Movie Reviews, Commentary & More

On 'Ice Age 2'

Sporadically funny and touching the surface, 'Ice Age: The Meltdown' is a motion picture, which might tickle the funny bones of children and some adults who are willing to laugh at everything. It's not a bad movie - the problem is that Pixar has set new standards for animated movies and I've come to expect such experiences every time. Being good when your competitor is great simply means that you will fade into oblivion.

There are so many characters and only a few make their mark. Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) offer light comedy and romantic relief. The squirrel scenes were dragging and all the sub-plots were so-so. In essence, the movie doesn't have anything in it for us to remember and exists purely because it's predecessor made money.

Munich - Movie Review

Spielberg was a director who knew how to manipulate the emotions of his audience. The last time he did that to me with a serious subject was with 'Saving Private Ryan'. In 'Munich', he has great scope to tell a powerful story that is very important and will resonate with the global citizen today. The screenplay is good and the execution is also good, but when it comes to such stories, good is not good enough. He called 'Munich' a prayer for peace. It succeeds as a story but fails as a prayer. This movie is enjoyable on a few planes, but falls heavily short of the stature of a masterpiece of which sparks it possesses.

'Munich', at the superficial level is the story of the response of Israeli intelligence to the massacre of twelve of their Olympic representatives in Munich, Germany in 1972. As espionage thrillers go, Spielberg does a good job of bringing a 1970s operation to life. At the next level, 'Munich' is about terrorism. Spielberg asks the usual questions with uncommon intelligence: Who is responsible? Will terrorism solve the problem? Is a home more important than a life? How will this end? Spielberg delivers at this level. All those questions lingered on my mind when the credits rolled. At the third and innermost level, 'Munich' deals with the degradation of the human element. The segment that should have squeezed the soul somehow didn't affect me. Mr.Spielberg, there you failed to touch me.

Five good Mossad operatives are pulled out and assigned the covert job of finding and killing eleven terrorists who were involved in the Munich massacre. Avner (Eric Bana) is the head and Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) is their handle to the government to fund them abundantly. We see these characters most of the time, especially Avner. And Avner does a good job of presenting himself as a patriotic officer who eventually grows into a mis-trust wrapped under insecurity. Since we spend most of the time with these Israeli agents and since we never get a close-up of their targets, we never sympathize their deaths.

Avner who starts out a 'family man - clean officer' type slowly sinks into inhumanity. His trademark question before killing a target is "Do you know why we are here?" After the first murder, he just flees the scene. He can't compare that murder to that of a soldier killing an enemy to safeguard his country. By the time he kills the last person, who is not even on the list of targets, he coolly asks "Do you know why we are here?", kills her, stands there for a few minutes and walks away. In the time that has passed, Avner has seen enough assassinations both from the Israeli and the Palestenian armies and covert groups that Avner accepts killing as a way of protecting his homeland, lifestyle, wife and child.

Spielberg uses another symbol to portray this moral descend: the day before Avner leaves his wife on his mission, he has sex very passionately with his wife who is seven months pregnant. Spielberg also uses his directorial skills to express the depth and intimacy of their relationship in those few minutes. The body language of couple, camera positioning and editing all swiftly tell us that they are just another happy innocent pair enjoying their lives. When Avner is back from the mission, his act of sex with his wife is shown as a process of ventilation for all of his pent up feelings of aggression and insecurity. When he's done, it's not an act of love, but a job finished for him. He's no more a husband or a father, but a paranoid.

As expected, the technicians behind the camera have delivered top quality work. The photography, art direction and music are very reminiscent of the 70s period. The photography has to be distinctly commended: Kaminski avoids plain, static camera like a communicable disease and most of the shots are complex. The production design should have been back-bending. We see many cities: New York, Beirut, London, Paris... and it's not easy to recreate streets and buildings that take us back in time. Michael Kahn, Spielberg's long time collaborator is at his best, as he usually is - the editing is crisp and smooth and never left me feeling dragged or hurried.

The problem for me was with the dialogues. Where some of the dialogues were supposed to be introspective, I thought the writers wrote something cheesy or corny. Dialogues that were very crucial in establishing the character's moral dilemma were just mediocre. It's very important for those dialogues to have struck a chord in me to grasp the impact of terrorism on eroding a human soul; and unfortunately since they aren't good enough, the movie becomes another good thriller where undercover operatives hunt and kill and eventually they are hunted and killed. Tony Kushner and Eric Roth who wrote the movie based on a novel by George Jonas didn't construct some critical parts of the script which would have imparted an emotional tone.

The best segment of the movie comes somewhere near the middle of the running length. Avner visits the family of his source who provides him with the name and location of the targets at regular intervals. The interaction between Avner and his source is a showcase of character development - there is no breaking the ice; there is no estrangement. they both talk as if they were son and father who parted five years before. And later when Avner has a price tag on his head, his source reassures that no harm will come to him, like a father would say to his son. Now, that's typical Spielberg.

A Critic's Accountability

A friend wrote:

I fail to understand the over-critical tone about the bollywood movies (I assume you mean entire Indian film industry) compared to the european. It is not convincing to just go by a few examples on both sides and generalise this.

In general, I sound very critical of Indian movies and all-praise for non-Indian movies. It's not entirely true, though there is not denying that my revieiws and analyses are reflective of the present state of the world cinema. By the above sentence I mean that there are a few diamonds in the rough in the Indian scenario and there are junk foods available for the cinema eaters in Europe too and Hollywood in an amalgam of style and content, somewhere between the India and Europe.

If we were to discuss movies from every continent from a 10,000 feet perspective, a typical Bollywood discussion would feature songs, fights, romance, sentiments, sex, comedy and happy ending. An European discussion would feature story and presentation. A Hollywood discussion would feature style, content, grandeur, presentation, romance, comedy, sex, story... And by the very naming of our cinema industries after Hollywood (Kollywood, Tollywoood, Crapywood..) our film makers are explicitly telling that we are more concerned with the grandeur and technical aspects of the film, not on spending brain in the presentation or inventing a new structure or treating the audience to a higher level of cinematic experience.

If one were to wrap and roll the movie industries into a girl, this is how I would compare: The strength of the Indian girl is her visual beauty and her ability to be a feast to the viewers' eyes by presenting herself in fashionable costumes in every outing. I can look at her for a few minutes, but I cannot fall in love with her, because she doesn't appeal to my other senses (don't laugh Wink). Whereas a European girl is multidimensional - I can talk to her on various subjects, she has an intelligent sense of humour, she knows how to handle herself sensibly in tight corners, she is interesting even in boring situations. She appeals to my brain and heart. Now, because of these qualities, I find her beautiful, and I can fall in love with her.

We, as a nation have become hopelessly dependent of the visual element of the movie. We have different actors playing almost the same role and telling the same story, eventually evoking the same feeling in me. The last ten years have seen rapid advancements in the technical aspects of Indian cinema, but there are no leaps when it comes to storytelling. Story is the heart of the movie. Every person has a story and every person is different. There are people who understand this and make movies that reflect the everyday life of a man, the current state of the society and write dialogues the way you would speak to your wife or child or mother. And they are given the title 'art movie makers' and relegated to box-office bankruptcy.

We, as a nation have become hopelessly crazy after screen persona. They should be respected like artistes, not gods (this applies to Hollywood too!!). In Europe, a painter can be as popular as a soccer player who can be as popular as an actor. And none of these professionals can step into politics just like that and become a mayor or a governor. Just the fact that our film actors (not a popular director or producer) have popular political appeal implies how much we have elevated their chairs. When we stop worshipping these screen characters and give due respect to directors and scriptwriters, the situation will change.

Rajesh, there are many great Indian movies that I can compare with some of the best I've seen from other parts of the world. 'Micheal Madana Kama Rajan' is the best movie I've seen and it stands along with 'Schindler's List'. Apu trilogy by Satyajit Ray is meditative. Did you know that whenever film pundits discuss top ten filmmakers of all time, Ray is talked about. 'Bandit Queen' by Shekar Kapoor is super powerful. 'Kshana Kshanam' by Ram Gopal Varma is an intelligent jolly ride. 'Nayagan' by Maniratnam is an Indian masterpiece. I can go on... as I said before, there are diamonds in the rough here, probably 5% of the movies released every year. As a critic, I am accountable when it comes to pointing out where we stand in the international scene, or else I'd be failing in my duty.

March of the Penguins - One Minute Review

The aptly titled Oscar nominated documentary 'March of the Penguins' follows a year of emperor penguins' life in Antarctica. Remaining faithful to the rules of a documentary, the story is not cinematized or manipulated, though there were opportunities for the filmmakers to have done that. We are informed about the lifestyle of penguins during their mating season - get out of sea, walk 70 freaking miles when the temperature is -40C to get to a solid ground of ice which is appropriate for mating, guarding the egg and rearing the kid.

The narration by Morgan Freeman is mature and teacher-like: he makes us care for the birds which are by themselves an epitome of parenting, caring and sharing. The lengths to which the parents go through to protect their loved one is beautifully told. The way they walked in times of trouble reminded me of Chaplin in his poignant scenes. It must have taken close to a year to shoot this documentary. I wonder how the filmmakers managed the terrible conditions (-80C, 100 Km/hr wind) picturized. Above all, it's a good love story suitable for family viewing.