Sunday, September 11, 2016

ഒപ്പം (Oppam) (2016)

Director: Priyadarshan
Writers: Govind Vijayan, Priyadarshan
Cinematographer: N.K. Ekambaram
Cast: Mohanlal, Samudirakani, Nedumudi Venu, Anushree 
Language: Malayalam

Jayaraman (Mohanlal) is a blind man but possess a heightened sense of smell, touch and sound. He works as an elevator operator in a posh apartment in Kochi. One day he happens to encounter the murder of a person  with whom he was was very close with and subsequently he is charged with the crime. Jayaraman is the only one who can identify the killer and he also knows an information that the murderer badly wants. So the killer starts to follow him constantly to get that information. The film's title 'Oppam' comes from this and it translates as 'Together' in English.

Prior to the release of the film, Priyadarshan sounded very desperate for the film to be successful after his last couple of efforts bombed very badly at box office. There was an acknowledgment from him that he hadn't made a film in Malayalam with serious effort for a long time and this one is different as he is embracing the new generation of Malayalam cinema with him casting several actors among them. But the biggest validation came when the kickass trailer came out which was cut by Alphonse Putharen, who is certainly among the most promising directors from the industry.

The film begins with a very good short sequence where the killer's shadow is introduced set to a stunning poem and imagery. Then the character of Jayaraman is introduced in an utterly cringe worthy fashion, where his knowledge of classical music and martial arts (Kairali) is thrown in and you also get to see him singing during a boat trip with a couple of foreigners also appreciatively watching on. As you start worrying about the film, it does pick up from there and sustains quite well till about half way through the second half, even though there is a totally WTF sequence involving Mohanlal and Vimala Raman just before the central murder of the story. The last act of the film is extremely drawn out and will test your patience.

It is supposed to be a thriller and there is no big twist to it as we know the identity of killer from the beginning itself. The cat and mouse game between Jayaraman and the killer is the highlight of the film. But you do get perturbed by some of the lazy choices that Priyadarshan makes. It seems that almost all the characters in the film know each other and it is a small world. Anusree's Police character is seen to have connected the dots between several deaths but she doesn't seem to have a clue about the latest one even though she personally knows Jayaraman. Then there is an altogether improbable sequence of Aju Varghese's character setting up a meeting between the killer and Jayaraman. These kind of inconsistencies stick out like a sore thumb but you do have to credit Priyadarshan for not spoon-feeding much for the audience as there is no particular scene which looks too much like an exposition.

Cinematography and frames are excellent like you would expect from a Priyadarshan film and there is one shot of the killer on the rooftop in dark lit up by fireworks which was quite amazing. Chemban Vinodh and Mammukkoya are excellent in their roles as comic reliefs. Anusree is wasted in her role which is also quite poorly written and the sequences involving the little girl speaking grown up words are quite excruciating to watch in the second half.

Overall it is a watchable film with several highs and several lows. Most of the lows come in the characterisation of Jayaraman which I suspect is done to please his fans. Mohanlal's filmography can be divided into two eras with 'Narasimham', which came in 2000, being the dividing line. It was a film that set back Malayalam film industry for a decade and it was only with the advent of the new generation that it started recovering. Mohanlal had a phase of playing larger than life roles post Narasimham and that stopped only after several of those films started doing very badly at box office. But most of his roles since then have been of the whiter than white variety with him dishing out several moralising wise words like a family elder. Only roles that actually used Mohanlal's talents to a good degree since 2000 in my opinion have been Company, Bhramaram, Udayananu Tharam, Koothara and to a smaller extent, Drishyam. What made Drishyam's Georgekutty work is that he was not made out to be a perfect role model. He watches porn and is not politically very correct. Oppam's Jayaraman is not one to be added to that list as, even though Mohanlal does very well in portraying the blind character, the jack/master of all trades wise-ass characterisation that Priyadarshan goes for is not great.

PS: There is a totally unnecessary sequence involving Antony Perumbavoor which will make your groan and think of the Malayalam saying:"ആനപിണ്ഡത്തെയും പേടിക്കണോ"...

Rating: 2/5

Saturday, September 10, 2016

കൊച്ചാവ പൗലോ അയ്യപ്പാ കോയ്ലോ (Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho) (2016)

Director: Siddhartha Shiva
Writer: Siddhartha Shiva
Cinematographer: Neil D'Cunha
Cast: Kunchacko Boban, Master Rudraksh Sudeesh
Language: Malayalam

The film's very annoying title is inspired from Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho whose, too famous in my opinion, quote from Alchemist is used as a constant reference in the story. Its central character is a boy whose ambition in life is to fly in an airplane and the film follows various things that he does to fulfill it. Kunchacko Boban plays the role of do-good village man who helps the boy in achieving his goal.

The film marks the return of Udaya Pictures, the first film production company in Malayalam, after a gap of thirty years and Kunchacko Boban is now its third generation producer. I decided to go for the film after failing to get tickets for Priyadarshan-Mohanlal combo's 'Oppam'. Initial reviews that I heard of it were overwhelmingly positive and was quite surprised by how clichéd and boring it turned out to be. The film is set in contemporary times but the village characters in it looks so outdated and from the 90s. This is also true of the two kids in it who seems to be from the 80s. You get the clichéd village goodness and innocence that Malayalam film industry is so fond of  in terms of setting and characterisations. You can't help but think of the fact that it is quite affordable for most Malayalees to take a flight from Ernakulam to Trivandrum if someone is hell-bent on taking a flight trip. Film does address it but in a very unconvincing fashion. I was really considering to leave during the interval, would have been a first for me, but I decided against it coz of locked gates.

The second half doesn't get any better and proceeds like a really poor version of the latter half of the film 1983 without any of its nuances or attention to detail. The kid conveniently narrates the story too many times over the course of the film, a sign of laziness from the director's part. Films set in Kerala villages (are there any left?) is an excuse for stunning visuals and the film provides that, but it just serves to accentuate it's overall drabness. Maybe it is aimed strictly for school going kids who are having their vacation and they might get affected by it but my experience of it was quite excruciating.

Rating: 1/5

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Die Hard (1988)

Director: John McTiernan
Writers: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Cinematographer: Jan de Don't
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov

The film follows off-duty police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he takes on a group of highly organised criminals led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), who perform a heist in a Los Angeles skyscraper under the guise of a terrorist attack using hostages, including McLane's wife Holly, to keep the police at bay.

Die Hard is of course the film that launched Bruce Willis, who was till then a TV actor who does comedy, as an action star. The studio had approached Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role as a sequel to 'Commando' but he turned it down. We can thank him for that because we just cannot imagine anyone else playing McClane now. Out of the left-field choice of Bruce Willis and the then fresh idea of a non-muscled up lone wolf hero fighting against all odds were what made Die Hard such a path-breaking film. Since then the whole premise has been regurgitated numerous times and we got Die Hard on a plane, Die Hard on a President's plane, Die Hard on a Ship etc, as the honest trailers guys put it. I was never a fan of Arnie action films (couldn't finish Predator) and films like Die Hard , Bourne series etc are my kind of action films. Only downside to it is that it forced Bruce Willis to do many action films which led to the underutilization of his considerable acting capabilities.

What makes it great when compared with other action films, including the sequels in the same franchise, is that it got a great villain. To be honest, I won't call him a villain even because Alan Rickman is just cool as the silver-tongued operator with classical education. You will almost feel sad when he meets his end in the film. It is hard to fathom that it was a debut role in films for the excellent Alan Rickman, whom many idiots will remember just for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise.

Die Hard works as a great action film, a great Christmas film and a great comedy film. Most of the characters in it, especially outside of the building, are cartoonish but it works well for the comedy. I just loved those FBI guys, both of whom are named Johnson (no relation). It is a must-watch.

PS: Yippie Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!!

Rating: 5/5

Monday, September 5, 2016

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers:  Ben Affleck, Matt Damon
Cinematographer: Jean-Yves Escoffier
Cast: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgård, Ben Affleck

Film follows 20-year-old south Boston laborer Will Hunting, an unrecognised genius who, as part of a deferred prosecution agreement after assaulting a Police officer, becomes the client of a therapist and studies advanced mathematics with a renowned professor. Through his therapy sessions, Will revaluates his relationships with his best friend, his girlfriend and himself, facing the significant task of confronting his past and facing the future.

In general I'm not a fan of feel good films. That is more of a reflection on the films that come out of this genre. But when done well, they can be amazing, uplifting and shit like that. Good Will Hunting is one such example. I've seen it 4-5 times and it has been as fresh as when I saw it for the first time. The basic premise of it is something that can be really torn apart by the honest trailers guys. One could also say that many of the Matt Damon characters are essentially the same, reluctant geniuses, be it Rounders or the Bourne series. Guess he can pull it off easily maybe because he reportedly has a genius level IQ.

The film is basically a collection of several set-piece monologues delivered by Williams and Damon and one especially good one from Ben Affleck. It won all three of them their first Oscars. The set piece nature of these conversations are masked because of the goodness of what happens between those scenes. Robin Williams is playing his best role which couldn't have been more against his type. It is great uplifting watch and will be a case of a film living up to expectations. It was also a big commercial success, surprisingly enough, collecting more than 200 million on a $10 million budget.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, August 29, 2016

Beau Travail (1999)

Director: Claire Denis
Writer:    Claire Denis
Cinematographer: Agnes Godard
Cast: Denis Lavant, Michael Subor
Language: French

The film focuses on an ex-foreign legion (Denis Lavant) officer as he recalls his once glorious life, leading troops in Africa.

You can't do much wrong if you start your film with a club scene set to 'Kiss Kiss' song from Tarkan. The film has a meditative quality to it as we are shown various routines that the legion goes through in their non-combat days. First half of the film will work very well as an advertisement for recruitment. The character played by Denis Lavant is like the second in command with a father fixation for his own reporting officer. It could be sexual as well but it is not explicitly mentioned. In the beginning of the film, he mentions that 'Freedom begins with remorse'. The remorse that he is noting here is concerning his actions when he had a young man whom he thought of as a competition for him in terms of his superior officer's attention/affection.

It is an adaptation of Herman Melville's 1888 novella Billy Budd. It also reminded me of William Friedkin's 'Cruising' which also had a very confused protagonist. It is a great watch and has got a super great soundtrack. Claire Denis is a very interesting director and the films that I've watched of her's has a unique quality to them while each of them being very different in terms of settings.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, August 28, 2016

ഇടി (IDI) (2016)

Director: Sajid Yahiya
Writers:  Sajid Yahiya, Arouz Organ
Cinematographer: Sujith Sarangi
Cast: Jayasurya, Sunil Sukhada, Joju George
Language: Malayalam

IDI stands as an acronym for Inspector Dawood Ibrahim who dreamt of being a Police inspector after watching the various macho police roles played on screen by the likes of Mammooty and Suresh Gopi.

The teaser poster and trailer of the film suggested that it caters to the taste of a certain section of Malayalee audience who likes watching dumb Telugu and Tamil mass films. Idi is anything but as it is a very intelligent spoof film. But its misleading promotion might have backfired as it attracted the wrong kind of audience and is not doing terribly well at the box office. Even I decided to give it a go only after confirming that it is infact a spoof film as I was not very impressed by the trailer and initial reports. I'm glad I did it as I didn't want to add another one to the list comprising of  Aadu and Lukka Chuppi, two Jayasurya films that I missed out in theatres due to a combination of misleading promotion and poor word of mouth. He is known as the torrent star of Malayalam film industry and Idi will be another one to be added to his list of torrent hits.

One cannot really fault them for the misleading promotion because that in itself was a spoof on the audience. Sad fact is that Malayalee audience are not very good at judging things correctly when a film defies their expectations. Spoof films and screwball nonsensical comedies haven't done well at box office recently going by the box office fate of films like Aadu, Chirakodinja Kinavukal and Double Barrel.

Idi starts with them showing the birth of its protagonist, a spoof on a very annoying trend in Malayalam cinema. We realise that the film itself is a spoof by only about 20 minutes into the film. The first half of it is a laugh riot. It doesn't disappoint in the second half also even though the laugh quotient is taken a peg down leading up to its climax action sequence. I was not convinced by Jayasurya in the trailer but he is super good along with the entire cast. It is technically also very good even though the fight sequences in the trailer looked a tad amateurish. I think it is a case of the film being a whole lot better as a complete package even though the elements in it individually doesn't really stand out. The BGM was also a letdown in the trailer but the same works very well during the film. Please do watch it at the cinemas as it really deserves a much better box office returns.

Rating: 4/5

Ива́ново де́тство (Ivan's Childhood) (1962)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writers:  Vladimir Bogomolov, Mikhail Papav 
Cinematographer: Vadim Yusov
Cast: Kolya Burlyayev,  V. Zubkov, Ye. Zharikov, S. Krylov 
Language: Russian

The film tells the story of a young orphan boy and his experiences in world war two. It is based on Vladimir Bogomolov's short story 'Ivan'.

Even though the title and poster of the film might make you think of it as something in the mould of 'Come and See', it is not similar. Yes it does show the terrible things that come with wars, mainly through surreal dream like sequences about Ivan's childhood, but the film doesn't focus too much on that. Ivan is treated like a mythic character who comes in and out of the film. He is someone who is employed by the red army on a scouting/spying mission in enemy territory. His motivation is revenge against the 'Fritzs' for making him an orphan. He had been with the partisans previously.

The other characters in the film are the officers in the army who handles and take care of Ivan when he is back. Much of the story focuses on two of these officers, one is a captain and the other a lieutenant. It also involves a love triangle and a setpiece flirtation scene from which the above iconic image is taken. That whole scene is filmed in a mesmeric way.

Andrei Tarkovsky made his directorial debut with Ivan's Childhood. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival and established Tarkovsky immediately as one of the main directors of the era. It is not a typical Tarkovsky film as it is quite straightforward. Tarkovsky later expressed his misgivings about some of the decisions he made for the film but it is a great watch nevertheless. It is cited by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Kieslowski etc as a very influential film.

Rating: 4.5/5