Rope (1948)
Alfred Hitchcock
English

 

RopeFollowing the idyllic establishment shot of a quiet little street in Manhattan, which sets up the film’s notion of commonplaceness of evil, Alfred Hitchcock’s wonderful Rope (1948) presents us with an image from a murder that gives away the identities of both the victim and the killers. What follows is not a de-dramatized whodunit, but a taut psychological examination of the gruesome act that transcends its immediate settings. One criticism of the film that I can’t agree with is that it is too theatrical. Surely, a filmmaker with such refined cinematic sensibility as Hitchcock can never be content with merely filming a play. In fact, one could say that Rope is a seminal film that clearly defines where theatre ends and where cinema begins. Hitchcock’s rigorous framing scheme elucidates perfectly how cinema can, indeed, be more restrictive than theatre and how the fact that there lies a whole world beyond the cinematic frame can be harnessed for maximum effect. Hitchcock’s manipulation of space and his direction of the actors keep highlighting his central themes and character relationships. The shots are extremely long and fluid, giving a real sense of “being there” (not in the way those horrible shaky cams do). And, of course, there is the profundity of the text itself. Arthur Laurents’ script (in whose formation Hitch surely must have had a hand, considering how thematically consistent Rope is with the director’s filmography), probes the darkest corners of the human soul, analyzing the fascist tendencies inherent in all of us, however removed it is from our consciousness.

A play and its review, under a minute.

B for Vendetta

B for Vendetta

I didn’t want to start with this cliché, but Bond is back. This time, loaded with wrath in his heart, distrust in his mind and ammo in his gun. Instant hit Daniel Craig returns for his second performance in the first ever sequel to a bond film. And intriguingly Marc Forster takes the control of the Titanic, much to the concerns of the fans. And to negate the anxiety, the film has been shot in more locations than ever. So, does Quantum of Solace bring back the sheer fun of Goldfinger or does it bring the dreaded minutes of Die Another Day? Or plainly, does it have the licence to thrill?

Quantum of Solace takes off from where Casino Royale (2006) left us with the most stylish Bond ending ever. Bond has just learned his first lesson – one of intense mistrust and callousness. He is shattered by Vasper’s (Eva Green) death and is sets out on a roaring rampage of revenge (sorry Kiddo!). With the help of Eva’s endnote (not another Bond pun!) and Britain’s own forensic service, he traces the whereabouts of Vasper’s extortioner which brings him to Haiti. Almost immediately, he meets Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a borderline femme fatale who herself is on a venture of personal vendetta and intends to avenge the death of her father. Bond finds out that she has close relations with an environmental activist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and employs her to get to him.

Greene says to Bond in one scene: “You make a fine couple – you are both, what is the expression? Damaged goods.” and that is what it is. Camille is Bond’s female counterpart in all sense of the term and equipoised as far as emotional state and instability is concerned. Both of them have lost the ones that they loved the most and both of them are determined to kill for personal relief. They feel tangled in a game they desperately want to finish. Bond helps alleviate Camille’s anxiety but she is unable to reciprocate, in spite of her wishes to free him from the vicious circle of survival and death. With the help of Camille, bond comes to realize that there is more to Greene’s plans than meets the eye. He tracks down Greene’s contacts, which reveals his unimaginable reach only affirming Bond’s now-natural suspicion.

Almost as a generalization, it is the megalomaniacs in Bond films that make them most interesting. Of course, there have been genius inventions such as Goldfinger and Scaramanga and gross mishaps such as Dr. Kananga and Gustav Graves. But it becomes their unwritten duty to make the films quirky, perhaps even lovably cheesy and essentially make them disparate from contemporary franchises such as Indiana Jones or Die Hard. Though the character of Greene is grossly underwritten (like Renard of The World is Not Enough (1999)), it is a very interesting one. He is not a man with steel teeth or huge underground lairs. For heaven’s sake, he does not even carry a gun. But his short stature, the slight hunch and mafia-like charm has enough to make him seem formidable. But as they say in the business world, it is the result that matters. And Greene’s character remains underdeveloped and green (I’m really sorry for that one!).

It is fascinating to see how the franchise has grown in the 46 years of its cinematic existence. From the incessant thriving on cold war and relationship with the Soviets in the Connery era, to chemical warfare and the space race in the Moore era, moving on to the post-Soviet world and the media’s intrusion in world affairs in the Brosnan era and the contemporary issues of terrorism and ecological threats with Craig, the humungous series has reinvented itself time and again to suit and sometimes succumb to the changing face of world culture and politics. The sexist tag on Bond has been discussed, M, a person with immense political power, has been made a woman, and Felix Leiter is now an African American, for crying out loud. All this is evidently a response to the gradual opening up of social outlooks of this mercurial world.

In Quantum of Solace, Greene doesn’t even care about the exhaustive oil race, but for something more rooted in the future and something more dreadful to the human race as a whole – a global issue that has been getting worthy attention in a lot of films off late – although the plot isn’t even relished explicitly by the baddie and not even its consequences stressed upon (another uncharacteristic quality of a Bond film, where the evil plot is usually the driving force for the narrative). Bond finds out Greene’s plans which he executes with the help of the legal privileges of Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), a general who has been trying to overthrow the Bolivian government and the watchful eyes (or rather the absence of it) of the CIA. And like the narrative, Bond does not care much about it and his sole intention is propelled by his need for vengeance.

The film’s basic premise reminds us of the Timothy Dalton starrer Licence To Kill (1989). Both follow Bond’s adventures as he sets out on a personal revenge in order to avenge the death of a beloved. And in both, the grim Bond is considered out of control and his licence to kill is revoked. However, in the older film, Bond never tries to kill almost throughout the whole film. Licence to Kill maintains a kind of tense atmosphere where the upper hand is gained by deceit and espionage and brutal action is but a luxury. And this is where Quantum of Solace itself goes out of control. Mr. Bond thinks by his gun and his primary objective remains dodging the next bullet.

Much talk is going on about how this film is so uncharacteristic of Bond and how un-Bond the franchise has become (yes, I know. No “Bond, James Bond”. No Q, No Moneypenny. No “Shaken, Not Stirred”, No puns…). So has Bond lost his suavity and panache? Yes and No. One should see that the age of Connery thrived on the elegance of the lead and his funny but daring escapades. The style part of the film arose because of the way the character was written and the uninterrupted shots that filmed him. The franchise was more of a spy series than an action till the age of Brosnan after which there has been a marked difference in the way Bond has been catered to the audience. Probably, fuelled by the financial debacle of Licence to Kill, Eon productions was hesitant to perpetuate the series and it was not until 1995 (GoldenEye) that they realized that the character should be marketed differently, perhaps as an influence of the CG wave. And now, the style aspect of the film rises from the progressive technology and the way it is utilized to furnish the high mojo quotient to the series. So it is true that Bond now isn’t what Ian Fleming imagined him to be, but only as a inevitable necessity owing to the changing times. But having said that, there is definitely a scope for marriage of the two eras and decidedly a possibility of restoration of Bond’s lost magic.

With a filmography that is highlighted by films such as Finding Neverland (2004) and The Kite Runner (2007), one wouldn’t place the odds in favour of the debutant Bond director Marc Forster. Perhaps, Forster himself was out on a mission – to prove that he is capable of experimenting with genres. The film seems Coppola-esque in a couple of scenes and Inarittu-ish in another, but maintains a Michael Bay-ian mindlessness almost throughout. High on action, with almost every alternate scene being a high octane automobile chase or a hand to hand combat, the average shot length for most part of the film is perhaps less than half a second and is at times (actually, many times) distracting. It feels like having no space to think or even breathe and of course, no quantum of solace. All of it seems acceptable when one is introduced to the third act. It looks as if the director has chopped off a good twenty minuets off the last act and as a result the whole showdown at the Bolivian desert feels abrupt and hurried.

All said, what is the bottom line? Another high-flying action extravaganza in this year’s tryingly long queue is satisfactory. Not as refreshing as Casino Royale and definitely not as pathetic as Die Another Day (2004), Quantum of Solace is a good film to watch for people who are new to Bond and they wouldn’t have any reason to complain (By the way, the film has a snazzy title track by Jack White and Alicia Keys). But for guys who have been boasting about Bond countdowns and ranting about the best and the worst of Bond, better stick to Connery!

Verdict:

P.S: This brings me to the end of the long and mostly enjoyable Bond marathon. Hope you enjoyed it too.

-FILE CLOSED-

When Information Technology is lethal

When Information Technology is lethal

Body of Lies is being promoted with the tagline “From the director of Black Hawk Down and American Gangster”.  It is a bit surprising that a director, who has given better films such as Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), has selected two of his lesser films for promotion. But Ridley Scott has the special Knack of jumping from one genre to another genre but still making the film as entertaining as the others. He could well have promoted Kingdom of Heaven (2005) as “From the director of Gladiator and 1492: Conquest of Paradise” or boosted the ratings of the drama A Good Year (2006) as “From the creator of Thelma & Louise and Matchstick Men”.  This time he sticks to the action genre following the moderate success of American Gangster (2007).

Body of Lies follows the Middle Eastern operations of C.I.A as seen by Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), an agent who is sent to Amman, Jordan to find clues to the location of Al Saleem (Alon Abutbul), the leader of one of the biggest terrorist organizations around. He is instructed by the higher official in US, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). The whereabouts of Saleem is totally unknown, for the gang neither uses the wired medium nor the wireless one for communication. Ferris decides to take the help of Hani (Mark Strong), the head of the local intelligence who means business and believes that torture and punishment are different. But Hoffman seems to have higher plans, totally oblivious to Ferris, taking its own course based on the whims of the people in power. Trusts are breached, deception becomes the prime weapon and lying becomes the order of the day

In this age of advanced communication and enhanced methods of surveillance, it sounds too easy to detect or monitor a geographical area or even one single person. But Body of Lies reveals otherwise. It tells us that it is not about “In spite of” but about “because of”. Sometimes, it is the concealment of information that helps one gain upper hand and it is the very availability of information that makes one group vulnerable. Hani mentions in the film that America cannot keep a secret because it is democratic. Indeed, it is the ones with the most primitive methods of communication who maintain anonymity and ones like Sadiki fall prey to higher power in the domain.

Russell Crowe time and again comes out with these wonderful supporting roles that one wonders why he doesn’t act more often and in bigger films. His wry wit and over the phone elegance may just earn him a nomination this time too. But the pick, and naturally, is Leo DiCaprio. After his peak of performance in The Aviator (2004), one expects him to cruise through this one and he does. Although not a groundbreaking or fresh role for him, the energy and intensity he infuses into the Ferris character leaves one trembling at the end of the film.

A film that involves communication and, more than that, struggle for it naturally involves various media of conversation and correspondence and the sound department makes crystal clear distinction between, phone lines, walkie-talkies, rendezvous, TV telecasts and footage tapes with élan. And the rhythmic sound editing aids it big time. It is such a good experience watching it in the big screen with a good sound system. The score of the film also needs a special mention and though conventional, Marc Streitenfeld tries different sounds and tempos that separate it from other war scenes and chase sequences.

With a runtime of around two hours and a half, the film is a bit excruciating to watch especially with its incessant thriving on torture scenes, which in other ways do aid the film’s feel. But let’s face it, Ridley Scott’s biggest advantage is the script he churns out with his writers and that is a job half done. William Monahan (The Departed (2006) fame) adapts David Ignatius’ book well and maintains the pace of the film and does not corrupt it with unwanted twists and turns. Even some important plot details are suitably kept off-screen.

A break from the overdose of superheroes this year, it is good to see the normal ones struggling to live for a day. Body of Lies may not be the starting point of the sober films that usually hit the screens in the late part of the year, but definitely serves as the gateway to better films that are going to reap the awards.

Verdict:

Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008)
English
Christopher Bell

Bigger Stronger Faster* is one of the best documentaries to come out for a very long time. As the film starts, it is inevitable that one is reminded of the films of controversial filmmaker Michael Moore. But once the momentum picks up, you realize that the director, Christopher Bell, has fabricated a fantastic piece all in his own way. The film deals with the issue of steroids and the taboos it faces in the society. It does not explicitly argue for the cause but it does provide openings to many unknown facts that make us rethink our morals.

Here is the starting scene from the movie that just grabs you by the throat and prepares you for the ride that you will be taking up. It cleverly combines the larger theme of the film, the director’s own passions and central issue it will be dealing with. All this in a very funny way as the track “Eye of the Tiger” – a track that has become the apotheosis of “Americanism“– plays on. The film later goes on to build over these images of WWE (the director’s own inspiration to take up body building as a serious inspiration), Rocky (The righteous underdog) and Sports (as America’s incessant glorification of the ultimate winner) and blends them with the larger issue at hand – a contradiction of ideologies followed by one nation in its quest for excellence.

Here is the scene followed by the transcript:

Narrator: January 23, 1984. It was a day that changed my life forever. The muscle, the moral courage that built the greatest, freest nation the world has ever known. Ronald Reagan was our President and there was trouble brewing in Iran. I was just a kid, but I knew who was behind it. His name was The Iron Sheik.

Commentator: From Tehran, Iran, weighing 258 lbs, The Iron Sheik! They have a lot of hate in their hearts for this man. Iran– number one! U.S.A.—

Narrator: You see, Reagan may have freed the hostages but The Sheik still had the championship belt. There was only one man that could save us.

Commentator: From Venice Beach, California, the incredible Hulk Hogan!

Narrator: And the Hulkster rips off that shirt. But three minutes into the match Hulk Hogan was locked in the dreaded camel clutch. It’s over for the Hulk. This move would snap the back of a normal man, But this wasn’t a normal man. This was Hulk Hogan and he was fighting for our country. The Hulkster got out of the camel clutch with the Sheik on his back, dropped the big leg and he pinned the Sheik. Hulkamania was born and the message was clear– You don’t mess with Hulk Hogan and you certainly don’t mess with America. I must break you. Look what happened to Ivan Drago. He tried to mess with America and Rocky kicked his ass. And then when the Vietnamese were holding P.O.W.S. Rambo went in and he kicked their ass.

Reagan: And in the spirit of Rambo let me tell you we’re gonna win this time.

Narrator: Then came Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ultimate ass-kicker. I never saw “Gone With the Wind” or “Casablanca,” but I can tell you every line of every Arnold movie.

Arnold (Conan the Barbarian) and Narrator: “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of the women.”

Arnold (Predator): “Dillon, you son of a bitch.”

Narrator: And they go bam! And they’re all oiled up and their veins are popping out. I have the power!

Voiceover: Better, Stronger, Faster.

Narrator: I was just 12 years old and there was an explosion of ass-kicking in America.

Reagan: And like our Olympic athletes we set our sights on the stars and we’re going for the gold.

Narrator: I wanted to tear off my shirt and be ripped, tanned and larger than life. But in reality I was a fat, pale kid from Poughkeepsie.

I’ve never seen a documentary so personal in nature that it has the potential to disrupt a family. Chris Bell’s search for truth does not stop at his doorstep but goes into his personal life, his disappointments and his relationship with his brothers. Bigger Stronger Faster* is a documentary that won’t inspire you in any way and may even wound your faith in humanity and its morals. But it will definitely make your outlook finer and your perspectives wider.

"How long are we gonna do the same thing?"

"How long are we gonna do the same thing?"

Cigar. Cuban. Now you pissed me off!” says the protagonist of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest venture Hellboy II: The Golden Army as the baddie’s sidekick Wink, yields a blow to his face, making his favorite tool fall into water. With a face that looks like a cross of a samurai and X-Men mutant beast, Hellboy (Codename Hellboy) is a character right out of the pulp magazines.  And with a name like that and a storyline that aids the use of eye-candy incredibly, the producers would always rest assured. Plus one to the count of superhero films in 2008.

So we have here this bunch of four central ultra-cool mutants – The cigar chewing, beer boozing, borderline-colonel Hellboy (Ron Perlman), the earth element, The timid and brainy Abe (Doug Jones), the  water ingredient, the intensely anxious Liz (Selma Blair), the fire girl and Johann Krauss (James Dodd) the German intellectual forming the wind element of the group bound by (the absence of) the fifth element. All hell breaks loose when the exiled Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) of the mythical world decides to call it quits with the truce with the humans that called for peace and aided the banishment of their indestructible “Golden Army”. The film’s best moment, perhaps, comes around this point where we see the mythical prince practicing his sword in a fairly mythical milieu and just as he finishes, a high speed train whizzes past behind him! One feels that he is in for a great time. NO.

But for this, the prince has to unite the three pieces of the all-powerful golden crown that controls the army and hence break his bonds with his family that preserves two of the pieces. Meanwhile, Hellboy and Liz are trying to reconcile with the discerning eyes of the human world and form a happy little familial world for themselves. And when their paths cross, it’s the same thing all over again. Villain hurts hero, hero gets back big time. All this happens on a high-speed, immensely attractive vehicle called Computer Graphics that seems to never tire the audience. Year after year, be what the form, this boon (?) given by science has been regularly and faithfully exploited.

It is clear that Del Toro has the uncanny ability to blend elements of the ever enchanting world beyond the natural – the mythical – with the harsh realities of the existential one. But where Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) scored was in its treatment of the two worlds. Those worlds never saw each other, those worlds were never affected the clockwork of each other, those worlds were bliss. Here, Del Toro has let one world loose into another, arguably corrupting not only the integrity of the worlds but also of the plot itself. The Golden Army hence becomes no better than a CG-driven superhero flick that succumbs to market demand.

Of course, the film has its own charming moments where you tend to forget all the stereotype moments so far. Consider the scene where Hellboy and Abe retire in the library after a hard day’s work. They listen to “Popular Love Songs”, sipping loads and loads of beer, singing along unabashedly and cruising into a hilariously contemplative mood. One does forget that these guys aren’t humans and smiles all the way. Additionally, Hellboy is amusing with all his one liners and his thinking-with-his-knuckles attitude. But that’s just about everything that you take back from the two hours of runtime. Like Iron Man (2008), The Golden Army also seems to rely too much on these things.

Clichés galore, The Golden Army seems like an exercise in typical Hollywood film craft. The cool and funny gang of superheroes, check. The megalomaniac baddie who turns out to be the boss, check. A thin thread of romance between the good side and the bad one, check. Sacrifice of a lesser but lovable character for the greater good, check. CG flood, manipulative score, tilted camera angles, check, check and check. Once can go on and on, but somebody’s got to do the job. Every year, there seem to come a few films that offer what the audience wants but are so easy to be smashed. But if not for them, we would not be appreciating better ones, would we?

Verdict:

The Killing (1956)
Stanley Kubrick
English

“It isn’t fair. I never had anybody but you. Not a real husband. Not even a man. Just a bad joke without a punch line…”

 

The KillingWhenever Kubrick’s canon of films is discussed, this quiet little early gem is invariably lost out amidst the mammoths like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971). But very much in the same way the latter films defined cinema of their decades, The Killing (1956) forms a vital film of the 50’s Hollywood.

The Killing follows a group of men who plan to carry out a robbery in a race course booking center. The group includes a cop in financial distress, an ex-convict who dreams of getting away to a remote place with his all-trusting girlfriend, the bumbling cashier at the booking counter, an employee at the course and a couple of other contract hires. They carry out the plan as per the text book alright, but the real trouble begins later, as usual. Things deviate from the schedule and needless to say, go awry. Thus follows a Tarantino-esque proceeding towards an immortal climactic scene.

When viewed today, it is inevitable that one is reminded of films like Reservoir Dogs (1992) and similar movies of the Tarantino age. The ultra-solemn genre of heist films is considered to be resurrected by the wry humour of Reservoir Dogs. But Kubrick had done the same even during the inception of the genre. Consider the scene where Sherry (Marie Windsor) is shot by her husband George (Elisha Cook). She goes down saying “It isn’t fair. I never had anybody but you. Not a real husband. Not even a man. Just a bad joke without a punch line.”. Now which director (but Kubrick) in his right senses would have made such a move in the age of Rififi (1954) and Asphalt Jungle (1950)?

The Killing is perhaps the oldest film with non-linear narration that I have seen. Multiple points of view give rise to different visual segments that overlap temporally and evoke a sense of thrill that is so uncharacteristic of the 50’s. I don’t know how the audience would have reacted then, but when viewed today, the film seems to have grown with time and its potency to enthrall audience has visibly become enhanced, considering the slew of films based on similar structures that flooded the 90’s. The film provides ample scope for a remake, for it seems tailor made for the new audience.

Black comedy, that would go on to become a strong point in many Kubrick films, clearly shows its roots in The Killing. The movie’s intense plot never becomes heavy handed, thanks to the presence of a comic thread throughout, be it in the strained relationship between the Peatty couple or be it in the intriguing arrogance of Nikki Arcane. Though the explicit oral narration becomes irritating at places, the film’s dynamics have enough to overcome that. At a time when film-noir had become a genre and heist films had become a sub-genre, The Killing sought to break away from rigid rules and provide fluidity and hence novelty to the genre.

It is fascinating to see what Kubrick has churned out without the use of even one A-list actor. The Killing was enough to launch Kubrick big time and tell the industry that he had arrived. There was no stopping the master now.

WALL-E

Wall-E: Pixar... Well, Pixar!

Right from the inception of fully computerized animation in Toy Story (1995), Pixar has been the best in their domain, by and large (no puns intended, hope none taken!). Time and again, I have been swept away by each one of their films. How I wish every time that some other animation company in USA made such a good film. Dreamworks came close with Madagascar (2005), but posed no threat whatsoever to the throne held by Pixar. Here they are with WALL•E, coming to the country after creating waves in the US box office. Before the film started, how I wished Pixar would falter, just a bit for just one time, to at least testify the theory that even the mightiest are not infallible. But no, not yet.

It is 29th century. Amidst the exanimate garbage wastelands, happily compacting the dump is WALL•E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class), a rusty little robot with notably large eyes. There are no traces of life in the whole area. Yes, there is earth, there is fire, there is wind and there is water, but not life. WALL•E’s only source of connection comes in the form of his friend the cockroach and the only place of warmth being his home, which he carefully assembles from the scrap materials he gathers. He examines every bit of junk with his reflective yet assimilative eyes, in search of excitement. He spends his nights watching romantic numbers from the (19)60’s and trying to imitate them. The sheer silence adds to the comic intensity, proving once again that neither comedy nor animation needs dialogue for success. One wishes that this spectacular act never ends.

One great day, WALL•E notices an elegant robot dislodging from a large spaceship that has landed. It is the Eve of this defunct Garden of Eden, the angel of death floating in air, the femme fatale from the future, EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). She’s like nothing he has ever seen and definitely better than him – Faster, stronger and smarter – but unaware of life. Instantly smitten, WALL•E tries to get closer to his subject of interest, only to find out that she has been sent by the humans residing in the spaceship Axiom, which had been installed 700 years ago to temporarily hold humans till the ecological problem on earth was solved. EVE is immediately called back to Axiom when she discovers that there is vegetation on earth again, after so many centuries. WALL•E decides to go after her and leaves earth.

WALL•E is introduced to a whole new species called humans. Though comically executed, it is with some solemnity that the humans are handled in the film. WALL•E notices that man has been pampered and made back into infants, refusing to even walk and eat on their own, ignorant of all the small joys of life. This is when its gets a bit dramatic and things seem to become a bit conventional. WALL•E, unintentionally, induces life into everyone there and they start realizing the vitality of life. It seems like the second dawn of man. Man learns to walk, again. He gets independent of all his machines. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. As the ship’s captain decides to return back to earth, he faces stern opposition. Can humanity be brought back to earth? Can man re-learn everything? Can earth feel the Fifth Element once more?

In a film about robots, it is difficult to make the audience empathize with the rigid geometrically built characters. But WALL•E’s large eyes are so full of life that one does not feel that he is a lifeless being right from the first glimpse. One is reminded of Scrat’s eyes from Ice Age (2002), but this is only better. So are EVE’s two dimensional eyes. The creators have generated so much emotion from just changing their shapes. And so has a lot of effort gone into the fabrication of the wasteland. The damp roads, the disposed plastics and the occasional gust of wind – everything here is a lunge forward for CG animation. Pixar regular Tom Newman has done a good job by introducing some 60’s and 70’s feel into the score that is, ironically, very suitable for such a futuristic film.

In A Bug’s Life (1998), there’s this scene where Manny the mantis performs his routine trick called the Chinese Cabinet of Metamorphosis and Molt the bumbling hopper is shocked and cries out “How did he do that!!!”. That is exactly what I ask myself every time Pixar churns out one of their creations. Producing around five minutes of animation every week, Pixar has once again proved all those clichéd maxims about hard work. Here they are now, with WALL•E, clearly another winner. May not be their best, but it does get the credit of being the best film of the year so far.

P.S: Stick till the quirky end credits which roll over as WALL•E and EVE dance over paintings ranging from the early man’s pagan art to Van Gogh.

P.P.S: Check out the Pixar short Presto that comes along with this film. It is up there with the likes of Geri’s Game and For The Birds. Absolutely hilarious.

Verdict:

The DC versus Marvel battle continues as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight arrives along the wake of the success of Iron Man (2008). With almost all of the filmdom going gaga over the performance of Heath Ledger even before the film’s release, it was but naturally clever for Warner Brothers to leverage this mass curiosity and fabricate one dark power ride for the audience. The fans had already caught a glimpse of the sober Batman in the previous offering by Nolan in Batman Begins (2005), which changed the whole gravity of the franchise in contrast to the light-hearted prequels by Burton and Schumacher. The film does not disappoint, to say the least.

It is a time when Batman (Christian Bale) has become an integral part of Gotham City’s vocabulary and people have seriously started questioning his position as a saviour of the city. Meanwhile, the crime rate shoots up during the broad daylight. The Joker (Heath Ledger) concocts a series of crimes in the city and “introduces a little chaos into the system”. The district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), his love interest Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the Deputy Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) join hands in order to track down the Joker, but find themselves unable to save their own skins, quite literally. The Joker demands Batman to bare his identity in order to save the people of the city. Though torn by the consequences of the choices, Batman decides to “endure” and hold his sanity.

Harvey says at a dinner that heroes either die or live long enough to see themselves become villains, quoting the corrupt emperors of Rome. Bruce decides that the people of Gotham City should need a superhero no more and it is their faith in their own laws, the citizens that abide them and the spirit of humanity which binds them all that would save them from the escalating crimes. Taking off from this, the film ends on a contemplative yet grand note, a la Yojimbo, as the masked crusader moves on towards the next stage of his life.  This way, the film raises questions about the need for heroes and dependence on a stranger for safety, opposed to the affirmative answer given by Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers (2006).

Much has been talked about the performance of Heath Ledger and no review seems to be complete without the perfunctory statement about the posthumous Academy award. Is the performance that good, one is tempted to ask. The answer is a definite “Yo”. Right from the swaying of his tongue as if to widen his grotesque grin to the Jack Nicholson-esque preoccupation with contorting his facial muscles, you sense that such a performance does not come often. The performance would have lost no fraction of its intensity even if Ledger had been there today.

Christopher Nolan knows how to use his technicians and it shows. The brilliant cinematography is evident and needs no elaboration. The cross-cutting among multiple scenes, especially during key events in the film, tests one’s comfort and at the same time makes long scenes seem shorter. And there lies the success of The Dark Knight. No other superhero film could have gotten away with a excruciating runtime of over 150 minutes. This tautness in cutting is what that gives Nolan the breather to delve into the psychological part of the man behind the Batman, keeping the audience hooked all the while to the staple action scenes.

Though not a definitive statement about Hollywood, this year isn’t as productive as the last and there have been no real winners.  Let’s face it, most of the biggies (Read Indiana Jones and Iron Man) have been a letdown and the rest of them were just fillers. The Dark Knight has been the only film holding its head high amidst this slump. And just for that, “Let’s put a smile on that face!”.

Verdict: