Hot Gas

Music,Musings et al

Month: February, 2012

The Masters in Paris

Some thoughts on Midnight in Paris, Hugo and the two masters behind them.


The French are taking over the awards, if not the movies, this year, in some form or the other. Your and my ears have already numbed from all the buzz around the silent movie The Artist. For a silent movie, the din around The Artist is nothing short of deafening. As if that weren’t enough we also have the old masters Messrs Allen & Scorsese (Sounds like a law firm,no?) weave magic onscreen by putting Paris through a time machine.

Some of the renaissance spirit that Allen exquisitely invokes in his warm movie seems to have infected him too for in Midnight in Paris we see vintage Woody. He surely rolls back the years. While his protagonist Gil Pender might yearn for the Paris of the 20s for the writer in him to blossom, Woody doesn’t need to look anywhere for the spark. He still has it in him to write a script that is tender, quirky and nostalgic.     

Another director, who wasn’t quite looking for reinvention but was nevertheless being viewed with scepticism, is Martin Scorsese. There was talk about undeserved recognition for a supposedly watered down remake. There was talk about how he was making middle of the road thrillers now. Both of which I thoroughly liked especially the latter which showed that the master had an delightful feel for psychological themes and atmosphere. All of this he varnishes on Hugo. It is a touching movie with layers of insight. It is a mystery alright but it is also a story about a young boy’s love for his father, his friendships, dreams and movies. Scorsese stages it perfectly and manages to bring the soul of Paris to the Montparnasse railway station. This is like Home Alone for adults that children can also enjoy.

Both movies truly bring out the innocence and joy of movies and truly exploit the cinematic medium for what it is. Pure entertainment with a dash of nostalgia. There is no fuss over the technique employed; Just simple storytelling.

Both the directors invoke the bohemian spirit of Paris, Scorsese less so in Hugo but the place still leaves its indelible mark on the movie. While Woody makes us swoon in the splendour of Paris’ finest streets and buildings,  Scorsese goes a step ahead and builds an entire city within the Montparnasse! The movies are also populated by a rich tapestry of characters. Midnight in Paris is especially delightful when it springs one surprise after the other when the Lost Generation comes alive. Such is the collective brilliance of those souls that Woody just had to embody the character with the right person and give them an air of authenticity (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali especially stand out) – both of which he does marvellously. There is a fine balance that has to be struck while making a movie of this sort. The initial fascination of the viewer as he grapples with the high concept can wane quickly if he realises that the director’s imagination begins and ends there and that the movie is nothing but a guided celebrity tour. But in Woody’s interpretation of the age the characters come alive in flesh and blood. You know he is not just throwing around names to impress you although that cannot be ruled out altogether. The movie has a lovely sepia tint even in the modern day portions which made me wonder if Paris itself is bathed in that kind of an ethereal glow all the time. Owen Wilson is the only disappointment in the whole movie – His part edgy, part excited portrayal making him look slightly juvenile at times. But that you’ll notice only if you can  take your eyes off the absolutely alluring Marion Cotillard!

The best touch in the movie for me was when Pender tells Bunuel the concept for (The Discreet Charm.) The Exterminating Angel. It is meta moments like this that make MIP magical.      


Scorsese’s setting is more festive than bohemian. There is a certain Christmassy feel to the entire movie. This could be because of two reasons – The amiable set of characters that populate the station be it the florist, the lady with the cute poodle(?), the gentleman trying to woo the lady and even Sacha Cohen’s caricaturish grumpy policeman with his dog. (In fact mans best friends get a lot of screen time in this year’s Oscar nominations. Uggie the dog, Blackie and the cute poodle.) These characters set the tone when the movie begins. The sense of mystery is innocuous, ephemeral and only at the level of children. Adults will realise 20 minutes into the movie that maintaining suspense is the last thing on Scorsese’s mind. Instead he fashions a heart warming movie around the indomitable spirit of a ragamuffin. Along the way he packs in a homage to the auteurs of early cinema like George Melies. There is also redemption and vindication to be had. (This is also the theme that resonates in The Artist which is also about changing circumstances forcing an artist out of his craft and livelihood.) If there is anyone who genuinely deserves to pay homage to old and forgotten masterpieces, it is Scorcese, for his homage mirrors his concern for these movies in real life. The cast is great. I have nothing against precocious kids but they irritate me. Here they play it with the right amount of timidity, resolve and a sense of wonder. Ben Kingsley is fantastic. The unadulterated emotions are sure to touch the audiences hearts. It is a great holiday movie and will possibly be watched by a lot of families on lazy Sunday afternoons or Christmas. It is shot beautifully and is languorous at times. (I was only watching a BRrip on an LCD screen). I can only imagine its gorgeousness on an IMAX 3D screen!

We must be grateful that unlike Coppola, the other great of New Hollywood, Scorsese’s ambition hasn’t lessened over time. I thought that with Shutter Island Scorcese was also taking the path of Coppola – making stylish yet slight B movies. But that, it seems, was just a flash in the pan. He has made a movie that will rejuvenate the much reviled 3D format.

Hugo and Midnight in Paris easily traipse into my all time favourite list. They are movies made with a lot of heart and emotion and showcase two masters at the peak of their genius. I do not know whether these movies deserve awards or not but they surely deserve the love of the viewer.  

(First posted on The Doubt Express at

Music Review: Kahaani (Vishal Shekhar)

Since the first trailer of this very interesting movie came out, I have been quietly anticipating the music release; VS are one of the few music directors who do not dish out mediocre fare for mid level films and their association with Sujoy Ghosh has generally produced enjoyable music. Kahaani, though, disappoints. Aami Shotti Bolchi goes wildly haywire. Right from the strange confluence of noir and retro – mashed with a jazz template – to the boisterous vocals of Usha Uthup, the song hits all the discordant notes there are. Kolkata, it seems, will have to be satisfied with Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo Re. KK’s subdued singing keeps the title song chugging along nicely but the song is your garden variety melody. Tore Bina shimmers with promise but the sparkly orchestration fails to elevate a flat composition. Ekla Chalo Re is too situational to stand up on its own feet. That leaves us with the excellent Piya Tu Kaahe Rootha Re – a classical piece that is fabulously juxtaposed to snarling guitar riffs. Very,very good.     

Music Review: Love Failure (SS Thaman)

If nothing Love Failure shows that Thaman may not necessarily be categorised as a commercial mass masala music director. He shows a light, felicitous touch here whipping up the kind of numbers SEL would have been proud of. Parvathi’s croaky anguish is endearing and comical in equal measure. Inthajare’s exquisite tune is really aided by Karthik and Harini’s singing and the imaginative orchestration (I mean the violins actually). Melukora is as upbeat a wake up call you’ll ever hear. I especially like the way Thaman hurries it up towards the end (leading up to the Ooo refrain). The rest is just about passable fare. 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (John le Carre)

I have had a longer than usual history with this book.I had purchased the entire Karla trilogy in one of my trips to the bookstore but like it always happens with slightly bulkier books, not to mention whimsical reading habits, I glossed over them for other books.A friend at college then recommended le Carre.But funnily enough I didn’t jump onto the bandwagon with Tinker Tailor but ordered The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and downed it in a gulp.It was a peculiar reading experience, that’s what le Carre’s books seem to be. They are an acquired taste; not easily amiable or elegant or dazzling. le Carre does not even pretend that he is writing a thriller although he is and the writing for the most part is constricted and prosaic if not droll.There are some inspired situational observations that Carre throws in but that’s about it.So having had a strange expeience with TSWCIFtC, I tarried picking up TTSS.

Then Alfredson’s celebrated movie came along which renewed my interest. The idea was to read the book before watching the movie (That’s always the case isn’t it?) But that couldn’t happen due to work on campus. So I watched the movie and found it very enigmatic and puzzling. I could make out that only parts of the labyrinthine plot were put up on screen. That is when I restarted TTSS (Oh forgot to tell you; I had already read around a 100 pages soon after TSWCIFtC before becoming disillusioned with the dry writing style of Carre!) I am happy plodded through it. It is a spy novel unlike any other I have read. All others are predominantly action oriented affairs but TTSS takes a purely cerebral approach to espionage.It is what happens after your Jason Bournes and James Bonds have returned home with the information (well not exactly but somewhat like that). It is time to piece it all together. That is what George Smiley, a disgraced spy who is now brought back to uncover the mole working at the top echelons of the MI6, has to do. It is a long drawn process – poring over files and records, meeting up with friends, interviewing people discreetly – and le Carre makes it as tedious as it sounds for us. But all said and done there is a mesmerising quality inhere to this meticulousness. The protagonists are fleshed out and given real emotions. Smiley cuts a lonely figure dealing with a personal crisis while trying to shore up his country’s espionage establishment.It is also shot at redemption which when it does come is doused in such melancholy that it becomes anti-climactic. The greatest triumph of this novel is the way it treats the mole also. He (That much I grant you;Its a male!) is not condemned as a traitor or a villain but is given a motivation that is relatable and can be empathised with.
Although le Carre doggedly underscores themes of loyalty and fidelity he nevers paints those who betray these principles as villains.TTSS is a masterful work that is painstakingly plotted. Not an easy by any means. In fact a tough read will not make your heart race but might just make it sing at the end.