Wednesday, April 30, 2014

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writers:  Paul Thomas Anderson, Upton Sinclair
Cast:       Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciaran Hinds

A story of family, greed, religion, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.

This was my third time watch of Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece which was a big change for him in terms of themes and style handled when compared to previous films in his filmography. This time around I enjoyed it the most maybe because I identified with the main character Daniel Plainview more and more. He is greedy, pragmatic, want to be liked by those who are close to him and doesn't suffer fools lightly. The following conversation with the guy who turns up as his brother kind of sums up the character:

Plainview: Are you an angry man, Henry?
Henry Brands: About what?
Plainview: Are you envious? Do you get envious?
Henry Brands: I don't think so. No.
Plainview: I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.
Henry Brands: That part of me is gone... working and not succeeding- all my failures has left me... I just don't... care.
Plainview: Well, if it's in me, it's in you. There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone.
Henry Brands: What will you do about your boy?
Plainview: I don't know. Maybe it will change. Does your sound come back to you? I don't know. Maybe no one knows that. A doctor might not know that.
Henry Brands: Where is his mother?
Plainview: I don't want to talk about those things. I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little, Henry... to have you here gives me a second breath. I can't keep doing this on my own with these... people.

His relationship with Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) starts off with the wrong note as he brings up the subject of his church when Daniel is trying to buy their land. There is not much difference between the characters except for the hypocrisy which is common among religious folks. What Daniel does in the film for most part is not really that bad and he is just a pragmatic businessman. He does a lot of good for the community but we see a sort of envy when he doesn't get the recognition for it as he sees people flocking to Eli Sunday's church. He cares a lot for his 'son' and is heartbroken when he decides to part his ways with his father and reacts in a bitter manner. In the last scene he is infuriated when Eli has the audacity to ask him for help and describes them as friends from long back which I think suggests that he also identifies himself with Daniel's character. The legendary tirade that follows leads the film to the inevitable conclusion that is suggested by the title: 'There Will Be Blood':

Plainview: You're not the chosen brother, Eli. It was Paul who was chosen. You see, he found me and told me about your land. You're just a fool.
Eli Sunday: Why are you talking about Paul? Don't say this to me.
Plainview: I did what your brother couldn't. I broke you and I beat you. It was Paul who told me about you. He's the prophet. He's the smart one. He knew what was there and he found me to take it out of the ground, and you know what the funny thing is? Listen... listen... listen... I paid him ten thousand dollars, cash in hand, just like that. He has his own company now. A prosperous little business. Three wells producing. Five thousand dollars a week.
[Eli cries]
Plainview: Stop crying, you sniveling ass! Stop your nonsense. You're just the afterbirth, Eli.
Eli Sunday: No...
Plainview: You slithered out of your mother's filth.
Plainview: They should have put you in a glass jar on a mantlepiece. Where were you when Paul was suckling at your mother's teat? Where were you? Who was nursing you, poor Eli- one of Bandy's sows? That land has been had. Nothing you can do about it. It's gone. It's had. You lose.
Eli Sunday: If you would just take this lease, Daniel...
Plainview: Drainage! Drainage, Eli, you boy. Drained dry. I'm so sorry. Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that's a straw, you see? You watching?. And my straw reaches acroooooooss the room, and starts to drink your milkshake... I... drink... your... milkshake!
[sucking sound]
Plainview: I drink it up!
Eli Sunday: Don't bully me, Daniel!
[Daniel roars and throws Eli across the room]
Plainview: Did you think your song and dance and your superstition would help you, Eli? I am the Third Revelation! I am who the Lord has chosen!

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tian zhu ding (A Touch of Sin) (2013)

Director: Zhangke Jia
Writer:    Zhangke Jia
Cast:       Wu Jiang, Lanshan Luo, Li Meng
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese

Four independent stories set in modern China that ends up in random acts of violence. For those who are clued upon whats happening in China the events of the story will be very familiar. First one features corrupt village officials who have benefited from selling off a coal mine to local businessman. Second one is about a vagrant migrant in a bustling city who commits violence in order to steal. Third one shows a concubine mistress to a wealthy party official who lives in city without the knowledge of his wife. Last one is about a boy who in search of living ends up as a waiter in a luxury hotel which employs women for sex. He leaves the place and starts working in a Foxconn like organization where employees tend to get suicidal.

It is similar to Dev D in the sense that it strings together some characters who do things that ends up as major news that is very particular to that country (MMS scandals & Rich guys in luxury cars running over people). In Touch of Sin, I think a level of familiarity about the happenings in China would help you in appreciating the film more I think. On the whole film is a but uneven but its Kim Ki-Duk like pace and style meeting with artistic violence (wuxia) makes it a very enjoyable watch. Surprised to see such a bold film coming from China and not surprisingly it has not been cleared to screen there. Film competed for Palme d'Or at Cannes and won award for best screenplay. I haven't seen the director's other works and will be certainly keeping an eye out for his filmography.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, April 11, 2014

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

Director: Randy Moore
Writer:    Randy Moore
Cast:       Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelyn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton

A family is spending their vacation on Disneyland. Husband, Jim, gets to know from his boss that he has been fired on the last day morning and he keeps it a secret from his wife. As the day goes on Jim becomes more and more hallucinatory and paranoid even as he begins stalking a couple of French chicks and his day grows stranger and stranger.

As the saying goes from Tropic Thunder:' You just went full retard, never go full retard'. Its the same with surreal films. There is a balance that you have to maintain to keep your audience fully interested till the end. This is what separates great films from just good in this genre. This is what separates the likes of David Lynch from pretenders. I was also reminded of Terry Gilliam's works like 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' and 'Brazil' while watching this film. By no means am I saying the film is bad. It is more than good but the problem is that very early on itself you get into the mood that anything goes in this enterprise and kind of not get too interested. It doesn't help when the subtext is not at all subtle. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that its about the artificiality that America reeks of with all its trademark franchisees like Disneyland, McD, Las Vegas etc.

The film was shot guerrilla style inside Disneyland without their permission. The script was accessed through the actors' iphones and was shot using video mode of Canon EOS 5D Mark 2. The director edited the film in Korea so that the cat does not go out of the bag too early. It got entry into the Sundance film  festival and Disney didn't try to suppress the film maybe fearing 'Streisand Effect'.It is definitely worth a watch and a commendable effort from the team considering the constraints with which they were working.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, April 10, 2014

This Is Martin Bonner (2013)

Director: Chad Hartigan
Writers:  Tara Everhart, Chad Hartigan
Cast:       Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette

Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoorn) is a recent divorcee in his late 50s who has taken up his new job as volunteer for a non-profit organization which helps prisoners make the transition to normal life after their term. Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette) is released from prison after serving 12 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and forms a friendship with Bonner whom he meets as part of the program.

It is essentially a feel good film which under normal circumstances I would hate. But it is done in such a manner with very real life characters and restraint acting that I loved it. The essential way by which films can be done interestingly in a feel good way would be to tackle subjects that don't normally get addressed in films regularly. Both the characters are feeling extremely lonely and trying to adjust to their new environments. Martin Bonner is a man who had a crisis of faith despite being a theologian and ended up with a job which uses spirituality as part of their rehabilitation program. Travis spends time with his original mentor whom he found to be too Christian for him and finds Bonner to be more of a match. He says that all his life he had been between nothing and everything when it comes to faith and never achieved either of the extremes. Bonner helps Travis in reconnecting with his daughter as they get on with their lives. 

Rating: 5/5

The Dirties (2013)

Director: Matt Johnson
Writers:  Josh Boles, Matt Johnson, Matthew Miller, Evan Morgan
Cast:       Matt Johnson, Owen Williams

Two best friends in high-school are making a comedy film of them getting revenge on the bullies at their high-school. One of them ain't joking.

The film starts with a statement that it is for mature audiences only and that no footage has been altered. It is made in the documentary style similar to 'Catfish' but in Catfish the filmmaker tried to deceive the audience into thinking that it was real  whereas in this film the fictional element of  the film is always apparent. I don't know whether it is because of me being guarded about it  or the way the film is shot. They even break the fourth wall with the camera that is on them making their film and since no reason is given for them being filmed, somewhat counter intuitively you are always aware it is fictional. 

Even though it delves into graver subject matters like School Shootings and have bullying as the overarching theme I still watched it as a comedy in its entirety and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't know whether that was what exactly the filmmaker was going for but it doesn't matter. It is really a clever film and even though it contains a deluge of references to other films that we love like Usual Suspects, Tarantino films etc, which can be quite cringe-worthy, it pulls it off well. It is something that is being done in Malayalam recently with no great results and I even heard a song recently from fuck knows what film in which the lyrics are made up of funny dialogs from past films.

The end credits is also great to watch with the styles and fonts used from several other films. The film was picked up by Kevin Smith's 'Movie Club' and I hope it gets a wider distribution. It is a great little Canadian film.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thoovanathumbikal (1987)

Director: Padmarajan
Writer:    Padmarajan
Cast:       Mohanlal, Sumalatha, Parvathy, Ashokan
Language: Malayalam

Jayakrishnan (Mohanlal) is a landlord bachelor from a rural village. He displays two set of personal images in his life: a miserly farmer in-front of his family and villagers and a spendthrift guy living a high life with his friends when in town. The film tells the story of his relationship with two women, Radha (Parvathy) to whom he first proposed and Clara (Sumalatha) an escort with whom he lost his virginity. 

There have been many films in Malayalam recently where the main or only feature point of the film would be a local slang. They are passed on as comedy and Mammootty has been guilty of several such monstrosities like Rajamanikyam, Pranchiyettan and several other films. The first thing that jumps out of Thoovanathumbikal would be Mohanlal's distinct Thrissur/Palaghat accent. But it is just a small detail in a film that has several other things going for it. It is a character study on Jayakrishnan whom initially seems to be very self-aware and very comfortable in his own skin even though he is kind of living a dual life. The thing is we cannot really say he is actually doing it on purpose. In the film he is a very sincere and honest person with everyone he interacts with and is not actively trying to hide what he is doing when he goes out of his village. It is just that he doesn't have any avenue in his village to pursue those dalliances. By the end of the film we find that he is a very vulnerable person with some preconcieved ideas and ideals but ultimately remains to be a mystery. He explains that he had freedom only after his father died and that is why he didn't have any relationships with women when he was young, but from the film it is clear that he lived a free life when he was in college. The exact timing of his father's death is not revealed and we don't really know whether he was kind of a normal rebel during his college days or he had the same personality that he exhibits now.

Ashokan is excellent as his side-kick Rishi and the characters like Babu and Ravunni (Jagathy) serves as plot devices to get us into the character of Jayakrishnan. But in the hands of Padmarajan these characters are truly memorable. The character Jayakrishnan and his friends are loosely based on Padmarajan's friend Karakath Unni Menon and his friend circle from his AIR Thrissur days. Lead characters with moral ambiguity and emotional complexity are not very common in Indian cinema which deals mostly in binary characters. Jayakrishnan is certainly one of the most interesting lead character that Indian cinema has ever seen.

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

Directors: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Writers:    Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Cast:         Lior Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Tzahi Grad
Language: Hebrew

After a suspect in a child rape and murder gets released from custody due to lack of evidence, the investigating officer and the father of the victim decides independently to take matters into their own hands. In spite of the  subject matter and the torture scenes that are shown during the interrogation the film is a comedy.

The film achieved significant fame when Quentin Tarantino named it as his film of the year and one can see why he found it so. A really dark subject matter done with lots of violence but can only be described as a comedy-which is what QT himself have been doing. It is really a good watch but I thought the reveal at the end was unnecessary. It could have been left ambiguous. The couple of scenes with the Arab fella were hilarious. It being an Israeli film one can obviously make the thematic connection with the conflict happening over there. The  crude way in which the accused is tortured without giving a chance to prove his innocence being the obvious comparison.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Akam (2012)

Director: Shalini Usha Nair
Writer:    Shalini Usha Nair
Cast:       Fahad Fazil, Anumol
Language: Malayalam

The film is an adaptation of Malayattoor Ramakrishnan's classic psycho-thriller novel 'Yakshi' but set in modern times. It features a young architect Sreeni who starts suspecting that his beautiful wife Raagini is a yakshi (Ghost). 

In what was a pleasant surprise, this is a film which takes the intelligence of audience for granted and doesn't spoon feed you with details. Good that they didn't compromise on it as it wouldn't have met with commercial success even otherwise. It is ironic that the film was produced by Box Office Cinema as there was no cat in hell's chance of it being a box office hit.

The protagonist who was an eligible bachelor before his face got disfigured in a car accident. He is coming into terms with it and meets his future wife under mysterious circumstances. Without knowing much about her he ends up getting married to her even as he feels uncomfortable with the way in which they met. He latches onto the idea said in jest by his boss that she must be a ghost. I suspect it is a deliberate falsehood that he preferred to be true over the possibility that she was a prostitute. He later go on to call a prostitute to his home from a number he finds in a seedy place which I think was near the place he first met Raagini. The insecurity over his appearance is clear in their first meeting itself when he makes her see his plush apartment. Even his boss gives a Freudian explanation for the dream he is having about a lighthouse. Towards the end when he harms his wife by nailing her, his neighbor turns up first whom he mistakenly calls by his boss' name. Don't know whether it a deliberate error to suggest us something about things that he imagined.

The film is a technical brilliance when it comes to visuals and sounds. Trivandrum never looked this good. There is a scene in which Sreeni puts his disfigured face near the running treadmill belt and the scene cuts to pelting rain. I hope the film gets the recognition it deserves when the channels screen it but it is really a mood piece that should be enjoyed without ad-breaks.

Rating: 5/5

Simon Killer (2012)

Director: Antonio Campos
Writers:  Antonio Campos, Brady Corbet, Mati Diop
Cast:       Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Roussseau
Language: English, French

A recent college graduate flees to Paris after a painful break-up, where his involvement with a prostitute from middle eastern background reveal the potential darkness of his character and his past.

Film is very well made capturing Paris nightlife with a great soundtrack. The performances are very good and Brady Corbet manages to portray the title role of a thoroughly unlikeable guy quite well. It is I guess a very realistic portrayal of a messed up human being without having him do much violence. He manages to bring emotional/physical harm to all those who comes in contact with him out of some sort of sympathy. But I cannot really say the film manages to reach a level of greatness. It is a good one-time watch.

Rating: 3/5

Oru Indian Pranayakatha (2013)

Director: Sathyan Anthikad
Writer:   Ikbal Kuttipuram
Cast:      Fahad Dazil, Amala Paul, Innocent
Language: Malayalam

A Khadar donning youth congress leader (Fahad Fazil), after being denied an assembly ticket in a bi-election, takes up the role of  a helper for a Canadian-Indian girl (Amala Paul) who is making a documentary about orphans and orphanages.

I have always believed in the theory that when it comes to Malayalam cinema during its golden age in late 80s and early 90s, it was the writers who made the biggest difference and not the directors. The only way we can test this is by following the works of these directors without their writing partners in the subsequent years and a strong case can be built based on this. Sathyan Anthikad without Sreenivasan, Sibi Malayil without Lohitadas and Siddique without Lal have been quite crap. Padmarajan was unique in the sense that he was a writer-director, a rare breed in Malayalam cinema, and he didn't live long enough to see whether he would have also taken a bad turn when he aged. I stopped watching Sathyan Anthikad films after Rasathantram which he wrote himself. This particular film was forced upon me by the Kallada bus people as I traveled in one of them multi-axle volvos. 

I was pleasantly surprised initially by the film as there were many laugh out loud moments. Fahad Fazil's Siddharatan is initially shown as a pragmatic youth leader playing the games that need to be played to get ahead in what is presumably congress party. But he gets played by the high command who opts for nepotism as is the wont for that party. He then takes a leave from the party to help the girl from Canada for a daily wage of 2000. The problems with the film starts from there. The character suddenly becomes idiotic and stupid from there on which is quite a big change from how he is portrayed initially. After the interval it goes all melodramatic on us as it becomes a quest for finding the parents of the Candian-Indian girl who was originally adopted by her Canadian parents from an orphanage in India. It might have been bit more engaging if the characters she finds along the way were a bit more interesting. There are several cringe-worthy song and dance routines along the way. As it is the film has a good initial 45 minutes and the rest is forgettable.

Rating: 2.5/5