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Thursday, August 21, 2008

When Legends Meet

Redirected from, where it was originally published.

Over the past 30-odd years, few actors have shaped the direction of popular culture like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It was perhaps inevitable then, that one day, the twain should,indeed, meet.....( The awesome twosome did not have any scenes together in The Godfather II, which featured De Niro as a young Vito Corleone in flashback scenes, while Pacino reprised his role as Michael Corleone)

And meet they did, in style, in Michael Mann's 1995 stylish noir flick Heat. Make no mistake: The director's achievements are considerable. The film grabs you by the scruff of the neck and never lets you go till the end. The action scenes are some of the best ones you'll ever see, the sprawling Los Angeles nightline has been used beautifully for some stirring sequences, and Michael Mann the writer, too has a winner on his hands.

But more about all this later: For now let me drool over every cine-lover's wet dream: Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in action together. Watching the two of them, you get to understand why they are rated so highly, they seem to operate on a different plane altogether. They are also a study in contrast: De Niro supremely controlled, every ripple of emotion fine-tuned, every outburst cleverly unleashed, not a single muscle betraying that he could ever be anyone else than his character........... Pacino on the other hand brings a berserker brilliance with him. When Al Pacino is on the screen, you can never be sure of what's going to happen, he pulls off every scene with an insouicance and an is-that-all kind of an air, which makes every scene he is in, his very own.

To spice things up, in this film they are on opposite sides of the law: De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a career thief and heist artist par excellence, while Pacino's character is Vincent Hana, the tough-as-nails cop with more than a mad streak. Also in the film are Val Kilmer, who plays Chris, a longtime friend and accomplice of McCauley, Ashley Judd, who plays Chris's wife and cameos by Natalie Portman who plays Hana's troubled stepdaughter from his third wedding, and veteran Jon Voight who plays McCauley's fence.

What begins as a simple cops-and-robbers tale diverges and broadens out into a personal contest between the two stalwarts as they try to give each other the slip. Hana immediately realises that McCauley is no ordinary thief and the mutual respect the duo have for each other only grows. Mann knows when to keep his cards close to his chest. From the beginning of the film, it was inevitable that the two gladiators would ultimately confront each other. But instead of making it a wild-west gunslinger sequence, he has the two men meet over coffee.

This sequence, which runs for seven minutes or so is a miniature masterpiece in itself.(And it has since then been done to death in both Bollywood and Hollywood) Not only is it a masterclass in acting, it is also a perfect example of keeping things simple and not going overboard: skills many accomplished film-makers often forget they had. As McCauley and Hana reach a tacit understanding and admire each other, they both know that when the day comes, both of them would be equally ruthless.

Christopher Nolan, who is currently the toast of Hollywood, and deservedly so, said in an interview that one of the inspirations for "The Dark Knight" was "Heat". And indeed, when you look at the noirish treatment of the action scenes, or the massively lighted skyline shots of Gotham City, you understand what Nolan is talking about. Perhaps the biggest tribute to "Heat" was(I don't know if this is intentional)William Fichtener, who gets robbed in the opening heist sequences of both films!

The bottomline is: Go watch "Heat" , if nothing else, then for the chance to see two of the greatest actors of all time in tandem. I would say that this might be your only chance, but late this year, the two legends are at it again, this time both playing detectives, in "Righteous Kill" (Giving them company is Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, but that's another story.....)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"You and I" (Whispers in the Darkness)

Whenever it rains I run for cover
And you go singing with the wind
Whenever I say life's a bitch
You just smile and ruffle my hair.....

When we sit and stare at the evening sky
I see the colours fading around me
And you see all the promise
Of an impending dawn.....

And when I lash out at no one in particular
Kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs
I know that you'll be there for me
Waiting for it to end....

Every day I wage war with the world
Knowing that there is someone to come back to
I live the life of a gypsy, but I always know
When I'm with you, I've reached home........

I don't know what it is
With You and I
(If there is such a thing)
All I know, all I trust is Us........

This is my first poem in months.......during the summer I wrote a few short stories the old fashioned way, that is, scratching away with ink and paper( a rather old, saggy diary in fact)

Let's hope I knuckle up someday and make soft copies........

P.S. The illustration you see is courtesy Soumen Goswami, who titled his sketch "Whispers in the darkness", so you could say this is my interpretation of this very haunting piece of art........

Friday, August 1, 2008

Darkness Unleashed: The Dark Knight

The trouble with writing about a film like "The Dark Knight" is that everyone seems to talking about it, and rightly so. When you have heavyweights like Roger Ebert bending over backwards to shower a film with superlatives, what chance does your average keyboard-banger have? But then again, I have two very good reasons: One, writing for me is not only about getting read but also about getting stuff out of my system, whether it is books,movies or scary IIT Professors..... Also, with regards to this genre-bending film,its appeal has cut across the different sections of movie-goers. Hence everybody has something fresh which they found about it.

And why not? For "The Dark Knight" is at once high art and in-your-face entertainment...... attempts to pigeonhole it will prove futile. Using the comic-book template, Christopher Nolan has artfully woven a compelling crime saga which delves deep into the fundamental questions of good and evil, of cowardice and sacrifice.

At the end of the magisterial "Batman Begins" Nolan had already made clear the arrival of the caped crusader's arch-nemesis, the psychopathic Joker. From the outset, as Heath Ledger ominously announces his arrival, it is clear that we are indeed "in a world without rules". More than anyone else's this film belongs to the late Heath Ledger. From the moment he comes on the screen, he rules as few have done in recent times. The Joker turns into one of the most memorable characters seen anywhere anytime. So completely immersed is Ledger that it's downright chilling to watch him, even when he is not actually delivering his lines. Ledger oozes menace with his scarred and flaky made-up visage and his nuggets of macabre anarchy. As Ledger himself commented,"He is a psychopathic mass-murdering clown........he has zero empathy.......this Joker does not crack jokes, he cracks skulls..." The manic laughter, the deranged "logic" , even the way he stands in the middle of a burning street is pure magic.

Meanwhile Bruce Wayne(Christian Bale) is struggling to come to terms with his dual identity as Batman even as Gotham grows wary of the vigilante and roots instead for Harvey Dent(Aaron Eckhart), the dashing District Attorney, who is every bit the conventional All-American hero, chiselled jaw and all. To complicate things, Rachel Dawes, his childhood sweetheart is falling for Dent, even as Batman begins to think that perhaps Dent is the right hero for Gotham after all.

Moral ambiguities form the core of the film, right from the first skirmish Batman gets into: multiple Batman impersonators interrupt as in the end one of the disgruntled imposters shouts, "What's the difference between you and me?!" And of course, the Joker's actions are tailor-made to induce moral dilemmas: the superbly orchestrated opening heist sequence as the Joker's clown posse kill each other off is mind-boggling. Later on, he kidnaps Harvey and Rachel at opposite ends of town and dares Batman to save one of them.

The interrogation scene between Bale and Ledger will go down as one of the truly memorable scenes of all time.

The Joker teases his adversary mercilessly as fear, the one deadly weapon at Batman's disposal is rendered useless.("You have nothing that threatens me" cackles the Joker. Moreover, this scene is a chilling reminder of the innate dichotomies of the story: as the Joker says, " To them, you're just a me. I don't wanna kill you! What would I do without you? No, complete me....."

Amidst all the(thoroughly deserved) mounting acclaim for Heath Ledger, Christian Bale's solid, unflinching reprisal of his role as the Batman/Bruce Wayne has gone almost unnoticed. Bale's trademark intensity and screen presence are in full bloom here as he struggles to cope up with the challenges thrown up by the Joker. A word is also in order for the old acting firm of messrs Caine, Freeman and Oldman as they turn in flawless performances.( In an interesting anecdote, Sir Michael Caine described how he, after watching Ledger perform on the sets, forgot his lines!) Aaron Eckhart(whose role was previously offered to Matt Damon) is efficient as Harvey "Two-Face" Dent while quite honestly, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes doesn't have much to do.

And finally, as a few of my friends here know, I am well and truly a Chris Nolan devotee. With this film, he makes a quantum leap, both as a writer and a director. The shots of Batman in flight amidst the glittering night skyline, or the Joker as he swings out of a police-car window are a shining testament to his outrageous gifts as a visual artist , while the inimitable dialogues and razor-sharp script only consolidate his acknowledged gifts as a storyteller. The way the film works as a post 9/11 allegory is amazing: as the Joker, the harbinger of anarchy stands by "to watch the world burn" pandemonium reigns supreme as their own fickle nature emerges as the biggest threat to the people of Gotham. I especially loved the film's decidedly ambiguous ending. In a film where everything seems to fall into place, the technical work is out-of-the-world, as is the score by veterans James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer.

With universal acclaim(it has scuttled "The Godfather" off the #1 spot at IMDB) and a record-breaking box-office performance, I suppose the only question left for Nolan is , what next? Will he continue with the franchise? Will he feature the Joker again in another movie? If so, then who will be obliged to step into the massive boots of the late Heath Ledger?(By the way, I too am rooting for a posthumous Oscar for Ledger, even though I think the shelf-value of this performance will be affected either way) Personally, I think if the Joker has to appear at all in another film, I would want either Adrien Brody(who,incidentally expressed his interest for this film) or Daniel-Day Lewis, who is one of my favourite actors of all-time. For a total wildcard(or a Joker, for that matter!), I'm gonna put my neck on the line for Leonardo Di Caprio. There, I've said it, now keep the abuse coming guys!