Steve Jobs (#8 of 52)

This began as a random late night movie at home – because you shouldn’t sleep early on Saturday nights. Finished in two parts – one that night and the rest the next morning. Relatively interruption free, the phone and social media stayed away on their own. Which is impressive and is the first positive sign, because if you’re watching at home, a non-engaging movie will go on and on in bits and pieces.

Steve-Jobs-Michael-Fassbender-Aaron-Sorkin-Danny-Boyle

Did not know this was an Aaron Sorkin movie before I watched it, but made perfect sense afterwards. For anyone who has watched The Social Network (or the Newsroom, where he shows off on a much larger scale) – this will seem familiar. The crisp rat-a-tat of dialogues, quotes and repartees is the hallmark of a movie which as many have said – could have been converted into a stage production without much trouble. In a movie which has very little in terms of other ‘showiness’ (for lack of a better word)– it is the dialogue and the screenplay which help it stand apart. And some intense acting which never veers into overacting territory.

It’s also a refreshingly different treatment for the biography of a character who everyone already knows a bit about. So the conventional linear storyline is junked and we get what in HR terminology is called ‘3 critical incidents’ spread out over the period of 14 years connected by cool looking video montages. Having a scene by scene history lesson would not have been as cool.

What works is how the Jobs himself is portrayed – something between a hero and an anti-hero. Supremely confident in his own beliefs and abilities, yet not someone who is never wrong.  A persona who commands respect, yet has enough cockiness about him to want people to absolutely hate him. A contradiction between someone who wants to be loved and respected by the world (wants to be on the cover of Time!) yet cannot be bothered to be likable to the people around him.

It’s also nice that the director made no effort to justify all these things. There’s no back story which made him what he is, no easy linear explanation, no end goal. Nothing which will make you eventually like or root for Jobs. He was a dick, albeit a successful one. And that as Woz puts it – doesn’t have to be binary: you can be a decent person and a genius at the same time – but sometimes it isn’t so.

This is obviously a movie which has taken heavy liberties with reality – I doubt even the great Steve Jobs would have a chance to resolve battles with all the big players of his life in the half an hour leading to every keynote address, not to mention actually getting everyone there together at the around the same time, but not the same time nonetheless. But if the idea was to show us a picture of the man, then it has succeeded.

★★★★

The Revenant (#7 of 52)

This is a movie that was running for its second or third week in India. This is typically the time by which most Hollywood movies (especially the non-Superhero ones) have petered out, reduced to at best a show or a couple of shows at some of the more expensive, niche, expat-focused theaters in town.

The Revenant, boosted by its Oscar for sudden-crowd-favorite-across-the-developed-word Leonardo DiCaprio was different, still running a few shows in cinema halls in the relative urban boondocks, which to my initial surprise – which I later realized should not have been surprising – were running to full houses. So from third row seats, here are my two paisa.

therevenant-movie-posterTo summarize The Revenant, it’s essentially as a colleague told me – a two and a half hour long episode of Man versus Wild, with reference to the eponymous show by the British Army Sergeant Bear Grylls.

Things move at a fast clip and there is no time lost in setting the context. What this context is, I doubt most people in the cinema hall understood – it would take a good deal of Googling to do so. Long story short, this is 19th century America, the wild west has not yet been conquered. There’re a bunch of men who work as fur collectors (or pelt-ers I believe the correct word is) for a company. They’re attacked by the indigenous Red Indians, the original inhabitants of this land the white man is trying to take over. One of the Indian chiefs has a missing daughter he’s looking for. The French, also on the continent at that point of time – are involved in this tale somehow because they’re the ones who abducted the Indian girl.

As the band of white men beat a hasty retreat, our hero is one of the survivors from this attack and is very important because he is the only one who knows the area around and…because he is apparently very respected. There’re some unpopular decisions he takes which leads to one guy slagging him off. He also has a mixed breed son which leads to question marks from said-guy over his allegiance. Haters gonna hate right? Hero then attacked, mauled by a bear. Not a big fan of gore, but this scene was wow – really made everyone in the hall cower back! Hero unwell, rest of the crew try to carry him but realize he was slowing them down. Two men + son, including previously established villain stay back with him at extra price. Villain kills the son, convinces the other good man to run scaring him and convincing him it is a lost cause.

All this happens in around 40 minutes or so. The rest of the movie is then Man versus Wild. Hero, who can barely crawl – gradually starts to walk, forages for food, escapes from native Indians, swims down an icy cold river, walks some more, makes an native friend, rides on horseback, has his wounds tended to, survives a storm, sees his friend killed, saves a daughter of chief (I think?) from being raped, escapes from French with their horses, gets chased down a ravine, somehow still survives and staggers further and further until he’s found. And then there’s a long track about how he gets his vengeance on the man who deserted him and killed his son.

The cinematography is fantastic, the vistas are amazing and the movie looks really beautiful – like one of those Discovery videos. The basic premise of the revenge drama is engaging enough. The pain feels real, it genuinely does seem to put you there and make you feel how difficult it is to survive against the elements. However, it’s difficult to really believe what’s happening is true or unexaggerated – even though this is based on a semi-true story. For one, the transformation is quite extreme and quick. The good guys are really, completely good – the bad guys are completely, un-redeemably bad. A lot of the dialogue is lost because of guys mumbling in the cold, in unintelligible 19th century English so character motivations are difficult to completely explore. I did not understand most of the metaphors that keep appearing in the dream sequences – what was that mountain of bones or skulls for example? And the final act, went on too long and was just about to border on ironically farcical for a movie which takes itself so seriously.

This is one of those cool art movies which is still watchable because it has enough masala in it. 3 stars for Revenant, glad I watched it once in a cinema hall because this would have been tough to watch at home.

Ohh, and Leonardo DiCaprio absolutely killed it in Wolf of Wall Street. This may have been a tougher role to prepare for, but that was definitely the awesome-er bit of acting. The real star here is the cinematographers and the whole crew for those wonderful continuous shots and some amazing nature close ups.

★★★

Aligarh (#6 of 52)

So only a week after I write about how pre-conceived notions may actually impact how you eventually view a movie, I have to – happily I may add – say with conviction that the jury is indeed out on that. I saw the trailer for Aligarh a few weeks ago and was immediately as they say on social media – #MindBlown! Again, seemed just like ‘my kinda film’ – I’m beginning to think there’s a category for nouveau-faux-serious-itellectualness, but hey – you gotta be true to yourself right?

So anyways, I was quite excited about Aligarh, avoided reading any reviews as usual, some middling comments on Facebook sighted before being avoided may have been dismissed as coming from one of those ‘masala movie kinds’ (you know the ones some of us Hollywood watching snobs sneer at).

If I had to put up a 3 word review for the movie it would be – classy but confused. And while it seems contradictory for those two things to co-exist, they can. I think it’s a topic which has been handled with a great deal of sensitivity. The movie is not intrusive at any point of time, does not resort to stock stereotypes and is to a great extent realistic. Some of the ways parallels are drawn – the juxtaposition between the kissing scenes for example I loved. The grey-ness in us all: a professor discriminated for being different still maintains his own personal prejudices with pride, unwilling to even share a spoon with a friend from a different caste. The gravity of arguing about privacy in a court room and the casual way it is taken away in our homes and society.

The reticent professor, the over-enthu, can-hardly-stay-still young journo, the slimy, greasy university staff, the colleague/friend who does not want to pollute the family name, the suave yet slightly distant prosecutor all seem perfectly done. They don’t feel like actors – you can truly imagine each of them being whom they are. The small town feel right down to the smallest details, the long steady shots (the flyover in the opening scene, the vantage of the house, the balcony later on, the room with the nice lamp and many more) and the overall mahaul of the movie is spot-on. Although I must add here from the other side, there were a few occasions where the direct indulges himself a little too long to create the mahaul (the scene where Siras listens to his music is one). And showing the graphic video or recording so many times was not really necessary – I was impressed at how they were revealing details without showing any gory details, only to find after every exposition they cut back to show the clip again wondering what exactly what the purpose, if showing it multiple times was supposed to make you feel revolted then they hadn’t understood better.

And yet, yet Aligarh is not entirely satisfying. One reason may be because it is a sad, gloomy tale. It reminded me before I entered the hall of Hansal Mehta’s last movie – Citylights – again, not a bad movie but one as dour and melancholy as a movie could be. But it’s also because at it’s heart the movie seems confused. I’m no legal eagle, but for me there were two pivotal issues here: 1 – the right to privacy, the right for every man to do as he pleases in his own house and 2 – the section 377 issue, the criminalization of un-natural sexual conduct. And while the case in question definitely has components from both of these issues – one always felt that they were two tracks running parallely to each other which were never satisfactorily resolved.

What was the movie about? Was it about the court case – how the various pieces of the case actually came together, and moved apart? Is it about the protagonist Siras – what went was going on his mind, how did he evolve as a result of this event, what did he experience in that torrid time? Is it about an unlikely friendship – between a young journalist and an ageing professor who seem to have nothing in common – neither language, nor what they describe as art, not what seems to drive them – and thankfully, thankfully not even their sexual preferences (I was terrified till the last few acts that they would show the reporter to be helping the Prof. only because he himself was gay a la Taare Zameen Par). Taking multiple points of view is I am sure not an unnatural way of telling a story, but the story did not seemed to be resolved properly. Even the court case ended up more of a disqualification on a technicality rather than an logical amalgamation of the issues faced.

My mind goes back to that middling post on Facebook which I’d dismissed and as I eat humble crow I have to agree with the poster – this is a movie which flirts with a lot of issues, but does not really get to exploring any of them properly.

3 stars for Aligarh then, a well made movie with the best of intentions on a subject that although it is tremendously cliched to say this – needed to be made.

★★★