The Boston Diaries

The advent of the ‘neo-noir mobster’ genre in cinema has seen a lot of evolution in it’s editing, soundtrack, dialogue and narrative. “Black Mass” manages to delve deep into the depths of the notorious James JosephWhiteyBulger, Jr. who was convicted of 19 murders and served as an FBI informant from 1975, using it to his ravenous advantage. Johnny Depp portrays ‘Whitey’ with a lucid style demonstrating the whole exercise of underplaying a character. Behind those glassy eyes and a balding head, there is a monster that is hungry for more with his fetish for blood and money. His wife, Lindsey Cyr (played by Dakota Fanning), is as sensitive as a flower bud, delicate and unhindered by it purity. They care for their son in a loving manner and Whitey looks after him like a tough lad teaching him not to waste “freshly squeezed” orange juice in the morning. Dakota Fanning manages to capture such powerful emotions in the shortest of screen times to depict her anxiety about the father-son relationship and the direction in which the family is headed. Johnny Depp puts on his veil of playing the family man succeeding to hide his true colours and his day jobs from his mother and Lindsey. The breeding venom in his bent mind is betrayed by his persona of coolness and calmness. John Connoly(played by Joel Edgerton) , his South paw buddie and a childhood friend , is hell bent on his hopes at progressing higher in the FBI. It is shocking to see the fact that a person who is going to serve for the country and help beat the crime rate is himself getting his hands stuck in the dough of a huge criminal fraternity. The money and bling blinds him. He wants to impress his boss by using his ‘contact’ ,Whitey, as an informant to capture the mafia in North Boston. The city of Boston is shown as a cheeky mobster itself with its yellow streetlights, sultry mornings, and empty backyards behind cheeky bars and stylish cars that zoom on the streets. Eventually it’s the underdog bellies that don’t have anything to lose.

The opening shot in the movie shows Kevin’s face resembling the shapeless rabid face of a pitbull that seethes with anger. The interrogation scene starts with the suitable narrative that guides us into the whole scenario of the racketeering scandals, the murders, drug trafficking, smuggling weaponry and lobbying money from loan sharks. Kevin(played by Jesse Plemons) resembles the fresh face of honey suckling youth sailing into the riptides of greed. He gets driven into the criminal world by sucking up to Whitey and his team.  Jack Connoly slowly treads into this dungeon of dangerous men increasing the city’s crime rate and aiding Whitey in his ordeals under the FBI’s ‘protective’ umbrella. His wife Marianne Connoly (played by Julianne Nicholson),significantly resembles Vito Corleone’s wife in “The Godfather”(1972), played by Diane Keaton. Marianne sums up her whole soul and concern for a societal dignity during a brief scene where Jack invites Whitey and his gang over, for a barbecue and a few beers. While he is in the kitchen for a steak refill he notices the anxiety on her face and questions it. She retorts to say that she did not envision gangsters coming home to pollute the whole social fabric and sanctity of the house. She is spellbound by his loss of faith in himself and his family.

The whole charade of her husband losing himself into corruption and assisting mobsters pains her in devastation. Her body seethes in pain as seen from her brilliant performance. From that moment on, she avoids any sort of social exchange with Whitey as she is afraid and cares too much about her well-being. She feigns to be ill when Whitey is home for dinner. Loathing her attitude, Whitey walks up to her room confronts her like a lion eyeing a tender deer before ravaging it. He feels her forehead wickedly with his palms and grabs her by the neck. Surprised by her normal body temperature he hints at a life threat that would make him perform another “burial”. I was visually stunned by her acting as it makes you want to gasp with acute pain and anguish.

The principal photography resembles that of the 80s Americas with the hued frames and sepia tinge to the daylight scenes. Colour grading is an upcoming science that affects the whole mood of the movies and ‘Black Mass’ delivers a dark, fearsome vibe through its frames. Masanobu Takayanagi is the master behind the camera which delivers strong long shots, character based focus pans and capturing the enchanting night lights of Boston. The iconic meeting point of Jack Connoly and Whitey is a location to remember with the cityscape in the distance and gleaming highways.

The screenplay ultimately steals the show with lines intricately crafted by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. It revolutionizes the whole method of penning a noir story based on real events. We are introduced to characters through a calm paced narrative. This allows us to fill our minds with the space necessary to evaluate the scenarios that dawn the different years from 1975 to 1985. If we do not understand or capture any of the characters and their behaviour in our minds we are at loss. But the writers pitch in the extra effort of feeding us tasteful dialogues that keep our minds clear of any confusion or contradiction. It is totally evident from the scenes in the film that the writing must be as simplistic and fluid as possible for us to capture maximum information in a given time span. A minimum of ten characters stay in our mind after we walk out of the theatres. They haunt us with their personalities and actions. An actor may deliver a line with the given vigour and passion but finally it’s the content of the lines that matter. The dialogue and space between characters must define their personality and nature. The ruthlessness of Whitey sends chills through our spines. Meanwhile,Fred Wyshak (played by Corey Stoll) becomes the new federal advocate in Connoly’s office. He is the white unicorn in disguise ready to make his hands dirty by facing the mobsters and the liars upfront. Connoly continues his act in the FBI unaware of the flames that slowly engulf him and burn him down. Eventually it leads to the fall of Whitey and subsequently his entire gang.

This movie has been truly crafted according to the modern “Godfather” model. Scott Cooper, the director, has this one to his name along with the Jeff Bridges starrer, “Crazy Heart”. He has developed a new form of narrative which places us as a third person or witness within the movie. Space is given to the audience to judge on its own and to place suspicions. This movie is fresh in its technique and screenplay backed by top notched performances. The smell of the street of Boston lingers as we walk out of the movie on to the streets, questioning the judicial system and where the world is headed.

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Traumasha

The phrase “trying too hard” became evidently clear to me when I watched “Tamasha”(2015) directed by Imtiaz Ali. The instance when someone asks you to forcefully believe in an experience which calculates to a much ‘thought over’ emotion it ends up in a sheer disappointment. Cinema is a medium which takes us into a parallel dimension of experience through a carefully driven narrative and a simple inculcation of experiential indigenous values that all of us go through in our lives. Films have shown us that a simple love story between two characters can be portrayed in several ways. The one that always crosses the mark and manages to touch our hearts are the films that show a clear divide between the narrative and the character detailing. Tamasha fails in having a successful narrative style though it tries to create its own ‘unorthodox’ niche for itself. The whole purpose of a narrative is to guide us through a script like how a baby is guided to sleep in its cradle. As the movie opens, it mixes up our thoughts with a child’s innocent imaginations about a storyteller’s story that he has heard with a violent rush of characters and images while simultaneously a play is being staged somewhere. The fact that the movie wants the audience to experience its own ‘tamasha’ is rendered futile with the imposition of what is apparently normal, mediocre or true love. You can either let the audience be a character of the movie or let the character be independent, aloof of what is going on. But you can never let the movie be the audience to a character. It becomes a rigorous exercise in our minds that eventually results into a big letdown. The background score by AR Rahman and the unconventional camera work is what saves the movie a little merciful grace. He mesmerizes us with a beautiful tone of melody, bass tones and notes that bring gravity to some of the scenes. This is the positive point in terms of experimental sound scores and adaptive screenplay. When we hear Sukhwinder’s Singh’s voice in the song ‘Chali Kahani’ it is like honey to our ears as it quenches the thirst of Bollywood in us. Similarly ‘Heer toh badi sad hai’ and the raw voice of Arijit Singh in ‘Wat Wat Wat’ are the good moments in this movie. The conversation that Ved(Played by Ranbir Kapoor) has with the rickshaw wallah, a wannabe singer, after his break up is a light moment which fills an empty void in us asking for the missing personal element in the whole movie.

Deepika’s portrayal of the loving, caring and rooted ‘Tara’ is truly notable in the scene where she asks Ranbir Kapoor whether he really is himself or is he different when he proposes to her at a crowded dinner party. Her gesture of asking him to talk in private outside for two minutes is a beautiful aspect in the script and the concern about where he is headed is notable for the love she has for him. These are the solid trump cards for the screenplay which unfortunately are short lived. It becomes a predicative game of repetition and forceful script change as the so called ‘normal’ Ranbir tries to colour himself again with his inner child. Meanwhile, Ranbir’s take on Dev Anand and Robert DeNiro are light takeaways from the film which entertain us to a certain extent. However, as the movie progresses, the details missing in his character are evidently shown up like how a hollow coffin of a script shows it’s skeleton of bones. A man lives his life with certain experiences, emotions and a societal upbringing. The whole social aspect is missing in the movie which is why the rickshaw wallah scene makes us feel happy for a while and then withers away into bubbles of forcefully written characters. We start to think whether movies are only stories of characters which are strictly defined. It is definitely not. Equal dignity needs to be given to the mis-en-scene or the whole volume of each scene in a movie. The surroundings need to speak to us in a discreet yet understandable manner. The consequence of a story or a movie which does not give space for thought and contemplation within ourselves leads to a suffocative experience wanting us to surpass scenes hoping the next shot will be a lighter breeze. When the mind is lost in this kind of hope there is no space for appreciation and when there is no eagerness for appreciation, there cannot be a fulfilling experience. There are ways of developing new styles of film making and there are also ways of just creating good films with solid scripts. If you are stuck in between these two it becomes a lost cause where you do not satisfy yourself at the end of the day. Striking the right balance between the two should be the key aspect that film makers of this generation must work upon.

Kaiyotes in Bloom

The bass guitar releases a mellow tone, the keyboard dreams a few notes, the drums creep in with a tease and a magical voice jazzes up the mood. Hiatus Kaiyote is one of the very few bands nurturing a new form of jazz, funk and soul music known as the neo-soul genre. Their latest album “Choose your weapon” is a prolonged accumulation of sensitive, progressive and bop tracks which cleanse our minds with its wisdom and true rhythm. I first heard of the band on Youtube when one of my close friends made me listen to “Mobius Streak” from the Tawk Tomahawk album. I got hooked on to it owing to its intense energy and groove. Beginning with a flamenco strumming and ending up into an wholesome hummable song, this song gives a shiver of extreme satisfaction. The drummer, Perrin Moss, plays an intricate mix of time signatures while the bassist, Paul Bender, feeds the remaining life to the instrumentation. Nai Palm’s jazzy and lucid voice gives a spiritually sensuous flavour to the composition rendering it a complete experience. Simon Mavin , who plays the synthesizer, touches our ears with simplistic sounds that caress the soul. It demystifies the destination of the song creating a passive curiosity among us.

I watched a video of their performance at the Village Underground and was overwhelmed by the response they get from the whole familia of listeners. All you get to see is a humble group of Australian musicians bringing on the jam like never before. “Malika” begins with a flurry of snare beats and high hat clashes sinking into a beautiful array of jazz chords and vocals. The life they bring to the songs on stage is as appealing as listening to their songs in solitude on a rainy afternoon. Electronic music, these days, is all about high speed dub step remixes flourishing into a dull chorus, apparently called, the ‘bass drop’. Hiatus Kaiyote teaches us how electronic sounds can deeply affect music when used cordially with live instruments like the guitar and jazz drums. A fresh and unhindered voice is all that’s needed in today’s world of music. Unlike the mundane auto tuned songs with heavily processed vocals, Hiatus manages to capture realism with instinctive play on tune and poetry. With guttural sounds and a gleeful play of words, Nai Palm never fails to entertain with her brilliance. Paul Bender plays the bass aptly to portray his skill on jazz scales and discordant melody. It is him who envelopes the song with a constant tapping or slapping of chromatic and jazz notes. A series of coherent tunes exist with Paul exchanging smiles with Nai palm, Simon and Perrin as they perform “Nakamarra” on the stage.

“By fire” and “Borderline with my atoms” are the most intriguing songs from the “Choose Your weapon” album. These songs made me want to study jazz and rhythm with more depth. Mystery and hypnotic melodies govern songs like ”Prince Minikid” and “Breathing Underwater”. Drums are a backbone to music and the softer the drum beats the more effective the conveyance of the song. There can be no domination or suppression in any collaborative music. This is made very much clear in a band like Hiatus Kaiyote. Perrin Moss excels in his pursuit of puzzled encounters with beats and polyrhythms. It lingers on a larger scale in the silence that follows after the song completes its spell.  Be it the cymbal crashes, hi-hat shots, snare or bass drum kicks, the simplistic ease of the beat renders space to each and every other aspect of tunes. “By Fire” begins with an emerging chorus and a synthesized set of sounds and beats. The suspense that the first few seconds of the song creates unleashes an usual expectation. Nai Palm sings the next few lines on a totally different scale and wittingly captures the whole gravity of where the song is headed. It is a memorable journey of unexpected expectations where you can celebrate an ethereal thought or emotion. This is what makes the song go on repeat for the coming years. A peculiar keyboard tone from Simon adds so much to the song that you keep craving for that sound to fill up any silence that you face in the coming day. “Laputa” is an impressive blend of ambient sound with crafty lyrics giving it a rap-like feel. “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” is another joyous number which keeps you gripped with its reggae jumps and beats.  The whole ordeal makes you want to shake your head to the groove with a fresh set of notes and tempos.

There is a unique way of phrasing involved in every song making it a constant exercise to anticipate the next line. The words and the rhythm get around each other like siblings, trying to bring in fun and teasing elements.

“Stone a flare cold, undercoat bare , apple over-head swift courage, shoot it down, down”  are the lines for the chorus in “The Lung”, another unique track from the Choose Your Weapon album. Each phrasing comes with its own distinct set of timing and execution made perfect by Nai Palm which makes it a trademark and a milestone in the new wave.

“Molasses” from their new album explores new sounds with bell chime elements along with an odd time signature which creates a fresh breeze of sound to the ears. You can sing along with the beautiful lines and feel the beat resonate. It is a song which stays along with the others. Nai Palm likes to experiment with her voice and diction like a fairy. “Atari” relishes the flavours of a tribal song sung in the forest with its dancing rhythms. “It is a song dedicated to vintage game consoles” says Nai Palm in an interview. Maintaining flows in their songs with silences and piano blending with a rushed set of rhythms they create a polyrhythmic anthem for listeners.   “Lace Skull” convolutes a beautiful guitar pattern with a set of humming piano notes. We feel the urge to jam with the right set of minds that focus the unfamiliar from the familiar and progressively improvise. It is a perfect ‘hiatus’ to the music scene which has needed a revival of live elements and electronic retro sounds since a long time. Raw textures and innovative experimentation have made this album a treat to the ears. We can call it the music from the “Beat” generation of our time. Give it a listen and go fly into the world of Hiatus Kaiyote.