U for Usual Suspects

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The A to Z list is not complete without the mention of the path breaking suspense thriller “Usual Suspect”. It’s a sensational and mind-boggling, modern day noir about crime and a mythic gangster boss who no one has seen.

Brian Synger directs an ensemble cast in Usual Suspects, written by Christopher McQuarrie. It starts with an explosion in a ship in San Pedro California where 27 people gets killed and a million dollar cocaine stash goes missing.

The story rewinds back to six weeks earlier when the Police call in for questioning five criminals who feature in their usual list of suspects they are ex cop Gabriel Byrne, sleepy eyed Kevin Spacey, entertaining henchman, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack and Benicio Del Toro. It is learned that the the police have no dirt on them and have to let them go. The five men, gang up together to take revenge of their unceremonious insult.

Soon they get to know that they have to work for Keyser Soze, apparently a nasty and evil crime lord who has his hooks from Belfast to Pakistan.

I will not say much lest it gives away the plot but all that can be said is that the actions happen in flashback while the Customs Agent interrogates Spacey. Everyone wants to know where Soze is but can Spacey tell him? Does he know him? No one who has seen Keyser has lived to tell the world about him. Audience knows as much as the police, and he remain to be a myth.

Get a DVD of Usual Suspects and be prepared to be blown over and befuddled by the twists and turns and a jaw-dropping clincher.

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist”

Here’s the trailer.

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M for Malena

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We love to gossip. Especially if there is a drop dead gorgeous, standoffish woman who turns every man’s head – we would so love to damn her to the deepest realms of hell! Men would love to fantasize her or fulfill their desire and flush her like some used toilet paper and women would be insecure by her mere presence and wag their tongue about what a tart she is.

Malena vividly reflects how a group of men and women can come together and collaboratively bring down a woman everyone desires secretly. And in the midst of it all is a young boy whose pubescent desires go all haywire. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore , Malena stars Monica Bellucci, Giuseppe Sulfaro and Luciano Federico.

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Malena shows the Facist era of 1940 in Italy. While the townsfolk of Castelcuto of Sicily, are busy pledging for Mussolini, there is a young boy of thirteen whose only predicament are his raging hormones and the stunning Malena accelerates the frenetic goings on into an overdrive. Apart from politics it is the mysterious and lonely Malena that unites the towns people. Her husband is away fighting and she is left behind to take care of her father in law. She keeps to herself, dedicated only to the task at hand. Her grace, elegance and beauty becomes the talk of the town and she is the fodder for all the gossip. Everyone assumes that she must be having a relationship outside her marriage and it is the news of her husband’s martyrdom that makes the men believe that she is now available to meet their desires. Meanwhile Renato’s infatuation develops into an obsession and he begins to follow her everywhere and spy on her, which unwittingly makes him the sole witness to all her trials and tribulations.

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Renato deems Malena  a Goddess and in the four years that go by, he sees her elevated status defiled and marred by the lustful men and the jealous and despising women. Her beauty becomes her curse when a local lawyer promises to clear her name from a jealous wife’s lawsuit and demands his payment to be in kind. As shortages loom due to the war, Malena has to constantly barter favors to get one square meal and is soon forced into prostitution for her survival. When the war ends, the townsfolk take revenge on Malena – the women surround and pounce on her, beating her up and hurling insults until she is thrown out of the town.

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But there is light at the end of the tunnel and the tables are turned. Malena’s husband returns and he seeks her out and asks for her forgiveness for letting her alone in the world full of merciless people. Renato who had suffered when Malena fell from grace was overjoyed with this last act of forgiveness that absolved all her faults and elevated her to her previous status of elegance.

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Malena is a yarn seen from Renato’s eyes. He is the narrator and it is his coming of age story that focuses on how his perception of her makes him comprehend the true meaning of love, lust, devotion and fidelity.

Malena explores themes of collaboration, bigotry, lust, guilt and the very human will to survive.They are all wrapped  into one moving and emotional film that feels epic in scale. It is almost a study of human behavior , behavior that cuts across borders, race, culture and rings true even at our modern age of open mindedness.

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I leave you with some of the best scenes of Monica Belucci as Malena 

B for Breaking the Waves

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‘Breaking the Waves’ is my all time favorite movie, and this Lars Von Trier masterpiece catapulted him onto the world stage as a writer-director to be reckoned with. Powerhouse performances by the actors Emily Watson as Bess and Stellan Skarsgard as Jan exquisitely highlight the dilemma of good and the bad.

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No other movie questions as poignantly and pointedly both the expansiveness and the limitations of religion – the inherent truth behind the seemingly virtuous and brow rising sinful code of conduct and the thin line between the profane and the pure. It at once jolts the audience physically, emotionally and spiritually, to question our age-old beliefs of morality and immorality. Nevertheless the brilliance of the film lies not in forming new belief systems but in questioning the ones that have been instilled in us by our religious institutions and their followers, in this case the Church and its puritanical and rigid priests.

The story unfolds in a remote village in Scotland where the dull and austere climate is reflected in the stony presence of the characters. Bess is a sweet young girl who hails from a rigid family whose only social engagement, as like all the other inhabitants of the village, is the gathering at the church. Their closed knit community is not too happy to learn about Bess’s choice of husband, Jan. Jan works in the oil rig and his jovial and fun loving nature is completely opposite to that of the villagers’ stone cold attitude towards most things in life. Its left unsaid as to why Jan is attracted to Bess, an unpolished village girl who is ‘not quite right in the head’. Perhaps it is just that attribute that brings him close to her. On the other hand Bess who has been raised under strict puritanical codes is all too keen to explore the mysteries of marriage and sex.

After a few days of blissful married life, Jan returned to the Rig. Bess went back to what she knew best – praying diligently in the church. She prays to God to bring back Jan as soon as possible and that he never leaves her side again. As is often said, be careful of what you wish for, her wishes were turned into a cruel travesty of fate when Jan returns after a near fatal accident that renders him paralyzed from head to toe. The tension goes up a few notches when Jan urges his newly wedded wife to have sex with another man and narrate it back to him. What motivates him to place such a deplorable request to the already traumatized wife is left to the audience’s imagination but the devoted wife never asks him why and he never bothers to explain.

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Bess’s love comes under microscope when such a demand is made. Driven by love and only his best interest in her heart, she does exactly what is told of her. Soon we see her as an apathetic hooker, a far cry from her earlier self. Yet she does not leave her pious ways. Her two-way conversations with God almighty are heart wrenching, where he tells her to do what is the best for her. Her church banishes her, the little kids throw stones at but she is unconquerable in her faith. She tells Dodo, her sister in law, “God gives everyone something to be good at. I’ve always been stupid, but I’m good at this.”

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The underlying truth was that Bess, fierce in her faith, believes wholeheartedly that her sacrifices will redeem Jan from all his pains and he will get better. As his condition deteriorates, she becomes even more desperate; she goes to the big ship, where even the prostitutes don’t dare to tread. The remnants of her being is torn and devoured in such a manner that she never comes back alive.

The ending is cosmic, where Jan gets cured, as Bess is lowered into her grave and condemned to hell as she had sinned. No bells toll for sinners (but then there are no bells in this Church). Jan steals Bess’s coffin since he knows that Bess’s entire existence was for his survival alone, and he would not have her final resting place next to condemned souls. Far away from land and in the mid sea he submerges her coffin into the waters so that she might finally get some peace. It’s the miraculous tolling of church bells at this instance that makes the audience numb. There are no questions left in the mind that even in her perceived sin she attained sainthood.

The film has many surprising revelations and a kind or raw power and an unshielded regard for the forces of good and evil. Its always easy for rational minds to wrap themselves around religious beliefs and look down upon another who strays forgetting that we are human because we have weaknesses and we are human because God made us bloodied from head to toe. Bess stands out because she cannot rationalize the way we do. She chooses to embrace her God, uncomplainingly and fearlessly, in the way she perceived him and as she unflailingly thanked him for “the greates gift, the gift of love”

I leave you all with the trailer of ‘Breaking the Waves’