Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No Country for Old Men (7/10)

"What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?"

A Coen brothers movie hardly contains groundbreaking script. Most of the time, the story is fairly straightforward - something slightly unusal gone more than slightly wrong. There is usually one main interesting character and a host of other minor, but intriguing characters. 'No Country...' is no different. A hunter comes across a drug-deal gone horribly wrong and finds a whole lot of money. He decides to keep the money, which leads to the inevitable pursuit by the ultimate bad-guy. The psychopathic killer on the trail of the hunter is a chilling character. He has a very clear, logical mind and not a shred of compassion, plus a liberal dosage of brutality. The pursuit leaves a trial of death in its wake.

The biggest asset of this fairly common story is its disturbing, ruthless, brutal antagonist, Anton Chigurh, who decides whether or not to kill perfectly innocent victims based on a coin toss, and asks the victim to call it. He is not completely devoid of principles, but does seems to possess a very twisted, sadistic turn of mind. The dry, barren & unforgiving landscape of the film perfectly complements this soulless, inhuman psychopath wandering around in it. The dialogue is minimal and the settings are bare, yet very apt and leave an impression on the viewer. The only problem is that there doesnt seem to be a point to the movie, besides the portrayal of this bad guy.

A very well-made film, but lacking substance!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Madagascar : Escape 2 Africa (7/10)

After watching the utter disaster that is the latest Bond movie, I was in desperate need of my own quantum of solace. Thankfully, Madagascar-2 was on hand to provide the much-needed respite.

The sequel does not mess around, and quite literally takes off from the word 'go'. Our dear friends leave Madagascar on a plane, repaired by the ever-resourceful penguins. Unfortunately, they end up crash-landing in the African plains. Discoveries ensue, such as, Alex re-uniting with his family, Gloria finding excitement (and a date), Melman taking his love of medicines to its logical conclusion, and Marty realizing how 'unique' he really is! The penguins continue their resourcefulness, providing by far the best laughs of the movie.
There are plenty of new characters, most notably the chimps with British accents and a shark that just won't give up. But the old characters are as good as ever. The penguins have absolutely surpassed themselves in this instalment. Every single scene with the penguins is an absolute treat, and it wouldn't be inaccurate to say they make up half of the entertainment value of this movie.
An absolute joy to watch.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quantum of Solace (6/10)

A Quantum Failure!

Reinventing a successful franchise is not easy. The makers of 'Quantum of Solace' have proved this by trying to redefine James Bond, and failing miserably. The re-invention that started with 'Casino Royale' comes to a staggering halt in this instalment. While 'Casino Royale' made a decent fist of this daunting task, 'Quantum of Solace' is extremely disappointing in almost every aspect.

Where to start? The plot, or rather the more-than-usual-flimsy storyline, which passes for a plot in Bond movies, involves a mysterious organization 'Quantum' that has tentacles everywhere, is trying to take over control of a natural resource, water, and de-stabilizing the world in the bargain. Unfortunately for them, they crossed James Bond's path, and so of course, mayhem ensues. No need to explain too many things because this is James Bond, after all. It doesn't have to make perfect sense. Suffice to say that theres plenty of action, adrenaline, big bangs, pursuits over land, water and air, and a tour of half the world.

Now, the problems. While the Bond movies have never traditionally made sense, what they had in common was the protrayal of Bond as this ultra-chic, super-suave, charming spy who doesn't need to work too hard; a perfect case in point being Pierce Brosnan, whose immaculate hair and tux are never affected, whether he's fighting the baddies, or riding cars, fighter jets or even tanks. With Daniel Craig this super-cool persona has been dropped and Bond has become more human, or to put it bluntly, normal.

The attempt of the movie makers was obviously to fuse the Bond charisma with the Bourne canniness, thus getting the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, this backfired big time. This bond has neither the suaveness, coolness and elegance of Brosnan, nor the lethal efficiency of Jason Bourne. Where Bourne's every move is clearly thought-out and executed flawlessly, Criag's Bond seems to do things for no apparent reason and continuously gets lucky (and I don't mean just in bed).

The action sequences borrow so heavily from the Bourne series that some of the ripoffs are embarassingly blatant. Daniel Craig, undoubtedly a good actor, just doesn't have the aura of control that Matt Damon protrays, nor does he possess the charms of Pierce Brosnan. His attempts to make Bond more human just reveal the too many flaws in the storyline. Ultimately, he ends up dragging Bond down to the level of an average, unspectacular spy.

A disappointing movie.

Shalimar The Clown

A slow, ponderous and plodding narrative!

This is a book that is ostentatiously about the transformation of a Kashmiri stage performer into a vengeful assassin, but ends up being about too many things. The plot is the scorned love of the protagonist and his Kashmiri dancer wife. An American ambassador to India, an illegitimate daughter (named India), and the consequent murder of the ambassador by Shalimar The Clown, complete the plotline. In between, while giving a remarkable insight into the Kashmiri way of life, which sadly includes the terrorist camps operating at the Kashmir border, we see how Shalimar goes from being a fun-loving, talented gymnast to becoming a brutal, inhuman killing machine.

The story has many potential winning points, but there are so many sidetracks in the narrative that its very difficult to remain invested in the actual story. The author seems confused about the purpose of this book - is it a description of the Kashmir conflict, is it scorned love, is it obsessions, is it the pitfalls of ambition, or is it communal politics? In the end, apparenty unable to decide among those choices, he decides to talk about a little bit of all the above. And so, for pages on end, the actual story is put aside while the author expounds on all manner of subjects. Not surprisingly, this leads to a very disjointed narrative.

I believe that the main purpose of a fictional book should be the telling of a story. And if, through the telling of this story, you throw light on real-life subjects, issues or philosophies, its an added plus; but the story should at all times remain the focal point of the book. This book spectacularly fails to do that. And so it is very difficult to retain interest or any kind of continuity in the narrative.

Of course, considering that the writer is actually a genius, there are inevitable flashes of brilliance, like this line : "you never know the answers to the questions of life until you are asked". But such lines are few and far apart, and ultimately unable to redeem the book.

Not one of Rushdie's better works.