Monday, January 08, 2007

Banlieue 13

One brother trying to rescue his sister. One honest cop trying to follow orders. One psychotic villain with a nuke. This could pretty much be the plot for a desi flick :-)
Banlieue (District) 13 is set in the near future in France where all the 'tough' neighbourhoods have been cordoned off by high-walls and barbed wire. The cop has to break into one of these (District 13) to try and deal with the nuke. He needs the help of Leito (the aforementioned brother) to help him get in.
This movie has stunning action scenes featuring parkour. Parkour is an urban art form, the artist tries to move from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible. So, 20 foot jumps, full speed runs, diving right through ventilators that don't seem quite big enough for a man and the like are common. These guys (both the heros are accomplished parkour practitioners. One of them was a originator) literally flow through buildings, roads, corridors, rooms and other assorted obstacles without the slightest pause. It's balletic in grace. Brilliant stuff.
In all, a very good movie. Simple plot. Fantastic action.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Man against man

After I saw No-Man's land, I decided to look up on genocides. It's seriously depressing. Here's the list of genocides since 1915 according to the wikipedia. Mind you, by limiting it to the post-1900 period, we have knocked off all the people that the europeans took out as part of their colonialism, 'bringing the light of civilization to the illiterate races', 'spreading the word of God' and 'manifest destiny' trip around the world. Also ignored are what the islamic empires, the timurids, the mongols and other assorted world-conquerors did. This is just what happened in the 'enlightened', 'modern' age.

The wikipedia list also ignores cases like the Partition of India (atleast half a million dead, 14 million displaced). It was not a genocide by definition. If we take into account the any number of non-combatant killed in riots, disturbances, terrorism (or freedom-fighting, if you belong to the other side), state-oppression(or internal-security actions, if you belong to the other side), we come up with a huge number of non-combatants killed on a very regular basis.

Reading this list is truly mindboggling. Like the Rwandan genocide : 937000 people were killed in a 100 days, meaning that about 10000 people were killed every day. Most of these killings accomplished by machetes.

Also depressing is how few of the perpetrators actually pay the price. The bottom-line, apparently, is that if you don't lose a war, you will be ok. If you are on the 'right' side of real-politik, you will be ok. Saddam Hussein was using weapons supplied by the US, UK and European countries for his campaign against the Kurds. The Turks have never had to answer for the Armenian Genocide.

What I find most astonishing and scary is the apparent mundanity of the perpetrators. I guess it would feel better if these were some kind of alien creatures. We could disassociate our species from this behaviour. But that is not the case. It looks like while we as a species are capable of great feats, great science, arts and achievements, we are also perfectly capable of great arts of cruelty and extermination.

Friday, January 05, 2007

No-Man's Land

No-Man's Land is a movie set in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Bosnian War. The focus of the story is on two soldiers from opposite sides who find themselves stuck in a trench in no-man's land.
The Bosnian war was the vicious aftermath of the demise of communism in Yugoslavia. The fighting was vicious, with massacres and the longest siege of a city(Sarajevo by the Serbians) since World War 2. The UN and the NATO were largely useless. They were in the country for humanitarian purposes and were hamstrung by rules and regulations. They were mute spectators to civilian massacres, were taken advantage of by both sides and sometimes taken hostage. In all, not their shining hour.
The Bosnian War (and Rwanda and Darfur and any number of other major and minor conflicts) really makes one wonder about human nature. People who have been living in relative peace split in ethnic lines(and religious lines in the case of Darfur). Suddenly, it's as if the previous coexistence was a mirage and the animal nature of man has asserted itself. Actually, it is hard to call it 'animal nature'. Animals don't seem to indulge in the kind of intraspecies violence and hatred that humans seem to slip into all too easily. It is as though this thing we call civilization is a poor, and ill-fitting mask.
Anyhow, back to the movie, the UN forces are represented by a french sergeant who wants to do something ('There can be no neutrality while witnessing a murder', he says) and his do-nothing bosses. The french sergeant's is a brief, but well etched role.
The movie is very well made. It makes its point without being preachy. Even though it is a serious movie, there are some very nice touches of humour. In all, a good movie.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Casino Royale

Casino Royale is probably the most enjoyable James Bond I have seen in a while.
This is a little different from the other James Bond flicks in that Bond finds himself frequently outclassed and manages to pull through only by grit and luck. Bond is also considerably less 'cool' and more bitter. No tossing bon-mots as he dispatches bad guys left, right and center. This Bond has to work hard for his kills :-) Oh, and no cool gadgets either. The non-gadget thing is no big loss really, in my opinion.
There's a cool Parkour sequence in the beginning of the movie. It is as good as everyone is raving about. It's kind of funny watching the bad guy (one of the founders of Parkour, Sebastien Foucan) gliding around the construction site effortlessly while Bond lumbers after him. Mind you, Darrel Craig is not exactly Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, but Sebastiean makes him look like a beached whale in comparison :)
The ending was somewhat unsatisfying and contrived, leaving too many loose ends.
In all, a pretty ok movie.