestic Whales merges the thousand year old legend with the new, contemporary beliefs.

                               Keisha Castle Hughes’s (who has never acted before) Pai is one of the best, nuanced child performances you might have ever seen on-screen. She is confident and strongly motivated, and yet locks in the fragility of a child. Keisha’s speech in the school event may wring some tears out of your eyes, since her emotional withdrawal is entirely believable. Her subtle vocal cues, predicament and expressive eyes are what make the movie more touching. Rawiri Paratene as Koro makes us picture our own granddads or great granddads who all had enough love in their hearts but rather got fiercely attached to old values and beliefs. Rawiri impeccably depicts an old man who couldn’t escape the rigidity of his upbringing.

                               “Whale Rider” (97 minutes) is an uplifting, universal tale that richly conveys how a little girl finds her true place among her people. It embraces both the fanciful beliefs of past-times and the new paths of modern world. 


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy -- A Realistic Look at the Spy Game

                           Whenever we hear the word ‘spy thriller’ the names such as Bond and Jason Bourne comes to our mind and along with them we visualize death-defying stunts, gorgeous female leads and high-octane chases. The super-spies of post World War II, cold-war and war on terror era have left out an indelible impression that their jobs are filled with jubilant adventures. However, if we could apply reason, we could ascertain that mind, not guns and fists matter in the spy game. In the early 60’s, British novelist John le Carre began spy novels that are grounded in reality. His famous protagonist ‘George Smiley’ was physically simple, anti-social and emotionally cold. In short, he possessed none of the characters of Bond.

                          Carre’s 1974 novel “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” went in for bureaucratic realism inside the British spy agency. In 1979, the novel was adapted by BBC television. Alec Guiness played George Smiley in the miniseries. But, a faithful adaptation of Carre’s novel into a movie still remained as a challenge. The narrative must be dense and there can’t be any room for mindless action sequence. Nearly four decades later (after the novel’s publication), director Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011) possessed all the perfect ingredients of Carre’s story and also retained contemporary relevance, reminding us that the ethical ambiguities of today’s Geo-politics is as complex as that of the cold war era.

                          The film is set in 1973. There’s a Russian mole in the British Secret Intelligence Services, commonly referred as the ‘Circus.’ Control (John Hurt), the leader of MI6 suspects that the mole planted by the Soviets is among the top circle. Control dispatches an agent named Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Budapest, Hungary is discover more details about the mole. But, the job gets botched and Jim lies in a pool of blood. The clumsy event also costs the job of Control and his devoted lieutenant George Smiley (Gary Oldman). The other seniors of the Intelligence agency are: the elegant Bill Haydon (Colin Firth); the meddlesome Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) – 'circus’ new leader; the morbid Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds); and the submissive East European expert Toby Esterhase (David Dencik).    

                          Alleline says he’s got a source inside Soviet intelligence and he runs ‘Operation Witchcraft’ by the information gained from the source. Smiley, before his resignation, makes clear to the top brass that he is skeptical about Alleline’s sources. Months after Control’s death, rogue agent named Ricki Tarr (Hardy) calls a government minister (Simon McBurney) and says that a Soviet mole has infiltrated the top circles of Circus. The minister secretly re-hires Smiley to discover the identity of the double agent. Smiley sets out to find which of his four former colleagues is the mole? Smiley’s man inside the ‘circus’ is a young, active agent Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch). By connecting missed out dots and digging up past records, Smiley plays a brain game with the most intelligent and ruthless operative of Moscow Center, codenamed "Karla."

                        ‘A group of great British actors, sitting around a table and talk’ – this was the last thing you expect from a spy thriller, but this is what exactly happens. At times, the story is hard to follow and the pace is too slow, but if you prefer gun fights and one-liners over proper English diction and effective, real tense situation then you might never cherish this film. Wearing over-sized glasses, Gary Oldman exhibits a magnificent stillness which is a spectacle to behold. He remains as the silent observer – takes in details, weighs them down and then builds a larger picture. In one of the early scene, Smiley rides in a car with young agents. A bee gets in. While the others thrash their arms, Smiley quietly rolls down his window and lets out the bee. Even that obscure scene, tells us about the character of Smiley and the way he unobtrusively conducts the espionage. The self-contained emotions of Oldman speak a lot than a dramatic grandstanding performance.

                        The script by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan employs a complex flashback structure which often cuts to the past without any explicit indications. On the surface, the story consists of a simple mystery, but the script possesses shades of gray (like the novel), implying that the heroes and villains are hard to come by in the real world. It’s hard to cram an intricate story into a two hour movie. So, some drabs of information might not make sense and some details might seem murky. But, this was meant to be like that. The party flashback scene that keeps recurring in parts looks very innocent at first, but each recurrence hints that something sinister is lurking in the background. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”) recreates the paranoia of 70’s and 80’s, with a palette dominated by grays and browns (filmed by ace cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema). He plays up the paranoia effectively, making each new disclosure engrossing. The patience he exhibits in telling the story is remarkable.  

                      “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (125 minutes) imparts us with a feeling that the spy work is not a glory-seeking job, but a painstaking process, conducted inside labyrinthine offices. It’s not an award-bait film. It demands patience and concentration from the viewers and in return it gives a captivating movie experience, without insulting our intelligence.