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Capsule Reviews

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  BY Gautam Valluri and Anuj Malhotra

A still from Devil's Double (2012)

The Tree of Life | Terrence Malick, 2011, USA

It is a unique film for a variety of reasons: but it is unique also because it is one of the rare occasions where one may learn from a film more than one may learn about it. Because shrouded in a prolonged sense of mystery it may be, it has more to ‘tell’ than a number of other films (not in the manner of didacticism; ‘telling’ is inherent in the very element of the film).  For instance, while we may speculate for years whether Tree of Life is the history of the world distilled through personal recollection ( the present appropriating the past), what it makes certain is that no other medium can gauge ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ better than cinema for at its very fundamental, cinema requires that two ideas, two notions, two myths, two realities, two eras, two shots be placed besides one another; existing, as it is, in a state of visible comparison (a quality Maya Deren founded her films on). As such, Tree of Life cuts swiftly, sometimes, from a sleepy sub-urban Wacko of 1950s to a modern architectural-scape with glass skyscrapers jetting out of the corners of the frame; (see also: the match-cut in 2001 or in A Canterbury Tale). We may hypothesize that Tree of Life is a essentially a bundle of its protagonist’s memories of the past – but what we can remain assured about is that no other medium can mimic the structure of a memory better than cinema; because while music may evoke a memory, and a painting may melt it – it is only cinema that can seem like a memory – fleeting, transient sensations like a steady distant light that flutters and dances when a night-train passes between its source and its observer. What one may confirm about the film is that it is (like other Mallick’s films) eternally subsumed by nostalgia – it is debris of the past, residue of greater events; that it is about a number of first experiences – of the first lust, first attraction, first compassion, first anger, first cruelty, first love, and like the frog-on-a-rocket scene, the first realisation of absolute power (or murder). However, the most important lesson one may learn is: if art is about the creation of a private universe, then through this film, Mallick performs art, quite literally.

That Girl in Yellow Boots
 | Anurag Kashyap, 2011, India

The greatest and perhaps the only achievement of Kashyap’s film is that it uses the sound of Gmail’s incoming chat-notification as a component of its diegesis. It is particularly effective, if only because the little digital-thud by itself is perpetually cathartic: whenever you hear it in your ‘day-to-day’ existence, you always respond to it actively and with great urgency; so it can be disorienting when you are supposed to receive it passively as part of a film theatre-audience. More so, that is perhaps the only part of the film that is ‘real’, for the Kashyap-universe, colonised perpetually by immoral two-bit low-lifes, lusty massage parlour owners, quipping bearded hooligans and shady coppers is as based in impenetrable fantasy as the universe of his presumed larger-budget nemesis Karan Johar.  Ofcourse, Kashyap needs to make ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ films – so he will cake his story with scandal (“Look! A twist-ed ending.’) where there is need for none – because isn’t the notion of a father who aborted from his familial life by itself ‘disturbing’ enough – why does it need the revelation of a ‘deep, dark secret’ from the past to propel it’s seediness? But that is probably because while Kashyap directs plots, he cannot really direct psychologies – for all the ‘cool’ shots of the girl in the yellow boots walking aimlessly pretty much everywhere, there is not one sequence where you may gain her acquaintance, and no, not even the one where she launches into a monologue (Kalki strutting off her skill) about being ‘lonely and needing someone’ – because while she says it, she certainly doesn’t seem it. Also, it does not help that Kashyap, now six films old, still just cannot figure out how to stage a scene with more than one person in it.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara |
 Zoya Akhtar, 2011, India

Akhtar-‘n’-Akhtar launch another attack upon the simple-minded pursuit of a ‘conventional’ vocation, and resume, with renewed fervor, their promotional drive for a life where one ‘follows their heart’. Ofcourse, the irony of their own statement is lost on them – Laila (Kaif, acts with her complexion), their mouthpiece propagandist, is the one who is actually doing a job during her college-break, when she begins advising Kabir (Hrithik Roshan, very sincere), who is on a 3-week long vacation in Spain, on how to ‘let go’. What, according to Akhtar, affords her the steady luxury of commentary on another’s existence then? The fact that she is a scuba-diving instructor. Essentially, the central agenda for Akhtar-Akhtar films are this: people performing mundane ‘jobs’: a banker, a stock-investor, a fish-seller must all one-by-one quit and take to the pursuit of ambitions that they have certainly repressed: to be a rock-band frontman, a scuba-diver, a tourist to Morocco. But their insight into this deep-set human need for ‘liberation’ is not born out of any real experience, but from schlocky utopian idealism – of life in an art-village where everyone is a painter or a writer. It is not as if their films are entirely devoid of utopia as well;  in both Rock On and this film (whose title pompously harks back to Rock On itself), the final sequences are set in a dreamland where everyone is dressed in designer-wear, and either dance or just run in slow-motion. It is impossible, also, to miss the larger irony – in this ‘Postcards from Spain’ film, the three protagonists, on their path to hokey self-discovery – drive in vintage-cars, sky-dive, scuba-dive, stay in lavish hotels, eat in expensive restaurants, but there is not a single shot where any of them pays up for any of this entertainment. It is a film with a lot of affected profundity, but not a single truth.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
 | Rupert Wyatt, 2011, USA

This is perhaps the first instance in the history of cinema that an animal outperformed several decent actors. As if to add insult to injury, the animal in question, an ape is computer-generated. Andy Serkis is a brilliant actor and he somehow manages to have his talent transcend computer imagery in roles where he is only providing motion capture. His performance as Caesar in this prequel to what seems to be like the beginning of a whole new "Planet of the Apes" franchise is intense as it is charismatic. The rest of the cast which includes James Franco, Brian Cox and Freida Pinto can only try to keep up with the energy of this CGI ape. The film makes no pretensions on trying to seem more than what it really is but it has its moments. Roger Ebert, in his review of the film mentions Freida Pinto "is gorgeous". So far nothing has been said of her acting skills, which are rarely called to action in this film and her meagre twenty or so minutes of screen time don't move any mountains. Perhaps, she should consider a CGI supplement to her next performance.

Final Destination
5 | Steven Qaule, 2011, USA

The last (pray it is) in the series of Final Destination films that never seem to reach their destination. The first 3D film of the series, its impresses in the setup of its gruesome kills. Directed by a nobody, Steven Quale, the film follows the usual formula of a typical FD protagonist who has a vision of something bad that is about to happen to him and the people around him and he manages to evade it in its repeat in real-time. This however builds up a debt with death that each of the survivors have to repay with them being killed off in violent and vomit-inducing ways. The best part of the film is that it doesn't try to be anything more that what it actually is- a really bad B-movie. The no name principal cast of actors look like the "poor man" versions of Hollywood's A-list and the acting has all the depth of an episode of General Hospital. 

The Devil's Double
 | Lee Tamahori, 2012, Belgium

The film's only saving grace is an intense performance by Dominic Cooper in the double role of Saddam Hussein's son Uday and his reluctant body double Latif Yahia. Director Lee Tamahori is known for superficial action movies such as xXx: State of the Union(2005) and the last nail in the the Brosnan bond's coffin, Die Another Day (2002). An intruiging subject matter such as the memoirs of the elusive body double of the son of Saddam Hussien could've perhaps been better handled by a more serious director. Tamahori's lack of vision for the film makes it seem tedious to watch. The editing is choppy and the series of events are presented like a doomed pilot of an unoriginal soap opera pilot. The depiction of violence in the film borders on being just vulgar. The film's Belgian financers should make better use of their money instead of trying to make Hollywood movies. I would suggest they re-channel it towards The Dardenne Brothers.