Thursday, October 29, 2015

അമർ അക്ബർ അന്തോണി (Amar Akbar Anthony) (2015)

Director: Nadirshah
Writers:  Bibin George, Vishnu Unnikrishnan
Cast:       Prithviraj, Jayasurya, Indrajith
Language: Malayalam

The three protagonists are Fort Kochi youngsters from relatively poor families who are also close friends. They enjoy a carefree life. Their perceptions and beliefs get shattered when an unexpected event occurs and the resulting story forms the rest of the movie.

To make matters very clear, this is a film which makes 'Oru Vadakkan Selfie' look like Godfather. And OVS was a film which made 'Chotta Mumbai' look like Godfather. I am referring to these two films with respect to AAA because all of them follow a similar formula of skit like comedy sequences with some serious shit thrown in during the second half of the film. Nadirshah, who is best known for his mimicry and parody cassettes that he used to churn out during Onam, makes his directorial debut with this film. The long series of 'Thank-Yous' which starts off the opening credits (an annoying feature of modern Malayalam films) lists the directorial duo of Siddique-Lal, who are best examples of people who have made transition from mimicry to creating great feature films. Almost all of their films, with the exception of Vietnam Colony', also followed a formula of having a purely comedic first half with the story taking a sudden serious turn during the second half. But they always manage to intersperse comedy during the latter part of the films as well. Whatever be the formula, they managed to create films that are rightly considered as classics.

Nadirshah's formula seems to be sub-standard comedy skits followed by cringy 'Social Warning', exploiting Malayalees' latest paranoia over 'Immigrants' and pedophilia. If that is not enough, he ends it with some Police-sponsored vigilantism. So he basically caters to all kind of audiences, quality be damned,  which explains its commercial success. The comedy shit didn't make me laugh nearly enough and the social message thing is presented in a laughably bad manner and I had a horrible time watching it. Am not really a big fan of these skit like comedies anyway since I can watch some mimicry program if I wanted that. I am not disparaging all films that present it this way as 'Chotta Mumbai' was quite a decent film and 'Idukki Gold' could also be described following such a formula but managed with a degree of sophistication by presenting it as vignettes from the past. AAA is just shit.

To sum up, AAA is an utterly shit film and its commercial success is fucking annoying. As it stands, the top three grossing Malayalam films of all time are 'Drishyam', 'Premam' and 'Ennu Ninte Moideen'. all of which are quite good films. It will be a travesty if this piece of shit film manages to gross as much or beat any of them. It does look like it will. Arrggghhhh..... (ഒരു സിനിമാപ്രേമിയുടെ രോദനം ) 

Rating: 0.5/5   

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers:  Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson
Cast:       Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant

In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

The only films from Guy Ritchie that I had seen prior to this were 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' and 'Snatch' and both of them were great. But the amount of credit that gets attributed to Guy Ritchie for their greatness is debatable since both of them also involved Matthew Vaughn as executive producer and the films that Ritchie made subsequently have not been that well-received critically. Matthew Vaughn went on to direct some pretty decent films in Layer Cake, Kick-Ass and Kingsmen: The Secret Service. I had in fact seen bits of Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film which I turned off pretty sharpish. So I didn't have much hopes going into this film and just wanted some mindless fun.

2015 pitted Ritchie against Vaughn as both of them came out with two films from the same genre. I gotta say Vaughn came slightly ahead in that battle with his Kingsmen film, which was done in an over the top genre-bending fashion and was rather fun. TMfUncle begins in Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin as the CIA dude crosses the border to secure the daughter (Alicia Vikander) of a missing rocket scientist and gets followed by the KGB agent. They all get acquainted with each other during a set-piece and are assigned a common mission after that. I found the film to be quite boring up till the half way point as the humor that they were going for didn't exactly work for me. Their interactions were curious enough but I was really bored. It picks up from the half-way point and the second half of the film is rather good. There are some great editing flourishes during some action set-pieces and the background music was fresh and interesting. A British film without British Spies will be odd and so Hugh Grant emerges to fill that vacuum. 

So, to sum up, first half the film is pretty boring and the second half is rather good making it, overall, a pretty decent one-time watch. Didn't care much for the performances and I am not a big fan of Henry Cavill. You don't put too much effort in picking plot-holes in it since you are anyway in a suspend your disbelief mode to watch these sort of films. Unless they are just stretching it too far, like it was in Skyfall with that tube train sequence.  The film didn't do very well at the box office and so we won't probably get a sequel, which is about right. Am rather sick of these franchises and occasional Bourne, Bond and MI films are just about enough to satisfy all kind of audiences.

PS: I had to type this shit twice as the Blogger chose to Autosave just when I did an accidental Ctrl Z. FFS Blogger.

Rating: 2.5/5

Youth (La giovinezza) (2015)

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writer:    Paolo Sorrentino
Cast:       Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano

A retired orchestra conductor (Michael Caine) is on a holiday with his daughter (Rachel Weisz) and his film director best friend (Harvey Keitel), his daughter's soon to be ex-father-in-law as well, in the Alps when he receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth to perform for Prince Philip's birthday.

Like Sorrentino's 'The Consequences of Love', this film also have a protagonist staying in a posh hotel and having an existential crisis. Last film of his- The Great Beauty, which won academy award in the Best foreign film category, also had a protagonist reflecting back on his life. When Sorrentino reaches Youth (Ironic title), the protagonist gets progressively older and it is a story of eternal struggle between age and youth, the past and the future, life and death, commitment and betrayal. Like all Sorrentino films, it is quite hard to describe and if you attempt to do that you will very much sound like a pretentious idiot. His films are what a normal audience would class as pretentious but I do enjoy them immensely. Youth is much more accessible than 'The Great Beauty' and there are plot related events to actually jolt the viewer into paying attention if they indeed drift. I haven't seen his only other English Language film (This Must be the Place) and I don't normally enjoy it when directors make films in languages in which they are not very comfortable. I didn't feel like that with this effort and dialog is minimal anyway.

Cast is quite great and it was good to see Harvey Keitel on this one. It was also good to see Paul Dano playing a normal natured kind of character. Alex Macqueen, Julius Nicholson (Baldemort) from The Thick Of It, plays the role of Queen's emissary and it would have been apt if his character was named Julius Nicholson in this one as well. In terms of the plot (Spoilers ahead), I understood it as Michael Caine's character finding his wife dead when he go and meets her in Venice after a gap of ten years. Which is why he decides to accept Queen's invitation. (Wiki says she is just senile but it looked like dead to me but if otherwise also it makes sense regarding his change in decision).  Also in that Harvey Keitel sequence, in which a stream of women appears in a surreal manner, seemed to have Caine's wife as well, which might be a suggestion of an affair between them.

It is a great watch if you are a fan of Sorrentino and know what is coming. If you haven't seen any other films of his, then you might be better off doing it one by one chronologically from his filmography to see the progression in themes. I wasn't as mind-blown as I was when I watched 'The Great Beauty' but it is nevertheless a great watch. Michael Caine will be a serious contender for Best Actor awards in this year's awards season.

Rating: 4/5


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Gangster (2014)

Director: Aashiq Abu
Writer:    Ahamed Siddique
Cast:       Mammootty, Sekhar Menon, John Paul
Language: Malayalam

Akbar (Mammootty) is a powerful figure of Mangalore underworld who got an understanding and shares profits with Mani Menon (Kunchan) and Uncle Sam (John Paul), two other prominent gangsters ruling the city. The city remains calm under them, until Anto (Sekhar Menon), grandson of Uncle Sam comes up with a new business proposal which Akbar refuses to be a part of. War breaks loose. 

Gangster is a film which makes 'Sagar Alias Jackey: Reloaded' look like 'Godfather'. And SAJ: Reloaded was an average film that made 'Big B' look like 'Godfather'. The only good thing about Gangster is the fifteen seconds or so of Sorrentino's 'The Great Beauty' that we get to see on Akbar's laptop. The film begins with a quite well done animated sequence (Kill Bill style) explaining Akbar's background and his rise in gangster world. Whatever good that is achieved by the animation is spoiled by the pathetic narration. It is then followed by the opening credits which is also quite good. Then it is downhill from there. Like all mafia films, it also contains some cringy references to Godfather. Characters like Akbar's girlfriend/wife are airdropped to be disposed off quickly to serve as a plot point only. The dialogues are so poorly written that the actors themselves look uncomfortable delivering it, especially Mammootty. It is so poor that I think I would've enjoyed it more if all the narration and talking parts were taken out. 

The film is technically quite good but the flip side of that is Aashiq Abu seems to have forgotten the hard part of creating characters that we give two shits about or a semi-interesting plot. He tries in vain to recreate the Big B's Bilal character in terms of mannerisms and style but what he ends up with is a 'Pavanai' version. Film ends with the following line delivered by Akbar: 'I will kill you in such a way that you will always remember your death'...Err, what? WTF!!!

Rating: 0.5/5

Monday, October 26, 2015

La collectionneuse (The Collector) (1967)

Director: Eric Rohmer
Writers:  Patrick Bauchau, Haydee Politoff, Daniel Pommereulle, Eric Rohmer
Cast:       Patrick Bauchau, Haydee Politoff, Daniel Pommereulle
Language: French

A womanizing art dealer and his painter friend find the serenity of their Riviera vacation disturbed by a third guest, a vivacious bohemian woman known for her long list of male conquests. They first resist her, calling out on her mentality which they describe as that of a 'Collector', but then can't resist and its not clear who is really in control of this game of 'collecting' relationships.

As you can see from the writing credits, the main three actors in it have been credited for the dialogue and this was a film done by Eric Rohmer while he was waiting for the availability of Jean-Louis Trintignant for 'My Night at Maud's'. Film is considered to be part of Eric Rohmer's series of 'Six Moral Tales' and is the fourth one in it (third, going by release dates). Like all Rohmer films, it is just everyday activities of classy Europeans elevated into art without too much drama associated with it. It will not be up everyone's alley but I do enjoy them immensely as one time watches. 

Eric Rohmer is someone who doesn't get mentioned enough when people talk about the greatest directors of all time and is sort of a hidden gem despite numerous awards that he got in European film festivals. His style has not influenced many as well but I did stumble on to him when some article cited his influence on Richard Linklater's 'Before Midnight'. But I think the comparison only holds in terms of location aspects and filming style but not necessarily in terms of content and scripting. I won't recommend this film as a gateway one to visit Rohmer's filmography and you will be better off if you start with more famous films of his.

PS: Rohmer is more of an influence on Noah Baumbach rather than Linklater. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, October 25, 2015

ആമേൻ (Amen) (2013)

Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Writers:  P.S. Rafeeque, Lijo Jose Pellissery
Cast:       Indrajith, Fahadh Faasil, Swathi Reddy
Language: Malayalam

The film revolves around the events that happen in a picturesque Kuttanadan village (think Kerala backwaters) following the arrival of a young priest Vincent Vattolli (Indrajith), who is sort of a rebel. At the center of it you have the romance between Solomon (Fahadh) and Shoshannah (Swati Reddy), poor boy-rich girl kind) and everything is supposed to be resolved by a competition between two bands at the climax. 

The basic story won't look out of place if narrated by Ambujakshan (From Azakhiya Raavanan) in his 'Chirakodinja Kinavukal' style. I have nothing against cliched drivel being used in a film as long as it is done in an inventive manner without giving much importance to it. But sadly in this film, even though the director declares it to be a divine comedy, the focus is too much on the sob story where we are supposed to care for it even though you know where it is going from the get go itself. Only thing that can save the film from there is a riveting climax but that is quite hard to achieve when the competition is between two people on fucking clarinets. These kind of music set-pieces are quite achievable and you have examples from Malayalam cinema like 'Yodha' and 'His Highness Abdullah'. Amen doesn't even come close to them and the director chooses to end with a lame-ass twist which might make people who enjoyed the film go 'Wow' but  I went 'Meh'. 

Amen is the sort of film which hoodwinks the audience who loved it to think that they actually enjoyed a sophisticated film and they will pat themselves on the back for helping it become commercially successful. They will also gloat about the intelligence of Malayalee audience which makes these kind of films viable. When the director actually takes them for granted and make an actual good fucking film without any cliches, they will then castigate it for no good reason and the films end up as disasters at box office. This is exactly what happened to Lijo with his recent film 'Double Barrel', where he forgo cliches and concentrated on the eccentricities (which are in small supply in Amen and a reference to Rocky Punyalan is one of them) that makes him good.  

Only good thing about Amen and its success is that it helped in getting 'Double Barrel' made. Parallels could be made with Amen-Om Shanti Oshana and Double Barrel-Aadu Oru Bheekara Jeeviyanu. The success of the former set, despite being shit, helped Lijo and Midhun Manuel Thomas to get funding for the latter set, both of which are vastly superior films. Only thing I can say about the contrasting fortunes at box office for these set of films is: 'ഇത് എനിക്കു വട്ടായതാണോ അതോ നാട്ടുകാർക്ക് മൊത്തം വട്ടായതാണോ? ' (Is it me who is mad or is it the whole fucking society that is mad).   

Performances in it from all concerned are quite good and that of Swathi Reddy's was pleasantly surprising. Cinematography and positioning of camera in many shots is done with some difference but I didn't particularly enjoy many of their choices. There are too many songs in it, most of them garbage. to actually fill time and they are strategically inserted so that audience won't notice the threadbare and cliched plot. One song in a toddy shop involving the two bands is shot as a single tracking shot which was quite interesting. Lijo's unnecessary use of songs is something that he carried into Double Barrel with disastrous consequences in terms of pacing of the film. I hope he cuts the unnecessary ones for DVD release. I look forward to his next film but I do hope the lack of success of Double Barrel won't make him go back to Amen style.

PS: I was reminded of 'Silver Linings Playbook' which also had things getting resolved by a cringy dance competition at the climas. Film was thoroughly average but met with commercial and critical success.

Rating: 1.5/5 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Writers:  Cary Joji Fukunaga, Uzodinma Iweala
Cast:       Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Emmanuel Affadzi

A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country. The film is based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala and was shot in Ghana. 

When you watch these kind of films you do get into it with some weariness of having to attend a social studies class. These things are handled the best way when done cinematically without making you feel like being lectured on. I can watch documentaries for that. Beasts of No Nation is in the capable hands of Cary Joji Fukunaga, best known for True Detective Season One (Hate the fact that I've to specify the season), who also did 'Sin Nombre' and 'Jane Eyre' both of which were really good as well. He handles the task of adapting the novel to the screen by giving it a Terence Malick treatment (think The Thin Red Line), albeit with a focused approach by telling it from the perspective of the child soldier character played excellently by Abraham Attah. Idris Elba plays the role of his Commandant who turns out to be quite in the middle bracket of the Chain of Command. We can contrast the film with the shallow social media trend that was 'Stop Kony' campaign which was about surface level deep. 

It was very easy for the film to hog headlines with it being the first Netflix produced one and with it being simul-released on their network. Many big Cinema chains in the US boycotted the film as it violated the 90 window release exclusivity for the theaters. I do believe there is a need for that sort of exclusivity since a film is almost always best watched on a big fucking screen with an audience. But they should get with the times and reduce that exclusivity to maybe 2-4 weeks. Anyway, it is a glorious debut from Netflix.

Overall it is a great watch and excellent performances from all concerned. There is a single shot tracking scene that will rival his similar shot from 'True Detective' in the middle point of the film. In the latter, it did give a show-off vibe, while in this one it adds something significant to the scene and story. Everything is done in a matter of fact way without having to manipulate the audience. The events in are patently sufficient. It is not a matter of choice but of survival. It will be interesting to see if it gets any love from the Academy but I would put a probability of close to zero for that. As for Fukunaga, please come back for True Detective Season Three.  

Rating: 4/5