Friday, July 18, 2008

Of The Dark Knight

Directed by Christopher Nolan and running at close to 2 and a half hours, The Dark Knight is the 2008 sequel to Batman Begins.

Ok, with that out of the way let's answer a couple of questions. Is TDK the best movies of 2008 so far ? Yes. Is TDK the movie it was all hyped up to be ? Yes. Is TDK the Godfather 2 of super-hero movies ?


If you're going to watch this movie thinking you're going to get another whiff of Batman Begins then boy, oh boy are you wrong! This is an entirely different movie which is darker, grimmer and more complex than its predecessor. The first movie made it clear that Batman was not the all enduring hero that every other costume-freak is. No, Batman is human and a very vulnerable one at that too. And though TDK has some death defying moments that seem a bit too hard to believe, Batman is still very very vulnerable.

TDK takes place a year after the events of the first movie. The mob isn't exactly running scared but it is in its death throes and with the entrance of a charismatic DA - Harvey Dent - things are getting worse. But as the law and the Bat are concentrated on the final blows to the mob the ignore a creepy crawling danger - the Joker. And when he strikes, he strikes at the minds of everyone.

The pace of the movie is relentless. It's like jumping from one climax to the other in the entire movie and it's not like it's a couple of action scenes being bunched together. There is coherence to the movie, there is a firm plot along which the movie runs and the plot is further strengthened by formidable characters. There is the odd comic one-liners you found in the first film and here they serve to balance the frantic pace at which the movie flows. I cant find one moment where I wanted to tell the screen to hurry up. It's all deliciously timed and Nolan has achieved something entirely new in this genre. Right from the first scene where the Joker robs a bank to the end the movie is as fast as the Bat-pod.

Christian Bale is and always will be the Batman of our age. The suit and the character seems to have been made just for him. Morgan Freeman and Micheal Caine (who better than him for Alfred?) breeze through their roles with ease. Maggie Gyllenhall does a fine job with Bruce's love interest Rachel Dawes; much better than Katie Holmes. Aaron Eckhart does well with Harvey Dent. Gary Oldman is spectacular as Commissioner Gordon.

Which leads us to Heath Ledger ... and the Joker.

If you're a movie buff like me, you'll know that the Joker character was one of feathers in Jack Nicholson's cap ever since he played the role in the 1989 Tim Burton film. Now, the problem with Nicholson's Joker was that it was Jack Nicholson. You expect Nicholson to be eccentric. You expect him to be insane. You expect him to smile that god-awful smile. You just don't see the Joker there. You expect Jack Nicholson and that's what you get.

But you don't expect that from Heath Ledger. And that is why Ledger's Joker ... is without doubt ... one the greatest movie performance of all time. No, not because he's dead ... not because all the critics are raving about him ... but because it just is.

Part of this is because TDK's Joker is the original Joker. He plays with everyone's mind and literally takes the entire city hostage. After the first half hour the Joker makes his presence felt throughout the movie and you do feel his presence even when he's not on screen. Ledger brings a level of insanity to his performance that is unsettling and frightening. One of the best sequences in the film is when the Bat roughens the Joker up for answers and with each blow you slowly realize that it's no use. It's just no use. The man is mad.

Those are all the good. Let's get with the bad.

There's a moment in the movie which was just too much of James Bond. And that distracted me for a minute. If that is a hint of what Nolan wants to do with Batman in the future, then I'm not too sure about the future. This scene is so ... cliche that it actually looked ... and I mean exactly like James Bond and Q. Complete with the product placement. Very very distracting.

Two-face, although terrifying ... is not fully explored. Maybe, just maybe it's because the Joker is the hovering presence here, but no ... I just felt that wasn't it. Don't get me wrong - Two face is all that he can be, way better than Tommy Lee Jones but it just didn't quite satisfy as well as the Joker did.

So ... is TDK the Godfather 2 of the super-hero genre ?


This movie is a gem. An actual gem. It's almost not a super-hero movie. You don't have the CGI being shoved into your face. You don't have the melodrama of Spider-Man. You don't have the boyish wit of IronMan. What you have is an emotional dark tale of morality and insanity. What you have is one of the greatest screen villains in history. What you have in TDK is the complete movie. Watch the movie, even if you're not a Batman fan ... or simply watch it for Heath Ledger. You will NOT regret it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Of a dark night

"Would you like to hear a story ?"

I sigh. It's times like these when I wish I had a cigarette. I quit smoking some three months ago but the pangs are yet to leave. And now stuck in a cruiser that wont start and the weasel sitting behind me with a smug grin I cant help but think that this was the right time to light one up. Backup wont be here for another ten to fifteen minutes; what else was there to do other than light up ?

"Do I have a choice ? "

His grin widens and I tighten my grip on the gun. We're separated by a thick sheet of glass but I know that he can break through that with one good head butt. It's a dark night and there's no one around in this corner of the street. I'm a sitting duck here and he knows it.

"Of course you have a choice. I'm handcuffed and you're the one with a gun. You wouldn't have a choice if I had a knife at your throat and demanded that my story be the last words you hear."

His eyes meet mine in the mirror. "So, do you want to hear it ?"

I say nothing but my eyes give me away. As much as I loathe the weasel he's the only one that can stop me from going paranoid at this particular moment.

He relaxes his body and settles deeper in the back seat.

"This is a story I heard from my friend when I visited him in jail a couple of months. We go back a long long way. We were both raised in the same orphanage and when we turned 18 the orphanage threw us out. Cant blame them, they thought they taught us all we needed to know to survive in this cruel world. They didn't. We learned that for ourselves. And then we moved here."

"A couple of years under Falcone and we were good. Life was easy. We had the money, the girls, everything. But then I had grown enough of this place. You see, I always wanted change. I wanted to move, discover new territories, that kind of stuff. My friend thought different. He thought this was paradise. And that's all he wanted."

"And so I left and came back when I heard he's been busted. Old friendships die hard and I wanted to see him. Couldnt offer help, of course, he was so deep in shit, Jesus and his holy finger couldnt save him. I just wanted to be there ... offer a shoulder to cry on."

The weasel looks out the window, lost in thought. I wonder what friend he's talking about. Anyone I had encountered ?

A dog howls in the distance. Perfect. I fucking hate dogs. Every single one of them, even those faithful kinds in canine.

He continues.

"I was shocked when I saw him. The man looked like he'd met his maker and his maker wasn't too happy. He'd gone deathly thin and his eyes were meaningless. I could see the bones of his shoulder jutting out of his skin like it wanted to pop out of him. Terrible, awful sight to see."

"I asked him what was wrong. Was it the showers ? It couldn't have been, we had our share of it in the orphanage. Was it the jailers ? Couldn't have been that either, because he's a tough man. What was it then ?"

"He looked at me with those dead eyes and told me it was the way he'd been busted. You see ..." and he leans in to whisper while my hands grow white around the gun " ... he'd been busted by the Bat."

As if on cue I glance up at the moonlit skyscrapers expecting to see him there. Somewhere ... somewhere in that forest of concrete and steel, he was there and that feeling was the most secure one I'd had all day.

The weasel leans back smiling. "The Bat" he says and grows silent for a few seconds until I prompt him:

"How did he get caught ?"

"It was a night more or less like this one. And a street in the Narrows like this one. He was in dark corner waiting for customers but customers had dried up ever since that weird incident a year ago. He had a gun with him, his vintage King Cobra, not too good for distance shots but packs a punch point blank. He'd been on that particular corner the whole week and while business was slow, it was the only business he'd got all month."

"That night, however, was different. He swears now that it was like the whole world from the biggest whale to the smallest bug had gone silent. A full moon had risen over the Narrows and the light from it was of no real help at all. All it did was create long ominous shadows that scared the hell out of him. After an hour or so he decided to leave. The night was bad, he said, and there was something in it which he did not want to meet."

"So he walked back home and home was a couple of blocks away. He didn't mind walking the Narrows at night; he was used to it. But after a couple of paces he swore he heard the faintest sound of cloth. He couldn't remember what kind it was and I know this because he kept shaking his head in despair as he said it. It was some kind of cloth and of that he was sure. He turned around and of course no one was there. He stepped up his pace because he was on the verge of being terrified and he wanted to get home before he did."

"Another couple of paces later he heard the cloth again, but this time, this time he heard it hit against flesh. You know the sound that you hear when women run around in long dresses ? He said it sounded like that, only more sinister. The previous sound had been of cloth being hit with a gust of air. Meaning that whatever it was had just flown in and was now following him on foot."

"There can be only one kind in Gotham City who can do that."

"My friend panicked. He took out his gun and aimed at every shadow he found. I can imagine him doing that, shivering head to toe, the poor bastard. And he was whispering, "come on, come on, come on""

"And out of the darkness came a voice in a whisper so grim and frightening that it seemed like the dark had said it: "I'm here." And as my friend watched a shadow emerged out of a corner. Steadily it grew and grew but he could not make out a shape. All he saw were two eyes and black shape. There were no hands, no feet, no head for all he could see. Only two eyes, so blank in their stare that my friend could see no mercy, no hope, no re-assurance in them. In his words, they were the eyes of death."

Somewhere in the distance I hear sirens. I don't know if its my back-up but secretly I wish it to come a few minutes late. I want to hear this story.

"My friend fired. All six rounds. And this thing just seemed to engulf them. Didn't even flinch. There were sparks somewhere below the eyes but that was all. And as the hammer clicked on an empty chamber, the shape rushed on him. The last thing he saw was the shape change into something hideous and huge as it ran with terrific speed upon him."

"He never got to see the Bat up close and personal. He passed out before the Bat got to him."

That made me chuckle. A weasel just like the one behind me passing out before the Batman got to him just seemed a trifle funny.

"You liked that I see. Well I suppose you should."

"And your friend opened his eyes in jail ?" I ask.

He shrugs. "Something like that. But that's not what he wanted to say. He wanted to tell me that the Bat was a demon. The Bat was supernatural. You couldn't kill it. You couldn't plead with it. All he wanted to tell me was that the Bat just wasn't human."

I look at him in the mirror and meet his eyes. "Do you believe that?"

He returns my mocking glare. "No, Officer. Quite frankly I dint. I think the Bat, despicably frightening as he is ... is a man ... or a woman, although I think he's a man.

He leans in again but this time I don't flinch. The sirens are close by and he can hear them too. "But the thing is, the more reflected on the story, the more I got to know about the Bat. He wears a bat costume. He lives in the dark and is a creature of the shadows. And he stood there facing those bullets without fear."

"You may call that bravery. I call that insanity. The Bat is insane; my friend. A calculated insanity, sure, but no more sane than the cookies you pick up on odd weekdays."

He leans back as the lights of the backup cruiser flood the street. The car comes up behind me slowly. I open my door and put one leg out.

"You can't combat that sort of insanity unless you have the same , or even more of your own kind."

I turn to him. "And where do you find that kind of insanity ?" I ask.

"It's already here. It's already come."

The lights of the other cruiser switch off along with the siren. The night grows dark and silent again.

"What?" I ask again. "What has come ?"

He chuckles which comes out a happy gleeful sound. "You'll see. Tomorrow ... you'll all see."

And somewhere ... up above us all I could have sworn the Bat was watching us.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Of 4 movies that made me cry

Guys are not supposed to cry at the movies or so the norm goes ... but that's a load of bull and a lot of people know it. I was listening to one of Dr. Mark Kermode's delightful podcasts when out of no reason I started to think about the movies that have made me cry. I think about them now because there are only but a few and I also think about them because they havent made movies like them in a long long time.

I've not listed any Bollywood movies because frankly I've never cried at any of them, but there are aq couple of regional movies like Akashadooth, a Malaylam movie tyhat was designed specifically to make everyone cry and the drama movies of acclaimed actor Kamal Hassan. I forget the name of the movie in which he plays the guardian of the mentally challenged Sridevi but the final five minutes of the movie is so heart-wrenching that it makes me flinch just to remember it. If anyone knows the name of this classic please let me know.

Before we get on with the list, here's a couple of movies you should not be expecting. Titanic, because it loses its magic after the first viewing; Bambi - because I've never seen it and Love Story - because I booed instead of crying.

So here are four movies (in no particular order) that brought out the tears:

1. ET

I saw ET for the first time when I was 23. As astonishing as that may seem it's true. ET was realeased the year I was born but we never got around to renting the movie. I was more obsessed with cartoons and the sorts and maybe, just maybe, my family wanted to protect me from it.

Because ET, is the most traumatic movie any child will ever watch. You have to remember that Spielberg was at his best when he made ET and every movie from Duel to Close Encounters (except Indy) was always emotionally close to the audience. Here he gives us the cutest alien there ever was, a relationship with a couple of kids you would kill for and the best seven year old kid's performance in Drew Barrymore.

And then he has the audacity to kill the alien. And just when we are wiping the tears off from an emotionally heavy death bed scene ET revives and there's just enough time for a final happy ride before the alien has to leave his friends forever. Let me be clear on this: that was not a happy ending. ET leaves and that was the end of it - he never came back and there was no sequel. Maybe that's the reason ET turned out to be the classic that it is, but it's still one ripping scene when he leaves. It was Spielberg's genius that left almost everyone streaming.

2. Crash
Directed by Paul Haggis, Crash is one of those movies that grips and refuses to let you go until its done. Criss-crossing across sixteen characters it describes in gritty realism the level of racism and hatred that dwell among people. If you havent watched this movie I suggest you do ... as its on of those rare masterpieces that go on to become a timeless classic.

Now, there's a particular scene in this movie that is extremely and I mean EXTREMELY powerful. I'm not going to spoil it for those who havent watched the movie but those who have should know what I'm talking about. The buildup to this scene starts right from the beginning and ends in this absolute shocker that left me flooding tears without even knowing about it. And then it slowly hit, this was the movie's climax and it crept and pounced so unexpectedly that I just wasnt prepared for it. A true gem of cinema, this has to be one of the most emotionally draining scenes in any movie ever. Trust me : watch Crash; you'll never regret it.

3. LOTR - Return of the King

Surprised ? You should be. This should not feature on any tear-jerker list but here it is. Directed by Peter Jackson and winner of a record-equalling 11 Academy Awards Return of the King is the conclusion of a fantasy epic. Big huge war scenes and amazing CGI were its highlights ... but there was also more.

If you are a LOTR fan like I am then there's a good chance that you were delighted with the adaptation. The performances were amazing, from Andy Serkis as the unforgettable Gollum to Sir Ian McKellan as the wise Gandalf. But right from the first movie the bond between Frodo and Sam was emotional and it caught your mind's eye or atleast it should have. Having been with them throught their mentally and physically enduring journey to Mordor they come within a few paces of Mount Doom. Frodo collapses under the burden of the Ring and Sam (played brilliantly by Sean Astin) picks him up on his shoulders with that memorable line:

"I can't carry it for you .... but I can carry you"

Lump in throat. Tears in eyes.

4. Life is Beautiful

An Italian movie starring and directed by Roberto Benigni starts off as a comedy and a mighty good one at that. When I started watching the movie and laughing at the gags I was beginning to feel uneasy. You see, I knew that this movie was not going to end well and it was making us feel right at home with the characters which is a classic way of making you reach out for the Kleenex at the end.

Which it did.

The rest of the movie is heartbreaking to say the least. Deported off to a concentration camp during the Second World War the movie is about a father who tries to shield his five year old son from the brutality of war using the only weapon he has: comedy. He acts out for his son to convince him that the concentration camp is all just a game where the winner wins a tank. The five year old wide-eyed son believes everything his father tells him up until the very end of the movie where the father asks him to hide in a sweatbox until everyone has left. The child chuckles as he watches through a peephole his father imitates a Nazi soldier while being marched away.

And then you hear the gunshot.

Minutes late the child comes out of the sweatbox to collect his prize. An American tank coming in to liberate the camp.

If you're a father or have ever loved a child ... you will know how depressing that final scene is.

That's it. These were the movies that had the emotional potential to throw a tear-bomb at me, and while there were others that made me feel sad, none touched me more than the movies above.

I hope you liked this list and before you go however, what were the movies that made you cry ?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Thank God it's Friday - The Inaugural strip

Ok, I know it's not Friday but you have to start somewhere right ?

I decided to start a weekly comic strip, which is odd since I know horseshit about drawing and stuff. But with a site like Strip Generator who needs drawing skills ? :D

The strip's name is called "Thank God it's Friday" which is also the name of the novel I'm working on. I'm not sure how good this is going to get but feedback - good or bad -will be highly appreciated.

This week's strip touches on the "textbook controversy" that I blogged about a couple of days ago.

And with that I proudly present the first strip of "Thank God it's Friday" :

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Of moving day

Atleast it wasnt like this:

"Honey ... I think we missed something"

While we were packing; and by we I mean V and me and by packing I mean the time when I was ready to leave Bangalore; we went through some of the stuff we werent sure of. It's been over a year in this apartment and while thats not much, two people left during the past year and some of their stuff were left behind. We were making sure that none of the stuff left behind were important and hence trash worthy.

It was at this point that we found something that boggled our eyes as well as our minds. You see, one of our previous roomate had left behind a stash (carefully hidden) of provocative pictures. Oh hell, why lie ? They were pure porn. Prono pics taken off the internet and then printed in black and white on A4 papers.

Boys will be boys. I get that, I totally do. But this is certainly not the sort of thing that you do when youre in your mid 20's. No no, when you're in your mid 20's you already know what sex is about and you dont need Debonair or Cosmopolitan. And you most certainly do not want to take print outs of internet porno. That's just ... just ... wierd.

We had a good laugh about it and stashed it away in the black plastic garbage bag.

Wrong move.

The packing was done and we shifted everything out to the new place where V would be staying. I was scheduled to leave that weekend. So everything was set and all we had to do was clean the place up and throw out the trash, which for some reason; we wouldnt do. Why ? Beats me. I know I'm lazy and I also know V had work that day but since we packed the whole place up it only seemed logical that we clean up.

Well, we ended up hiring help which is always ready at hand in India. V went off to work and left me to supervise the old woman who did the cleaning and the trash. As this was being done and me looking all important the woman upstairs, (not the coins couple) came down to have a chat and ask about the new place. This was unprecedented. The ladies of that building had always a wary eye for bachelors and we never expected them to indulge in chitchat. Maybe it was the fact that we were leaving that made this woman let her guard down.

Thinking back on it now I can see how clearly those things stacked up against me.

The cleaning lady took out the trash bag just as the woman upstairs was asking me about my family. The trash was stuffed in those big black plastic garbage bags and she had some difficulty getting it down the stairs. Ever the chivalrous, I offered to give her a hand. I took hold of the bottom in a fast grip and that was when I saw it.

The bottom had given away. And it was too late.

See this picture. See it very well :

We are at the head of a fleet of stairs. The bottom of a trash bag filled with papers has ripped off. The porno pics for which neither me nor V are responsible stumble out. Some get picked up with the wind and the lady from upstairs has a good long look at them as they fly past her. The rest fall out onto the stairs and in such an orchestrated manner that there is on one each step until it reaches the door of a family downstairs which unfortunately is open.

The door slams as the woman upstairs dissapears. All in one fast, swift moment.

The cleaning lady looks at the pictures and then back at the shocked, red faced me.

"Bachelors, eh ?" she asks.