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GREAT 8

Anjan Dutt’s movie picks

The HATEFUL EIGHT

John Ruth (Kurt Russel), a bounty hunter, is taking a violent fugitive, Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to justice. Enters Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a disgraced army officer who is also a bounty hunter, transporting three corpses to Red Rock. The two of them with the captured Daisy halt at a roadhouse because of a snowstorm. In the roadhouse called Minnie’s Haberdashery waits Joe (Michael Madsen), Englishman Mowbray (Tim Roth), the Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) and an old man (Bruce Dern).…

The rest is a superb mixture of a chamber Agatha Christie thriller-cum-Western action film unfolding like Reservoir Dogs. Quentin  Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is his best because of the sheer mastery of screenwriting and superlative performances. Why do I call it his best? Not because it’s a better movie than Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown, but because he almost manages to do the impossible. To successfully mix genres like never before. In The Hateful Eight, Sam Peckinpah meets Harold Pinter. Only a master can pull off such an extremely absurd yet devotedly Western combo.

And all this is possible because of the script, the classical chamber room camerawork and brilliant acting from Quentin’s favourite actors.

As the film progresses you know that everything has been preset; the murders are already committed.

So, the entire scenario that you are seeing is a setup/being staged. I will not reveal the climax because I want you to watch it on DVD to actually realise that Quentin is only getting better. An absolutely brilliant performance from his very negative, slimy hero Samuel L. Jackson, who actually carries a letter from Abraham Lincoln stating how important the black army officer is to history.

Bang! That’s your political message too. 

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a guilt-ridden janitor in Boston suffering a devastating tragedy, is summoned back to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew after the sudden death of his brother. What follows is a highly emotional tale of a second chance.

When I saw Robert Redford’s Ordinary People as a teenager, I was affronted by the pain of people like us unable to handle middle-class crises. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea reminded me of that hugely painful experience. Only this time Lonergan’s script has the weight of an Arthur Miller.

By sheer mistake on a very cold night, Lee had forgotten to put the net over the fireplace of his children’s room and the house had burnt down killing them. Lonergan captures the trauma of the irreparable mistake of life as it is lived in the real world with sheer brilliance that has touches of the black humour of Woody Allen. The teenage nephew who walks into Lee’s life is afraid of cold, as Lee is traumatised by heat….

Casey Affleck’s brooding, anguished Lee reminded me of Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront. He is effortlessly electric. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes’ highly saturated colours and moody landscape make this sombre tale stand out in a world that is otherwise so beautiful. Editor Jennifer Lame’s highly complex editing of flashbacks heightens the inner tension.

Manchester By The Sea is perhaps my best film of 2016 after Moonlight.

CHRONIC

I am amazed that Michel Franco’s Chronic did not get into the Oscars in 2016. Clearly one of the best films in recent times on death and love, after Michael Haneke’s Amor, Chronic is a meticulous and disturbing film about a male nurse who attends to dying patients during their final days.

Tim Roth, one of my best actors nowadays, is David. Famous for playing edgy and impetuous characters, Tim does exactly the opposite. He plays patience with such quiet effortlessness that you are left thinking whether the brooding yet caring David is a pervert, sadist or the kindest man in this futile world.

David gets creepily close to his patients, even starts living their lives mentally. He achieves an easy intimacy with his patients which even their close ones cannot. Be it a dying AIDS patient whom he bathes and feeds with utmost care, or a paralytic old architect whom he satisfies by helping watch pornography on his iPad and is accused of sexual harassment, or an elderly woman suffering from terminal cancer, undergoing chemotherapy, whom he cleans with utter care each time she cannot control her bowels. In short, Tim Roth is effective, sad and harrowing at the same time.

Numerous times the dying naked bodies are exposed as David cleans them, but Yves Cape’s cinematography is unflinchingly graphic and maintains a distance with constant midshots which provoke graceful witnessing. Franco refuses to wallow in depression, though the film is all about death and decay. 

ARRIVAL

Linguistics professor Dr Banks (Amy Adams) is summoned by the US military to communicate with whatever is behind the sudden landing of UFOs all over the world. She is to be aided by her ex-husband Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist. Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) is there to control the operation. Dr Banks is suffering from the irreparable loss of her child.

Denis Villeneuve’s menacing science fiction Arrival is actually a highly philosophical tale of the truth behind language, communication, imagination, tolerance and, above all, a political statement on the current post-electoral scenario of intolerance.

Arrival questions the fact that whenever we encounter a world radically different from us, we inevitably take an aggressive stance. Why? Brilliantly acted by Adams and Renner, Arrival is about talking and listening to difference. About making adjustments. Bradford Young’s moody, dimly lit interiors and twilight exteriors are a refection of not only the lead actor’s mental state but the brooding state of our world that has very little light. The light of enlightenment. I personally feel Bradford Young deserved the Oscar for Best Cinematography.

Arrival is the best science fiction I have seen since Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

THE NICE GUYS

Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon in 1986. In 2016, he was back as the writer-director of a neo noir comic thriller that made me snigger and enjoy popcorn the way I did in my 30s.

The Nice Guys is a rather nice movie. Like Chinese tea after a heavy meal. Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a rotund, violent thug who pairs up with shambling, inept PI called Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and is desperately looking for Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), who starred in her boyfriend’s naked movie. The boyfriend’s house was burnt down by a vicious killer named John Boy (Matt Bomer). Played out against the backdrop of boogie nights, crashing parties, escaping from violent hitmen, the hilarious odd couple get to the bottom of a conspiracy of porn business involving big automobile makers and the cops themselves.

The Nice Guys is an ultra-violent burlesque of the 1970s. Only like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, this time we watch two great actors play out their vulnerability in style.

Like in a Raymond Chandler gone as crazy as Dario Fo, you sometimes wonder why your hero Crowe is a little too jowly, used and fat. That’s where he scores like Philip Marlowe if ever played by Jack Nicholson. Ryan Gosling is a brilliant match with his lazy, drunk yet more clever Holland March.

HELL OR HIGH WATER

Two brothers, the ex-con Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), are robbing a series of banks to save their family ranch from a long overdue mortgage. Sheriff Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is on their trail.

Director David Mackenzie comes out with a Western chase movie steeped in noir that takes its own time to slowly engulf you in a chess game where the action is more a battle of wits than gore.

Giles Nuttgens’s camera is moody and sombre. He captures the sun-burnt, lavish landscape of Southern California with sultry frames that are rare for an action film. It concentrates more on the gloomy predicament than genre style. Jeff Bridges as the laconic sheriff kicking the doors of retirement is simply smashing. Bridges is like the film itself. Takes his time, the old-fashioned way, to corner and outwit the robbers. But the time taken is filled with engrossing, witty surprises and repartees.

THE SALESMAN

Asghar Farhadi has come out with his best work till date. The Salesman starts with an earthquake in Iran. A couple have to flee their home. However this home is not being destroyed by the earthquake but by their own psychological predicament. They put up temporarily in an apartment that once belonged to a whore with memorabilia of her strange, pathetic life.

The couple — Emad played hauntingly by Shahab Hosseini and Rana played with equal aplomb by Taraneh Alidoosti — are playing the lead roles in a theatre production of Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman — Willy Loman and Linda. Though not a metaphor, Farhadi tries to use the helplessness of middle-class violence inherent in Miller but refuses to draw the obvious conclusion. Rana is attacked in her bath. The attacker flees leaving his pick-up truck. Rana is terrified, undergoing mental and physical breakdown, even on stage. Emad is more concerned about the injury to his manhood. 
The layered, complex and heart-wrenching story of domesticity and violence has the pace of a potboiler.

Like in most Farhadi films, the human world is far too complex and steeped in bitter humanism to justify vengeance.

Farhadi, a staunch believer in non-embellishment, hand-held verite style and neorealist minimalism, turns The Salesman into a powerful film about conjugal life.

Those who have seen his A Separation, About Elly or The Past are in for a huge leap.

FENCES

At the end of the film, Viola Davis’s Rose manages to blurt out to her angry son who refuses to go to his daddy’s funeral... “He stopped you to achieve what he himself could not. But he also in his own way wanted you to be what he couldn’t be… It’s how you look at it son.”

Based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Denzel Washington directed, produced and starred in Fences, which reminded me of two of my favourite directors — Sidney Lumet and Billy Wilder. They don’t make movies like this nowadays in Hollywood.

Not for a single moment in the entire film the director and Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s claustrophobic photography lose focus of the characters and what was being spoken. The story of Troy Maxson — a failed baseball player and garbage collector, and his stubborn battle for survival in the depression of 1950s Pittsburgh and inglorious death — turned out to be one of the most compelling watches of 2016. Here the actors are given the first priority.

Viola Davis comes out with one of the most heart-wrenching performances as Troy’s wife Rose. Third time in the running, she very justifiably snatched the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Washington’s Troy is as much a kickass as he always is. But young Jovan Adepo as his son Cory manages to fight him step by step as the misunderstood son, and almost upstages the giant.

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