La La Land (2016)


City of stars, are you shining just for me?

Damien Chazelle is a revolutionary traditionalist. If he helms a movie chronicling the heroic travails of a drummer, he’ll grab you by your ungodly cuffs and make you feel the drummer’s rage and insanity until you start to sweat and swear quietly to yourself, unable to quite comprehend the magnificent crescendo of pure cinematic energy emanating from the screen. If he makes a bittersweet jazz-themed romance musical about the Herculean gap between dreams and reality, he will leave you unbearably dizzy with melancholy by the film’s end, shaken and wounded and gratified and intoxicated.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone pick up on the film’s exuberant flow and take it in stride. Their chemistry makes the film; there is some Annie Hall in there, some Casablanca, but the film, like its stars, is driven forward  with unbridled invention. The seamlessly flowing colors of clothes and aquamarine skylines and the neon-lit streets of L.A. mix together so wholesomely well, you’d think this guy’s been making movies for an entire century now. Because how else does a film like this even exist?

The film belongs to its cast and its director, but it belongs just as much to Tom Cross, whose editing prowess elevates the film’s pathos into some obscure, otherworldly feeling; it belongs to Justin Hurwitz, whose original score is the movie’s thrillingly rich, complex heartbeat; and it belongs to Linus Sandgren who shoots this odyssey in glorious widescreen Cinemascope at 24-paintings-per-second. All my respect and love to the lighting department, production design and make-up crew. La La Land looks and sounds and feels and breathes like a true musical: a relentlessly poignant film that has no other agenda for existing before you except to ask that you give a little more love.

To the people who, like me, sit and stand and walk and live in the sidelines of their lives transfixed by the endless possibilities of how it could all turn out: this movie is for us. Mia and Sebastian are our angels.


Udta Punjab (2016): !THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!

“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”
Danny Boyle’s masterful 1996 film opened with Mark Renton running through the streets. It caused a small revolution encircled by all things political, moral and societal; at the center of it, a dizzying, unholy spiral of drug addiction. Lives lost, families destroyed, human wills broken: this war on drugs escalated so fast it became as individual as it was encompassing.
And its victims need our help.
Abhishek Chaubey’s fearless and absolutely terrifying Udta Punjab turns the mirror on us. How we failed our nation’s youth. This failure isn’t carried only by corrupt police officials who take their cut and let the drugs be sold without prescription or control. The failure isn’t just on the part of a government whose workers are more bent on profiteering than on saving actual human lives. The failure is ours. Every single one of us, who stood by and let our brothers and sisters in the beautiful, holy land of Punjab suffer. They suffered for our mistakes. But we can start mending it. Little by little, starting now.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that in a film full of electrifyingly authentic performances, Alia Bhatt’s acting stands out. Everything her character is subjected to, every fight she puts up; it is a horrible, brutally honest, emotionally naked playing field. And her acting chops elevate its uncomfortable crudeness into something damn near spiritual.
This is an urgent film. It borrows the unrestricted anger and fist-shaking intelligence at injustice from Spike Lee (WAKE UP!). It borrows the metaphorical light at the end of the toilet from Trainspotting. It borrows dark, DARK humour from Tarantino. But it is explicitly and fearlessly Indian.
Udta Punjab’s status as a work of art cannot be judged solely based on aesthetic merit. This film is WAY too important for that. After crossing through so many hurdles of censorship and right-wing propaganda, the film has finally released in a theater near you. Please go and watch it. It needs to be seen.
Maybe Udta Punjab is the last push we need to say ‘enough’ and start doing something about this. Hats off, team Phantom.

Kung Fu Panda 3 And Spiritual Awareness

We are extremely lucky to be living in a golden age of blockbuster animated cinema: a time where our mainstream colorful biggies wrestle not with mere physical challenges, but with intensely self-aware psychological and spiritual ones.

Let me just start off by saying this: Kung Fu Panda 3 is the best of the trilogy. It has everything we already expect: kickass, unstoppable A-grade humor, absolutely gorgeous 3D animation, amazeballs action sequences and a meaningful, heartwarming story.
But this one stands out on its spiritual intensity alone; while the first two had some beautiful things to say about identity and self-awareness, this one is a soulful haiku on finding one’s place in the universe, and being okay with whatever you unearth. There is endless wisdom here, and proof that a great film is never just a film.

Based on the concept of ‘chi’ that signifies the energy present in all living things, the movie’s journey is one of achieving serenity and oneness with all of creation. The plot of this film is home to ancient Chinese philosophy, the simple concept that having two dads is the same as having a dad and a mom, solving earthly confusion and hurt through laughter and compassion, healing through growth – the list goes on and on.

I wish there was more I could say about how peacefully charming this movie is, but I’d be wasting your time. In times like these, where the world is perpetually at war with itself, a kid raised on these steady offerings from Disney-Pixar and Dreamworks will grow up to be a citizen of the world, and learn, in due time, that it is never too late to do the right thing. With works of art like these, we’re teaching them the only way to save our world.

Still from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010).

There are days (the ones where I re-watch this Edgar Wright cult favorite) when I calmly accept that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World might be the most mischievous, colorful, visually inventive and entertaining film ever made in history, and that we’re all secretly aware of the fact.

The movie contains immense quantities of raging, ferocious joy. There is nothing quite like it. Anywhere.

Quote from Waking Life (2001).

Richard Linklater is a gift from the universe to mankind. There has to be some sort of assertive cosmic ballet going on just beyond our senses to make a soul as inconceivably nourished with the power of learning and bestowed with the superpower of rendering the unspeakable into verbal actuality with the help of dialogue in film.

Waking Life is many things: a dream masquerading as cinema, cinema masquerading as a dream, a call for taking up arms against the controlled regiments of sane consciousness, a tale of absurdist philosophy. Every moment filters into the next without explanation or effort. Just like life.