Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) – Killer’s Kiss

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Raman Raghav 2.0 is not a story about the notorious serial killer of the 60s. It features his inspired fanboy who kills for fun. That fan is Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) killing without qualms or an iota of remorse because he kills for the sake of it, as an end and not a means – as punishment, not liberation.

Ramanna enters a killing spree and soon becomes the most sought after killer. Investigating his case is the morally bankrupt ACP Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) – who’s into drugs and has a heart of a psychopath behind the rags of khaki. The difference here is mere symptomatic.

Ramanna doesn’t need to hide behind any ideological mission to punish his perpetrators. Raghavan’s job is to punish. Here begins the story of these soulmates – the evil and the devil as two sides of the same coin– their only mission to kill: whether it’s people, or their souls within.

The screenplay of Raman Raghav 2.0 is consistent. It’s divided into chapters. Following the two characters simultaneously, Anurag Kashyap and his co-writer, Vasan Bala, create a contrast in their characterizations. Both are confused and both are driven by their thirst. For Raghavan, it’s narcotics and for Ramanna, it’s the smell of blood. Ramanna’s confusion stems from his assured-self, contradictory as it sounds. Raghavan’s confusion is more existentialist. He’s a lost soul.

13177326_884735191649046_4481842317797411431_nThese factors are barely obvious and the latent violence present in the movie makes it a disturbing affair. The gore occurs off-screen, but this suggestion makes it more unsettling – leaving it to the minds of the viewers to gauge the inhuman chaos than the vicarious rendering of violence on-screen.

The star element is of course Nawazuddin Siddiqui. In many scenes, Nawaz bowls you out with his demeanor as the starry-eyed fanboy of a dangerous killer. The opening sequence has Ramanna confessing to his crimes. His coolness is apparent when he talks in detail about the murders. There’s almost a sense of hilarity in all of this – and the scene, powerful as it is, blows you away with just the dialogs and performances albeit aided by the subdued sound effects.

It’s that instance when Ramanna finds his Raghav – and there begins a tale that brings together Raman and Raghav forming an unlikely union that is as dubious for Raghavan as it is for the spectators. There’s a similar scene when Ramanna enjoys his chicken in a pep talk with Paket – before he’s about to become a paketmaar (pickpocketer). That’s symbolic of course, but in that one phrase – Nawaz’s perilous mind reveals itself. It sends chills down your spine and Nawaz pulls it off with a nippiness that’s difficult to digest.

Raman Raghav 2.0 is, hence, nippy. It’s not enjoying as much as it’s gripping. The devilish tone tries to do justice to Nawaz’s performance. In fact, Nawaz makes you feel sympathetic towards the character – a commendable job done by Kashyap, Bala, and the actor.

Where Raman Raghav deters is the direction. Anurag Kashyap is an accomplished director. Not a constant here, save for a brilliant performance by Nawaz, Raman Raghav doesn’t leave a lasting impression by the end. Kashyap’s movies usually have power climaxes – Ugly, Gangs of Wasseypur series, No Smoking, and even his commercial try-out, Dev D. With Raman Raghav 2.0, the evolutions of the characters complete an arc, but there’s not much one would take away from the movie – except the scenes featuring Ramanna.

The usual slow pacing and a plot that’s far from unique – work against the powerful character of Ramanna. I can understand why Kashyap went for a methodical pace. Yet, the story presents nothing new – even if it’s difficult in the serial-killer genre by now.

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Nawaz’s performance deserved a story worth remembering for more than just the performance. There are elements Kashyap instills that are sure to, “push the envelope,” as he’s always tried with his cinema. It almost appears like desi-style innuendo from Park-Chan Wook – only the auteurship is Kashyap’s. The sunglass motif defines the movie concisely.

A fun fact: Pran as Michael D’Souza in Salim-Javed’s 1974 classic Majboor had a similar way of zeroing in – with his hand cupping over his eyes like a binocular. Incidentally, Pran borrowed this from director Ravi Tandon who used to frame his scenes this way!

Not sure whether Nawaz’s reenaction was a tribute or a perfect accident. Whatever the case, it compliments Nawaz as the delirious killer.

Repulsion (1965) – Evil Behind Closed Doors

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“I must get this crack mended.”

When we call Roman Polanski one of the best living filmmakers, we might be wrong because he has a case in being the greatest living filmmaker today. He is after all the man behind many great movies and such a plethora only warrants him a place at the apex of legendary 21st century filmmakers.

Repulsion is a story of a beautiful schizophrenic, Carole Ledoux – about how she faces her schizoid self when her sister, Helen and Helen’s fiancé, Michael go vacationing in Italy. The beautiful Catherine Deneuve, who went on to act in Luis Buñuel ’s all-time classic Belle de Jour (1967) two years later, stars as Carole supported by the elegant Yvonne Furneaux as Helen and iconic British actor, Ian Hendry as Helen’s blunt boyfriend.

Repulsion is Polanski’s first English film and his second feature following the Polish film, Knife in the Water that came out in 1962. Part of the Apartment Trilogy that started with Repulsion, reached heights with Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and concluded with The Tenant (1976), the trio has the same fantastic horror-esque scenario—creating a claustrophobic environment that mirrors the latent and deranged mindsets of the main characters.

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When we first meet Carole in a beauty clinic where she works, we observe a beautiful woman lost between the actualities of the world and the illusion created by the fabricated makeup. The mask conceals the true self beneath the vivre of external glow. Only though, time is a constant factor and when the time comes, no makeup can hide the cracks in you, within you, part of you.

When Carole walks back home from work, the melancholy in her face is apparent. Even when a young romantic follows her (John Fraser as Colin), pursues her, she doesn’t reciprocate as this Dame de L’Appartement is focused on the whirlwind within her mind. She’s a child who’s never grown up. The repeated motif of her family picture only fortifies this. Carole is isolated as we decipher from her family picture and she has never grown up to become a woman from the girl she was when the picture was taken, around the time, when trauma seems to have touched her for the first time.

The trepidation of the apartment she lives in, with her sexually hyperactive sister and a predator-type fiancé, only reminds her of the abuse she incurred as a child. This makes her contempt men—yet, most importantly, the pursuit of men whom she believes are only after her for her physical glory, not to soothe her emotional, vulnerable self that may be beyond the point of return.

Paradoxical layers shape schizophrenics as enigmatic and alluring beings, and Catherine Deneuve epitomizes this visceral charm with forlorn expressions. Her gaudy blonde hair, unprimed, forms a strong motif of hiding the cerebral cracks within her head. Under this bucolic spread of bright yellow, we find a dark mind—subjected to torture by her past experiences, and in the loneliness of the apartment, her demons come to the fore, wreaking havoc, ultimately destroying her innocence.

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In one of the eeriest scenes of the movie, Polanski creates subtle chaos by showing cracks rampaging through the apartment. Together with Carole’s hallucinations—of being raped by Michael, somebody who reminds her of her abusive father—the movie tickles the subconscious fears of Carole that come to life when she’s alone, slowly decaying like a dead rabbit that attracts flies. So does Carole, but she gravitates normal people towards her, yet she has no comprehension of what is normal and what is abnormal. The line vanished long ago, and as with creepy demons, it’s only surfacing now that she’s coming face-to-face with her repressed sexuality, loathing of men, and loneliness that seems to be her only nature.

The apartment, in this part-surreal, part fantastical, and part noir, merely represents the state of Carole, a beautician who lives in a damp, rusty, and depleted flat. As Carole starts disintegrating into an almost nihilistic trance, she fantasizes her flat degenerating into a habitat for the wild.

As a complement, Polanski oversees use of drastic cinematic techniques to make sure that viewers feel the wrath within Carole. Told from a first-person narrative, the use of extreme close-ups of Carole’s eyes in the beginning to the wide mid shots following Carole down the streets to her apartment and within her apartment sets captures Carole’s polarizing mind—a ruptured state within and the feeling of seclusion despite being amidst buzzing London.

Yet, Carole is on the verge of breakdown and that is only the beginning of the nightmare she has been repressing until now. With the emergence of Colin, the clammy apartment’s isolation, and the ticking of the clock—Carole descends into a path of psychosis where all she wants is to be alone. The last thing she needs. She’s already lonely and when her fantasy, bottled-up sexual desires, disdain for sexuality, and a feeling of subjugation creeps in, Carole is like a frog swimming in lukewarm water, about to reach boiling point. When her mind turns up the heat, she enters a killing spree. She’d consider it self-defense. Others would suppose—acts of lunacy.

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Repulsion is uncomfortable and follows Carole in her descend to insanity. Polanski sets the mood for the audiences to be wrapped in horror, and in doing so; he presents a fundamental study of womanhood. Using tight angles to create a suffocating atmosphere, we get into the mind of Carole and that is a creepy experience in itself.

Violent, perverse, and primeval, Repulsion is one of the finest psychological thrillers. It’s almost nauseating at times. That’s not due to what we see on the screen, but how Polanski makes us feel using skintight photography, gripping storytelling, and by creating a dystopian environment. Enhancing all of this is the uncanny performance of Catherine Deneuve as Carole. Through her, we study human behavior under oppression, thereby analyzing the objectification of women and turning home into wilderness—as that seems to be pivotal in the movie.

Roman Polanski’s first English film is arguably his most comprehensive. It shows us why Polanski might be one filmmaker who can get right under your skin and dish out a psychological beating that is sure to leave you with a hangover long after it’s over. Repulsion is a classic.

Sadanga (2015) – Six Angles of Torture

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Right from the onset, Sadanga takes you to a world of craziness. A story about a man from the plains, it’s supposed to be a treatise on his life grappling with crime and politics. But nothing works in this wanna-be “neo-noir” flick—a movie that’s more about scenes put together in a poor edit than a story about the dirt of Kathmandu.

Sadanga is about Kalu Yadav, played by Saugat Malla, who seems to have given his best in preparing for this role, but somewhere you have to ask—why does this character have to be from a small village in Madhesh and not from any other part of Nepal. There is no proper logic backing this decision. A decision I admired when I first heard about it and the sole reason my footsteps romanced the floor of the theater.

The creators of this drama have chosen whim over rational in assigning the archetypical role to Saugat Malla ignoring that the story doesn’t demand such a character. In fact, the story doesn’t demand anything – neither your attention, nor your hard-earned money, and definitely not your time. Saugat Malla is loud in his portrayal, but what is even more loud is subtext and stereotypical representation of every character in the film—marked by poor performances and clichés that would cajole you to leave the premises right in the middle, for it is intolerable and the intolerability begins from the first sequence itself.

The ultimate sin, therefore, is the lack of story, or no story. Sadanga feels like a twisted series of misinterpreted pastiches than a movie. To call it a movie would be comical because it’s a succession (or, lack thereof) of shots and sequences put together that is invariably worsened by the lousy performances of Priyanka Karki as the Femme Fatale, Bijaya Lama, the ace entrepreneur who seems to be in a perennial state of throat cancer (no offense) throughout the movie. Not to forget the farce put up by Anup Baral as the DSP, and of course, the cream of the crop, Sauram Raj Tuladhar—who shows just why being a model doesn’t equate to being an actor. A wood’s job is to glorify the jungles but not dance around the wolves. The man is hopeless in his role.

Unfortunately, unlike some invariably bad movies, Sadanga doesn’t have any positives. The cinematography is inconveniently phony, and for the dough spent on the production design, one has to ask again—for the umpteenth time—why can’t Nepali filmmakers ever seem to do something right?

Rare instances apart, the whole state of cinema in this glorious nation seems to be held in a perpetual stalemate—led by farcical premises, poor plotting, lack of well-presented stories, and awful performances most of the time. The lack of education in film is astounding for a city, Kathmandu, where filmmaking and studies seem to be rising by the day.

Sadanga is an exhibition on how not to make a movie. The photography, lighting, and editing are amateurish. The dialogs are hopeless and one would presume most of Saugat’s dialogs were written just to show off his abilities to camouflage into characters, which again isn’t that impressive. Perhaps if the screenwriter read any basic book on screenwriting or even watched a film with eyes set on the story progression, maybe, just maybe, we’d have a presentable movie in front of us.

Alas, that’s not the case and of course, the discredit goes to the captain of the ship, the Director, Suraj Sunuwar—who’s also the screenwriter here—for having taken a massive gamble of gambling with the sensibilities of the audiences in creating a horrible product violating the abstract rights of humans to proper films and stories.

Avoid.

Rear Window (1954) – Peeping Tom

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Rear Window looks into a close-knit neighborhood—diverse people engaged in personal endeavors, occupied by trifles, and immersed in living.

When ace photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is bound to the confines of a wheelchair after an accident, he has to ease into a temporary cast and remain indoors to heal and recuperate. In those long, boring days, he passes time by surveying the activities of his neighbors, observing their lives, and empathizing with their conditions. He’s the poster child of Peeping Tom and loves, notoriously, to peep into the lives of people irrelevant to his.

One night, deep awake, Jeff notices something bizarre from his window. A married man stuffs something in his briefcase and goes out of the house many-a-time. Next day, he finds the wife missing and suspecting this man for murder of his wife, James begins a couch-based investigation – using his binocular, long-focus lens, phone, camera, and his sophisticated girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played by the dignified Grace Kelly. But, James has a major problem: he doesn’t have rock solid proof against the man. His girlfriend and personal nurse (played by Thelma Ritter) do seem to buy his story. Is that enough though?

Based on a short story by Cornell WoolrichRear Window is a suspenseful crime drama. It’s cramped into the flat of Jeff, with the movie revolving around this bubbly community. A ballerina living opposite to Jeff, a musician to his right, a loony woman a floor below the mysterious couple and of course—the point of attention, the man accused of murdering his sickly wife, living beside the odd couple; these people have their own untold stories and a unique life – amusing and revealing for the temporarily invalid photojournalist.

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Viewers observe the life of a ballerina living in practice, indulging in food, and becoming a prey to man-hunters. The couple upstairs lead their own isolated life, but their tiny dog connects them to the rest of the society. In the same manner, the newly married neighborhood romantics enjoy and engage in amorous activities until they start growing sick of one another. The woman below, who’s lonely and oh so seeking a life partner, finds no respite, whereas the musician—sick and tired of solitude—seeks to find the perfect hymn to instill his life with melody. Not to ignore the couple that most intrigues Jeff, the sickly wife bed-ridden and the husband tired and exhausted, could he have been the one to eliminate this perceptual thorn from his life?

Rear Window opens up a world, a microcosmic reality within society, and tells of the different tales people would witness if only they observed. All you need is to peep around, listen not hear, watch not look, and contemplate not analyze on people’s lives around you to reach an enlightening climax and gain profundity on people and society.

Jeff evolves from the drifter he was initially to a responsible man with a sense of duty when the film climaxes. For Lisa, the elegant socialite, she stands very much different to Jeff’s rogue ways. Yet, love bonds them together – romance sparks a light above their heads. She evolves from the sophisticated Lisa Fermont to the adaptable woman who’d gain from the best experiences of both worlds.

Masked as a thriller, Rear Window is actually a satire, a social drama on the various elements of life. Only when we stand to observe can we really relive life and only when we’re held together by a cast in a predicament unchangeable—can we excel and evolve. It is the law of nature.

The movie is slow at times, but very profound. With minimalistic locations and a tight, claustrophobic charm, Real Window is a movie celebrating reflection. The movie came out 60 years ago; it’s amazing how it hasn’t aged a bit and stands the test of time, unlike many other Alfred Hitchcock classics. The storytelling is crisp, the performances natural, and the world as it is.

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One of Hitchcock’s great films, Rear Window is similar to Dial M for Murder that coincidentally came out later that year, but is shot with a different lens—told by a different narrator. It’s up there with Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960),and The Birds (1963), and has its own unique stamp as one of Hitchcock’s finest thrillers for Rear Window isn’t merely about a crime; it’s about crime and punishment, about actions and consequences, about cause and effects.

If you’re an admirer of Hitchcock’s vision, Rear Window is just what you need to peep into. It tells a lot about Hitchcock and through him—about those around us.

Dial M for Murder (1954) – Textbook Plan

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Based on a stage play, Dial M for Murder is like a play exclusively screened for the curtain. Much of the action revolves around the house of Mr. and Mrs. Wendice. The movie rarely treads out of the house amidst murder, deceit, and treachery—making excellent use of spatial elements. Frederick Knott penned the screenplay that is adapted from his own play.

When ex-tennis player Tony (Ray Milland) finds out about his wife’s affair with common friend, Mark Haliiday (Robert Cummings), he chalks up a petrifying plan to kill his wife and inherit her property. Blackmailing one of his old college friends (Anthony Dawson), Tony envisions a foolproof plan of getting rid of his wife, Margot (played by the classy Grace Kelly). But things do not go as planned for poor Tony after which he improvises another plan to eliminate his wife. In a moment of sheer epiphany, Tony uses the gnarls of law to send his wife into a sentence, thereby, inheriting her estate and taking his willful revenge.

Just like Tony’s plan, Dial M for Murder is a well-planned, meticulous, and an intelligent movie. It builds on the underlying psychologies of the characters and clutches viewers in the home-centric drama of Mr. and Mrs. Wendice. Dial M is quite similar to Rear Window (1954) as both movies appear claustrophobic and entangle in mysteries surrounding wives. While Rear Window is more passionate less tactical, Dial M, on the other hand, is more tactical, less about passion.

What’s unique in Dial M is the mise-en-scene environment. If we ignore the camera movement, Dial M almost feels like a stage play. It has a well-drawn set—the Wendice Apartment—and 95% of the action occur within the confines of this cozy-looking home. Yet, extending beyond this space, the mind does go off for a saunter and Hitchcock does, what he does best—create riveting tension and build towards an imploring climax.

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Despite the themes of deceit and greed, Dial M remains classy. Tony Wendice is a man of elegance. Margot Wendice is a woman of virtue and charm. Mark Haliiday is an empathizer, a detective fiction novelist and journalist—he’s aware of most murder mysteries and the intricacies of planning a perfect murder. His profession does have a major role to convey during the latter sequences of the film—rounding off his character with sincerity.

The star of the show, of course, is Ray Milland for his smooth reprisal as Tony Wendice—the silent assassin who has his way with words, manners, and etiquette. He can think on the spur and can generate ideas with ease. It was almost the perfect get-away, but as they say with crime and punishment—the criminal always leaves behind a trace.

Grace Kelly is her usual elegant self as in most Hitchcockian thrillers. As a free spirit, as the vocal woman, and as the companion of Tony, or the secret lover of Mark, she is on her game—with vivacity and a powerful screen presence. The rest carry off their roles smoothly. Robert Cummings does not have much scope due to the nature of his role, but does a fine job. John Williams, as Chief Inspector Hubbard, is somber yet penetrating and decisive, and he steals the show.

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Dial M for Murder is trademark Hitchcock. It’s jumpy and intriguing despite being a notch below other Hitchcock classics. It can get a bit slow at times, but Hitchcock’s mastery as a storyteller is enough to carry it off to an edgy climax—keeping viewers anticipated and enthralled for most parts. Not to ignore the brilliant extension of time and space, of mise-en-scene elements, and of subtleties only a master could transport with minimalism.

Sambodhan (2015) – A Hotchpotch of Patriotism

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Akin to last year’s Talakjung vs. Tulke (Nischal Basnet), Sambodhan starts with the Nepali national anthem trying to force patriotism in audiences yet again. What follows this whimsical shot at patriotic chivalry is Hemraj BC’s tilted focus on the statue of the late-great King, P.N. Shah. A man smeared in vermillion underneath this pillar of sovereignty smashes cymbals together in front of the most powerful erection in Nepal’s political landscape. We enter the world of Sambodhan and there begins one of the most comical fests of recent times.

Inspector Ramji Gole, played by Dayahang Rai, is in the middle of one of the most sensational events to take place in Nepal: a series of murder with the murderer signing off these murders by stuffing coins into the mouths of the victims. Perplexed and paralyzed by his own ineptitude, Inspector Gole fields a man-in-a-mission look hiding his gross incompetence under a gritty mask.

Assisting him in the investigation of this bizarre murder mystery is his subordinate played by Binay Bhatta whose entry reminds viewers of a watered-down version of Akshay Kumar’s entry in those countless movies Kumar starred in the 90s playing an honest and macho Inspector. Only this time, the subordinate of Ramji Gole looks clueless in his demeanor—embodying a wooden look throughout the movie.

Inspector Gole is a veteran though with 20 years behind him, yet he’s still an Inspector, which would mean he’s not educated enough, or he’s so bad that the title of Inspector was awarded to him for mere loyalty than actual ability. The latter is obvious as the investigation procedure heats up. Inspector Gole arrests a local goon by the name of CK/Sikke (played by Suleman Shankar aka Ikku), after the phone log of the victims reveal phone calls from his number. Being the smart cop he is, Inspector Gole is convinced that CK/Sikke is the man behind the murders simply because his name carries the acronym CK/Sikke suggesting that the aural resemblance between CK/Sikke and Sikka (coin) is enough to reveal this local goon as the murderer.

Joining this order of excellence is Paru Shakya (Namrata Shrestha), a journalist. She compliments Inspector Gole in his incompetence displaying all the traits of a Page 3 journalist who’s terrible at her work, and so ethically downtrodden, that it’d make tabloids like The Sun and Daily Mail proud of her moral sensibility and professionalism.

To make matters worse, Shrestha, with her unconvincing diction, falls for the young hunk played by Bhatta. The same ace deputy of Inspector Gole who has nothing to do for most parts than serve as an on-screen prop. For the remaining duration, when he does decide to transform wood into furniture, his apparent intelligence works only to bestow a ludicrous air of stupidity to the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB). If he is the most promising officer at their disposal, God bless CIB. And, don’t just yet—for that’s just the beginning of this parody.

When this A-grade team uncloaks the murderer, this comical movie turns into a farcical parody of the Bollywood movie Indian starring Kamal Hassan. A man beaten up by society takes matters into his hand and decides to fight the system on his own, which is hardly unconvincing from an isolated standpoint, but Sambodhan then reveals its cover as a jarring sermon on patriotism and nationalism. As if this wasn’t enough, viewers are then put through the torture of the flashbacks from the People’s War era—something Nepali filmmakers try to abuse in most films resembling patriotism and Nepali politics.

With Sambodhan,  Hemraj B.C. puts together plots from Memories of Murder blending it with Indian, and packaging it as a Nepali entertainer—seemingly spelling the doom of this movie as a serious take on the issue of corruption. He tries to show so much in Sambodhan, it’s not only a mess, it’s downright insulting, lethargic, and a tight slap across the faces of intelligent cine-goers. With its lazy writing, generic characters, and a story well equipped to eject you out of the theaters, viewers would need some conviction to finish this movie from start to finish.

Sambodhan falls in those categories movies that don’t have a silver lining. It’s a clutter. It doesn’t show anything. It doesn’t tell you anything. It only preaches the spirit of patriotism from start to finish. Be prepared to twitch and shuffle in your seats because it’s nonsensical and humiliating. If you’re prepared to suffer agony amidst farce, Sambodhan is for you. If you desperately need to watch a movie, skip this and watch any movie that you can get your hands on.

We’re only just into 2015, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Sambodhan might carry the title of the worst movie of the year come December because surely, one would hope and pray, no other movie would be as debauched and pointless as the one you should avoid, Sambodhan.

Gone Girl (2014) – Gone baby, Gone!

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David Fincher adapts the bestselling book, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, in his latest outing and as you’d expect from the master storyteller, he crafts it with full-on Fincher traits. It’s dark, it’s brooding, with an animosity that could spike you into mayhem, and it’s so vengeful; David Fincher might have just given a new dimension to another bestseller after Fight Club and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. The movie is a fascinating watch; uncloaking of a marriage in peril, or a marriage in bliss, or perhaps a marriage gone awry—maybe just maybe, the perfect marriage!

Retaining much of the first-person narrative of the book, David Fincher constructs an atmosphere ardently using varied color tones to set the tone of visuals right from the moment Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne questions those latent tendencies of a marriage. The opening scene, with Nick Dunne stroking his wife’s blonde hair simultaneously worded in a monologue rearing to know the inside of his wife’s mind kick-starts this saga with a sinister hook. His wife, Amy Elliot-Dunne, played by the pretty Rosamund Pike, is the focal point behind the mystery in this spine-chiller—a saga of a couple in the wake of realization.

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When they first meet though, Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot seem like a match made in heaven. Both writers, they dash off against each other one night and from there on, there’s no looking back. Blissful in marriage, Nick and Amy are super intimate and seem to love caressing the union. As with every marriage, their marriage too hits the mountain—where one ought to work hard, or else wrought to chaos. Nick and Amy aren’t really like those couples. They’re distinct; they’re cool until catastrophe strikes when both find themselves redundant in the professional scene. During the same time, the creators of the terrific comic franchise, Amazing Amy, the parents of Amy find themselves in a financial rot and want her trust fund back, deep in debt. As if it couldn’t get worse, Nick’s mother is diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and he has to shift back to his hometown, Missouri, to be with her. But remember, Missouri has the death penalty.

Intertwined in a proverbial twaddle, Nick and Amy’s affection decrease, and coldness and isolation increase. It reaches to a point where Nick isn’t even aware of Amy’s personal life and Amy is aware of everything—like every damn thing. On the day of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears (kidnapped/murdered/held hostage—you could suppose) leaving behind a glorious disarrangement in their house. Nick Dunne, confused and unaware of his emotions, informs the cops, with detectives coming home to investigate the disappearance, but the problem…? You guessed it! Nick Dunne finds himself prime suspect for the murder of his lovely wife, the Amazing Amy, and if he is to plead his innocence, he needs to prove that he is innocent. Tough luck, Nick.

Gone Girl is very well written story, with Flynn having a cult following for this immaculate thriller. David Fincher snatches this thriller off Flynn and sticks it on the screen to create a typical Fincher movie—tight and gripping, with mysterious characters and a pinch of suspense so deep that it would leave you in a state of slipups because they just so happen to be slick.

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The characters have to be the best aspect of the movie. The unassuming, everyday-Joe husband played by Ben Affleck is perhaps the weakest character, but he’s not weak for lack of fleshing, but simply because the character of Nick Dunne lacks spine. He’s such a clay figure that anybody could sway him, and he’d remain this bemused guy who really isn’t certain about anything. On the other hand, Amy Elliot-Dunne is somewhat of an enigma. She could be the dream wife for any suitor, but when you get to bottom of her character, she’s as good as they come—and to not risk spoiling it for those who haven’t read the book, in short, she’s the cerebral pillar in this gutsy thriller.

In Gone Girl, Fincher and Flynn don’t merely explore the external mystery, but get right into the psychological dispensation of both characters. As the movie rolls, viewers get closer and closer to the psychic manifestations of both Nick and Amy, and what you discover through them is mind numbing. Both the writer and director are meticulous in how they plot the thriller; Flynn adapts her own book into a screenplay with finesse and Fincher has the same ‘ol duteous bravura in revealing his stories and character psychologies.

Essentially, Gone Girl is a story within a story. The first layer of story is the perceived life of this couple. The second layer zeroes into the inner conscience of Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot. The third layer is the climax—that’s an external story within the internal stories of the couple manifesting into one defiant climax, unpredictable for those who haven’t read the book. Hence, the last 30 minutes of Gone Girl is like the aftermath of a rainstorm.

The rain stops, the storm subsides, but the sheer carnage of the rainstorm allows the atmosphere to carry the smell and taste of the storm, which is what Fincher achieves—with excellence—in the last 30 minutes. The actions before allow those last 20–30 minutes to merely float by and the entire sequence forms a penultimate dénouement right from the moment viewers receive the final twist. It’s very impressive, but also a testament to the prowess of Fincher as a storyteller.

For what it was, the climax of Gone Girl is poetic, and with poetry—it not only has a rhythm to it, but also is alarmingly a sneak peek into the future for the bewildered Nick Dunne and the colossal Amy Elliot-Dunne. “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other?” Sounds about right.

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Gone Girl is slick—backed by great performances, a rich story, and a taut staging of a marriage gone wrong. All of this is embroidered by Fincher’s trademark styles. For those who’ve read the book, it allows a different perspective and for those who haven’t, the movie is one of the most vicious thrillers of recent years and the viciousness of the story matches the viciousness off the story. Together, these two come off as one heck of a combination that’s sure to startle you and keep you gone into the world of this girl, Amazing Amy, and her boy, Not-So-Amazing Nick.

Los Ojos de Julia (2010) – Light and Shadow

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Twin sisters Julia and Sara (both played by the magnificent Belén Rueda) suffer from the same degenerative eye condition that leads them to blindness. When Julia finds Sara hanging in the basement, she suspects that her sister couldn’t have actually committed suicide. One thing leads to the other and Julia is all of a sudden in deep water. She’s stuck between her deteriorating vision and the apparent murderer walking loose like a shadow, a true psycho.

Directed by Guillem Morales, Julia’s Eyes is intense, sublime, and aesthetically very pleasing, but it could have been so much more. It could almost be the perfect homage to the graphic Giallo genre. The climax of course mirrors the classic neck slash scenes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento movies, but the mystery in the film is an ode to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). The air has same tension as Psycho, and no, there’s no multiple personality disorder here.

Midway through the movie, Julia’s Eyes feels like a riveting mystery—brilliant screenplay, pacing, and terrific performances all heading to a transcendental climax. The scene where Julia goes blind is part of one memorable sequence bringing together the music, shot, atmosphere, and Julia’s own expressions in summing up this incredible piece of storytelling. But from thereon, the story dips and treads on the usual path of psychotic thrillers. It loses its mystical element and becomes rather predictable, a bit too theatrical at times.

Initially set as a firm, intelligent mystery, the story turns into a watered down survival journey of a woman who was full of conviction at first, but is later devoid of rationality. Although one could suspect that the tragedies in her life play an equal part in breaking her; still, many of the decisions she makes doesn’t quite fit with the woman who’s shown to be Julia at first. That notwithstanding, Julia’s Eyes is almost a classic if you shut it right at the point Julia loses her eyesight. Howsoever the movie may have turned out, and it’s still fine, Rueda deserves all the praises for her emotive, dejected, and tragic showing as both Julia and Sara.

Julia’s Eyes has a great start, a not so great ending. The eventual twist is hardly exciting and leaves you expecting more, yet the initial hour is some of the finest exhibition in  horror/mystery filmmaking. In its visual form though, Los Ojos de Julia is sheer beauty. The second half lets it down.

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.

Inception (2010) – Shattered Dreams

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Ten hours flying in the sky, a journey of a lifetime, and it could last 50 years in a state beyond consciousness—that’s just a sneak peek into a world of a dream within a dream. Billionaire energy executive Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers master extractor Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, an assignment that could end his forced exile if he pulls it off. The plan is to implant an idea into the mind of energy tycoon Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), heir to the most powerful energy empire, by subconsciously cajoling him into doing the opposite of what a true businessperson would, consolidate and concentrate; instead, Cobb is supposed to inject the idea persuading Fischer to voluntarily dismantle his empire. An absurd idea and perhaps, out of mind, but that’s Inception in all its imperfections.

If Inception proves anything, it has to be Christopher Nolan’s stylish storytelling prowess. You have to hand it to him for staggering audiences with a fairly well-known plot surrounded by a nifty theme that has defined originality in movies, to some extent, in spite of being a signature heist drama from Hollywood. A template movie as such, Inception is a dazzling prototype demonstrating the art of innovative reprisal. It might be vain, although, to call it a reprise. After all, 4 years ago when it first hit the screens, the movie met with a plethora of rave reviews and audience acceptance—many considering it one of the most intelligent movies of our time. Hardly off the mark.

Inception is no doubt a shrewd movie, but what takes it a notch above is the intelligent treatment of a basic action drama with shades of espionage. For this sole purpose, Nolan deserves the plaudits for doing the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Consequently, people are bound to remember this brain-twisting saga for the story but also, more precisely, for arresting the imagination of viewers, thereby, involving them in the process of constructing and demolishing a mysterious labyrinth called, that’s right, inception.

Throughout the movie, one can’t help but recall Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “A Dream Within a Dream.” The poem accurately summarizes the myriad of mayhem surrounding the inner and outer realities of our central protagonist here. The nature of Cobb is almost as delusional as Poe’s speaker in the gothic poem. Also, much of the high-fi Laws of Inception point to the gist the poem wishes to impart, which of course mayn’t be anywhere near Nolan’s psyche when he wrote this startling story, but the tone of the movie is similar to Poe’s hallucinatory poem on the flux of reality.

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In Inception, Nolan creates a maze of illusion in which dreams marry a singular reality, creating chaos in the process—ultimately extinguishing the thin line between subjective reality and objective truth. It’s not just a story about dreams within dreams. It’s rather a perspective into what is real, what feels real, and the abyss that we know as conscious existence. The dazzling effects and the fascinating gimmick notwithstanding, Inception speaks volumes on the philosophy of existence and the power of freewill. People have subjective memories and interpretations and we don’t need to dwell into sophisticated trances and dream travels to understand how reality comes from acceptance—embracing life in all its color, mood, and texture.

Some of the effects in this juggernaut are dreamlike, no pun intended. Paradoxical, the tinting and curling of walls, the coiling of streets and architecture, and the space devoid of gravity, these absurd realities almost point to a surrealistic state of mind—giving Inception a dysfunctional preview. This mixture of reality with dreams, the surreal, also attaches the movie with profundity; each action having a rippling effect, and the vulnerabilities increase as the characters go deeper into their states of fantasy.

As such, Inception solely treads on the path of Dom Cobb more than any other character. It wouldn’t have been off the mark if the movie was named The Life and Times of Dom Cobb and is most effective that way. The intricacies and greyness of Cobb keeps the clock ticking. As a man in peril, dejected, living with a devastating secret, and incapable of letting go of the past; we have a usual plot—one chance at retribution—and a traditional trapped protagonist who has to let go of his past to fulfill his desires. Cobb is the heartbeat here and as the protagonist (or anti-hero), his character brings a parallel layer of intrigue boosting the multi-layered approach Nolan adopts in the movie. Complimenting Cobb, we have other eccentric characters—a peculiar medical expert (Dileep Rao as Yusuf), another expert in forgery and deception (Tom Hardy as Eames), and an information geek (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur). Then, we have a certified architect who also happens to be a charmer (Ellen Page as Ariadne)—working, both, as the pivot of the story and as the shrink for the main character.

Inception takes one simple plot, fixes it with a clever concept and under the astute direction of Christopher Nolan, here we are now, the movie is on the verge of achieving cult status. The primary selling point for me was the destructive love story between Cobb and femme fatale Mal (played by Marion Cotillard). Those dreary and devastating moments, a powerful showcase by Cotillard as the diffused Mal, hijacking Cobb’s consciousness into a self-created prison of illusion stands out as the most intriguing cog in this well-oiled machine—working as a major plot device, punctuating the story, and bringing everything together as one complete whole.

The action and eventuality are less compelling compared to the occurrences and episodes, which in itself is fascinating followed by the complex science of travelling in dreams, constructing mazes (dreamscaping), and escaping the same. By less compelling, I don’t mean to suggest it’s not good. Far from that, but Inception makes you want to experience the process and know more about it than merely watch cars fly, buildings collapse, guns soar, and people thump one another. The climax also becomes an afterthought because the happenings just so happen to be very interesting. That is the biggest positive of Inception—it’s not just watching to know what happens, it’s watching because the lives and times in the movie are just that bit impressive.

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Inception is a smart movie from a very smart filmmaker. A mundane story about emotions mingles in a spiritual sphere and this tantalizing fusion of the ordinary with the extraordinary does the trick. As a filmmaker, Nolan enjoys startling his audiences, but I see nothing more than emotions in Inception. It’s right around the same level as Nolan’s previous brain twister, Memento (2000). Both have their strengths and weaknesses, yet the production value understandably sets Inception apart (from Memento). As a movie, there is hardly much to choose between the two. Personally though, his finest might be the bleak psychological thriller, Insomnia (2002), which stages guilt at its optimum. Sometimes simplicity simply rules.

In the case of Inception, the chaotic character of Cobb, the intrusive romance between Cobb and Mal, and the brilliant concept of dreamscaping might slot it as one of the most innovate movies of our time and an exemplary milestone in modern filmmaking.