Sunday, July 13, 2008

Could The Happening really happen?

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." - Albert Einstein
Manoj Night Shyamalan got a doozy of a premise and Albert Einstein to back it! (Though Einstein must be turning in his grave for what is now being attributed to him). The Bees disappear and a discussion about it (which involves the above quote) in a Philly high school classroom builds up THE HAPPENING.
The movie starts with beautifully shot cumulous clouds and with James Newton Howard’s menacing music. It gives us the eerie feel and an idea about events about to happen (not that this film as a whole is scary, despite Shyamalan’s claims). Suddenly, mass suicides happen in parts of north-east US, notably in parks. Not far into the movie, are we told the reason. The plant life, in a last-ditch attempt to save themselves, evolve into releasing neurotoxins that disorient the human brain and turn them into suicidal zombies. The plant life starts targeting humans. This triggers mass suicide in public places with trees around.

The idea of green vegetation turning malignant might have seemed preposterous if handled by a lesser director, but not with this auteur at the helm. Shyamalan has his visual flair stamped all over the movie. His regular cinematographer Tak Fujimoto taps into the shock value of the theme with such finesse that we dread the rustling trees and find the moaning wind ominous. With some trepidation, we wonder about what lies just beyond. Never has the sight of wind blowing across green fields seemed so eerie. The effect of seeing humans turning so viciously on themselves and then their falling bodies is not lost on us. Music and Camerawork are two main characters in this film and they do exceedingly well. The problem starts with the ‘real’ characters, a couple, played by Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel. Both are miscast, the latter more so . Both are poorly written for especially when you consider this - "Suppose you knew you were going to die. Suppose you knew you had only a minute of life left. All that other stuff -- what arrangements would you make, would you look for a way to escape -- all of that is done, over with, dusted. You have a minute, period. What would you do with that minute? What would you tell the one you loved?". This is what Shyamalan said the movie’s core is about and this is the part completely missing from the movie! Blame it on his writing, Wahlberg’s wooden acting and Deschanel’s BIG translucent blue eyes, the movie has its soul missing. And, so, everyone wonders what the climax scenes are all about.

So, we have a bang of a premise which peaks early and ends in a whimper. While the movie’s pace works for it, its writing fails it. But Shyamalan has become so adept with this genre -- paranormal stories with a wait-for-it twist ending that the movie sure is entertaining despite its failings. It successfully plays on people's fears for the future about such things as terrorism and climate change. It gives us the thrills and pops up the big question "Could this really happen?" through its provocative theme. The theme of nature’s payback, itself sits somewhere between science and fiction.While
some see the movie as a parable in view of man's continued assault on our green planet, some may view this as sci-fi, in line with red tide syndrome mentioned in the movie. Half of the viewers may find the movie too thoughtful and so may digress into laughter seeing the boom mikes hanging over actors’ heads in some scenes (unbelievably poor production values, I wondered if these scenes actually made Shyamalan promote this movie as 'the greatest B grade film ever').

Call it the hypening, the knives were out for the movie even before it opened and when it did, almost all reviewers dutifully panned it. Despite this, the $60 mn movie collected well over $130 mn in the 1 month since its release. Maybe now the critics should take a break and take honest filmmaking a little more seriously.

Shyamalan has never been a critics' favourite, even his sensational hit The Sixth Sense was panned by major newspapers. Maybe his getting up close and personal with a very sparse set of central characters while rambling about faith frightens or bores most of the critics, they simply write him and his movies off. But, Shyamalan surely is the one who is not afraid of making films that do not appeal to everyone; he is true to his inner voice seems to be quite sure about elements of his craft. What else would make him turn down those high-profile offers from Harry Potter, Narnia and Indiana Jones franchisees? In the seven years since he was knighted by Newsweek magazine as the next Spielberg, he has never tried to cement his A-list status. After all, his 2 biggest hits grossed $1.7 bn worldwide and it could have been easy setting up his tent-pole. He did exactly the opposite. He did not even move to LA. He stills lives and shoots in his beloved Philly, his city of brotherly love (by now it has become to him what Manhattan is to Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese). He took on the bosses at Disney quite publicly, over the script of ‘Lady in the water’. He claimed that fight was to preserve his individuality and to keep making movies he believed in. He parted from Disney and joined Warner. After the debacle of ‘Lady..’, he would have been a broken man if not for his conviction and self-belief . He seems to be high on self-realization and I guess that brings out the many layers in his movies. I loved all his movies since 'The Sixth Sense' with the exception of 'The lady..', which i did not watch. Despite all the flak they attracted, I very much loved his ‘Signs’ and ‘The Village’ for all the layers and nuances. Although, as one of my friend suggests, that could just be my own interpretations. His novel themes are stimulating and are refreshing among so much conventional action/drama/romantic stories.

Notwithstanding how good he is at his genre, I would just like to see a regular story from him without the spooky touch, where everything is what it seems! Well, it’s quite possible that with his ability to harness his undergrad good looks, a million watt smile, and an ease to talk nineteen to the dozen, he can make the Ronnie Screwvalas trust him with their monies for his non-spooky projects as well. All he needs to do is open up his mind, empty out the dead people and then write. Let’s hope it happens.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

If only they could split the trophy!

“I am just glad I was able to win another one before Rafa starts winning them all" – Federer after 2007 Wimbledon Final.

When Rafa cried in the locker-room after losing a superb five-set final to Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year, he earned a rebuke from his uncle and coach, Toni, that no tennis match was important enough to warrant tears. Rafa cried again last night, and, warrant it did, he just earned an extraordinary victory at his third finals attempt, the claycourt master having just dethroned the king of grass.

Rafael Nadal dethroned five-time champion Roger Federer as king of Wimbledon last night, with an epic 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (8/10), 9-7 win in one of the greatest grand slam finals of all time. It is already counted as the greatest Wimbledon final ever. In the centre court festooned in near-darkness after almost five hours of epic, see-saw tennis, Rafa finally prevailed in one of the sport's all-time classics, vanquishing Roger Federer in his attempt to become the first man since the 1880s to win six consecutive Wimbledon championships. Twenty-seven years after a left-handed John McEnroe wrecked Borg's hopes of landing six in a row, Federer's dreams are also scuppered by another left hander!
The win also ended Federer's six-year, 65-match winning streak on grass. This victory made the 22-year-old Nadal only the third man to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season, and the first since Bjorn Borg in 1980, while giving Spain its first men's champion since Manolo Santana in 1966.

In doing so, Rafa had to beat not just his rival but the weather and the light! Downpours twice sent the players running for covers. Lewis Hamilton, another victor in equally bad conditions, can count himself unlucky to be thoroughly upstaged on a day when he won the British grand prix. (Ofcourse, he beat no Federer).

Rafa gave us a glimpse of the things to come in the previous year's final. It was a tough loss. Bjorn Borg indeed predicted 2008 would have a traditional Federer-Roger final but Rafa would win it. How true that turned out to be. Somehow, Federer's magic wand does not work when it comes to the majorcan muscleman. He looks very much a mortal, unlike the superhero he looks like while playing others. We have seen the Baghdatis’ and Roddicks’ of the world who run away with the initial set, only to exhaust and fall flat for Federer to walk all over them in the next three sets. Rafa is different; he is a bull dog who never gives up. No two players have met in more grand slam finals in the Open era, and nor has any pair met in three successive finals at two different majors, as did this Swiss and the Spanish pair. Over the years, it looks as if they, with each passing encounter, got affected by each other! Initially, we presumed Federer was all finesse and Rafa, all force and then they started borrowing a little from each other. For, now we see glimpses of that ferocity in Federer even as Rafa refined his game.
Even as they mutually respect each other off-court, they put every ounce of their mental and physical ability into the game and compete fiercely. Four weeks after humiliating Federer in the French Open final, Rafa demonstrated that the balance of power in men's tennis had shifted in his favour when he punched through Roger Federer's aura of invincibility that just kept on growing since 2003. Rafa, the longest-reigning No. 2 in modern tennis history proved that he can win a big one on something other than the red clay of Paris. Rafa had only one title on grass, Federer's total stood at 10. Rafa had a 30-7 win-loss record on grass, the Federer's was a far more impressive 81-11. No one had been able to beat Roger the emperor on his favourite turf for 65 matches. Grass, its his fiefdom.

However, Rafa had a much more impressive warm up to Wimbledon than Federer. Rafa beat Roddick and Djokovic in the same week. He won his first title on grass. He had a 11-6 win-loss record against Federer. He had all the momentum. Such has been the Spaniard's form, entering the contest on the back of a 23-match winning streak, he made even the stylish Swiss look like an ordinary club player when he bagged the first set and clawed back from 4-1 down to take the second. Federer had his opportunities but could only convert one of 13 break points while sending down 52 unforced errors to the world number two's 27.

As the storm clouds moved in, Federer began to lose his trademark cool becoming frustrated with his performance, one commentator remarking that it was "very dark around here and it's not just Federer's mood."

It is almost a Shakespearean tragedy for Federer, the rise and the fall. A 'federer forehand' ends it all for him in darkness where he could hardly see his challenger. "I couldn’t see who I was playing against by the end", Federer said.

As one commentator put it, "Here's Federer with the best forehand the sport has ever seen, and he puts a routine ball into the net. But then, that's the story of Nadal. He always makes you hit one more shot than you want to."

I am a big fan of Federer and it hurts to see him loose after treating us with all those class acts over the years, but then Rafa deserves it and he is indeed a worthy successor, in game and in manners. If Graciousness and humility can still be found at the highest level in world’s professional sports, I guess it’s only here. Maybe it has something to do with none of them being an American or Australian!

It was poignant to see just how much the Wimbledon crowd love Federer--they didn't cheer for him at the end, they roared. But then the old has to give way to the new. And whatever Federer feared has happened.Rafa, as always, was magnanimous in victory: "He's still the number one, he's still the best. He is a five-time champion and I have just the one." He further said "I had match points but Roger is very tough. I want to congratulate Roger because he is great for tennis, win or lose” in his broken-up English. "It's hard for me to appreciate it right now," Federer said afterward. "I can't look at it as a feel-good thing. Probably later in life, I'll be happy about the way I fought, the way it lived up to expectations. And congratulations to Rafa, a great competitor."

"It's rough on me now, obviously, you know, to lose the biggest tournament in the world over maybe a bit of light”.Federer admitted the loss was probably the toughest of his career. "[It was] probably my hardest loss, by far. I mean, it's not much harder than this right now," he said.

"Probably later on in life, you know, I'll go, 'That was a great match'. But right now it's not much of... a positive thing to end this match." "I'm happy we lived up to the expectations, you know. I'm happy the way I fought. That's all I could really do."

Well, just like with a hard-fought victory, a very close loss too takes time to sink and to be seen in perspective. And then Federer can only be proud of the greatest ever Wimbledon final he staged for us. For now, the cardigan must make do with the five buttons! I hope he comes back to his winning ways, beat the Sampras record and then maybe, add the sixth button.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

GV Prakash - Rahmanesque?

One of my friends did not quite agree with what i said vis-a-vis south indian and Hindi film music in my post on Dasavatharam. Well, here i am back with an instance that explains in part what i said there. GV Prakash, the 21 year old nephew of AR Rahman shows yet again after 'Ullasanga Utsahanga' the path the southern film music (especially Tamil) took after Rahman took over. Just listen to the compositions in 'Kathanayakudu/Kuselan' to see the kind of efforts put to bring in the many layers in vocals and orchestration. Even as he was working with the same traditional instruments, the newness is hard to miss. We got used to this kind of diet since Roja days and that is why i did not quite understand why Aascar Ravichandran had to rope in Himesh Reshammiya, who at best can hum well and rehash some old tunes.

Coming back to 'Kathanayakudu', songs are very
Maybe this is the only dubbed film in the last several years where we can actually hear the lyrcis! Well, because we have Veturi writing 2 beautiful melodies while Anantha Sriram handles 2 mor
e. What a relief without the Bhuvanachandras..! Prakash composed in such a way that he let the singers be audible while they sang and then took over the music-mixing in the interlude. Songs are meaningful and AR Rahman's impact is inevitable though. He looks like Rahman's younger days' version. In fact, some bits remind us of what Rahman did in 'Donga Donga' and 'Oke Okkadu'.

Couple of songs are especially for Rajini fans. Both are very well written by Anantha Sriram. Well, we are definitely going to see much more from this guy, who like Prakash is around 20. '
Cinema Cinema' eulogizes cinema and its reigning superstar. Shankar Mahadevan goes to the hilt. This song is a nice example as to how Rajini successfully packages his image and stardom into his movies. In fact this song is a best-fit for Rajini (despite so many stars around in south) as it recalls his fan following in other asian countries. Khailash Kher further raises the tempo for the superstar in 'Ra Ra Ra..'

It would be fun to watch Rajini in his many avatars in these songs.