Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Thing (1982)

Director: John Carpenter
Writers: Bill Lancaster, John W. Campbell Jr.
DOP: Dean Cundey
Cast: Kurt Russell, A. Wilford Brimley, Keith David

A crew in Antarctica finds a neighbouring camp destroyed and its crew dead. Whatever killed them is nowhere to be found, unless it is hidden in plain sight.

'Thing' in the thing is a parasitic alien being that can assimilate into its victim and thus form an imitation. Once the crew figures it out, what follows is paranoia as they are not sure who among them is an alien victim. The situation was an inspiration for Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and there is an even more direct connection to the Hateful Eight as well. Ennio Morricone's unused work from 'The Thing' was largely used in the latter and 'Beastiality' also made an appearance in it.

Alien being was created using practical effects which was not quite as good as Ridley Scott's Alien. There was also this very badly executed computer exposition scene where the probability of infection and time taken to infect the whole of earth is spelled out. I was feeling that the film had not aged well during the initial parts of the film but it was misplaced as it improved vastly once it began focusing on the paranoia aspect. The production quality towards the end with the night sequences in snow is really great with flares and all that. The dog in the beginning is one creepy fucker.

It had released two weeks after ET along with Blade Runner. It bombed both critically and commercially as the gory unfriendly alien in grim settings turned the audience off. It has since been hailed rightly as a masterpiece. I actually enjoyed it much more than Alien and it should be more interesting on rewatch as well.

Rating: 4.25/5

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Nice Guys (2016)

Director: Shane Black
Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
DOP: Philippe Rousselot
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice

It is the 1970s Los Angeles where a mismatched pair of private eyes are investigating a missing girl and the mysterious death of a porn star. One of the private eyes (Russell Crowe) is not officially a one and the other (Ryan Gosling) is a bit dim and has to contend with his daughter as well (Angourie Rice).

Shane Black made his name at a very young age as the writer of Buddy Cop film 'Lethal Weapon'. I haven't seen any of his subsequent films credited solely as a writer He took a break from cinema in the mid 90s and came back as a director with the excellent yet underrated 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'. The Nice Guys was written before KKBB and he has called this one as a spiritual cousin to it. I, in fact liked this one even more than KKBB probably because of the simple reason that the lead pair of actors are much more likable for me in this instance. Never been a big fan of Robert Downey Junior. Shane Black, as Video Essayist The Nerdwriter points out, is very good at using violence on screen with consequential effects. One of the most hilarious things about this film is that the bystanders do get hit quite disproportionately. It is billed as a mystery comedy and the mystery part of it is in the Big Lebowski mould where it is quite hard to make sense of it and that is not really the point anyway. You do raise your eyebrows when the daughter character doesn't want anyone killed in a couple of instances but one suspects that was also an in-joke and them poking fun at the genre cliches. Things do get quite ridiculous towards the end in a self aware manner and you have Ryan Gosling's character quipping that he is invincible giving us a nod to the plot armor he has. There are so many quotable lines and it is definitely worth revisiting.

The banter between Ryan and Russell is excellent and Angourie Rice amply supports and sometimes even steals the show. It is one of those films which greatly exceeds your expectations.They do set it up for a sequel but the disappointing box office numbers suggest that it might not be forthcoming.

Fuck Marvel!!

Fuck DC!!

Fuck Disney!!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was also another one that bombed at the box office. Apparently they are planning a TV series titled 'The Nice Girls'.

Rating: 4.25/5

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Good Time (2017)

Directors: Ben Safdie, Josh Safdie
Writers: Josh Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
DOP: Sean Price Williams
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie, Buddy Duress, Jennifer Jason Leigh

After a heist goes awry, a bank robber spends a night trying to free his mentally ill brother from being sent to Riker's Island prison.

Think ‘Enter the Void + Collateral + True Romance’ with quite an unlikable protagonist- you will get a general idea about the film. Robert Pattinson continues his great post-Twilight form in picking good roles in good films and he plays the elder brother Connie whose USP is that he thinks and acts very quickly even though they are not the smartest decisions on hindsight. He is out after a spending some time in jail (Good Time is a jail related reference) and decides to rescue his brother from the psychiatric sessions that he is getting under the wings of their grandmother. The opening scene which is a psychological evaluation of his younger brother Nick, played by one of the director brothers, is riveting to watch. Connie thinks the best thing for his brother to do is to assist him in a small-time bank robbery operation and things don't go as planned, obviously. We then have Connie trying to con some money of his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to raise bail-bond and then trying to rescue his brother directly. He meets a few interesting characters along the way and things just don't go as 'not' planned.

Camera movements are initially very documentary style and later on the film is largely neon-lit. ‘Oneohtrix Point Never’ handles the music and the closing credits was a collaboration with Iggy Pop. Music is a big driving force in the movie as it ratchets up tension when necessary. Film might not be up everyone's alley as the directors make no effort in making the protagonist likable. I enjoyed it thoroughly and it defies your expectations as there is variation in pacing throughout the film. It is usual in films to have unlikable villain sort of characters who are quite smart and calculating. So it was very refreshing to see someone who is not all that smart but his quick decisions fools us into believing that he is.

Rating: 4.25/5

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sexy Durga (2017)

Director: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
Writer: No screenplay
DOP: Prathap Joseph
Cast: Rajshri Deshpande, Kannan Nayar, Sujeesh KS, Baiju Netto
Language: Malayalam

Two smalltime gangsters pick up a couple on the run, leading to a long, claustrophobic road trip in Malayalam cinema's perennial vehicle villain, an Omni van.

The lady in the couple is a North Indian who doesn't speak or understand Malayalam. This language barrier gives a license to the gangsters to say whatever they want. The film had no screenplay and I suspect the instruction from the director was to be really lewd. Film was made in the context of increasing reportage of gruesome rape cases from India. Still, Kerala is not a place that you normally associate with it. So my default expectation was that nothing terrible would happen. The language that they use is very crude and I'm pretty sure that subtitles wouldn't have conveyed the tone quite correctly in the festivals that they showed it and won many awards. They would've perceived it as an extremely dark film while I found plenty of humour in it, albeit being pretty dark and cringy.

Kerala is a place whose streets go to sleep pretty early and film can be seen as a portrayal of how behaviour changes with it. Night belongs to the nanny state police, moral policing dickwads and other people who you normally associate with it. For the couple alone at night the first two are a threat and it is only natural that they ended up with the third kind, repeatedly so in a surreal fashion. One solution is to change the law so that shops can operate any time of the day. That will help to bring more people to the night streets and thereby make it safer. Apparently, the gulf streets are very vibrant during the Ramadan month.

Film is pretty ambiguous and surreal towards the end and I found it to be a great watch. The screening that I went to was its Kerala premiere which was organized to protest against its exclusion from IFFK competitive section. This week also saw it being excluded from IFFI by the I&B ministry after getting selected by the jury. The main storyline of the film is juxtaposed with scenes of male Bhakts enduring 'Ichi the Killer' kind of body horrors in worship of Goddess Durga. Director is kind of contrasting, in a non-subtle way, the day and night behaviour of a typical Indian male.

Rating: 4.25/5

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Columbus (2017)

Director: Kogonada
Writer: Kogonada
DOP: Elisha Christian
Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, John Cho, Parker Posey

A Korean man finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, where his architect father is in a coma. There he meets an arch-nerd who is postponing her graduation to stay with her mother, a recovering addict.

The town, Columbus, does not look like America at all, not that I've been to US of A. It is filled with buildings and structures that are architecturally unique. Architecture is something that is glaringly neglected in a places like Kerala, where it is the private sector that is driving the growth. The lowest tender bidding format for  government building contracts doesn't really encourage architectural originality to come from there. You feel such a difference when you contrast a growing city like Kochi with the old school buildings from Trivandrum city centre with the latter having more of an identity.

Coming back to the film, it is just visually gorgeous and the theme justifies it being so. The Korean guy does not have much of a relationship with his dad and is kind of waiting for him to die so that he can go back to Korea and his routine. The girl, in sharp contrast, is overly protective of her mother and is behaving more like a parent than a child. She has a difficult 'Good Will Hunting' like decision to make, without her being portrayed as a genius. It is a very well acted film and a stunning debut for the director, who is known as a video essayist and a critic. Architecture can really make a town or city wonderful but us in India never gets a chance to experience it unless you go to places like Fort Kochi, Pondicherry etc which are just small islands in the larger scheme of things.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Wind River (2017)

Director: Taylor Sheridan
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
DOP: Ben Richardson
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen

A veteran tracker/hunter with the Fish and Wildlife Service helps to investigate the murder of a young native American woman, and uses the case as a means of seeking redemption for an earlier act is irresponsibility which led to a tragedy.

Film is set in the Wind River Indian reservation, Wyoming. Taylor Sheridan had called Sicario, Hell or High Water and this as a thematic trilogy. The Indian connection is strongest in this one, with both the characters and subtext. He wrote the first two and with this one he dons the cap of director as well. The writer part sadly dominates the film, first half especially, as the grim characters are mouthing very unnatural and literary dialogues. I took a break midway and the second half seemed much better as it got into the set piece sequence with a Sicario like convoy routine.

The film has unique settings and side characters with the cowboys Vs Indians subtext which makes it a very interesting watch. It could've turned out better maybe with Taylor trusting someone else to direct it. Our gateway to the story is an American cowboy (Jeremy Renner) who was married to a native American and makes his living in the Indian territory. It is a lesser film than Sicario and HoHW but still a pretty good watch overall.

Rating: 3.25/5

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hell or High Water (2016)

Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
DOP: Giles Nuttgens
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pines, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham

Two brothers are hitting the branches of a particular bank for low sums of desk money and an about to be retired cop (Jeff Bridges) is investigating it with another half Indian cop (Gils Birmingham). Film is set in West Texas (actually shot in New Mexico) and it is another one of those post subprime crisis films, which can now be classed as a genre. The towns are small and there are signs of foreclosures everywhere.

We are introduced to the robbers with contrasting characters (Chris Pine & Ben Foster) straight away and their motivation for the crime is revealed only little by little. It gives almost equal billing for both sets of characters who are in the opposite sides of law. We don't want any of them to get hurt even though it is inevitable. The cop played by Jeff Bridges is always racially insulting his partner in an endearing manner. There is one conversation that they have regarding people getting dispossessed over the course of history, in reference to the colonisation of America at the expense of native Indians. The slate has been wiped clean since then and the right wing in United States sees no irony when they indulge in a nativist brand of politics. Something like that is going on with the character played by Chris Pine. He knows that he is over 40 and not going to achieve anything in life. The only thing he wants is that his sons to not grow in poverty, which he equates to a disease that is passed on from one generation to the next. All wealth is kind of predicated on some crime but he has a very clever plan to make it legitimate for his sons.

Actor turned Screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, has called it a thematic trilogy with Sicario and Wind River being the other two. I haven't seen the latter, which he himself directed, yet. David Mackenzie is known for his films like Starred Up and Perfect Sense, both of which are very good. Hell or High Water is an excellent watch with great performances from all concerned. It is also gorgeous with some stunning visuals of the vast desert like cowboy country. All the set-pieces carry a lot of tension from the get-go and the film has a very satisfying ending.

Rating: 4.5/5