Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Raw (2016)

Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
DOP: Ruben Impens
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Laurent Lucas
Language: French

When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.

Both of her parents had studied in the same vet school and her elder sister is currently studying there. She is considered as a potentially brilliant student and like all 'studious' ones is somewhat an outsider. She is forced to eat rabbit's liver in its raw form during one of the hazing rituals and surprisingly enough, she digs it, even though she got an allergic reaction to it at first. A scissor related accident causes one of her sister's fingers to come off and she ends up eating it. Now, she is like a dog that tasted human flesh and can't help herself from having more. She then proceeds to learn that her sister had also undergone the same transformation in the college and it runs in the family.

This is the third film related to food habits that I've seen recently with Okja and The Bad Batch being the other two. It is basically a coming of age story with some sibling relationship as something which eats each other metaphor thrown in, in a literal manner. It is extremely visceral and stylishly shot with great use of pop music. We see the film from the point of view of the cannibal who turns into so with the trigger being the hazing related rituals. It is such a taboo subject in our society and it is rare to have a film that takes 'in their shoes' take on it. Even in Amirpour's 'The Bad Batch' it was approached as big bad 'they'. The ending of the film is necessary though it creates a few logical loopholes.

Body-horror is a sub-genre that is synonymous with the name David Cronnenberg. Even the ones that claim to belong to this genre these days concentrate more on horror/psychological aspects of it rather than treat them as a drama of sorts. Raw can certainly be categorised as a body-horror film in the Cronnenberg mould. It is a very good watch if you can stomach it, no pun intended. It did cause some faintings when it was screened at Toronto film festival. I do have to say that many of the cringy parts of it are the kind you watch half laughingly. It is titled as 'Grave' for its original France release.

Rating: 3.75/5

Monday, September 4, 2017

It Comes at Night (2017)

Director: Trey Edwards Shults
Writer: Trey Edwards Shults
DOP: Drew Daniels
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.

The film is very light on exposition and it takes a good half an hour or so for us the audience to figure out what exactly is going on. The protagonists themselves don't exactly know what really happened and how many people might have survived. Their house is secluded and in the woods and film begins with them deciding to kill the grandfather who is infected. Trust is always an issue. The film really got some hype due to its poster, trailer and the rave reviews it generated from the critics. The audience had a mixed reaction to it because its marketing was quite misleading as it is in fact a psychological thriller orather than horror. The sequences that they used in the trailer were largely from the nightmares that the teenager is having and the director does not hide that they are so in the film. He intentionally opens up different possibilities and none of them are resolved. It ends up as another one of those 'What fucked up things humans are capable of doing when they are desperate' films and my reaction to it was 'meh'. It is well made and all that but I really don't get all the hype. I hadn't even seen the trailer or posters to be actually misled by it. Had to be said though that the initial scenes do build up tension really well.

One film I was reminded of was the excellent 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' even though the premise is very different. Maybe it is the secluded cabin in the woods kind of settings. Joel Edgerton was excellent in 'Black Mass' and he is the same in 'It Comes at Night', a title which don't need to be changed for its porn remake. In fact the entire cast is great.  When the new family comes in there is a power dynamics at play between the two family heads and the hormonal teenager is also affected by the young wife. Like all things in the film, the director does not expand further on it. He supposedly stated that he wanted the audience to be as confused as the protagonists are and that can work really well on many occasions. Great performances, aspect ratio gimmicks and all that aside, but it didn't do it for me here. Checkout Xavier Dolan's 'Mommy' for some great use of aspect ratio as a storytelling device.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Adam Joan (2017)

Director: Jinu V. Abraham
Writer: Jinu V. Abhraham
DOP: Jithu Damodhar
Cast: Prithviraj, Bhavana, Narein
Language: Malayalam

The film is centred around a Malayalee family settled in Scotland and the kidnapping of a child and associated murder that happens. There is some visible strains in the relationship between the family members which adds to the intrigue regarding the motive of the kidnapping.

The film's teaser raised eyebrows because of its exquisite Scottish settings and technical excellence. After watching the film I can conclude that there isn't much in the film apart from that. Like almost all recent films from Prithviraj, apart from Ezra, it is close to three hours long and it seems that he is smitten by the word 'epic'. When you make films that are nearly three hours long one should ensure that there are enough things in it to sustain audience's interest. This film sadly manages to lose its audience after the motive is revealed sometime after the interval point. Ezra was one film that you can appreciate purely for its technical excellence and novel Jewish settings even though it touches many of the clichés from horror genre in a self-aware manner. One thing going for it was the comparatively short running time which don't give you too much time to think. The Jewish baggage from that film is carried over to this making you wonder about the fate of 'Lucifer', which is slated to be 'officially' Prithviraj's directorial debut. He should really be hiring a good editor. Another thing is that one shouldn't reveal/explain too much about these kind of mysterious shit because audience will then start applying logic to things. The ambiguous nature of Mohanlal's character from Koothara was what made it work really well for me and I do hope Lucifer is in that vein.

It is certainly good to see such kind of technical excellence in Malayalam cinema and looks like the budget was put to good use. Maybe that also made them reluctant to cut things on the editing floor. Prithviraj is in his usual 'epic drama' mode of acting with perfect lines and calculated delivery. It seems that he is too invested on the technical side of things to be mindful of the repetitive nature of his performances these days. Adam Joan ends up as a very well-packaged turd of a film.

PS: They should really approach Scottish Tourism to see if they can get some subsidy.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, September 1, 2017

ഞണ്ടുകളുടെ നാട്ടിൽ ഒരിടവേള (Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela) (2017)

Director: Althaf Salim
Writers: Althaf Salim, George Kora
DOP: Mukesh Muraleedharan
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Shanthi Krishna, Lal
Language: Malayalam

Kurien (Nivin Pauly) is in England and his rich Christain family (NRI moneyed) is in Kochi. His mother suspects that she has breast cancer and asks Kurien to come back without telling him the reason why. He thinks they have arranged a marriage for him and happily returns. First half of film largely deals with their parents having trouble telling the kids the big bad news. How they face it in their own quirky ways is the second half.

Film can be classed in the genre of 'Cancer Comedy' which has been there in Hollywood for sometime with '50/50' being one of the finest in the genre. In Malayalam, the usual norm is to have tear-jerkers when it comes to dealing with life-threatening illnesses. So it is refreshing to see a film dealing with the disease in a comedic fashion and doing so quite blatantly. I was quite put-off by its posters and teasers since everything looked too polish. The film does not go too far in that regard in terms of its settings mostly as their house has an old school mosaic flooring, which is a sign of poshness from early 90s. Polishness is there though in terms of interactions between the characters since no-one ever gets angry in the film. One can forgive them for that because it anyway wears its feel-good factor on its sleeves. It is better anyway to not add too many complexities and fail.

Many had commented that Nivin had put on some weight when the teasers came for the film. They address that in the film in a self-aware manner making you doubt whether it was intentional. Humour in the film works really well for most parts and Nivin is back in his safe-zone after two misses in the form of 'Action Hero Biju' and 'Sakhavu' preceeding it. Another film I was reminded of was 'Anuraga Karikkinvellam' and one reason for that is the way the camera is handled. The way the relationships between the family members are shown was better in AKV but this one does not have any glaring weak portions to turn a certain section of audience off. Looks like a certain blockbuster for Nivin, who is also the producer of the film.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (1988)

Director: George Sluizer
Writers: George Sluizer, Tim Krabbé
DOP: Toni Kuhn
Cast: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege
Language: Dutch, French

Rex and Saskia, a young Dutch couple in love, are on vacation in France. They stop at a busy service station and Saskia is abducted. After three years and no sign of Saskia, Rex begins recieving letters from the abductor.

The film is told from the perspective of both the victim (Rex) and the abductor, who is a self-confessed sociopath. Unlike the usual portrayal in serial killer films, Raymond (abductor) is a middle class chemistry teacher leading a normal life with his family. He is not super-intelligent but a perfectionist of sorts. You see him constantly practising and refining his methods and even practises some moves on his daughter. He is surprised to see new missing posters put up by Rex three years after the incident and decides to confront him and exploit his curiosity. We learn from their interactions that Raymond's antics are not serial in nature but a one-off abduction. He had once saved a young girl from dying and feels that he can kill one for that heroic act.

One of the striking things about the film is its editing as it is pretty much revealed early on itself who the abductor is. Both of their stories are interspersed and the suspense is regarding the fate of the victim. The last act of the film is pretty terrifying and Stanley Kubrick had called it one of the most terrifying films he has ever seen. What makes it effective is the randomness of selection and you will put yourself in place of the victim. Raymond is claustrophobic and he has something similar in sort for his victim. One film I was reminded of was Michael Haneke's Funny Games which was like a sick spoof of the horror genre. Vanishing does break several genre conventions and has plenty of uneasy light-hearted moments.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Night Moves (1975)

Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: Alan Sharp
DOP: Bruce Surtees
Cast: Gene Hackman, Susan Clark, Jennifer Warren, Melanie Griffith

Harry Moseby is a private detective who is called in to trace the whereabouts of the step-daughter of an ageing actress whose media mogul husband is her only source of work.

The neo-noir films from the 70s are characterised by vulnerable detectives unlike the more cleverer and macho ones from the 40s. Chinatown is the most famous one from 70s even though I hold Robert Altman's 'The Long Goodbye' as the best. Night Moves is another one in similar vein with Gene Hackman's Moseby being a good detective but always being a bit late and one-step behind the crimes that happen in the film. He laments that things just fell into place for him rather than him working out things cleverly. Can't really fault him though because at the end of it you realize that the plot is too convoluted with too many convenient coincidences. That didn't really dilute the quality of film as it is more focused on the characters rather than the plot.

Moseby is also facing some difficulties in his marriage with his wife being unhappy about the nature of his work. At the beginning of the film, she and her gay friend invites him to watch Eric Rohmer's 'My night at Maud's' and he declines it by stating that watching Rohmer films is like watching paint dry. Later that night he discovers that his wife is having an affair. When he travels to Florida, as part of the case, a similar opportunity like in Maud's is presented to him. Despite the convoluted nature of the plot, it is a great watch with great performances. It also has got a unique visual sense with the grainy LA Florida colour tone. The film's title comes from the Knight Moves in chess but spelled differently. In psychiatric terms Knight's Move thinking is referred to something like Schizophrenia.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Swimmer (1968)

Directors: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack
Writers: Eleanor Perry, John Cheever
DOP: David L. Quaid
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule

Neddy Merrill (Burt Lancaster) has been away for most of the summer. He reappears at a friend's pool. As they talk, someone notices that there are pols spanning the entire valley. He decides to jog from one pool to another to swim across the whole valley and to reach his home. As he stops in each of the pools, his interactions with the pool owners tells his life story for us.

The place where we see him first dive into is quite far from his home and down in the valley. The familiarity and the fondness displayed by his hosts is a bit misleading as we know later that farther he is from his home, the less they know about him. As he gets closer and closer to his home, the nature of interactions he has with the hosts turn more and more hostile as we learn more things about his life. He seems to be oblivious about his past and paints a rosy picture while his hosts starts confronting him with things. After a lot of struggle and pain, when he finally reaches his home, what we find out is not a twist for us, the audience, but is for him.

The film is an adaptation of John Cheever's short story with the same name which was published in The New Yorker magazine. You do feel that the translation from paper to screen is not entirely convincing and the film had its own production difficulties. Frank Perry was fired after the first cut was screened and Sydney Pollack was hired to salvage the project. He re-shot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule's character with whom the swimmer had an affair. It is a very good and different watch but is not the classic one would expect. There is a French and  Eric Rohmer vibe to it.

Rating: 3.5/5