Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Director: Joel Coen
Writers:  Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Sam Raimi
Cast:       Tim Robbins, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh

A naive business graduate is installed as president of a manufacturing company as part of a stock scam.

Hudsucker Proxy was Coen Borthers' first big budget film with it costing around $40 million including the marketing budget. It was a box office disaster grossing just over $2 million. It is a screwball comedy whose script was ready before 'Blood Simple' was even made. It is set in late 1950s New-York and contains references to many old films like Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis'. It also reminded me of Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'. I had seen it some four years back and loved it. This time also I enjoyed it even though it is not consistently great. But the high points  of the film like the kid with the Hula Hoop scene and the climax fall scene are outrageously hilarious. Your enjoyment of the film will depend a lot on your reactions to the performances especially that of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Am neutral about her in the film. 

It is a great watch, especially for Coens fans.

Rating: 4/5

Big B (2007)

Director: Amal Neerad
Writers:  Amal Neerad, Unni R
Cast:       Mammootty, Nafisa Ali, Manoj K. Jayan, Vijayaraghavan

After their foster mother was murdered in cold blood, four brothers try to find out the truth behind the death.

Film is an unofficial remake of Hollywood film 'Four Brothers' starring Mark Wahlberg, which was again loosely based on the American western 'Sons of Katie Elder'. It marked the directorial debut for Amal Neerad who made his name as cinematographer in several Ram Gopal Varma productions. However Samir Thahir handled the camera for 'Big B'. Like you expect from a film made by a technician like Amal Neerad, it is stylishly shot and technically very good. The background score (Gopi Sundar) is excellent and the music (Alphonse) is  used well to aid the storytelling. The story might not be original but unlike other Neerad films, there is at least some substance to all the stylishness. 

It was not a big success during its theatrical run but has went on to attain a cult status. The highlight of the film is the minimalist but characteristically great one-liners from the title character. It marked a welcome departure from other larger than life character films from those times which had tediously long speeches masquerading as dialogs. Mohanlal and Mammootty were guilty of making many such forgettable films which were kind of natural progression from Suresh Gopi's earlier Police roles in films like 'Ekalavyan' and 'Commissioner'. The filmmakers (Shaji Kailas, Renjith, Renji Panicker) were common in most of these films. So ' Big B' was a generational shift which was refreshing when it came out but then degenerated into spawning sub-genres like 'Fort Kochi' films, 'Heroes in leather jacket walking in slow-motion' films.

Anyways Big B is a great watch especially when it is on a big screen with good sound system. I was lucky to have seen it at cinemas when it was released.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Parallax View (1974)

Director: Alan J. Pakula
Writers:  David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Loren Singer
Cast:       Warren Beatty, Paula Prentiss, William Daniels

An ambitious reporter gets in way-over-his-head trouble while investigating a senator's assassination which leads to a vast conspiracy involving a multinational corporation behind every event in the world headlines.

America in the early 70s was a ripe place for Paranoia thrillers with the conspiracy theories behind JFK assassination and the Watergate scandal. This film is the second one of Pakula's 'Paranoia Trilogy' with 'Klute' preceding it and 'All the President's Men' coming next. All the President's Men is an all time classic and besides it I have seen Pakula's 'The Pelican Brief' which was rather forgettable. Parallax View reminded me of 'The Conversation' and 'The Chinatown' both of which were released the same year and are vastly superior films. Parralax View has its moments but overall it is kind of flawed and has not aged particularly well.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Under the Skin (2013)

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writers:  Michel Faber (Novel), Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer
Cast:       Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams

A mysterious alien seductress preys upon the male population of Scotland.

The film starts with a tripping scene which would remind one of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It starts like a scene in space but ends up with shot of the eyes of Scarlett's character which could be an alien robot with artificial intelligence. She is under the command of another man who rides a sports bike. She is dressed up and send in a van to seduce her preys. Her victims are led by her into a room where they get naked and they get sunk into a black liquid upon following her. It can be seen subsequently that their bodies undergo some transformation and the plasma like residue is used by the aliens for some purpose unknown to us. She finally chooses a young man with disfigured face as her prey and after burying him she seems top have a change of heart, if that is the correct word. This is after she looks disturbed looking at her eyes in a mirror and previously in the film one of her victim had alluded to the fact that her eyes are special. She decides to drive away into Scottish wilderness even as her controller intensifies search for her. A slave robot going rogue is not an uncommon these kind of films but what makes the film special is the way it is presented. The imagery is stunning and soundtrack proper creepy. She tries in vain to behave like humans even though humanity is not shown in favorable light. 

I don't think Scarlett Johnson has appeared in any films naked before and in this one when she does, it is portrayed in a very unsexy way.  The whole film can be seen as a metaphor of what would happen when a Hollywood star(alien) have encounters with ordinary people. The whole film is shown from the alien perspective and unlike the usual Hollywood films, everything here is deliberately unsexy and awkward. Many of the co-actors are non-actors and the lines are largely improvised with them being given just an idea about the scene and to what extent they should be willing to go. Having a fling with Scarlett would be among most people's wet dreams and when it actually occurs here in the film for some, it doesn't turn out to be how they imagined. The film is an adaptation of Michel Faber's novel of the same name and I am not in a position to say whether it is a straight interpretation of it.

The other Jonathan Glazer film that I have seen is 'Sexy Beast', which enjoys a cult following. That film and this is like chalk and cheese. The film is cold and creepily beautiful like Scotland it is set in. It will divide the audience but watch it if you are a fan of the surreal stuff.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Drishyam (2013)

Director: Jeethu Joseph
Writer:    Jeethu Joseph
Cast:       Mohanlal, Meena, Ansiba, Kalabhavan Shajohn

Desperate measures are taken by a man who tries to save his family from the dark side of the law, after they commit an unexpected crime.

The film has smashed all box office records in Malayalam cinema history with the total take including box office, satellite rights and remake rights standing at around Rs. 65 Crores which is a big deal for a Malayalam film. Unlike in Hollywood where the financial success of a film from different eras could be compared by adjusting for inflation, in Indian film industry it cannot be done. One reason is that like all aspects of Indian economy, film industry is also under the influence of black economy and so, especially for older films, you don't have accurate data. Even now there is a significant influence of black money in the film industry and prime example for this is the producer of this film, Mr. Antony Perumbavoor, who used to work as a driver for Mohanlal and now he produces his master's films. He also makes a cameo appearance in this film which is not as cringey as the one he did in the 'Irupatham Noottand' sequel, the atrocious 'Sagar alias Jackey reloaded'. With the advent of multiplexes a major portion of total gross is contributed by them and more accurate data is available. Hopefully it will also improve the standard of films also because one could cater to a niche audience and still make profitable films. So if you cannot compare films  from different era based on their gross maybe one could compare based on theatrical days it ran. That is also problematic because when films were made in films and projected from films, they were initially released in A class cinemas and once that run is over, it would be released subsequently in B class and C class cinemas. The digital technology and internet has made that model obsolete and now the idea is to release films in maximum number of screens and try to get maximum initial collection. So successful film that ran for 100 days in the 90s could be comparable to a film that ran for a month these days. In that context the more than 100 days run that Drishyam managed is quite huge even though the  number of screens after the first two months maybe limited to major cities only. 

Enough about financials. The film can be classed as a family thriller. The first half of the film tries to establish the characters of the family, their environment and social standing. This part of the film is its weaker part with the script feeling clunky and Mohanlal in his cringy preachy mode that is now very common in his films these days. Films like 'Ivide Swargamaanu' and whatever little I have seen of 'Spirit' are examples for this. I am not criticizing the first half for being slow because it is essential as a foreplay for the second half of the film. Just that script is not very good. Many films that have been big hits in Malayalam lately are usually great in first half and then loses steam as it progresses. This is not a problem with Drishyam because for quite a long period of time it keeps the audience guessing and even as we try to pick holes in the plot, slowly and steadily it reveals its secrets. The exposition scenes are also done pretty decently and the victim's mother being the Police Officer trying to solve the case helps in that regard. The initial disclaimer that no animals were harmed during the production is a big clue for the twist that occurs towards the end. I just wish they hadn't so explicitly revealed where the body was hidden. They could have even just stopped with his line that he feels the Police and Police station will protect him. I would also say that the first scene of the film is very important for the film since it puts us in constant state of dread.

The director had initially approached Mammooty to do the main role and because of date clashes Mohanlal was chosen. He claims that no change in script was made subsequently and if so I am glad it was not Mammooty just for the fact that him doing the sensitivity dialog would have been totally unbearable. With Mohanlal doing it there was some comic value to the whole scene. Overall the film has its flaws but is a great one time watch.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

24 Hour Party People (2002)

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer:    Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cast:       Steve Coogan, Lennie James, John Thomson

In 1976, Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) sets up Factory Records and brings Manchester's music to the world.

Tony Wilson was a news reporter for Granada television and the film begins with the punk rock era of late 70s and moves through the 1980s into the 'Madchester' scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The bands that are covered are Joy Division, New Order, A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column and the Happy Mondays. Tony Wilson breaks the fourth wall with the audience throughout the film as an exposition technique but it is done with so much wit that you don't mind it one bit. At one point he goes that 'I am being post modern before it became fashionable'.  He explains to us that it is not about him but the artists and other recording people. But it is really about him who can be summed up by the only contract he had with the artists written in his own blood which essentially said that the artists are in full control and they can choose to fuck off whenever they want.

In his own words he wanted his epitaph to read: 'Here lies Tony Wilson who never sold out...err...because he never had anything to sell'. The expensive club 'Hacienda' he started took some time to get popular but even when it got popular it struggled to make money due to the fact that people who turned up were more interested to get their hands on Ecstasy and not the alcohols they were selling legally.

The film is based on a combination of rumors, real events, urban legends and imaginations of script writer. Both the Hacienda and Factory Records were closed down in the late 90s. 24 Hour Party People is one of the best film on music scene. It stands out because it does not focus much on the artists but more on people behind it and does not have a cliched cathartic moment. Everything is done in a matter of fact way. Good Vibrations is another such film.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fight Club (1999)

Director: David Fincher
Writers:  Chuck Palahnuik (Novel), Jim Uhls
Cast:      Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter

An insomniac office worker (Edward Norton) looking for a a way to change his life crosses path with a devil-may-care soap maker (Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden) and they form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more...

This was my third watch of this Fincher film and I had never found it to be all that great in my first two watches. First time I saw it was before I joined for my first job and the second time was after I quit that job to pursue higher education. On first watch I was kind of feeling clever for working out the twist much before we are supposed to get it. Second time, I liked the film but was not really enamored by the central idea of fight club. This time round I realized that I  had missed the point in my previous two watches. The film is not really meant to bamboozle the audience with the split personality twist and the fight club and the fights are only minor part of the story. It is really about the disillusionment with the materialistic nature of today's white collar workers where they are in constant race to own things that they really don't need. As Tyler Durden says things you own ends up owning you. This is one thing majority of the World would realize is happening to their sad lives. Film got plenty of criticism for glorifying the fight club part of the story and some real clubs had spawned after the release of the film. In the film the portrayal of fight club and its members is anything but glorifying. The members who wanted to get freedom from their jobs ends up being Space Monkeys for Tyler Durden's project ready to be sacrificed for the greater good. The film is really making fun of these people especially at their gullibility and inability to think for themselves. What I mean to say is that whilst the film is correct in terms of conveying the feeling and philosophy behind their actions it is not essentially justifying it.

It is really a film that demands to be viewed multiple times. Plenty of clues are there from the beginning for the split personality twist. In the first scene with Edward Norton, where he describes his insomniac conditions, Tyler Durden flashes before his eyes twice. Plenty of other clues are there like the narrator saying all three of Durden, Marla and himself are never in the same room. Only minor gripe is that we shouldn't be seeing Durden when Norton himself is not seeing him when both of them are in the same scene. At the airport scene Durden is seen stealing a sports car when narrator is looking the other way. There are also plenty of subtle references to it being a film. When the Police investigator calls the narrator and informs him that his flat's explosion was due to arson and implies he is a suspect, he goes on a passionate speech about how that flat and its furniture meant so much to him and it was essentially him that got destroyed. He then ends it with a line 'I'd like to thank the academy...'. Also look out for the cock just before the end credits which was inevitable after the explanation of Tyler splicing porno frames into family films. 

I am not a huge fan of David Fincher and this is the only film of his that I think is worth rewatching. I have seen Zodiac once and thought it was his best work but I think I need to watch it again to properly judge. It is a shame that Fight Club bombed at the box office and one major reason for that it was marketed targeting the wrong audience by giving prominence to the fight scenes in the trailer. So it ended up being a favorite for those who didn't realize that it was really making fun of them.

Tyler Durden: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer:    Jim Jarmusch
Cast:       Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska

A depressed musician reunites with his lover, though their romance- which has already endured several centuries- is disrupted by the arrival of uncontrollable younger sister.

The mark of a great director is that when they do a genre film, they can really bring something new to it by subverting them. When you hear that Jim Jarmusch is going to do a vampire film, you won't be expecting a normal one. It is like vampire film meets ' Man from Earth' in a very atmospheric setting. Some of the music used is that of Jarmusch's own band 'SQURL'. The couple characters played by Hiddleston and Swinton are suggestively named Adam and Eve. The director intended it as a reference to Mark Twain's satirical work 'The Diaries of Adam and Eve' The couple refers to normal human beings as Zombies and whinge about them for not only contaminating water but also blood which is of much significance to them. There are several laugh out loud moments in the script which is kind of novelty in a Jarmusch film since they usually have very little dialog. For instance when Adam discovers that Eve's younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) kills his helper, Ian, he reacts by saying 'You drank Ian?'. There was some action scene in the film at first but when he was asked to add more of it, he completely removed it. The word vampire is never used in the film.

The film took seven years to get financing and Michael Fassbender was originally supposed to play Adam. Jarmusch wanted to do the filming on film but had to do it in digital because of the budget constraints. He is truly one of the last truly great American independent film directors still going having never made any big budget films.   

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, June 21, 2014

1983 (2014)

Director: Abrid Shine
Writers:  Abrid Shine, Bipin Chandran
Cast:       Nivin Pauly, Joy Mathew, Anoop Menon, Saiju Kurup
Language: Malayalam

The story of Rameshan, who looses his love and life due to his craze for cricket, and his final try to realize his big dream. 

The film starts with Sachin's retirement speech, which I have not heard in full till now because of the sour taste that all the BCCI hoopla surrounding it had left in my mouth. Sports films are really hard to get right but this is not a traditional sports film in the sense that you are not supposed to root for someone who is playing it professionally. 'Sreenivasan inferiority complex vittu kaashundakkiyapole ee filmilude ivar Nostalgia vittu kaashundakkukayanu'. All the nostalgic elements that one could think of from late 80s and early 90s get an outing like watching cricket in Doordarshan, old malayalm film posters, Reynolds 040 pen, Ambassador & Premier Padmini cars, irritating elder sister, Kuwait war etc. 

The period part of the story is extremely well done with a great group of supporting cast who were played by not so familiar actors. The cricket scenes are also very well done capturing the chaos of village cricket. They also managed to avoid the cliched 'hero hitting last ball for six after the fielder goes over the boundary taking catch'. I haven't seen 'Lagaan' in full but the climax cricket match in it was unbearably cringey. The second half of the film which is largely contemporary is predictable and dragging in places. I also thought that they couldn't get out of the period mode which might be intentional since Rameshan is a character who kind of got frozen in time due to the disappointments in his life. 

Overall it is a very good watch with a surprisingly good script and performances. There is also scope for them doing a sequel with the kid turning into a Uber prick in the mold of Malayalee's favorite mallu 'Sreesanth'. 

Rating: 3.5/5 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hesher (2010)

Director: Spencer Susser
Writers:  Spencer Susser, David Michod
Cast:       Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Devin Brochu, Natalie Portman

A young boy (Devin Brochu) has lost his mother and is losing touch with his father and the world around him. Then he meets Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who manages to make his life even more chaotic.

According to urban dictionary a Hesher is a: "Reebock-wearing, mulleted person in acid-washed jeans and a Judas Priest T-shirt who, at the age of 28, still lives in his/her parents' basement and swears that he/she can really rock out on his/her Ibanez Stratocaster copy guitar and probably owns a Nova that hasn't run in 5 years but you just wait, that fucker is gonna smoke those fuckin Japanese rice burners once I put a new head gasket on it."

In this film Hesher is a Tyler Durden like character for the young boy even though it works outs in a different way. The film has so many WTF moments in it and even though the whole arc is predictable in a macro sense it doesn't follow the path that you think it would take to reach there. Hesher, who is not very articulative, uses several perverted metaphorical stories to convey what he feels about the situation to the three self pitying characters-Boy, father and Nciole (Natalie Portman). The film received really poor reviews and as I was enjoying watching the film, there were several points in it where you would feel it is gonna go mediocre, but they manage to pull it off with a 'What the Fuckery' moment, one after the other. In some places the character Niclole is poorly written and the flashback scene of the accident is done in a very enjoyable cheesy way. Since the film relies on the surprise paths it takes, I think it might not stand up well on a second watch. Nevertheless it is a really great watch with some very dark humor about it. 

David Michod had directed the very good Australian film 'Animal Kingdom' and his latest one 'The Rover' is getting good reviews. I tried for it in the usual places and since it was not available I turned my attention to Hesher which he had co-wrote. The characters that Joseph Gordon-Levitt played in the earlier part of his career are far more edgier and interesting than the ones he is making with the likes of Christopher Nolan. Hope he gets to do more roles that could stand shoulder to shoulder with his characters in 'Mysterious Skin', 'Brick', and 'Hesher'.

Rating: 4.5/5 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Upstream Color (2013)

Director: Shane Carruth
Writer:    Shane Carruth
Cast:       Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig

A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives.

It is another audio-visual mindfuck from Shane Carruth who has a lots of fans among those who love independent films after his debut feature 'Primer'. It took him nine long years to come out with his second feature film and during the interim he shelved the idea of making the sci-fi film 'Topiary' for which he had invested considerable amount of time. It is considered as one of the greatest films that was never made by those who have read the script and Steven Soderbergh is a fan. It is a great shame that  it is not getting made because of financing issues and just $15 million is all that is required. Some of the footage from Topiary is used in Upstream Color and can be seen when Kris (Amy Seimetz) is seen working on her computer. 

To get into plot details, the film starts with someone experimenting with  the parasite and some kids drinking a liquid that is influenced by the presence of this parasite. They seemingly acquire Matrix like agility, at least temporarily. Then the character 'Thief' abducts Kris after introducing the parasite into her body system. He uses some kind of hypnosis technique on her and improves her memory power by making her remember the whole of Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden'. He steals all her money by making her cash out on her home equity and leaves her with no recollection of what really happened. The parasite grows inside her body and she cuts herself up in an effort to get them out. She eventually ends up meeting an audio sampler. He performs a surgery on her and extracts the parasite from her body and introduces it into the body of a pig which he puts up in a pig farm along with many other pigs all of which had previously undergone this ordeal. Kris wakes up in her car parked in a highway, again with no recollection of her ordeal. As she struggles with the after effects, she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth) who also had a similar experience and they fall in love. They move in together but are facing identity crisis because of the memory loss. It is shown that what is happening in their lives and the life of sampler and their respective pigs are interconnected through sounds as well as experience. The characters are constantly shown with their hands feeling things and taking in the sounds. Kris suspects that she is pregnant and when she consults her doctor she learns that she had recovered from stage two endocrine cancer and she is incapable of giving birth to a baby after the damages in her systems due to the surgery of which she has no memory. The sampler is seen taking some baby pigs in a sack and throws them off into a river. The parasite which has transformed further is seen getting introduced into nearby orchids from the pigs. Kris eventually kills the sampler and get details about all the people who had the same experience from the pig farm. They revamp the pig farm and are seemingly at peace even though she killed the man who saved her about which we the audience have the knowledge.

I saw the film about a year back and didn't understand much of it. 'Walden' is a recurring subject in this film and before I watched the film again this time, I read about it in its wiki page. I think I will have to read the whole fucking book before watching 'Upstream Color' for a third time. But I really doubt that the themes handled in the book has got much to do with getting an understanding about the film. Shane Carruth himself said when asked that don't try too much  to get a message out of the film and it is essentially about the breaking of cycles, whatever the fuck that he means.

Walden is supposed to be a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. Thoreau was a noted transcendentalist and Transcendentalism is a religious and philosophical movement from the 180s and 1830s with heavy influence from Hindu texts like Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. Self reliance is a major theme in this category of philosophy, both economically and spiritually. They contest that an individual is pure without the corrupt influence of society and its institutions. It sounds very much like an overly idealistic philosophy without much consideration about the selfish natre of our evolutionary path. 

To sum up 'Upstream Color' is a surreal audio-visual masterpiece in the Terence Malickian mode. Many will find it pretentious but it will most certainly affect you even though you won't have much clue about what the director is conveying if at all he is doing that actually. Just let it wash over you.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, June 16, 2014

Blue Valentine (2010)

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writers:  Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne
Cast:      Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman

The film centers on a contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods.

The seeds for deterioration of their relationship is there from the beginning itself with Cindy (Michelle Williams) being a medical student and Dean (Ryan Gosling)  being an employee in a packing and moving firm. Their decision to marry was also made when Cindy was in a vulnerable position with she deciding to keep the baby she conceived with her ex-boyfriend. After the marriage, Dean works part time as a painter and for the rest of the time as the homemaker in their relationship.  Cindy is frustrated by this situation believing he wasting his considerable talents even though he is completely happy with the situation. I recently read an article in Philosopher's Mail titled 'Why You Resent Your Partner': .This was my second watch of this film and it is very close to what the article says. To sum it up, when people insist on equality in marriage they tend to  divide all the tasks right down the middle with each of them supposed to do 50% of the work. Over the course of time society has build up an image that homemaking involves menial tasks and doing a professional job is what everyone is supposed to do. This causes problems when one partner takes complete responsibility of being the breadwinner and the other being the homemaker. Both of them feels a sense of committing a sacrifice leading to resentment.

Another film that one would be reminded of whilst watching this film is 'Before Midnight' which came after this film. But unlike that film, the couple here is finding it difficult to have a honest conversation about their problems and deals with them by causing pain to each other through ill-advised choice of words. The contemporary part of the story involves a time span of 36 hours of their life involving a night in which they try to spruce up their relationships with time spend at a cheap motel.It was good to see Rawls (John Doman) from 'The Wire' playing a not too dissimilar character.

The film was originally rated NC-17 because of the cunnilingus scene. Gosling accused the MPAA of sexism since many films containing fellatio were rated 'R' whilst theirs was rated 'NC-17' citing pornographic content. They appealed successfully and obtained an 'R' certificate without any cuts. Cianfrance was planning to shoot the film over a large time span so that he could shoot the younger and older parts separately. Script was given to Michelle WIlliams when she was 21 but by the time they obtained finance and started shooting she was 29. Both Gosling and Williams served as executive producers. Gosling is an interesting fella with the choices he makes and he is supposed to be going to take a break from acting after finishing his Terence Malick film. Can't wait to watch his directorial debut 'Lost River' which divided the audience at Cannes and received a mixed to bad response. His collaboration with Derek Cianfrance were both fantastic films, but I rate 'Blue Valentine' above 'The Place Beyond the Pines'.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, June 15, 2014

No: 20 Madras Mail (1990)

Director: Joshi
Writers:  Dennis Joseph, Hari Kumar (Story)
Cast:       Mohanlal, Mammooty, M.G. Soman, Ashokan

Enroute via train, one of three friends becomes a suspect in a homicide.

Many people would list Mohanlal's performance as Tony Kurishingal in this film as one of his best in a career that includes many great performances in many great films. No: 20 Madras Mail is by no means a great film. It is a film of two halves with the first one being a really good comedy part of the film and the second half a very average whodunnit action thriller. The entire first half is set on location in a real train and real travel which must have been a logistics nightmare while shooting. That effort really need to be appreciated because even now filmmakers are struggling to give a realistic life look to footage that are supposed to be shot in Indian trains. Mohanlal's performance as the booze filled spoiled son from a wealthy family is so good that one would wonder whether he had gone method during the shoot. Special mention to Siddique's cameo giving an introduction to the three characters in a bar. Mohanlal and Mammooty can really considered as the best two leading men Indian cinema has ever seen and they have acted in many films together especially in the earlier part of their respective careers. In this film Mammotty plays the real life self of him and in 'Manu Uncle' Mohanlal do the opposite playing himself. Interestingly both films involved Dennis Joseph.

Joshi has directed many completely challenging films but some of them have not aged very well. Films like 'Nair Saab', 'New Delhi' and 'Sainyam' are examples for this, being set in very unconventional, expensive and novel circumstances. 'Dhruvam' and 'Naaduvazhikal' are my favorite films of his with both having a slightly larger than life leading characters. Dhruvam is a very atmospheric film with a complex narrative structure.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Diamond Necklace (2012)

Director: Lal Jose
Writer:    Ikbal Kuttipuram
Cast:       Fahadh Faasil, Anusree, Gauthami Nair

A happy go lucky Malayalee doctor in Dubai runs into financial difficulties because of his lifestyle and is forced to make some compromising choices regarding important life matters.

I have always found Lal Jose to be a very overrated director and this film didn't change my opinion one bit. He is supposed to be going on a road trip from Kochi to London after the completion of his next film. Well lets hope he can make a good travel documentary about it unlike the shitty feature films that he makes. 'Diamond Necklace' was a good opportunity for him to break the mould but he again falls back on cheap melodrama and moralisation. With the infidelities and questionable decisions made by the main character, played by Fahad Faasil, instead of going for something really fresh he goes for sending out a message. The cliched hard working humble Gulf Malayalee is also there with the character played by Sreenivasan who is the mouthpiece for the messgae that writer/director wants to send out. It is not that the themes like infidelity have never been handled by Malayalam cinema in a mature manner. I can think of 'Pavakoothu' (Renjith's) which came in the 90s. The main protagonist committing a crime, several twist and turns later, everything ending well is also a very common and tiresome plot device in Malayalam films. 

The high point of the film is the marriage situation of Arun and Kalamandalam Rajashree providing some genuine laugh out loud moments. There also they could have ended the film on a better note if they had used the comic moment at the end of the film. 

One another thing is that diamonds are not really worth very much once it is second hand. It is a material whose price is artificially propped up by the cartel controlling its supply. It is very hard to get value by selling diamonds. And also if it was that valuable, he would have got the nurse arrested for not declaring valuable items at the airport. Joy Alukkas product placement was fine until the owner decided to turn up giving us a cringefest that would have made 'Nerairyan CBI' proud.

Rating: 2/5

Monday, June 9, 2014

Swingers (1996)

Director: Doug Liman
Writer:    Jon Favreau
Cast:       Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Heather Graham, Ron Livingston

Mike (Jon Favreau) is a struggling comedian living in LA after shifting from New-York. He is suffering from depression after breaking up with his girlfriend of six years, six months ago. His mates, other struggling actors, are trying to get him to stop wallowing about the past and get him out into the dating scene of the 1990s swing revival.

We don't see characters getting walked through the dating process in many films. Mike is having a struggle after not being in the game since his college days where he hooked up with his ex-girlfriend.  It is really a funny film with plenty of references thrown about other films like Goodfellas and Reservoir Dogs. They even recreate the Goodfellas 'Copacabana' single tracking shot scene and Reservoir Dogs' slow-mo walk. One would also be reminded of several 'Seinfeld' situations as well. It is a great film that captures the atmosphere of those times.

Doug Liman started his career very strongly with 'Swingers' and 'Go' before getting into all the big budget action shenanigans. Hearing good things about his latest feature 'Edge of Tomorrow'. He is certainly a very dependable director.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Naked (1993)

Director: Mike Leigh
Writer:    Mike Leigh
Cast:       David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge

Johnny flees Manchester to London, to avoid getting a beating from the family of of a girl he has raped. He visits his former girlfriend's house and spends his time sometimes wandering and subjecting people he meets with his Philosophical rants.

I loved it the first time I watched this films a few years back and this time round I loved it even more. It is like listening to 'True Detective's Rust Cohle without a murder mystery to solve and with plenty of wit. Johnny is a philosophical bully and there is also a character called Jeremy (Greg Curtwell) who is a physical bully. Both of them don't have much regard for the lives of people who are just getting by with mundane jobs. The rant Johnny has with Brain, the 'Insecurity' officer, would be the high point of what he has to say. It is in my opinion Mike Leigh's best work even though it is slightly different to what he is generally famous for.

Louise: So what happened, were you bored in Manchester?
Johnny: Was I bored? No, I wasn't fuckin' bored. I'm never bored. That's the trouble with everybody - you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the living body explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the universe explained to you and you're bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new as long as it's new as long as it flashes and fuckin' bleeps in forty fuckin' different colors. So whatever else you can say about me, I'm not fuckin' bored.

Rating: 5/5

Perumthachan (1990)

Director: Ajayan
Writer:    M.T. Vasudevan Nair
Cast:       Thilakan, Nedumudi Venu, Prashanth, Monisha, Manoj K. Jayan

Perumthachan (Thilakan) is a pious, respected and master carpenter of mixed background. He has a son whom he raised after his wife died during the child birth. At the beginning of the story the father is resentful towards his son since he considers him to have killed killed his wife but nevertheless he teaches him his craft and he grows up to, under many people's eyes, surpass his father. Even though people play up the rivalry and jealousy of father towards his son the film is ultimately about the universal theme of generation gap.

This generation gap is evident by the different ways in which father and son react when they respectively had their dalliances with the upper caste women for whom they were working. Perumthachan was deeply regretful about his lust and asks his Gods for forgiveness whereas his son doesn't find anything wrong with it. He questions the conventions and asks his father why he is happy to consider himself to be of lower caste due to his mother's caste and at the same time don't mind his Brahmin parentage getting the credit for his skills. The ending of the film is a bit  abrupt for those who are watching it for the first time. 

It was interesting to see the portrayal of women in this film. With the 'Marumakathayam' system that was prevalent in Kerala, the women are shown to be much more independent willed in terms of the choices that they have for their marriage as long as they stick to the same caste. I wonder how true it is to the history. Anyways the film is great watch.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

Director: Michael WInterbottom
Writers:  John Curran, Jim Thompson (novel)
Cast:       Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba

A West Texas deputy sheriff is slowly unmasked as a psychotic serial killer in this adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel by the same name.

Filmmakers have been trying to adapt the novel to the screen since the 1950s. Stanley Kubrick, whose 'The Killing' was adapted from a Jim Thompson novel, considered 'The Killer Inside Me' to be one of the most disturbing book he has read. In the 80s Tom Cruise was attached to the project and in the 90s Quentin Tarantino was trying to get it made with Brad Pitt attached to it. In the 2000s it was the turn of Andrew Dominik with him  trying to get Leonardo DiCaprio to take the role of Lou Ford. He then decided to go on to make the terrific 'Assassination of Jesse James' and the project fell into the hands of Michael Winterbottom. 

In a way it is good that Lou Ford is not played by a big star. In the film audience should be revolted by the idea that they have some sympathy towards Lou Ford and having a big star would have made it less disturbing. He is a repulsive character from the get go and is excellently played by Casey Affleck. There is not much motive for the killings that he commits and it is the people who are suspecting him attaching motives to it. He is using these as an excuse to do his killing. Jessica Alba getting beaten to pulp would be one of the most disturbing scenes that you will ever see and the crew were even avoiding eye-contact with her when she was wearing the makeup for that scene. Lou was sexually abused as a child and in one scene he is shown taking bible from the shelf which was sitting next to a Freud  book (no coincidence). In it he discovers nude photos of the housekeeper/babysitter from his youth who strongly resembles Joyce (Jessica Alba). He reminisces that he was made to spank the babysitter who was also having a relationship with his dad. These incidents from his childhood have shaped his character and it influenced the relationships with Joyce and Amy (Kate Hudson), with the sadomasochistic nature of it. In the first half of the film it works as a normal crime film where you are keeping on guessing about the motives and by the latter half you get a sense that it is striving to be much more and to be fair from the title of the film it should be obvious. 

It might not be for everyone and it received mixed reviews during its release with many complaining about violence towards women and misogyny. The character being a deeply disturbed individual doesn't mean that filmmakers are trying to promote it. The fact that despite all this, if you are still sympathetic towards the character, then well that exactly is the point. It is complex.

Rating: 5/5

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers:  Wes Anderson, Stefan Zweig (Inspired by the works of), Hugo Guinness
Cast:       Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revelori, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law

The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

The film starts with a teenage girl sitting in front of the monument to a writer in a cemetry. In the book a character known as author is remembering a trip he made to 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' in 1968 where the current owner of the hotel, Moustafa, tells him the story of Gustave which happened in the 1930s. The three broad timelines have got different aspect ratios and it is another great one from Wes Anderson with both light and dark humor, stunning visuals and violence. Its is typical of Wes Anderson to have a blow job and finger cutting scene in what seems to be a children' film. It might just be his greatest film though 'Rushmore' and 'Royal Tenenbaums' could be considered more affecting. It is not going to win any new fans for Wes Anderson but it will well and truly reward the faithfuls. 

Film centers around the mentorship between Gustave and Moustafa, excellently played by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revelori  respectively. During the course of the film I was reminded of 'The Shining', 'Se7en', 'Shawshank Redemption', 'Inglorious Basterds' among several others. Nazis are not explicitly named as such and symbol in their uniform is also different. One reason could be that the film received German funding or just Wes Anderson being playful. It is difficult to describe the film except that it is quintessentially in the Wes Anderson universe and is fucking great.

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Director: Sergio Leone
Writers:  Harry Grey (Novel), Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Franco Ferrini, Ernesto Gastaldi, Stuart M.Kaminsky, Sergio Leone, Enrico Medioli
Cast:       Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern

A former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to the lower east side of Manhattan over thirty years later, where he once again must confront the ghosts and regrets of his old life.

When it was done shooting, Leone had around nine hours of footage for a film that was supposed to be 165 minutes long. The script took years in making and the number of people credited for it is testament to that. The three hour forty nine minutes version that I saw is considered to be the director's cut and the one that was shown in Europe. It was well received at the Cannes. This version is not chronologically linear. The studio decided to release it in the US with a shorter bastardized chronologically correct version which was both a critical and commercial failure. If you make it in chronological order it wouldn't make much sense especially the Chinese theater scenes which makes or breaks theories about this film. 

Even the 3:49 version is short by 45 minutes of what Leone wanted it to be. The scenes that were cut involved: Explanation of mob-union relationship, Noodles-Eve relationship and Noodles-Carol old age meeting. I wish I could see with this 45 minutes added because the mob-union storyline is pretty weak as it is. Film is a an elaborate story of friendship and betrayal between Noodles (Robert De Niro) and Max (James Woods) and who betrayed whom would depend on your interpretation of the film. The first version would be the straight up interpretation where Max drove Noodles to call Police in all of them in order to kill his mob partners including Noodles who are holding him back and fake his own death so that he could start a new political career with their money. The second version would be that in the Police encounter, which happened due to Noodles tip, resulted in the death of all three of his business partners and the film is him imagining things on his opium den. I am leaning more towards the second interpretation especially because of the last shot of the film in which Noodles is seen laughing at the audience high on opium. Also the first scene of Noodles at the opium scene shows him clearly reminiscing the call he was about to make to the Police with the phone ringing at the Chinese theater also being heard to ring around 24 times. 

Film under this current version works more as a story about friendship and betrayal rather than a gangster storyline. We can add Deborah to the list along with Noodles and Max in this 'Menage e trois' of friendship and betrayal. There is a scene in which Carol suggests that they could make it a foursome which is also a suggestion to the audience that the film is about these four characters. It would make sense because Max cannot stand Deborah and Noodles cannot stand Carol and this is alluded by the characters twice in the film. The first time I watched it I didn't like parts of it especially their childhood scenes which I thought was poorly acted. This time round I found it to be alright and any problems I have with the film would be because of the editing they were forced to do to reduce the running time. Noodles raping Deborah could be seen as the pivotal scene of the film because the same night, Carol also entered into their fold. The greatness of the film is summed up by the driver during the rape scene which happened in a running car and was shot from inside the old Hollywood style in the way backgrounds move. Driver can be seen as a representative of us the audience with him showing an unsure disgust at Noodles. We are also unsure because we are more sympathetic towards Noodles and Deborah has been a prick tease for him all his life.

This was Sergio Leone's last film and he died without making the Leningrad siege film he was supposed to make. Ennio Morricone's background score is as usual a highlight of the film. It is now my second favorite Leone film after 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, June 2, 2014

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Director: John Schlesinger
Writers:  Waldo Salt, James Leo Herlihy (Novel)
Cast:       Dustin Hoffman, John Voight, Sylvia Miles

Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a Texan cowboy/stud who moves to New-York to work as a gigolo. He is way out of his element in the new city and struggles to find work. He befriends a cripple and street con artist, Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), and the film depicts there struggle for survival in NYC. In one sense it is an odd couple film.

Throughout the film several flashback/dream sequences of Joe's earlier life are shown in a tacky way. It offers us clues to why he has ended up this way. These sequences are also a bit unreliable since it is shown from Joe's subconscious and there is a sense that he is twisting some of the events to cope with them. He was raised by his grandmother and he is aspiring to be a gigolo for rich lonely socialites in NYC. There must be some Freudian stuff going on there. His girlfriend from Texas is also a recurring theme in these sequences. At some points she is shown as loyal to him but ending up getting gang-raped. In some other sequences it is shown that she cheated on him and later on she is shown accusing him of raping her. All these events must have deeply affected the personality of Joe.

Rizzo is much more smarter than Joe but he is a cripple. His story is much more straight forward and performances by both Hoffman and Voight are really excellent. Voight got the minimum wage that an actor could get for this role since he was desperate to land this role. The final scene of the film is done very poignantly and the reactions remain true to their characters. This was the first and only X-Rated film to win the academy awards for best motion picture. Now it is rated 'R'. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Jane Eyre (2011)

Director: Cary Fukunaga
Writers:  Charlotte Bronte (Novel), Moira Buffini
Cast:       Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench

Jane Eyre is a mousy governess who softens the heart of her employer but soon discovers that he is hiding a terrible secret. 

Charlotte Bronte's novel from early 19th century has been adapted around 24 times and this is the latest one. In this adaptation they have played up the dark Gothic feel of the Thornfield Hall and its owner Rochester played by Michael Fassbender. Unlike in the novel, the story is told in a non-linear fashion through flashbacks. The point at which the film starts is Jane Eyre fearfully fleeing from the castle and almost ending up dead. This sets the tone for how we watch as the story unfolds since we are always dreading about how their relationship goes. I was almost glad when I eventually found out why she had fled from her employer and after that the story is almost straightforward. It is ultimately a very predictable and soap operatic story made far more interesting in this version of it through the non-linear narration and the overall darkness which was anyways there in the original novel. Great performances from all involved, especially Mia and Fassbender playing the two lead characters.

I was reminded of '12 Years a slave' by around half way point of the film with strange similarities between some of the characters in both the films. If one really thinks about it, it is almost the same story (In relation to Fassbender and Lupita's characters and their relation). For me the most interesting character in 12 Years a slave was the one portrayed by Michael Fassbender anyways.

I have been seeking out Cary Fukunaga's works after seeing 'True Detective' and both 'Sin Nombre' and 'Jane Eyre' turned out to be excellent films. He is certainly one to look forward to. He will be serving as Executive Producer for season two of 'True Detective'. It will be interesting to see how it turns out because I think having single director for the entire season really made a difference to its quality.

Rating: 4/5