Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) – It’s a Beautiful Day

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An existentialist road movie from the master of crime does sound strange. But when it’s from a visionary, it tends to work out as Alice would substantiate. Sandwiched between Mean Streets (1973) and the cult Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese tried his hands on a low-budget feminist drama about life by peeking through the journey of a single-mother, her displaced son, and their adventures trying to earn a living and a slice of fame through austerity and honesty.

After her alcoholic husband (Billy Bush) passes away one mournful morning, Alice (Ellen Burstyn) has no support system. She has nowhere to go, nothing to do. A generic homemaker, Alice has spent most of her life under guidance of her parents and later her husband. Her only skill, per se, is music. But she has to cope with a new life, especially with her nagging pre-teen son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), her sole responsibility.

Alice decides to sell whatever’s left, keep the tidbits, and leave Socorro for Monterey to revive her singing career and presumably become the new Alice Fay. Yet, money doesn’t compromise and they’re forced to lodge in Phoenix. There she applies for jobs that require singing. For her, applying means knocking door-to-door offering her musical talent, but luck’s a hard bird to catch. With proper marketing, she does catch it, only for it to crumble down after her brief association with the suave, yet abusive husband of her next-door neighbor.

The mother and son flee again. This time, they reach Tucson. Lady luck strikes, Alice gets a job as a server at a fast food. It rolls smoothly there. She comes across peculiar characters, but hey–she’s working, she’s earning, and she has a wonderful son. Time rolls on for Alice until David (Kris Kristofferson) comes by. They fall in love, yadda, yadda. Again, Alice being the naïve country girl, she stumbles upon another setback, with her lover here. This time though, she doesn’t elope, but holds firm and continues her work.

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Alice is a bittersweet tale about the journey of a woman in an age when feminism was sharply rising. Scorsese picks an unassuming, simple woman to tell a story of a single-mother striving to survive, in a largely patriarchal society, with her son stuck within the four corners of a house. Perhaps, Scorsese added something of his own to the character of Tommy. By his own admission, Scorsese was an indoor child during his early days and spent much time watching TV and subconsciously learning the craft of filmmaking. There are good similarities between Martin Scorsese’s childhood and the childhood of Tommy, except he doesn’t live in nearby gangster town filled with mafias and wise guys. But, there are similarities…

Through this drama though, Scorsese previews the aftermath of tragedy for a housewife—who had no career of her own, not much in the name of property, and was all alone, with a young son, in a distant society. The story of Alice is about coping up and trying to create a niche for oneself. Alice and Tommy travel from here to there in search for a dignified life amidst strangers and demons. The purpose for Alice is to find work that would enable her and the son to live cozily, and would help her realize her childhood dream. In this small quest for dignity, they come across different people in different settings. Yet, they strive on together as candid buddies amid some amusing circumstances.

At the end, people do need support systems. All Alice is doing is seeking one—for her and for her son. And, Scorsese shows this with unwavering simplicity, a country charm, and unfiltered nobility. Alice doesn’t Live here Anymore is arguably the most underrated film from Scorsese, and throws a revealing reflection of what’s in store from the maverick filmmaker. It’s all easy to say that now 30 years after Alice, but for a select few, Roger Ebert comes to mind, they’d seen the legend of Scorsese before even Scorsese envisioned his role as an unparalleled storyteller.

Scorsese fans would no doubt love Alice for it’s unalike most Scorsese movies since then. It’s a refresher and I’d doubt many could guess that Alice came from Scorsese if they ignored the rolling titles, which serves Scorsese well. One of the criticisms against him have been lack of variety in his movies as opposed to Kubrick, Wilder, Spielberg, et al. Rather naïve to say that for people mistake his archetypical vision and stamp for lack of variety. He’s shown variety in plenty of movies, in diverse genres, Alice included.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a beauty. A gusty little story told with ease, the movie is warm, charming, and adorable just like the character of Alice. Ellen Burstyn carries the movie on her shoulders for which she deservedly won an Oscar for Best Actress, even though she’s known more for another classic, The Exorcist (1973). Other actors are in fine form, especially Diane Ladd as the foul-mouthed server, Flo.

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Alice comes across as a simple documentation of  life. For those who admire existentialist dramas, coming of age movies, or the lovely liberty of a second chance, or for film buffs, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a fine experience and a swift watch encompassing the spirit of life’s tangibility and exemplifying that if life throws lemons at you, just make lemonade. After all, you’re only as healthy as you feel, no?

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The Theory of Everything (2014) – A Journey in Time

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It might be okay to say that The Theory of Everything is based on Jane Hawking’s memoir even though director James Marsh films a much glamorized and dramatized version—tweaking facts here and there. The book is an extended summary of Jane’s life with the most famous Physicist alive today, Stephen Hawking.

Much before Stephen Hawking became the Hawking; he walked, talked, and moved like every other person. Behind this theorist in physics was a genius youngster budding to know more about the universe, the black hole, and time. Yet, The Theory of Everything isn’t about science and Hawking’s feat as a scientist. It treads on a path few know: his love life, his personal story, and his trials and tribulations as a youngster, later adult, who was supposed to perish years before A Brief History of Time, but he persevered, he moved on, and made a mark on the world.

Meet young Stephen W. Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), an Oxford undergrad student. During these days of exuberance, Hawking meets Arts students, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). They formulate something spectacular together, whilst enjoying the blossoming of love and admiration for one another. Stephen likes Jane, she likes Stephen—a marriage of arts and science, what more could anybody ask for? But the universe had other plans for Stephen and Jane.

In his early days as a Ph.D. student at Cambridge, doctors diagnose Hawking of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neurone disease, which has since defined him. Because of this degenerative condition, Hawking would lose control over his basic motor functions, his muscles progressively lapsing. The doctors predict 2 years tops after which Hawking would escape the tangible whole, and be born into the intangible infinity. Such was, of course, not to be the case—for Stephen Hawking happened to be born the very day he realized, he was on borrowed time.

The Theory of Everything is a nostalgic fare even if you’ve never experienced the English college scene or the social life in the 60s. It has a Victorian feel to it and flanked by soulful background scores (Jóhann Jóhannsson) and absorbing images (Benoît Delhomme), the movie seems straight out of a Jane Austen novel than a rendering of an ex-wife’s version of the her time with her genius husband. As expected, the movie is closer to Jane Wilde’s biography than Hawking’s My Brief History, but Marsh makes it appear more romantic, more prosaic than Jane articulated in the book.

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Theory is more artistic than scientific, more about the heart than the mind, more about domestic life than wild work. This isn’t surprising though as Jane Hawking is a Professor of Romanticism and a laureate of Medieval Spanish Poetry. She tells this story from her lens, which isn’t always sweet, but feels genuine. Artistically enhanced by the screenwriter’s (Anthony McCarten) own fancy, Theory grows as a wistful unrest between two people with different ideologies—one a bratty atheist, other the brooding Christian.

Later in their lives, Jane Wilde slips out of romance with Hawking and pursues another man, a musician, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox). Stephen can only witness this with his eyes, process it with his brain, and accept it with his psyche. With time though, the universe sends another partner for Stephen in the form of his nurse and soon to be closest confidante, Elaine Mason (Maxine Paeke). He cultivates a fondness for her and she does too—worshipping the dust beneath his wheels. In real life though, controversy ever surrounded this couple, which later materialized in a divorce in 2006.

Although March and McCarten sugarcoat major events of the movie, we still get a picture closer to reality. The duo hasn’t shied from taking ample, yet effective cinematic liberty in their pursuit to forge a warm story. Both Stephen and Jane are humans, rooted to the core, and Marsh attempts to focus on their highlight reel, whilst shunting the behind-the-scenes bloopers under the bed, which is why Theory, as a standalone, settles as a cozy tale rather than a cent percent authentic reflection of the lives of both Stephen and Jane.

Felicity Jones assumes the avatar of Jane Wilde in a manner that would make the owner of the name proud. She’s splendid as the girl depressingly in love, as the wife of Hawking, as the mother of three, and as the secret lover of a fellow artist. Her growth from Ms. Wilde to Mrs. Hawking to soon-to-be Mrs. Jones is marvelously summed up by her stern performance. Even though her character comes across as self-centered at times, this oddity gives Jones a platform to execute her acting prowess, which she does with vindication. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking is flawless—very similar to the man himself. The mannerisms, speech, style, and even the look, a great job by the make-up and design artists, Eddie has to be a front-runner for the nominations this year.

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The Theory of Everything is an elegiac experience that speculates about love and compassion more so than science and evolution. It’s a rekindled narrative of hope and passion and one gem of a movie—if only you absorb it as cinema and not a word-by-word adaptation of a biography. Playfully poetic in its prose, romantic amidst pragmatism, and a bittersweet tale, just be sure to ignore reality and immerse yourself into the universe of the movie.

The Lake House (2006) – When Love Calls

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A dreamy story about two time-separated romantic loons, The Lake House pitches Sandra Bullock (Kate Forster) opposite Keanu Reeves (Alex Wyler) in a love story spanning several years for one (Wyler), mere months for the other (Forster). When Kate leaves her beautiful lake house for better pastures, she slips a letter for the new tenant of the house requesting the would-be tenant to forward her letters, if they fall into the box, to her new address. The recipient of the mild gesture, Wyler is somewhat startled by her letter since nobody has lived in the isolated lake house for years. The two exchange their precarious understanding of what all of this could mean before realizing that they are separated by two years. Wyler, in 2004, is renovating the remote haven, while Kate, in 2006, has left the bliss of the lake house and moved to work as a medical practitioner in nearby Chicago.

You could say paradox is the key in understanding this unrealistic, but engaging movie. The Lake House isn’t about reasoning as you’ve already sensed. You have to feel it. Some may feel it. Some may find it forged and pretentious. Wherever you stand, you’re probably correct. The Lake House falls in those categories of movies that are sure to upsurge polarizing appraisals; some seem to hate it, some just love it. Seems apt for a movie that crushes logic apart and locks viewers in a state of emotional awe thanks to the vivid sentiments oozing out of the screen—perplexing and soothing as a whole, but not entirely flawless.

Alejandro Agresti clasps the themes of relating and retrospection by drawing symmetry between the characters. Their underlying states resemble each other. On one side, Wyler has a bleak relationship with his single-father (Christopher Plummer) and on the other side, Forster is in friendly terms with her single mother (played by Willeke van Ammelrooy). At the same time, both, Wyler and Forster have special confidents—for Wyler it’s his brother (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and for Forster, it’s probably Anna (Shohreh Aghdashloo). These extraneous characters slice up the psychology of the two lovers, which enables viewers to understand the lovingly absurd predicament of Alex and Kate. Yet most importantly, it gives us a peek into their state of mind—and somewhere deep within them, their yearning for something to happen.

These interactions also aid in understanding their backstories. Wyler carrying an unassuming persona of a man unable to forgive his father—his father’s insatiable ambitions derailed their family and ultimately led to the demise of his mother. Forster’s one-dimensional and pragmatic approach to life, although painful at times to watch despite the fanatical, subdued romance not bound to time and space, reflects her glooms and a sturdy predicament of a lonely woman stranded amidst the hustle and bustle of Chi Town.

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A very good analogy of the circumstances of Wyler and Forster would be the lake house itself. Located away from the crowd of Chicago, isolated and abandoned, the two lovers share the same tranquility and the innate detachment with their surroundings akin to the lake house. Inside them, one would perhaps find a whirlpool of retrospection alienating them from the present, from reality, hence, forcing their hand into trying something supernatural, something fantastic, which would suggest their out worldly romance. Both people bound by time and space, yet fighting against the same dynamics; how fitting that they discover solace in a true romantic saga straight out from the lands of fairytales. As a tangible story though, it comes from South Korea (a remake of the beautiful Il Mare). As such, the story doesn’t have to make sense logically. In the realm of the movie, the romance beyond time is a fitting complement to the time-ruptured states of two people who build and protect—whether it’s lifeless physical buildings or full-of-life souls within the physical.

Talking of this romantic melancholy, the soulful, almost timeless, background score adds a rich ripple to the movie (music by Rachael Portman), if one could borrow the liberty of relating the movie to the lake itself. Through each swing of musical notes, the viewer moves deeper into the psyche of the story and this makes for a resounding experience of emotional scrutiny—almost awe-inspiring, the visuals on the screen and the musical harmony off the screen collaborating to paint a wonderful drama about relating, waiting, and understanding.

Behind each of these painted frames is one world so abundant and artistic that in itself gives a warm feeling and a stylish look—romantic in its own way. The world of the movie and the cuddling warmth, the wonderful use of vibrant colors, and the cinematography (Alar Kivilo) mainly emphasizing long and mid shots of Chicago’s architecture, whilst creating an atmospheric setting is a major plus and strengthens the already strong spiritual tie with the drama on-screen.

For what it is, the story is loopy and it demands unwavering attention from you to understand what’s happening. Even though the concept is simple, it gets confusing at parts. Some of the major plot points seem unconvincing, which may bug the viewers—but one has to ask, when has romance ever made sense, or when has there been a consistent pattern to romance? I watched Lake House with an open heart and I loved it—probably a bit more than I should have, but it was touching, ironically relatable, and even melting.

It’s not for everybody, but the few takers of this movie would appreciate the mood it creates. Not a classic, but it’s not as bad as the reputation it has garnered. The movie gives a lucid picture of the timelessness of reality, but underlying all of this is the truth of the inevitability of time, and the span of action that only time decides and nothing else.

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With a captivating story that is beyond realism and a true saga of hope and redemption, it might just be a perfect date movie, or better, a movie that sums up everything inconsistent about love and relationships. Utterly sweet, mindlessly sensible, dreamy, heartfelt, and oh-so artistic, The Lake House is a guilty pleasure. If you’re dreamy, try this. It’s beautiful.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) – The Life and Times of Adam and Eve

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What could Jim Jarmusch add to the obsolete and worn down folklore of vampires? An offbeat reprise, with harmonic scores from Jozef van Wissem and Jarmusch’s own, SQÜRL, entrenched with yesteryear musical classics would seem adequate. Not quite, it would seem, as Jarmusch weaves a simple Goth drama about two eternal lovers and ultimately brings about a compelling movie contrasting with traditional vampire myths and symbols.

Living in two distant cities, Eve (Tilda Swinton) in Tangier and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) in Detroit, these lovers have endured the depths of time in the veracity of the world’s glooms living through every major movement, phase, and epidemic the world has experienced. Life, however, doesn’t take a stark turn for them until Eve’s ungrown sister (Mia Wasikowska) appears and when she does; it coagulates their haven with practices of traditional vampirism. You could say the last resort. From there on, eternal darkness it is for the only two lovers left alive or undead, as Stoker would charm them, yet plodding in their own ambience of seclusion.

Right from the onset, Only Lovers Left Alive induces a cool feeling. The serene environment here is almost meditative and as a viewer, you clutch on to the atmosphere, which seems divinity until you watch the red juice (wine?), the red ice on stick (Popsicle?), or the red juice inside an alcohol tumbler (whisky?). The blood doesn’t gross you out. Think of a situation when somebody is sucking on a Popsicle of iced blood. Sounds sordid, doesn’t it? Sure, it does, but it also makes you sympathize with these innocent beings and their unusual dilemma. Serves as a bona fide testament to the storytelling prowess of Jarmusch—vampires seem innocent despite feasting on blood.

It would be an understatement to suppose that Jim Jarmusch brings his indie touch to this conventional and downright preposterous sub-genre. But it’s also the truth. In today’s 24-hr. media frenzy society where active isolation is considered a defect, Jarmusch poses a scenario for people who’d want that seclusion amidst the bareness of society. Having no option per se, Adam and Eve are forced to constrict themselves to their passions—music for Adam, literature for Eve. Melting together, we’d find two geniuses with centuries of training talking about hypothetical concepts beyond the comprehension of zombies, as Adam refers to humans, and the descendants of decay that is humanity. When these obtruding zombies threaten to devastate their utopian romance, life itself becomes a challenge for these oblivious lovers. As viewers, we could only journey alongside them in this tussle, never with them.

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Only Lovers Left Alive deviates from standard vampire norms and puts spotlight on the precariousness of vampires in today’s world. Distinct to other movies of the same kind, we don’t observe guilds of vampires here, or petty rivalries between vampires and humans or wolves. The story isn’t about Count Dracula or any count, nor does it unswervingly source itself from the bundles of vampire movies that have come out since Transylvania. Is it enchanting though? Absolutely.

The pastels decorate Only Lovers like painting, art, which is what the movie is. The nocturnal filming together with the distant use of lighting, the musical scores, the performances, and the subtle camera movements brush the dreariness of life on each frame invoking a glumness, arresting our spirit, and reflecting the world that could be in front of our eyes with elegance.

Misery is latent in this drama about melancholy. The performances of both Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston mirror misery, but it’s not the misery of isolation; it’s misery after failing to attain a dignified recluse. And for vampires to survive they need fresh, red juice. Adam has his own supplier thanks to the heavy chunk of money he exchanges for the O negative. Eve, in Tangier, has the maestro Marlowe (John Hurt) giving her the good stuff. For how long? That is the catch and when such is the delicateness of the situation, one would ponder—when stacked against all odds, would these lovers respond to the call of Nature or Nurture? Remember, geniuses they may be through centuries of reflection, but they are mere slaves of the unnatural, without which, life is untenable for them.

The movie as a whole feels like a soulful opera. Warm lights, beautiful images, and a disheartening tone—mirroring a tragic play. At 2 hours long, the pace is slow and brooding, but it doesn’t let go. Drawing you into the action, it holds onto you, even after the curtains have rolled. The plot is hardly significant, almost insubstantial for the dramatic eye and that may appear the weak point, yet is it? On the contrary, it’s perhaps the most absorbing part. The story is centered in its subtlety—a musical gothic drama, the most accomplished one in vampirism, we could suggest.

Flowing like music itself and gripping the viewer in awe of the world of Only Lovers Left Alive, the movie explores the horrors of vampires in a way never been done before. Only Lovers is contemplative and exposes the bleakness of such a life, almost drawing a parallel to an outcast. Who is this outcast in reality? Only vampires or any human bold enough to defy the norms of society; that is up to the viewers to decide. Nonetheless, it’s a question worth pondering upon and this artistic drama would tempt you to put on those thinking hats and ponder upon the value of emotions over actions, living over life.

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One of the simplest movies from Jarmusch, but also the most complex perhaps, Only Lovers Left Alive isn’t everybody’s wine. For those who appreciate the deeper quality, the sheer redness of the fruit, and the romantic taste, Jarmusch’s latest is a thrilling entry into the legend of vampirism and a movie worth applauding for its beauty and contrast.

Ek Villain (2014) – A Hero’s Journey

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Listening to Shraddha Kapoor’s loud chatter five minutes into the movie, one feels like cringing—something too melodramatic and uncompromising to all senses of the body. As Aisha (played by Shraddha) prattles on and on about the innate goodness in human beings, the typical bubbly, girl-next-door persona, an uber incarnation of a good-hearted and joyous personality riddled in her own grief comes to the fore, viewers realize that this is yet another rehash of a typical Bollywood heroine. By this time, we’re already in the flashback taking us to an episode in Goa when our heroine finally meets her villain, or hero—or perhaps just a human being whom she wishes to save played by Sidharth Malhotra (as Guru).

Amidst all the melodrama, the movie treads a routine path, albeit following a non-linear approach, but as the slogan of the movie reads, “Every love story has a villain,” this love story has plenty. The story reveals about Shraddha’s fatal condition. The audiences realizing that she is on borrowed time dying from cancer it seems—something that’s completely left to the viewer to decipher.

Taking a page off countless medically doomed love stories and of course the plot being a watered-down version of I See The Devil (2010), Mohit Suri packs this movie with some tight scenes and solid story progression amidst a rather poorly constructed plot and underdeveloped motives, ultimately, standing as a movie somewhere in between good and poor.

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Ritesh Deshmukh as the psychotic serial killer, Rakesh Mahadkar, is one fine showing and a deviation from what he usually portrays on the screen. Showing his restrained, twisted, and manipulative self, Ritesh is excellent as the meek family man—who loves killing for a hobby—and devastatingly creepy as the man under the raincoat, when he takes the avatar of a killer. This is arguably the deepest point of the movie, yet the manner in which Rakesh’s leisure collides with the juggernaut called Guru is rather predictable and when that happens, it doesn’t entice the viewer into feeling what the director would want viewers to feel. Mohit Suri tries to use the cause-effect relationship and is partly successful in doing so. The problem lies in the unconvincing revenge drama more so than the overtly Bollywood-ish romantic saga.

Shraddha Kapoor has a strong screen presence and whenever she’s on the screen, it’s a delight. Her loud acting in the opening sequences and prolixity apart, Shraddha is okay in her role of the goody, good princess who finds her prince charming in the unlikely goon, the angry young man, Guru. Sidharth Malhotra was better than he was in Student of the Year (2012), and even though, he looks like a clear-cut model for men’s inner wear than the badass shown in the movie, not his fault to be honest, he deliverers a decent performance.

The various analogies and tidbits Suri uses in the movie calls for a smart sense of detail like the first marriage in the Church between an old couple—where Guru starts developing feelings for Aisha—becomes the holy ground where Guru realizes his path towards redemption. The scene between Rakesh and our very own Kamaal Rashid Khan (as Brijesh) shows Rakesh minutely observing the reaction of Brijesh’s wife to the outburst of her husband, expecting some sort of reaction, giving us a glance into Rakesh’s mentality and his loathing for women who blabber too much, except his beloved wife played by Aamna Sharif.

Despite all the inspirations, Ek Villain is a movie that could have been a classic thriller if Suri had created meaningful semblance between the two parallel layers of the movie. It’s still a decent watch and many would perhaps enjoy it. It has the Mohit Suri ingredients, which has resulted in many box-office successes for him over the years. As a movie though, Ek Villain rides high on the performance of Ritesh Deshmukh, the inspirational quotes of inspiring personalities, and the evolution of Guru—from a ruthless killer to a devoted messiah. The final scene of the movie is a beautiful gesture and when the ending is spot on, it’s hard not to come out vindicated.

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Don’t go in with high expectations. It’s a typical (hence, imbalanced) Suri flick, but with excellent music and a strong performance by the antagonist (Ritesh Deskhmukh). The story is passable, the revenge drama not quite so.

Her (2013) – Social Networking

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Her is clear-cut. It’s a straight romantic drama gilded with a sci-fi element providing it a noticeable platform in creating a sophisticated predicament to tell a story that has been told countless times before and perhaps will share many more such instances if the success and raving reviews of Her are anything to go by. In that sense, Her is a picture perfect movie about relationships in a technological deterministic world, where social relationships degenerate into a bubble of obscurity, when humans seek companionship of machines, artificially intelligent machines, to fill the void glaring in their lives. Such is the melody of Her.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the lonely, depressed Theo coming off a noxious breakup against childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theo finds love through the state-of-the-art computer operating system, OS 1—who calls herself, or itself, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Enter the grace of this OS rich in empathy, clouded by feelings, and a gregariousness of human epitome, Samantha brings love to Theo and in return, she gets the undiluted affection of the same man once lonely and suffering the pangs of separation.

Some movies are an exhibition of the austerity of cinema and symbolize the sheen of movies. Others are perplexing for various reasons. Some may be the perennial offbeat experience, whilst others may be the experience out of expression one gains watching a story unfold. After all, it’s life in motion and cinema is a medium of an expression that is born from words and climaxes with the perception of each unique individual. From an observational standpoint, Her is a paradox. It appears in the spaces between words, as the enigmatic reality called Samantha puts it in the movie, which is quite a right phrase to explain the world of Her in all its relativity.

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I would classify Her in two categories. First, as a cinema and second, as a story. Talking about the cinematic composition of Her, the movie is a chef-d’oeuvre of art and expression. When I talk of the cinematic aspect, I’m capturing the essence of Her as an aesthetic enterprise focusing on the gloss that enhances the experience of cinema. We’ve probably seen this movie many times before. We’ve heard this story many more times, as such. But there is something about the lyrical screenplay of Her that catches you—holds on to you and lets you relax, enjoying the steady ride peeving into the life of one man and his interpretations of dreams. The unfolding of a clichéd story that could be interchanged to another setting or another dimension overwhelms the story itself and Spike Jonze gets the screenplay of the movie right, even though the premise is dazzling, yet the story isn’t quite up to the mark. That’s also where the aesthetic overtakes the story…

Almost romantic in its swift, languid visuals, Her creates a world that is both warm and distant. When you observe the world around Theo, his quandary, and those various people around him, Her sets a subtle tone that engrosses your fancy and creates a mood that is euphoric at times, deliberate at others, and plain gloomy many other times, yet Jonze never fails to highlight the giant influence our surrounding, the society, and Nature has on us—no matter how much we evolve as a being and as a technological marvel. That, right there, flies high as the central theme of the movie under the multifarious mask of social relationship, technological singularity, technological determination—the underlying current of evolution and where it leads us—becomes the single-pointed foundation of Her.

Wrapping these complex mechanisms that may be theoretical today, practical tomorrow, Her resembles a painted veil under which we find hidden the core of connection. How ironic, the fabricated connection of networks seems to be sweeping us away from the physical, natural connection that is the foundation of singularity in the world—from human singularity to technological singularity, the evolution of the world stemming from one root dashes into a zone promising to alienate one from the other and as always, the casualties are no one else but us, the morbid, vulnerable, and invincibly weak human beings.

The philosophy of Her, captured in a rhythmic motion; Her is just soothing to watch, even though the silence in that sphere is deafening. The deafening silence through the instinctive musical composition compliments the feel of the movie. While watching the movie, you’re taken back by the touching composition (Arcade Fire) ornamenting the grand experience, whilst giving us a firsthand information of the ailing absurdity presented in this exotic milieu called Her. Perhaps the biggest compliment would be that the background score makes this movie what it is. Despite the story being a glorified rom-com, the soothing, intuitive score facilitates the birth of a spiritual mood. This platonic score meshing with a musical cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema), along with a terrific production design, the aesthetics of Her are hard to match, yet as an experience, it’s absorbing and dynamic—bewitching, for lack of a better word.

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Flowering Her with all these adjectives, still, I found the story of Her to be the weakest link. The romantic relationship between a human and a machine may sound promising, but when it comes to the delivery of such a great premise, the story suffers from the same old treatment rom-coms are prone to suffer—great premise and decent progression, then the death of being in a Catch 22 situation. By the end, Her turns into a melodramatic saga, an affair between a man and a machine, with the makers, it would appear, losing vision on whether to sway philosophical, end it as a spiritual revitalization, or ultimately shed the message that each kind is designed for their kind and only such can take this massive ball of consciousness ahead, which if true is a deep thought translated awkwardly onto screen.

Take the instance of Samantha, replace her with your ordinary Jane or Mary, what difference would that provide? Not much… Perhaps instead of a machine with a sultry, sexy voice, we’d find an average looking human with an average voice. The point: the status quo would remain the same. The underlying crisis wouldn’t change and as far as humans go, that’s just the way we are, but for machines, the evolution of machines seems to be way out of the fizz called human understanding. For such a marvel of Nature, fabricated marvel that is, the standpoint stands completely different because they’re looking at the broader picture and we’re mere selfish social animals… Now the major point, isn’t that always the reason for grief in relationships? We’re always looking at the same scenario with different shades… In this entire tussle, I actually found Amy Adams’ character (as Amy) the most interesting and relatable. Amy’s simplicity, expressions, and the pure incorruptibility of her character were far touching and elaborate than Samantha’s fictitious tension, or Theo’s aura of dejection.

Regardless, Her is a complicated translation of relating. I wouldn’t call it relationships because it sounds passive. Relating sounds active and Her tries to cover the active trait of relating. In doing so, it manages to inspire us with the detailed camerawork, soulful music, and of course, the beautiful heavenly, isolated paradise at display in the movie. The way the movie unfolds; that’s perhaps not up to the level one would seek. Essentially, Her is stereotypical, has the same generic approach we see in most romantic comedies, but you’d still enjoy it and what sets it apart from the rest is the concept and the world we experience in the film.

I won’t say I was as enlightened by the movie as many have been, but I’m glad I watched it and you owe it a watch too. Old wine, new bottle seems apt, but underneath the old wine, there’s a disquieting message and a bird’s eye view of our society and the direction we desire to move towards in the name of scientific evolution. Consequently, Her has a piercing downhearted tone to it, which it manages to convey.

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Amidst all the techno-craft and post-modernization phenomenon, some aspects of life never change. We never really stop connecting, whether it’s through visible wires, waves, invisible wires, or using the most aboriginal techniques of connection; we always seek that tiny bit of network, our tiny world we call it. Precisely, what Her wants to transport: the world of connections and in a silly, lovely, and flawed manner, Her manages to analyze society and more importantly, human understanding. All of this, in a visual way taking us through one end of the spectrum, the human side, to the other end of the same tube, the inhuman side. It’s always about Her after all, is it not?

Audition (1999) – Cruel Intentions

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Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) is a fragile young woman subjected to abuse and molestation by her uncle, half-father, and it would appear—every man in the world. That’s her subconscious projecting reality. Growing under cruel intentions, Asami shapes herself as a distant person. She is not what she seems. In the same city, a well-established Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), single-father, after living through loneliness as it would appear again, resolves to find a prospective partner. Designed with such objectives, Aoyama and his friend, played by Jun Kunimura, hold a mock audition under the mask of a casting exercise for a new movie. In the auditions, Aoyama and Asami face off, and from there on, begins their saga of romance, healing, and redemption.

Released in 1999, a movie that catapulted Takashi Miike into fame, Audition isn’t a horror movie—or at least, it has nothing related with the popular coinage of horror in films. As a director, Miike has established himself as one versatile artist behind the lens. Audition is that epitome of an example engulfing the filming philosophy of Miike, whist decorating horror in a different light in a style strictly reserved to Asian filmmakers and the Cinema of Asia.

Audition is a perplexing, pragmatic story; the emphasis lying on the thematic delivery of today’s social issues, succoring the intrigue of horror as its rollers, in this cinematic journey from outside to inside. As a movie, it has a guise under which we could find layers of metaphorical realities pervading our world. Utilizing a distortive method in dictating this dramatic horror, the story—penned as a novel by Ryu Murakami—has this woman, Asami, acting out her psychological conditionings, a result of a history of violence as a tool for catharsis. Going by the limb of Philosophy, what you get is what you have and what you have is what you could give. Using this mantra, the despair associated with childhood becomes the centripetal point and gives direction to life, the very perspective rising out of this minute phenomenon. This evidence, in form of visual and narrative fiction, finds its reprise through Asami—her deliberate, thorough, and premeditated mode of processing with one single point in her life: to give back what she got…

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The polar opposite of Asami, her prospective suitor, is another such individual, but of the normal kind in this society having the power and position to dictate terms and treat those less privileged beings in an exclusive manner suitable to those who belong. His point of view is hardly revealed in the narrative, yet in the sequences that takes us to the precursor of it all, we understand the story in a cloudy, grose, and almost puke-worthy fashion—all seeming obvious to the eyes.

As a cinema, Audition takes shape as a tale of two contrasting forces of which is shown in a dark romantic coating for much of the time. Only in the final third of the movie, we get to witness the mysterious prosecution explode with mass sadism at its zenith. Much of the sadism and the onscreen violence is a mere reflector of the inner psychology of the characters alive in the movie—a symbolic staging that is painful to watch because of the numbing, utterly chaotic portrayal. The psychological impact the entire thing has on the psyche of the viewer while watching all of that unravel in the final portions—shuddering, spine chilling…

Despite such a twisted, and a bizarre plot meshed with an artistic charm for much of it; only to be crippled by the surreal display of explicit viciousness, Audition floats as a gutsy metaphor against male chauvinism opposed by vehemence against female suppression, which makes this movie a mind-twister and a heart-wrencher… Ideally, Audition is an exhibition of women harassment exploding as something many would wish they never saw, or worse, experienced.

The ingredients varying, all of these make Audition deceptive and a movie with a parade of motifs, which may sound cinematic but is grim to watch, and digest. It really does go to the extent of mayhem during the ending portions. Personally, I felt like turning off the whole thing just out of disgust. That, of course, shouldn’t be interpreted as a knock against the movie. It simply characterizes the extent of the ruthless impact the movie manages to forecast into the viewers. As chaotic as the movie turns out, it is a great testament to the capabilities of Takashi Miike in packaging this unholy and minuscule story into a repulsive horror that starts with the nuances of a romantic mystery and ends as a traumatic experience.

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Appreciating the presentation as I have, I can’t say I’d ever go back and celebrate this movie like I would with other horror classics from Asian Cinema. I’d suggest those who appreciate atmospheric movies and have the belly to digest the unwanted frailties to watch Audition. It might not be the ideal cinematic experience, but is a fine representation of the power of art—being one of the few horrors that are closer to reality than the supernatural. It haunts you not because of the darkness but through the lens of perversity existent in broad daylight. For the sake of cinema, you may watch this dreadful demolishment of power; as an experience, the impression this movie stamps on you may not resemble any adjective aimed at flowering a positive remark. At your own, expense…

Main Tera Hero (2014) – Heroism

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“After Krrish 3, there’s Kiss 3 now!” Rajpal Yadav.

David Dhawan is back with his illogical, slapstick comedy that would never really make sense but it does promise entertainment in an ample dose. The King of Comedy has a string of disappointments to his name since Partner hit the screens in 2007, but with the father-son duo combining for the first time, Main Tera Hero suddenly feels different to David Dhawan’s staple flicks. The keyword is feel because Main Tera Hero isn’t different, in reality, to what we’ve associated with David Dhawan. It’s the same treatment of a mindless saga going on and on with a feel good climax, which is always welcomed, but when we have been fed with such movies for 25 years, one does beg to question the point in all of this.

Main Tera Hero is a story of Seenu (Varun Dhawan)—the archetypical reprise of the countless characters Govinda has helmed in his days as the Comedy King. With an array of whacky, mindless characters present to add some eccentric one-liners, some that are hilarious, others that are cheap and of the bare kind, the movie a paraded parody of Dhawan’s own style of filmmaking. Main Tera Hero is nothing more than an overstretched remake of a Tamil movie (Kandireega) having some shots of brilliant comedy, yet an overtly stupid movie relying on the quirkiness of the various characters that we have been watching since our childhood.

To call it a Varun Dhawan show wouldn’t be inaccurate. David Dhawan does his job aptly in establishing Varun’s image as the next masaledaar superstar of Bollywood. Keeping that in mind, he gives all the space to Varun to stretch his muscles, show off his style, imitate Govinda, and carry along the eccentricity of Salman Khan in what is a mixture of all jokes put together in one movie to serve as Varun Dhawan’s image building project. The star cast gives a nostalgic feel, with Anupam Kher, Shakti Kapoor, Rajpal Yadav, Raju Kher, Manoj Pahwa, and the likes incensing the movie with a nostalgic call from the past, and typical as it is, the movie is nothing but a relived version of the partnership between David Dhawan and Govinda in a new era. Old wine, new bottle, and such mumbo-jumbo.

The actors paired opposite to Varun Dhawan, Ileana d’Cruz as Sunaina and Nargis Fakhri as Ayesha, have nothing substantial to do than provoke the testosterone of some horny passenger in this exhibition about heroism. One could even call Ileana the hanger in the wardrobe because that’s what she is! She does need to rethink her career decisions because after Barfi (2012), Ileana has been doing these slapstick comedies where she’s been nothing more than an eye candy. Whenever she did open her mouth, it was cringe-worthy. On the other hand, Nargis Fakhri did have a better role, the comedy and all, than Ileana, but the stony, yet seductive expressions of Fakhri would work well in enhancing her status as a siren, but does nothing to her as an actor. What she did in Madras Café (2013) was commendable; what does here, minus some funny scenes, is just showing off what she has.

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After consecutive urban Rom-Coms, Main Tera Hero is akin to vintage Bollywood Cinema of the 90s and earlier part of last decade. I liked it more than Bewakoofiyaan (2014), which isn’t saying a lot because the movie isn’t really good, but that’s not why it was made, was it? Barring the brilliant verses by Saurabh Shukla, some hilarious dialogues and scenes, and of course, Varun Dhawan’s typical personification of the Bollywood superstar, Main Tera Hero is a futile movie, a ridiculous madcap by David Dhawan that is not intriguing. It’s okay if you have free time and wish to revisit David Dhawan’s vision of cinema, but if you have anything better to do, just sip the coffee.

Chungking Express (1994) – The Complexities of Being Human

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Cast

Cop 663 – Tony Chiu Wai Leung
Faye – Faye Wong
Cop 223 – Takeshi Kaneshiro
Woman in Blonde Wig – Brigitte Lin
Air Hostess – Valerie Chow
Manager of the Café – Chen Jinquan

Imagine a city with a robustness of an industrial menace scattered with people from various cultures and races; imagine the crowd making it impossible to breathe the air of divinity. Imagine yet again—feeling lost and lonely around the branches of this unforgiving dystopia, or now, imagine just once more being in Wong Kar Wai’s world of Hong Kong through his vision unifying with his imagination, and his unraveling of life in Asia’s city of dreams… Two allegorical stories wrapped in one film, Chungking Express expresses the cold and distant nature of Hong Kong. People confined within the physical throngs with an ethereal ambiguity—fighting for their own space, yet lost in the emptiness that is truly within this world. This very unforgiving lust of the city to gulp within every micro emotion flying takes the stage for an abstruse drama from a filmmaker who has created his own niche as a master of storytelling.

Two men in uniform, Cops 223 and 663, face the same predicament—floating in love and tragedy. Both with their eyes set on finding solace. Seeking a companion to share their life with, to give love, and receive some in return, both these cops find somebody, but what comes with that somebody is hardly what they bargained for. Cop 223 finds a companion in an underworld woman, while Cop 663 receives redemption through a free-spirited intrigue; quirky, eccentric, and adorable.

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Chungking Express features Wong Kar Wai’s hyperkinetic camera movement, angles, and uniquely executed shots building a bizarre and anticipatory feeling in the viewer. The burry motion images used appropriately and the magnificent utilization of a pause-play, background time lapse reveal the psychology of the characters in a far more convincing manner—using it as a vehicle to express the emotions of the movie through smooth images and filming. That would, of course, only compliment the overall flow of the movie if the movie was backed by a strong storyline and astute execution, which hardly needs to be exemplified for Wong Kar Wai’s unique presentation of a dysfunctional mystery is rich as a story and effective as a film.

Complex characters, real world, real events, and simple stories; the motto has always been the same for Wong Kar Wai. Using the same formula, a second nature for the director, Chungking Express has distinct, multi-layered characters that resemble real-life people giving it a tangible feel that is backed significantly by some of the subplots like the drug smuggling, the method they use, and the underworld mafia at a bigger scale joined together by the emotional vulnerabilities and hollowness of the central characters at its intrinsic core. The lead characters in the movie, both of them, go through the same problem, but in a different world, with a different standpoint. It’s a problem everybody goes through in some form. The perspectives may vary, but the nub of the problem barely does. The only facet that could separate the two personalities would be the inherent desire that forces them act in their own ways—mild as it may seem, subtle as it may appear, but it surely carries a mammoth of sentimental force behind, which is what Wong Kar Wai illustrates rather coldly and accurately in putting across the lives of the characters on the screen.

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A movie such as Chungking Express, a different mystery all together, is another color in the world of filmmaking that needs to be cherished and decorated. For World Cinema, it’s matchless, it’s a gem. While not remotely possible for a movie as erratic, layered, and whimsical as Chungking Express to garner a universal acceptance, but it has in many ways and that’s the barometer of true success for the movie. As if it’s not obvious, Chungking Express is damn good—a brute cinema that may appear experimental for global audiences, but is nothing more than a pragmatic and ideological, even minuscule form of cinema for somebody like Wong Kar Wai.

The story of does dip a little somewhere in the middle. The second story gets a bit slow just before the ending, but the first story is a practical cinematic delight. Whilst the second story is the real story and is much deeper and mature exploring human sentiments, the first one might be a little more entertaining even though it’s surficial. The contrast would be in the dramatics; the first one is closer to a fast-paced thriller, whilst the second one is a profound drama on life. Combine the two as fables on life and living of life in Hong Kong, and you have a metaphorical account of what constitutes of life in its fluid state of fragmentation.

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An exclusive presentation, Chungking Express is a brutal demolishment of urban life and an epic from the director. Twenty years has passed since Chungking Express hit the screens, and with time, it has only grown as a movie, a stylish form of instinctive cinema that remains as puzzling today as it was back then. Wong Kar Wai has perhaps toppled Chungking Express with his platonic In the Mood for Love (2000), but this remains the original classic from a filmmaker who neither treats cinema as a commerce or art—for him, cinema is just cinema; the revealing of a simple story through the lens of characters who are no different than the ones you would find in real life. For a fan of World Cinema, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. Stylish, raw, and deep—Chungking Express in a nutshell.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) – The Romantic Age

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Filmed in the exotic laps of Spain, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is an ode to art. It resembles the sceneries of Barcelona, the mood of artists portraying their art, and has a warm and sultry feeling. Being chaotic and serene, at the same time, Woody Allen pulls off this gem with his usual vivacity offing a thorough exploration of the emotional rollercoaster Vicky and Cristina pass through in the breezy summer of Barcelona. Vicky Cristina Barcelona compiles the ideal of European Cinema, with an exquisite atmosphere that is soothing to the psyche and gives you a heartfelt, chirpy vive when the end credits roll. It’s unlike your run-of-the mill romantic dramas that are so associated with Hollywood. On the contrary, Vicky Cristina… is a platonic drama that serves as homage to the spiritual air of Europe—only carrying Allen’s trademark stamp, the mood of swing, and the height of romanticism.

The narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) introduces us to two contrasts, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson)—one a student of Catalan Studies, the other an amateur filmmaker. Completely different in ideologies and philosophies, Vicky and Cristina explore life and love through the lens of an artist, an erratic man, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Both fall in love with this riddle, and when his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) makes an appearance, things don’t go as smoothly, or as awkwardly as both had imagined…

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a bohemian story, with an unconventional charm—giving it a humorous and a sumptuous subject matter. The treatment from Woody Allen capturing Catalan Art mixed with a soothing background score comprising of the wonderful hymns of the Spanish Guitar; Vicky Cristina becomes a joy—an arresting episode of exploring morality, desire, and the grand question of what is right and what is wrong. Hidden beneath these heavy introspective themes is a light humor circling the essence of Vicky Cristina, with a witty and delicious screenplay authenticating the artistic vibe of the movie… The unpredictable characters—appearing as free spirits—all of them share an uncanny pattern, which works beautifully in making Vicky Cristina an absurdist cinema groping with the flux of emotions.

Mirroring European Cinema with its rich ambience and a minimalistic style of storytelling, not to ignore a colorful way of filming the movie, the story itself is mighty interesting, but the top drawer would have to be the fantabulous screenplay that makes Vicky Cristina such an engrossing movie. The unfolding of this zealous tale and the subsequent drama becomes a joy to witness and makes one feel warm from within—a little bit giddy watching the eccentric summer romance. With that said, the story does dip somewhere in the middle. Immediately after the arrival of Maria Elena, the art of the movie pegs a predictable theme, with the pace dropping—hovering around clichéd angles and a plot twist much explored in romantic dramas. Although, the symmetry revives the movie after the dip, especially the sequences after Cristina drops the bomb, the following delusion of Vicky complimented by the uneven nature of Juan Antonio builds a buoyant climax—one filled with familiar traits of the characters and a bittersweet romantic ending.

To put it into perspective, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of Woody Allen’s most artistic attempts. Like art on a palate, the movie has tinges of sparks and a color making it a contradictory saga that is polarizing as well as a pulsating take on the puzzle that is life and the riddle that are emotions. In a way, Vicky Cristina critics life and no matter how muddled one may seem, parallel to a painting, life does have some sort of a decoration. Whether it is conscious or unconscious, people end up following their elected path—whether they like it or not, that’s another thing! After all, what could they do? It’s in their nature!

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Passionate, captivating, akin to a magnum drama, Vicky Cristina manages to touch your heart and propels you to taste the wine of Spanish Romanticism. The performances leave an impression, and the whole movie is like watching sculpture unfold on the screen in all its diversities. One of Woody Allen’s finest movies and an extremely underrated gem, this film is a class apart and one movie that certainly would make you jubilant. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, in essence, is poetry in motion and a movie most definitely worthy of decorating in your video library.

Title Image Credit – Deviant Art