26 Jul 2017

Movie News: Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Set for 40th Anniversary Re-Release

Steven Spielberg's path-breaking 1977 sci-fi alien movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind is set for a Sep 1 re-release at select US theaters. The trailer promises 4K picture quality and upgraded special effects.

My take, as an ardent admirer of the film, is to miss the full-length trailer and just watch the film. The teaser trailer above is an adequate surprise, without giving much away. The less you know the more you will enjoy this exceptional, unexpectedly moving motion picture.

Spielberg's Indian Following
Re-releases are not a trend in India. But I do hope that the film somehow finds its way to select Indian theaters too. Among Indian audiences, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the least known of Spielberg's classic movies. Spielberg's fame in India can be attributed to the monster universal success of Jurassic Park (1993) and subsequent releases Saving Private Ryan (1998), Minority Report (2002), Catch Me If You Can (2002) and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).

But few here in India have seen the director's early works, notably the much-acclaimed road thriller Duel (1971), his first blockbuster Jaws (1975), arguably the best Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and that wonderfully endearing sci-fi/kids adventure E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Re-releases and India
India did have a culture of re-releases in the 70's and 80's. But the coming of VHS tapes, CD's and advanced digital mediums, lead to rampant piracy. Unchecked piracy continues to affect footfalls at theaters across the country. Superior quality movie files are now downloaded into pen drives and watched at most households. Apart from satellite TV, legitimate online streaming services and mass availability of free Internet has further dampened movies-on-the-big-screen culture.

There's nothing like re-releases to bring genuine movie lovers to the cinema halls. At that note, hoping against hope to catch Close Encounters of the Third Kind at a theater near by or affordably far far away.

23 Jul 2017

Movie Talk: The Case of the Smiling Dunkirk Extra

In these torrid times of cell phone addiction, HD picture quality and streaming content, nothing escapes the PAUSE button. So for someone of Christopher Nolan's stature to have overlooked a split-second smiling extra in a key Dunkirk bombing scene is almost cinematically criminal. But is that really a hiccup in a sharply edited film? Are we reading too much into the case of the smiling extra in Dunkirk?

Stand out of the gathering in a crowd scene, disobey the director's instructions, escape the editing scissors and bingo. Fame!    

To be fair, if you play out the scene, the smile can be interpreted as a concerned leer, or a resigned 'here we go again' expression. But it certainly sticks out in a film so painstakingly real.

Theory two: This was an intentional Nolan touch. There is always a joker in the pack who sees the funny side of things. "We are gonna get bombed and die anyway. Let's put a smile on that face."

Exaggerating it a bit more, probably this was a tribute to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Why so serious? Eh? Life is fleeting.

Ironically, the scene featured prominently in Dunkirk's first teaser trailer. Now that the case of the smiling Dunkirk extra is going viral on the Internet, two things can alternately happen. An unemployed extra or 15 minutes of fame on a late night show. So much for celebrity status.

Movie Review: Dunkirk: Restrained, Throbbing War Movie

A Christopher Nolan movie you can fully understand at first viewing. Boy!Is that a relief!

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan's most life-relatable film. After all, just how much psychic bend can Nolan do with true World War II events? Wait for it.

While I love Memento (2000) for its masterly nonlinear mind-bombing and the darker, rocking  Batman trilogy, Nolan's Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) were boggling and unforgivingly incoherent in their final take. Yes, keeping box office takings and popular opinion aside. So when the shroud-white-over-black-background Dunkirk film title appeared, I wished only for an easily understandable film.

The State of Affairs at Dunkirk 
It's 1940 and Germany is all over World War II. They have conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway and are weeks away from taking over France. The English, French, Belgian and Canadian Allied Forces now find themselves cornered by advancing German troops, U boats and deadly air strikes at the seaside French town of Dunkirk. Over 4 lakh soldiers face certain death, with British shores agonisingly visible to them from the shore.

Non-Linear Storytelling Virtues 
Nolan skillfully refrains from an epic, heavy, marathon take. He instead goes where most Hollywood war movies don't. A big budget military retreat movie. No gory blood, no bullet-ridden bodies, no epic battles or heroic, sentimental stuff.Undoubtedly, a standout, box-office endangering premise.

The director delves into moments, despair, defeat, death and unlikely saviours. He harks on man's basic instinct to live. Not blood-drowned killing on screen, just the primitive instinct of running when you are hunted. The universal truth conveyed here - in victory or defeat, it is damn good to be breathing and that is always enough.

Comfortingly, the nonlinear narrative results in clear multiple perspectives and heart-stopping suspense. After a held-back first hour, Nolan's reveals his unseen strands by going back-forth and delivers a heart-rending second act.

Taut Screenplay, Sparse Dialogues 
Dunkirk's writing (Nolan again) hinges on less-spoken moments, firing the story in three distinct threads, selective events unfolding on land, sea and air. He picks individuals to make the experience personal, and through their eyes, the gravity of the situation sinks in deep. When a soldier swims between two aflame, sinking ships, you share his panic. We understand that long conversations would not have occurred in such a hopeless scenario.

That Germans are unseen all through the film makes it ultra-spooky. Like the soldiers, I didn't know where the bullets, torpedos and bombs were raining from. This screenplay gamble works big time for Dunkirk.

Nervy Background Score
Hans Zimmer picks up the nerve-rattling violin from the Joker's theme in The Dark Knight and adds layers of tension and edge. The simple tick-tock of a pocket watch conveys the alarming truth - time is running out. Another classy, nervy background score from the Zimmer-Nolan combo.

Great Cast Connects in Silences  
Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard simmer as the fleeing soldiers. Harry Styles is a surprise as a British Army Private.Mark Rylance gets another meaty role as a rescuing mariner. Tom Hardy dazzles as an RAF pilot, though we largely get only his eyes, muffled voice and plane manoeuvring hands. Everything seems real and up close, thanks to Nolan's rejection of CGI and Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography.

Weak Points
When the film delves into dialogue, the spell breaks a little. Trivia on fighter plane engines and talk of young men dying to old men's orders is tad routine stuff. But this is a minor niggle.

Don't Miss It   
I can't wait to catch Dunkirk again at the theatres. There is so much to read in a second viewing, and comprehension is not a factor, thankfully. A master is at work and in a superbly trimmed 106 minutes, Dunkirk is a modern war movie classic in the making.