Letting Mel loose
Palador/Studio Canal, Rs 399
F or his first directorial venture at the age of 42, master send-up artist Mel Brooks couldn't have written a plot laden with greater irony. An unsuccessful producer meets a good-for-nothing accountant. They figure that the easiest way to make money is to oversell a play to investors and ensure it's a flop. They search for the worst plot, dissing in the way Kafka's Metamorphosis for being "too good". They settle on Springtime for Hitler, a "love letter" to the Fuehrer from a deranged ex-Nazi. They then find the worst actor, Lorenzo St. DuBois or L.S.D., who walks on to the audition stage by mistake. Trouble is, the crowd laughs its guts out night at the improbable "gay romp".
As producer Max Bialystock, played with enormous energy by the John Goodman-ish Zero Mostel, says, "We got the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did we go right?"
After typical Brooks fashion, the screenplay is littered with literary references like the one on Kafka. The accountant, played by goggle-blue-eyed Gene Wilder, is called Leo Bloom, after the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses. Bialystock calls Bloom "Prince Myshkin", Dostoevsky's ‘Idiot'. The screenplay won Brooks his only Oscar and Wilder his first nomination. This could well have been a five-star film. But there's something this reviewer could not get along with: the high-pitch shouting throughout. Any idea why they had to?
Watching the wheels
PVR Pictures/Reliance Home Video, Rs 599
It's rare to find a film in which style and story fit into each other so perfectly. In Drive, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn gives us an action-thriller and injects into it something truly poetic. ‘Poetic' isn't something that automatically comes to mind when one deals with 80s aesthetics. Yet in this story of a man who works as a stunt driver in movies by day and a driver-for-hire for robbers in getaway cars by night, Refin uses markers through the film — from the script of the titles on the LA night skyline at the beginning to the dreamy retro-electronic soundtrack — that gives Drive its edgy tone.
Ryan Gosling as the unnamed Driver is brilliant, reminding us of two iconic fellow loners — Travis Bickle, Martin Scorsese's eponymous Taxi Driver played by Robert de Niro and Harry Callaghan, the vigilante cop played by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry series.
Gosling is poised and oozes of a cold sensitivity that rhymes perfectly with the tone of the film. He gets embroiled in something bloody via his affections (quiet and almost abstract) for his neighbour (played with dexterity by Carey Mulligan) and her son. The riffs through the movie, coalescing in Gosling's unforgettable character, form one stand-out movie that thoroughly — and on first inspection, unexpectedly — rightly earned Refn the Best Director award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Politics ain't pretty
The Ides of March
Tanweer/Reliance Home Video, Rs 599
Directed and co-written by, and co-starring, George Clooney, this political drama about a liberal Democrat governor on his way up to the White House has Ryan Gosling as its hero. As Governor Mike Morris, Clooney plays foil to the idealistic and brilliant campaign worker Stephen Myers (Gosling). While there are moments of palpable tension and an insider's view of political feuding and blood-letting — the scene showing the sacking of Myer's mentor played with modulated swagger by Philip Seymour Hoffman is strangely shocking and underwhelming at the same time — the film seems to limp because of Clooneys' unintended weight. Gosling plays the hand-on-the-heart young man finally opening his eyes to the big bad world with believable idealism. But somehow once the film ends, there is a strong chance of forgetting the story or mixing it up with another American cloak-and-dagger political drama.