Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An action masterpiece is Bourne

On the whole, Bourne Ultimatum can be slightly disappointing precisely because it’s not gratifying like action movies usually are. Not much is blown up on screen and as you leave the hall you can’t help but ask yourself, “What kinda action movie was that?”

Ultimatum, the third in the Bourne series, is also paced the fastest and the most political of the three movies, based loosely on Robert Ludlum’s novels of the same name.

During the movie's climax, an unarmed Bourne stands on the edge of a Manhattan rooftop close to the CIA’s anti-terrorism building in New York and asks the agent who has a gun cocked at him, “Do you even know why you're supposed to kill me? Look at us. Look at what they make you give.” This is as political as the monosyllabic assassin is ever going to get. That Bourne too has to get obvious and point fingers at the CIA and the government machinery is such a pity because this series, more than any other in recent times, has surprised audiences and redefined the action genre. Not once before in this series have proceedings gotten this literal.

Up until now, the psychological baggage that came with the movie was always underneath its boiling surface, like an ugly creature that can’t quite keep its head down. Except for the character Pamela Landy played with superb authority by Joan Allen and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), most of the CIA is characterised as filled with officials who are too paranoid and kill in order not to be killed.

Matt Damon plays Bourne with sunken eyes that have deep, dark circles beneath them. Gone is the air of the successful action hero – just imagine the differences between the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starrer hit Commando and this film, and you will know what I mean.

After strangling to death an assassin in the loo of a building in Tangiers, Morocco, Damon for a minute looks as if he is crying. Clearly, murdering in cold blood is not easy for this assassin. What is even more surprising is the look of shock on face of Julia Stiles, a girlfriend Bourne doesn’t remember from the past. Later, we cut to Bourne’s crushed hands from the fistfight that precedes the murder. This is also a strange shot for an action movie because we never get to see an injury unless, like in Rambo, the hero is trying to get a bullet out of his shoulder or something. Clearly, Bourne is a vulnerable assassin, whose injures, both physical and mental, bother him tremendously. Perhaps, the mental ones, those that we never see, are harder to deal with. Damon always plays Bourne with his ghosts intact.

Ultimatum begins from where Supremacy left. After apologising to Neski’s daughter for killing her parents – whoever has apologised for killing in an action movie before – Bourne escapes from Moscow. (The Neskis are Bourne’s first targets. That tale is told in Supremacy.)

Though the globe trotting spy is common to both series, what differentiates Bourne from Bond is that Bourne is an assassin with a heart. In the next scene, you see Bourne meeting Marie’s brother (Marie is his girlfriend who is killed in Supremacy) and informing him about her death. Director Paul Greengrass lingers on the scene for a while longer that most directors would, impressing upon the audience the conflict Bourne faces all through the series.

Bourne wants revenge, and when he sees an article in the Guardian by its security correspondent, he arranges a meeting with him in London’s waterloo station. The CIA is already on the correspondent’s heels and the Waterloo sequence in an ideal example of the kind of tense sequences that the series has thrown our way. The sequence is shot in a jittery fashion that makes you teeth chatter. The editing may seem like the work of a director recklessly putting together shots in no logical sequence. But it isn’t. The effect caused by the editing that has marked the last two movies of the series is innovative and unsettling. I was amazed to see a number of top angle shots merged seamlessly with eye-level shots of Bourne on the move.

Later in the movie, in a sequence reminiscent of the one in Identity where he talks with the Frank Potente character, Bourne converses with Stiles in a cafĂ© in Madrid. This time Bourne doesn’t talk much as he did then. Nicky talks a bit. She tells him how difficult it was for her to let him join the program. And pause. Greengrass cuts to Stiles to Damon to Stiles. He does this a couple of times. And then, Nicky asks, “You don’t remember anything, do you?” This is another sequence in which Greengrass excels himself; the issues troubling Bourne during the course of his peculiar life are never again as apparent.

Much of what bothers the amnesiac is from Ludlum’s best-selling series. In the novels, Bourne is sent undercover during the height of the Cold War to kill the Russian terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal. During an assignment, Bourne is shot and loses his memory. He can feel he is an assassin, but for whom? Are his murderous acts somehow vindicated? Ludlum doesn’t go to the extent of questioning the CIA’s assassination program simply because it isn’t there in his novels. That’s something that scriptwriter Tony Gilroy and others thought of as a post 9/11 addendum. Much of the plot that Ludlum expands upon in great detail is discarded. Instead, a more modern one that is meaningful to the current scenario is written in.

And 9/11 is something that has interested Greengrass. His last movie was United-93, the story of the one plane that never found its target during the 9/11 attacks.

I can straightaway name two aspects common to all three Bourne movies: The fistfight like the one in Tangiers in Ultimatum and the climatic car chase. The fistfight in a closed room with the cameraman prancing about like the fighters themselves is something pioneered by the Bourne series. And so is the no-holds barred, death-take-all car chase. Each time, Bourne’s car is wrecked. He wrecks two cars in Ultimatum, the first time after driving one off a roof and the second – an NYPD car – is crashed into a tunnel. It’s a rare logic defying moment when Bourne escapes from these wrecks relatively in good shape.

That said I found the car chase, as impressive as it was, formulaic. In a movie that defies formula, this sequence was trite.

Another thrilling moment occurs during the chase through the rooftops in Tangiers. The sound editing during this marvelously choreographed sequence is remarkable – the dance of the drumbeats in rhythm with the shots of a nearly flying Bourne as he jumps from one rooftop to the next is a special sequence that can only be enjoyed only on the bigger threatre screen.

In the past, actors like Brian Cox and Chris Cooper have impressed us. In this movie, it's the turn of David Strathairn. Exactly how Strathairn conveys to us that his character is a coward is a mystery to me. Was it the walk that reminded one of an eunuch? Or was there something else? But convey it he does and effectively so.

It’s rare instance when a mainstream Hollywood flick takes the trouble to make its hero intelligent and sensitive. In the good old days, nothing could bother the testosterone-fueled machines that inhabited the action thriller. In contrast, Damon’s Bourne doesn’t have much of a bicep to flash around. It’s his intelligence and survival instinct that are most impressive about him and give the movie a rare edge over ordinary action flicks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Twenty20 and NYT

This NYT article identifies Sreesanth as a batsman, which he isn't, but the most impressive thing about the story is that it appeared, along with a photograph, on the New York Times homepage, a day after India lifted the Twenty20 World Cup. In all the years of reading NYT, I have rarely seen a story that can make an Indian proud. This one certainly did!

Monday, September 24, 2007


Just figured out how to add the delicious thingy on to my blog. Please add me if you are on delicious.

School chale hum!

Bharat Bala's short film for the Sarva Sishya Abhiyan looks great. The location hunt must have been mounted on a massive scale, I guess. Wished filmmakers would stop doing all the glossy, ad-like films that are just good to look at. They could do more meaningful stuff. But this is the welcome change from the sermonising films of the the 80s when all government stuff was, well, preachy.

David and I

I will indulge in a bit of narcissism here. The other guy is David Appasamy, fellow metblogger. I am on the left.

Photo by GVB sir.

Yuvaraj's 6s

The blogosphere is rife with opinions for and against TT cricket. I haven't seen a match yet what with Chennai being CASed and me being stuck in office all evening.

I had caught Yuvaraj's 6 sixes on the news. But watching it live is entirely another feeling. May be I will fall in love with cricket again!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

B. Rangan gushes about NOT meeting AB

B. Rangan winning the National award for Best Film Critic has been an inspiration. Hear from him.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Prabhu used to be on Chennai Metblogs. He is funnier in person than on his blog. He-She no longer makes me chuckle the way it used to, but I think you should read it at least once if you haven't yet.

Nam Nadu review

Review of the movie, Nam Nadu, starring Sarath Kumar and Nasser is here.

More reviews that appeared in Rediff are here and here.

My first lecture on film criticism

I recently had the opportunity to give a lecture on film criticism to students of visual communication at the Women’s Christian College in Nungambakkam in Chennai. A teacher at the L.V. Prasad Film & TV Academy recommended my name and I landed up at the college solely on the virtue of that.

As I had little time to prepare, I talked without the aid of any notes. I found this was a very bad way to lecture. Next time, I must remember to make some notes. This is because after the first 20 minutes, I found myself struggling.

But the really interesting part of the lecture was the interactive session that followed my lecture. Many of the students at WCC seem to come from ordinary middle class backgrounds and aren’t exactly geniuses. But they were enthusiastic and asked practical questions.

Film is something I am very passionate about and soon I discovered that I could really talk to the students. They warmed up to me and soon the atmosphere turned into one of joined learning. I discovered that with a little effort I can teach really well and loved the feeling. I am sure at some of the students took home something from my talk to them.

Next time I will write a speech out and post in on the blog.

Some shots

More photos here.

Photo via New Yorker.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

No more Times Select

The New York Times is scrapping Times Select. Now, a part of the NYT that used to be paid for will be made free. Link.

Sopranos wins again

Sopranos has won the Emmy award for best drama series.

Actor James Spader, who won the best actor award for another series Boston Legal said,

"Oh my goodness. I feel I have stolen from the mob. And they are all sitting over there."

Spader was, of course, referring to the cast of Sopranos, which became only the second series to win the award after going off air.

UK's top 50 designers

I know nothing about the subject. But the link makes an interesting read.

Ram Varma vs. Ravana Iyer

Mr Subramaniam Swamy, president, Janata Party has said that Ravana was Brahmin. I think even the Ramayana says this. And Rama is the Khastriya by birth. Isn't it fun to imagine them both representing castes? Religious Hindus, please be liberal enough to forgive this prankster.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sethu project

Another article in Metblogs. Again on Sethu project. Link is here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Removed your links

As I said here, I have moved all my feeds to Google reader. The posts I want to share are anyway on the blog. Therefore, I have removed all the links to my friends' blogs from here. But I will continue to read them on the reader and share them with you.

I link to myself

I wrote about the fear that terrorists cause among us and on a protest in Chennai against the destruction of the so-called Sethu bridge. Both those posts are at Chennai Metblogs.

Two film reviews are at Rediff. Seena Thaana 001, which is bad, and Satham Podathey, which is good.

Movie on Iraq war

I hope In the Valley of Elah ushers in a steady stream of movies on the Iraq war. Directed by Paul Haggis, whose film Crash won the best picture Oscar, this movie seems promising. Hope this is released in India soon. What are the films that you have seen on this Iraq war? Strangely enough, I don't remember a single one.

Check this (list of movies to be released this fall in the US) and this (awesome trailers).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chandrachoodan takes a dig at Desipundit

I have known Chandrachoodan for a while now. We used to jointly blog at Chennai Metblogs. In his latest post, CC takes a dig at Desipundit's anti-Tamil bias. As he says, the bias is very latent and being a rare reader of Desipundit I have never discovered it myself too. That said, I think you should read the post. It's here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Funniest ad ever

This is an ad for Budweiser beer, chosen as one of the funniest ads in the world. It certainly is very funny.

Link via Chandrachoodan.


Forewarning: This might sound pathetic. Ever since I resumed blogging after my month-long break, the number of comments on my blog have sharply decreased. A couple of blog readers said they could not post their comments for various reasons. A request to everyone who reads this blog: Do make your comments if you have more than "nice blog" to say. Even if you want to say " nice blog", still go head and say it :) Suddenly, it seems impossible to keep going without your valuable feedback. If you use a blog reader, please take the trouble of visiting the blog and adding your comment.

Magic in film and book

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix: The entire series is getting a little tired on film. The feeling that the books provided that one exciting night are somehow missing in the movies. And yet, make no mistake, this is a director at the height of his powers working with a cast at its peak. Did you know that the series has at point or the other engaged many of the top British talent in film and theatre? And yet something is missing in the movies. I dearly wished for a private moment with Harry. Like may be a shot of him just thinking. I never got it.

The Illusionist: Saw this on Kunal's suggestion. Pretty good thriller. Was disappointed when the ending was so predictable. It is about a magician. If I say anything more I am in danger of ruining the movie for you. But do watch it.

Deathly Hallows: Read the NYB review, pls. I am asking you for the second time.

Apna Asmaan

Apna Asmaan is a bit like Maggie ketchup. It's different. And makes great show of that fact. Not that this is a put off, but if different isn't what you are looking for, you would do well to stay away.

Debutant Kaushik Roy combines an autobiographical tale with a fable-like medical thriller and produces a movie on, of all subjects, parenting. Elements of science fiction are thrown in for good measure, but it's the allegory of his fable that Roy is most interested in.

Debutant Dhruv P. Panjuani plays an autistic and artistic teenager, a boy who heartily sings "Ham Honge Kamiaab" in top pitch as he draws endlessly. His sketches (made in real life by Roy's son Arko) retain a certain raw allure that stem from the naivety of the artist.

His mother Padmini played by Shobana dreams that he would become a mathematical genius, a goal she never attained after marrying Ravi (Irrfan Khan). Sacrificing her passion for dance and mathematics, she is now almost a single mother with the father largely absent from the business of raising the boy. Irrfan plays Ravi, the father seeking refuge in drink, with charming laziness, for want of a better word, and in moments of outpouring of guilt, a rare intensity.

Enter the "brainbooster" and its shady inventor and "cosmic allopathic" doctor Sathya played by Anupam Kher. Both parents are hooked on the news of the doctor's exploits in distant Mexico, and, so one day, Ravi in drunken stupor procures the medicine and administers it to his son, turning him into a guinea pig.

This is a sequence in which Irrfan stands out. There is scene earlier in which he is drinking straight out of the bottle sitting in his car on an abandoned road. You can almost hear his brain ticking away. "Should I buy the medicine for my son or shouldn't I?"

Later, he begs the doctor for the medicine, but doesn't give it straight away. That day comes when he has another bout of guilt. But nevertheless, he gives his son the medicine knowing fully well that this will likely cause amnesia in him.

His neurons recharged, or whatever it is that happens when you have a brainbooster, the lovable and honest autistic turns overnight into a cruel, sadistic boy-genius with no memory of his parents or their love for him.

This rather neatly sets up the climax, but Roy is least interested in hastily pulling down the curtains. In scenes scripted to make parents having grandly impossible ambitions for their children cringe, Roy sets the Khalil Gibran quoting, conscientious brain doctor Dr Sen (Rajat Kapoor) loose on them.

The acting from the small ensemble is flawless. Dhruv is convincing and in directing him Roy shows a penchant for bringing out the best in his actors. Some of the more dramatic strokes apart, this is engaging cinema from Roy and his team.

(A version of this appeared in Deccan Chronicle on September 9)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Google reader

When I began blogging, Bloglines was happening. Having never blogged before and lacking in finesse to use a blog reader, I just visited blogs randomly. Without boasting, I can say I really explored blogs, got my teeth into it and all. It was adventurous to go to a blog with the certain knowledge that you will never visit it again. Gradually, I discovered Google reader. For a few weeks now, I have the Google reader thingy - it has the title Nandhu's shared items - on my blog in which I can share with you guys what I liked of what I have read. Please make sure you read the post on Potter from New York Review of Books. Come to think of it, I often update this widget. More often certainly than I update my own blog. So keep an eye on it. Many of the posts are better than mine.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rajnikanth and reclaimation of lost things

I don't know if this is true of all revenge cinema in Tamil. But in recent Rajnikanth movies, the crisis involves him losing something - like say a house. In Annamalai, his "hut" is destroyed by bulldozer. In Arunachalam, he loses his identity. In Padayappa again, he loses his house. This also a key scene in Sivaji. It's not even a turning point in the movie when he reclaims it. That is supposed to happen anyway. The audience knows the superstar and fully expects him to get back every single thing he has ever lost. But the crisis does set up the climax of the movie and in some cases also lends the story its central thread.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Film review: Vacancy

Check in, but you will never check out

Vacancy is a B-movie you will forget next year. This isn’t a film you are going to tell your grandchildren that you stood in queue to watch. Neither will this movie pick up a small, cult audience the way films like Saw and Hostel do. But director Nimrod Antal keeps his story simple and straightforward. And at the end of the day, he does deliver on the thrills and chills. That’s saying a lot especially at a time when big egos and studios are sinking ambitious and expensive thrillers faster than the Titanic.
Kate Beckinsale, the reining queen of creepy B-movies, and Luke Wilson play a bickering couple returning to Los Angeles after an arduous reunion her parents. David Fox (Luke) goes off the Interstate in an attempt to take a shortcut and soon enough finds himself in the middle of nowhere, where his car breaks down. The parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal movie Psycho must haunt any viewer at this point.
Nowhere is exactly where Pinewood Motel is. A board announces that everyday is the
Fourth of July at the motel, which reminds you of the motels of the 60s. The manager played with creepy deviousness by Frank Whaley is unfortunately a snuff film maker. Snuff films are the stuff of legends. Not one has yet been found. A snuff film is where the filmmaker shoots and distributes a film in which a human is killed for the purposes of “pleasure”.
The Foxes soon find this out from a tape of snuff killings left conveniently behind at their room. In the tape, some women are being killed possibly after being raped. The Foxes spend the rest of the movie finding a way out and in the process undergoing some useful marital therapy. Their relationship, which is on the verge of divorce, at the end of the movie is miraculously renewed.
The movie is shot on a shoestring budget and cinematographer Andrzej Sekula fills his canvas with reflections. After a point, these reflections are pointless and make the movie seem pretentious.
Movie is recommended for viewing only if you are a compulsive thriller addict.