Marking this modern classic’s 21st anniversary doesn’t involve getting nostalgic. That’s because its own rendering of the 1970s at the beginning of the new millennium was devoid of anything close to nostalgia or sentimentality.
ALMOST FAMOUS is a film that mines its director Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical early career as a prodigiously gifted, teenage Rolling Stones music journalist, to look at the modern era with all its idiosyncrasies and beauty. It tilts its scales to present a fair and balanced portrait of life that’s as applicable to millennials and beyond. The weight of the concerns don’t get dimmed.
Such as Frances McDormand’s mother who is fierce in protecting her son from the blinding glitz of the world but lets him undertake this journey to see it in all its unpredictable curves. Her phone conversation with Billy Crudup’s seemingly arrogant but inherently vulnerable rockstar is one to remember for the longest time. It’s a masterclass in stern admonishment that is unique to her and universally recognisable to us as viewers. Or the profound, unpredictable curves present in the characterisation of Penny(Kate Hudson in her auspicious, Oscar nominated debut); we never are in doubt of her genuine standing as an individual. But we also see how she can be so easily lost or exploited in this raucous urban jungle of chasing the illusion of celebrity in place of acquiring a true artistic breakthrough.
The screenplay is filled with gems. Be it the magical sense of Elton John’s eternally beloved TINY DANCER being celebrated in a communal, collective sing-along in a memorably etched scene, the wonderful work by Jimmy Fallon as the manager or the trail of freedom sought by Zooey Deschanel’s older sister to the protagonist who lets the power of music guide her towards a new horizon even as it distances her from her mother greatly. Her list of albums and artists that she passes on to her brother as some sort of rite of passage is beautiful ( I have heard many of these myself over the years)
Also, one can never go without mentioning the excellent presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the mentor preparing the protagonist for the reality check that will come with this assignment.
So on this second viewing of the film after many years, with its impact still fresh in my mind, I could see how it generates empathy instead of descending to the chaos of its culture. More than a coming of age trajectory, it charts the sinuous movements of people and the way they behave without losing its sense of humour. That’s its biggest achievement indeed.
You know what, I am not going to say anything drastically revealing about this auspicious and visionary documentary from Todd Douglas Miller. The title says it all. In conjunction with my viewing of the immersive, feature length FIRST MAN few months ago, I like how such a historic feat has been looked at in the recent era through a more humbler prism. It works as a point of view and creative decision to let a whole new generation grasp personal investments of crew members on the ground and aboard the spacecraft.
APOLLO 11 is a gift to viewers for rarest of rare archival footage and beautifully restored colour photography make it possible to see the continuum of the almost fourteen days journey from terra firma to the moon and back as a series of observations. These are observations by people who were manning each second of this extraordinary voyage by three astronauts destined for greatness. The NASA headquarters in Texas is their sanctuary.
I loved it because it maintains a patient tone instead of opting for a jingoistic stance. We too bite our nails in anticipation of what is to come within each minute, just like it would have been for millions back in the day. The collective power of this mission accomplished hence becomes a reality. The approach also rescues it from being locked up in a vestibule of nostalgia.
Miller’s film is a stunner, a visual feat that allows us to go into the details of a once in a lifetime event. He and his team give it a contemporary life of its own. As in history created in the past, by dint of being preserved in such a dedicated manner in the present, is our legacy to keep.
Eugene Ashe has made an old school tale which is fairly predictable on all counts. As a viewer, one can sense the plot twists coming and the pacing too can get a little too slack. Look, I understand that given the period setting in the 1960s, it makes sense on the latter front .
Beyond those initial points, I admire it for its intersecting conflicts of choosing to establish a career in a world of pre-set mentalities clashing with the pursuit of love for its protagonists. They challenge the status quo of the standard African-American tropes with that realisation. I also love that they pursue careers in the arts, the lady as a television producer and the man as a jazz musician. Both are talented and have future prospects to bloom beyond their present states. They also receive the chance to rekindle a love that is passionately evoked through smouldering looks, dignified gestures and words. An era is recreated with gentle strokes and care, an era we yearn for so much. I do, definitely.
Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha are perfectly cast in this feature as lovers who bond over a love for music. The predictable screenplay aside, their solid bond and individual capacity for rewriting rules set for them by an unequal society is winsome. The cast is wonderful on the whole.
In fact, for me, SYLVIE’S LOVE has the relaxed vibe of a jazz album, a fact made legible by its evocative, sultry use of the musical form in the soundtrack, to punctuate the tale’s unfolding.
HALL OF FAME
I had watched this extraordinarily humane work five years ago and it has stayed with me since then.
NASEEM( the morning wind) puts human emotions first, with its beautiful unity of the bond between titular teenage protagonist ( Mayuri Kango) and her grandfather ( legendary Kaifi Azmi) guiding important social issues to the forefront without raising a hue and cry; her promise, wit and unsullied innocence mixes with the grand old man/ poet’s unbiased wisdom accumulated through decades. Both rise above communal discord and political sloganeering culled from India circa 1992.
Watch this one to find how essentially we thrive on inherent love and it’s only when distractions steered by outside influences creep in that we lose our bearings. The interpersonal bond between the young girl and her senior prefect show us how we can hold on to our instincts for kindness even if the world spells otherwise. The realistic delineation by Saeed Akhtar Mirza ensures it reaches our hearts and minds.
SURAJ KA SATVA GHODA( SEVENTH HORSE OF THE SUN, 1993)
Only Shyam Benegal could craft this multidimensional ode to storytelling and social truths, in the process enhancing the impact of Dharamveer Bharti’s original novel.
This is the tale of three women, a triptych of experiences, their social outlooks and reactions to the situations that they face. It’s all tied together by the intellectual stability of the presentation and performances. Watch it to know how the written word can find an equally fulfilling visual arc in the right hands.
KRAMER V/S KRAMER(1979)
Even to this date, the searing emotional impact of this unlikely family drama and its realism cannot be replicated. This in an era where the urgency of familial breakdowns, divorce, custody conflicts and the buck of nurturing passing to the men too, in a redesigning of assigned social roles, have stirred a gazillion discourses. All of these essential truths were actually honed with sensitivity and respect by KRAMER V/S KRAMER forty years ago.
So we must not take its legacy or the heartbreaking points of view delivered by the cast members for granted. Family is family, even if it goes through a trial by fire. That’s the underlying truth essayed here. It’s one for the ages.