Category Archives: Hollywood

Brighter than Sunshine

 

Somehow I have always seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) in the month of December. Huddled in the cold in a quilt, when I saw it for the first time three years ago it left me with a feeling of cuddly tearful warmth. More than that, it was such a high to decipher its screenplay and identify with all the characters. The quiet creative anti-social Joel of Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet’s Clementine as ‘just a fucked up girl looking for her peace of mind’ in Ugg boots, the infatuated pretty Mary of Kirsten Dunst, an annoying  Elijah Wood’s ‘Patrick baby boy’ or the attractive bespectacled Stan of Mark Ruffalo. So I saw it again within a span of a few days. No film before that had left me with that tremendous feeling of having found something that was as yet intangible and unexplainable.

And you get that from everybody who has seen it. They will have that look on their face and you just understand. Yes, I know what you mean. Yet, each of us relate and engage with it personally. Why would this film have such an effect otherwise? Charlie Kaufman wrote the screenplay after he broke up with his girlfriend and it’s amusing to think about that every time up until today even when I saw it again after all these years on a rainy windswept cold winter’s day.

It’s difficult to make romantic cinema work. You either enter the cliché mushy territory that can leave you sick and disgusted. Or you enter the chick-flick zone which is another no-no (or only maybe very rarely). The Rom-coms haven’t gone a long way ever since When Harry met Sally (or at least I think so). Else there is always Woody Allen. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really comes in like a ray of light with its unique meld of science-fiction, romance, melancholy and philosophy.  

So I remember the dialogues and recite them along.

Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.

You know me, I’m impulsive

The operation is brain damage

My crotch is still here, just as you remembered it

My God, there’s people coming out of your butt.

Meet me in Montauk

The story and dialogues get a new life with Michel Gondry’s direction. I can see the visual tricks and the turns and Clementine’s changing hair colors that express her personality and stages of her relationship with Joel.  Just like her changing blue, green, orange and red hair – this film is also eternal because it means something different every time. Sometimes it is catharsis, sometimes it is longing.  The white snow at the end of the film falls like a clean slate. We fade out into the color of whitewash or even cold dew. We can feel its droplets condense to Beck’s soundtrack. Yes, I need your loving like the sunshine, everybody’s gotta learn sometime.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d. – Alexander Pope

Happy New Year!


Baby You’re a Rich Man {David Fincher’s The Social Network}

How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?
Now that you know who you are
What do you want to be?
And have you travelled very far?
Far as the eye can see.
How does it feel to be
One of the beautiful people?
How often have you been there?
Often enough to know.
What did you see, when you were there?
Nothing that doesn’t show.
Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man,
Baby you’re a rich man too.
You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo.
What a thing to do.

This classic ‘67 song by the Beatles plays over the last shots and rolls up for the final credits of The Social Network (2010). Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg dreamily, desperately, maybe even stalkishly ‘refreshes’ his browser over and over again, waiting for his friend request to be accepted by a friendly lawyer lady. And why not I guess after a couple of gruelling court settlements. And I gauge that the Facebook stalker amongst most of us began with Zuckerberg himself.

Well, this unhealthy stalkish behaviour has made him a rich man, portion of which he also proposes to donate off late. Meanwhile, David Fincher’s The Social Network presents to us the figure of the founder of this network that governs our lives today in some way or the other as a super intelligent nerd in a sweatshirt and slippers but mean and unkind towards women, and sometimes, to borrow Bibek’s phrase –  an annoying turd. The film wants to tell us that some big ideas in networking happen because of a broken heart. It’s not just Zuckerberg, who gets the idea of Facebook after he is dumped by a girl, but also Sean Parker, the guy behind Napster and played by Justin Timberlake. I am wondering if it’s a male fantasy to conquer the business world after failing to ‘conquer’ a woman’s heart. Or vice versa – having successfully conquered the business world makes it easier to get attractive women by your side. Well, that is all that this film is about. And Ivy League snobbery dominates the discourse. (Not to miss a girl’s Stanford labelled undies!)

I remember logging onto Napster as a teenager. I downloaded and uploaded a lot of music there and I was sad when it was no more. It felt great to be just sharing music with a lot of people. And I remember the first time I used Orkut and Facebook. They were mostly a means to stay connected with friends while at work. To kill boredom at work. To see profiles of people you were curious about, or had a crush on. This social network brought social life to the web. But after watching the film I feel like a number, a commodity – that is saleable. I’m an account that can be marketed to. Just as we click ‘refresh’ on our news feed on the Facebook home page, the headquarters in San Fran refresh to see new hits, new members and more advertisers.

Nonetheless, The Social Network is a well-made watch (in a typical Hollywood classic-edit way) but for me it threw up many questions about how we look at our virtual lives on the internet, on Facebook. So much so, that things we do ordinarily in reality are dominated by how well they will be publicised on Facebook. Well, it’s made Zuckerberg the Time person of the year for 2010. What has it made us? A Facebook Profile.


I’m just a little person {Charlie Kaufman’s Synechdoche, New York}

What is it about Charlie Kaufman, that throws you into the delight of complication?
I’ll call this the Kaufman emotion – one that I feel after watching anything written by him, or as right now in the film Synechdoche, New York —his first directorial venture.

Kaufman speaks in the same convoluted manner that we all speak to our own souls and those of others around us. Because this is your story….and also ours. Exactly how Cayden in Synechdoche says, “There are millions of people in the world. And none of those people are as an extra, they’re all leads in their own stories.”

In this film, he has so successfully given some words, characters and visuals to the ever difficult questions of life and death. Questions we ask ourselves at so many points of life. When the character of Cayden (fashioned after Kaufman himself?) is not sure of what he is trying to achieve through the concept of his next play, his actress (played by Michelle Williams) says, “It’s good that you don’t know…when you know that you don’t know, it is the first step to knowing.”

The beautifully constructed screenplay, is nothing but the circle of life that gives birth to its real, fictional and on-stage characters, lives and dies like a being and a world unto its own.

“The end is written into the beginning”…..a line uttered by Cayden’s love-interest……..says it all for me. For it is, isn’t it, in any written, spoken story just like life? A story that goes on and on, and never sees an end till death. Yet, it still goes on.
And as always, Kaufman blows you away with that one long monologue from one of his characters:

“As the people who adore you stop adoring you; as they die; as they move on; as you shed them; as you shed your beauty; your youth; as the world forgets you; as you recognize your transience; as you begin to lose your characteristics one by one; as you learn there is no-one watching you, and there never was, you think only about driving – not coming from any place; not arriving any place. Just driving, counting off time.”

Some of the songs have been written by Kaufman himself……and my favourite goes, “Somewhere maybe someday maybe somewhere far away………….”

I cannot express myself anymore. Excuse me, as Cayden says, “It’s Complicated.”

[I wrote this in March 2009]


War is a Drug {Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker}

Kathyrn Bigelow’s film, The Hurt Locker (2009) opens with a black screen quoting – War is a drug. And then we immediately enter the thick of the action in Iraq. A U.S Bomb diffusing team or EOD, tackles tricky ‘enemy’ bombs day in and day out in this war film, which is more of a sequence of events – of well, bomb diffusing.

The film is well made with its cinematography, camera and direction keeping you riveted, considering the subject is in itself intense. It is thrilling in a very video gaming way. Which in turn makes it devoid of layers. Does that make it an interesting war film? A.O Scott in the New York Times writes here about how apolitical the film is. I agree, it is engaging on a superficial level – bombs, timers, close calls, soldiers, Ralph Fiennes (who dies an untimely death). Pity that. But it is empty on an intellectual level. Here are three men, who have close shaves with death everyday. Our protagonist is the wild one, there is an African-American soldier who is the saner of the lot, while the third chappie is scared nuts. Do they ever question why they are in Iraq in the first place, admist their drinking binges or sado-masochistic fights? We only see action in this film, and a one-sided point of view of the American soldier. Though there is a sub-plot of the protagonist getting affectionate of a local boy and taking things personal.
But is the film depicting reality truly? Going by this article, the director has taken many liberties, and the way the events unfold in the film, are simply a dramatic staging. How then does this become a reality of a group of soldiers?

Oversimplification is something that affects many a Hollywood film. Clear cut good vs bad characters make the bedrock of the other blockbuster Avatar poised for awards, and made by Katherine Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron. Close to Hurt Locker, Avatar is also about an ex-army protagonist, who is also wild in his ways, and pushed into the position of a savior (in this case, the world). The 3-D technology it uses (effectively or not) is a video game in itself.

Calling The Hurt Locker reality cinema, without referring to the larger context of the politics of war, without delving into characters and their reasons for being in their immediate environment, without understanding them in the larger perspective – where then does cinema go?

If war really is a drug, an addiction for the protagonist of Hurt Locker – isn’t it then also a drug for governments that send out their foot soldiers into war? Isn’t it a drug for filmmakers as well, for whom the setting of battle is the epitome of a great story?

How trite the story, and how cliched the speech.


All is Love! {Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are}

I am weeping with joy. Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are (2009) can do that. This is why I love Children’s films, because they are also made for the grown-ups, that you can watch with children, or if you are watching them alone, then remember yourself as a child and watch it with the child inside you.

It takes you into an alternate world of funny imaginative creatures. It deals with the pains of growing up, and realities of childhood. And most of all, it makes us realise how all children are inherently growing up, while all grown-ups are just children inside.

Adapted from a popular book of the same name by Maurice Sendak, it is the story of Max, a boy who has to deal with his anger issues and frustration, something that we all do sometime in our childhood, and also as adults. He enters a wilder world of wilder creatures where he can unleash his wild side, and also see a part of him in his creature friend, Carol. Can love overcome our fears? Or do our fears overshadow our love?

The soundtrack by Karen O and the Kids is a treat.

L.O.V.E, it’s a mystery

Where you’ll find me, where you’ll find

All is love, is love, is love, is love

(All is Love by Karen O and the Kids)

Watch it and let the wild rumpus begin!

Happy New Year!