Saturday, March 26, 2016

Room (2015)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer:   Emma Donoghue
Cast:      Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers

A kidnapped mother and son make a daring escape, and experience a dramatic homecoming provoking a look into the power of imagination and the unstoppable force of a mother's love.

The IMDB synopsis that I listed above is a load of horseshit. I went into the film without knowing anything about it and it completely blew me away. With the title 'Room' and a mother and her son being the protagonists had me expecting a film like 'The Babadook'. The film doesn't really get into the reason for their confinement till about twenty minutes into it. I was thinking it was a 'Village' like situation with the mother showing some vileness. When he turns five, she thinks he is old enough to know that the world is not contained to their room and there are other real people outside. She also reveals to him that she was kidnapped as a teenager and was confined to this room. She plots an escape plan for them and it succeeds in getting themselves freed. This happens without any cheap cinematic twists and all of it happens by around half way into the film. It still manages to be exhilarating and will certainly well you up. Normally you would expect a film to end there but this one is more ambitious as it also dwells into how they adjust back into civilization. 

Brie Larson deservedly won the academy award for her portrayal and I think the kid should also have won it or at least nominated. I also can't fathom why it wasn't a serious contender for 'Best Picture' award in what was really a mediocre year for mainstream films. Maybe because they handled it in an adult manner without being too manipulative. Film is an adaptation of Emma Donoghue's novel with the same name and she also wrote the screenplay for it. The basic plot of people getting kidnapped and living in captivity is quite a common occurrence in USA and you will wonder why no one thought of making a film on it. Lenny Abrahamson was quite an odd choice to be the director for this film as his previous one, 'Frank', was quite a different breed to this film. The color tone in both films are quite similar and while Frank ended in a very melancholic note, Room is much more hopeful.

Rating: 5/5

കലി (Kali) (2016)

Director: Sameer Thahir
Writers:  Rajesh Gopinadhan
Cast:      Dulquer Salman, Sai Pallavi, Vinayakan, Chemban Vinodh
Langauge: Malayalam

The title of the film, Kali, translates as 'Anger' and it is a slang word in Malayalam. The film revolves around a man who has a propensity to get angry at everyone, including his wife, out of no good reason. It is not a story of how he overcomes this trait to achieve great things in life but how it puts him and his wife into a dangerous situation.

Sameer Thahir, another one of those cinematographer turned directors from Malayalam, was in the forefront of so-called new-gen film wave with his debut film 'Chaappa Kurish'. It was a film that was pretty good all the way through but became great due to its ending which featured a very raw-action set-piece where the two protagonists lashed out at each other without feeling the need to say anything. That was indeed a bold ending from the director but when it came to 'Kali', he compromises by having a very convenient plot development which kind of ruins the film for me. The first half of the film is pretty light and proceeds like a normal sort of film which concentrates on a peculiar trait of its main character. The film suddenly takes a left field turn when it kind of becomes a road movie where its characters are in danger. The whole of second half is setup with the introduction of Chemban Vinodh's character just before the intermission.

The point at which the film makes this turn is quite apt because if they continued in the same vain as it was in the first half, it would have become grating for the audience. Even though it plays into certain stereotypes, the second half of the film begins fantastically well as some misplaced pride from the main character puts him and his wife into a dangerous situation where they get separated. It manages to ratchet up the tension very effectively in a a believable manner. Vinayakan's character is great as it remains a bit ambiguous in sharp contrast to Chemban Vinodh's character. My problem with the film is that they could have made it much better if they didn't opt to have the 'Hero' display some heroism by taking on a large number of people and prevailing. It was a safe and convenient option from the director and it seemed a bit jarring. 

Overall it is a good watch and could have been much better with some slight tweaking towards the end. Performances from all concerned are very good and it is quite a safe role for Dulquer anyway. Sai Pallavi carried the baggage of having to prove herself not to be a one-film wonder and she manages to do that and kudos for doing her own dubbing (assuming it to be her voice). Cinematography is excellent, like you would expect from a Sameer Thahir film, and the BGMs employed are very effective. There is a tinge of comedy running throughout the film and it is another great turn from Soubin Shahir, albeit in a small role in terms of screen time. At just under 120 minutes, it is cut to right length and songs in it are rather forgettable. It has been quite a good start for Malayalam cinema this year with several good unconventional films coming out in succession.

Rating: 3/5 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Mustang (2015)

Director: Deniz Gamze Erguven
Writers:  Deniz Gamze Erguven, Alice Winocour
Cast:       Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu
Language: Turkish

When five orphan girls, raised by their uncle and grandmother, are seen innocently playing with boys on a beach, their scandalized conservative guardians confine them while forced marriages are arranged.

It is a female-directed film and, I don't know if it is because of getting used to female-centric films from male directors, I found the initial parts of this film to be very unsubtle. I think it would have been better if they showed what prompted their confinement to have happened due to natural course of events of them having grown up. One could see it as lazy film-making with director using it as easy way to get to things that she wants to sink into. But I guess we have to give her some benefit of doubt as the mannerisms of the girls remains consistent throughout the film and them being orphans, raised by their grandmother, could also be one reason for them being given a longer leash in a conservative society. 

The film is set in a remote village around 1000 kms away from Istanbul, which is considered as a place of freedom by the girls. It is quite ironic, since Turkey under Erdogan has taken a turn for the worse by embracing conservatism like India has also done with the coming to the power of a religious fundamentalist, Narendra Modi. While Erdogan is dismantling the secular nature of Turkey, imposed by Ataturk, Modi is dismantling our secular traditions which is considered to be quintessentially Nehruvian. Turkish films are a gateway to see and be amazed by the Turkish society which stands in stark contrast with other Muslim majority nations. Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a favorite of mine and his films have more in common with films from Western Europe, with themes of modern alienation and existentialism, rather than  Persian films which tend to be more about societies at large. 

Overall, Mustang is a very good watch and it is the sort of film that would be received very well in places like Kerala, which was indeed the case when it came here for IFFK. It got nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars, where it was sent as a nomination from France. Performances are raw and very good from all concerned. Ending happens in a feel-good manner but works really well because we really want it to happen that way.

PS: I didn't know that, in Turkish marriages, virginity test for the bride happens after the first night, when the groom's relatives barge in to check out the bed-sheet.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Anomalisa (2015)

Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Writer:      Charlie Kaufman
Cast:         Davide Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.

The theme of the film is 'Fregoli Delusion', a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise. The film achieves it by having all the characters in it, except for two of them, being voiced by Tom Noonan. The hotel that the main character checks in is named Fregoli. It is the film that Charlie Kaufman wanted to fund through Kickstarter and was conceived as a 40 minute one. But the end version is 90 minutes long and you really feel that it would have been more suitable as a forty minutes project. I really can't understand all the hype its getting. It is a good watch but is comparatively a light-weight project from Kaufman after 'Synecdoche New-York'. It is in stop-motion animation format and it is not as if it is groundbreaking. Richard Linklater handled it ages ago with two excellent films that were also rich in content- A Scanner Darkly & A Waking Life. Anomalisa's story of a man going through mid-life crisis seems a bit simplistic in comparison. 

Overall, it is a good watch but it would have worked better as a short film. It seems Kaufman decided to play it quite safe after he went full retard with 'Synecdoche New-York', which was fucking excellent even though I didn't have much clue about what was going on. One silver-lining is that there is a good rendering of 'Girls just want to have some fun' in Anomalisa. 

Rating: 3/5

Friday, March 18, 2016

ഡാർവിന്റെ പരിണാമം (Darvinte Parinamam) (2016)

Director: Jijo Antony
Writers:  Manoj Nair, Jijo Antony
Cast:        Prithviraj, Chemban Vinodh, Soubin Shahir
Language: Malayalam

A man from out of town (Prithviraj), struggling for bread for his family, crosses path with a rather mellowed down don (Chemban Vinodh) which pits them against each other. Sounds rather clichéd doesn't it? What makes it different is the treatment and the unexpected ways in which the plot developes. The title of film translates as Darvin's Evolution and it refers to the evolution of both hero and villain, whoever they might be. There is some irony thrown in with St. Antony playing a part in the story.

Prithviraj is on a high with four successive hits, all collecting more than 15 crores at Kerala Box Office. His golden run started after the huge box office disaster that was 'Double Barrel', which was produced by his own production house- August Cinema. This film is also produced by the same banner and it is quite a dependable one to go by as they haven't made,  what I consider to be, loathsome films so far. That's why I decided to check out this film first day first show itself even though I wasn't that enamoured by its trailer.

The film as a whole is very watchable with plenty of good portions and some which are quite dragging. It's greatest strength is it's unpredictability. It takes quite a bit of time for the two main characters to meet good and proper. That time is utilised for establishing both characters and their background. The story of don is more interesting during the first half of the film with the Prithviraj storyline being very unsubtle in its handling. It is quite deliberate but I still didn't enjoy it that much. The film takes a very comedic turn from the beginning of the second half and ends with a clichéd fight sequence, which they themselves refer to as something from a Telugu film.

The one theme that they play with throughout the film is the ambiguity in terms of who the hero is and who the villain is in the story. It is quite straightforward for us for most of the story with the hero being Prithviraj. But during the second half, don't know whether it is deliberate, Prithviraj turns to his irritating best. If it is deliberate, then it is quite brilliant because people who don't like him will also enjoy the film. We genuinely root for Chemban Vinodh towards the end of the film.

Overall it is a very watchable film with a very interesting story-line. At 150 minutes long, it is longer than it should be and they could have easily cut some of the useless songs and slow motion walks. It is disappointing to see some sequences that have been put just to please the so-called fans and I wish they could move away from that. The camera work and some of the editing flourishes are really good and that have managed to capture the slum portions of Kochi very well. The comedy in it is quite well handled and I liked the fact that they didn't linger on to make sure that everybody got it. The film won't bore you as long as you can stomach its unpredictability. Looks like fifth hit in a row for Prithviraj.

Rating: 2.5/5

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer:    Quentin Tarantino
Cast:       Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir

I just wrote the names of eight main characters to make sure that there were indeed eight. The IMDB synopsis is: In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters. 

Film is billed as Quentin's eighth film, which is factually correct if you ignore Four Rooms and consider both volumes of Kill Bill as one film, and he has already declared that he will stop at 10. I hope that is as truthful as his statement was about not making 'The Hateful Eight' after the script got leaked. I am generally considered as a Tarantino fanboy and some of my friends have even given me a nickname of 'Tomantino', but I have been kind of falling out of love with his latest offerings. I thought 'Inglourious Basterds' was a glourious return to form but his followup to that, 'Django Unchained' was ultimately a disappointment. I did gave it a 4 but that was more because of me being in denial. His longtime collaborator and editor, Sally Menke, had died before he made Django and based on his two films after her death, it seems his films really misses her especially when it comes to reigning him in and keep in check the running time. I love both Pulp Fiction and the Basterds and both were really long films but you really don't feel it when you are watching them. You do feel it for both Django and Hateful Eight. That said, it might have been different if I had watched The Hateful Eight at the cinemas because you don't have the option of pausing it and take a break. Even the format of it being a mystery also would have suited more if you are watching it at the cinemas. 

From what I have written above, you might think that I didn't enjoy it. That is not true because it is a very enjoyable watch but just that the standards we expect is just too high. I haven't seen 'The Thing' and they use Ennio Morricone's unused theme that he made for that film titled 'Bestiality'. Going by the IMDB synopsis of The Thing, there are plenty of nods to that film especially with the ice-cold winter setting and nobody trusting anybody aspect. Apart from that, you can also compare it to Taraninino's first film 'Reservoir Dogs' with regards to the setting and relationship between the various characters. You also get a long speech just before the interval which would remind you of that Christopher Walken-Dennis Hopper sequence from 'True Romance'. Like this speech is inferior to that one from True Romance, the film is also a lesser version of Tarantino's best works. I just wish he would come out of this 'Period films' phase of his career which started with the Basterds. Performances are great from all concerned, except maybe Madsen, in a very screen chewing manner. There are plenty of great sequences but you just think the sum is not as good as the parts. There is this whole racial politics discussions in it which is also very relevant to the current politics and reality of America. I also liked the aspect that the Black characters in it are portrayed as people who don't like Mexicans. I also loved Tim Roth's speech regarding true justice and mob justice which is also very relevant to the current politics of India.

Overall it is a very good watch but that is just not good enough when you are watching a Tarantino film. His films are meant to be great for re-watches but I don't think it will be so for this one. Ennio Morricone finally won a deserved Oscar for his work on this film. Samuel L. Jackson was great till just about the last act of the film where he kind of loses his dignity (TBF, that would happen if you get shot in the nuts). There is also a delightful cameo from a certain actor. Unlike his last two films, which had major stars and were financially his most successful, this film had an ensemble cast without any stars. The $144 million that it manged to collect is truly remarkable and proves his stature as a superstar director.

Trivia: The guitar that Kurt Russell smashes to smithereens is an 1870 antique piece and he was meant to use a fake replacement during that scene. Jennifer Jason Leigh's reaction to that is genuine.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Revenant (2015)

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Writers:  Mark L. Smith, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Michael Punke
Cast:       Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter

A frontiersman on a fur expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his  own hunting team.

The trouble with these kind of films (127 Hours is another one) is that you already know the basic plot of the film even before watching them and that is always become a challenge for the filmmaker to keep people interested in other ways. One of the ways is to set them in breathtaking locales and the knowledge that they actually went to such locations and shot the film under very difficult conditions will give the makers some leeway. I will acknowledge that it is indeed breathtaking and a very ambitious project but as a film it didn't work very well for me. It more or less felt like an extended episode of 'Man Vs Wild', albeit directed  by a master filmmaker and filmed by the excellent Emmanuel Lubezki, who won his third consecutive Oscar for this film. The backstory of Leo, regarding his native American wife and the mystique way it if filmed, came off as very pretentious. It is meant to make us really feel for the character and his son but I don't think they succeeded on that regard. I would have preferred a simple raw version without any backstory, which would have also helped in cutting down its running time of close to 150 minutes, around twenty minutes too long. I found myself looking at my watch after just 45 minutes or so.

As far as I am concerned, there is not a whole lot wrong with Tom Hardy's actions. It was the logical thing to do. And I do think the makers have also given a tinge of ambiguity to most of the characters but it is not deep enough. The captain of the expedition actually arranges a separate team to take care of an injured Leo, with rewards on offer, after he found himself to not have the gumption to shoot Leo to end his and their ordeal. You also get the token references to the plight of native Indians and the whole politics of Colonialism but they just sound a bit lame and half-arsed. So what I am saying is that the while the central part of film, which is about survival, is done very well, the other aspects that were required to make it a great film didn't work for me. 

Overall, it is a good watch and needs to be seen on a big screen. The theater where I watched it also got in on the act by putting the AC a tad too cold to suit the movie experience. As far as Oscars are concerned, Mad Max: Fury Road deserved to win both Best Director and Best cinematography award ahead of 'The Revenant'. Both Leo and Tom Hardy were fantastic and it is a deserved win for Leo, albeit in an award-bait role. I do think this one would rank as Inarritu's worst along with Babel, but that just indicates the greatness of the rest of his filmography.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ghost World (2001)

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers:  Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff
Cast:       Tora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi

With only the plan of moving together after high-school, two unusually devious friends seek direction in life. As a mere gag, they respond to a man's newspaper ad for a date, only to find that it will greatly complicate their lives and their relationship.

The film opens on an unexpected note with the opening credits featuring an yesteryear Bollywood disco song. The film is basically about friendship if you look from the perspective of the relationship between the two girls in it. Most of what we call as friends are merely acquaintances who become part of our lives for a brief while as we move across various stages of life. As we move from one stage to next, we lose them from our life in a conscious manner or just by not bothering to keep in touch. Finishing school and the time after that is the first time that we do this process and since it is first time, it happens over a longer period of time. By the time we finish graduation, it happens a lot quicker and after post-graduation it will be quite swift. Whoever that stay out of the cull list remain as friends for life, probably. It is a phenomenon that doesn't get looked at enough in films and Ghost World does essentially that even though it is not limited to that. Film is told mainly from the perspective of Thora Birch's character centering on her relationship with her best friend from school and the older Steve Buscemi character. Birch being the weirder one out of the two and Johansson is the more normal one who will go on to have a normal sort of life. That transition happens over the course of the film.

Overall, it is a very good watch and is like 'Napoleon Dynamite' with girl characters. Which reminds me that I should watch that film again (Vote for Pedro!!!). Thora Birch already had her big break with 'American Beauty' while this one came before Scarlett Johansson's breakout role in 'Lost in Translation'. Steve Buscemi is someone who is famous for playing type cast kind of roles and it was good to see him playing a character which was very much against his type. I haven't seen any other film of Terry Zwigoff's who hasn't really made too many films.  

Rating: 3.5/5    

Saturday, March 5, 2016

ചാപ്പാ കുരിശ് (Chaappa Kurish) (2011)

Director: Sameer Thahir,
Writers:  Jai Krishna, Unni R
Cast:       Fahadh Faasil, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Ramya Nambeeshan
Language: Malayalam

A lost cellphone connects two men from the two extremes of the society and affects their life beyond which they could have imagined.

The title Chaappa Kurish means something like 'Head or Tail' in Malayalam, a fact which I didn't know. During the initial half of the film, the main two characters are played as extreme opposites, not only in terms of the social class that they belong to but also based on their morality. You get the usual rich is bad and poor is good characterization and I was slightly miffed by that. But as the film progresses, you realize that it was necessary because there is a flipping involved which puts the poor guy as the hunter and the rich guy as the victim. Leaking of amateur sex footage as MMS clips and now WhatsApp videos have become a fact of life in India with an element of shame attached to the people involved. Films like 'Dev D' and 'LSD' managed to include them in their story-line in a creditable manner and 'Chaappa Kurish' is also another such example. The characterization is rich and for once, Vineeth Sreenivasan performed quite well as an actor. When you just think how can they end the film in a satisfying manner, Sameer Thahir delivers with a very raw and excellent set-piece which doesn't involve any verbal barrage between the two protagonists. It totally satisfied my appetite as there is no effort involved from the director to justify their actions but just that they fucked up royally. 

It has been a recent phenomenon in Malayalam for cinematographers to become directors and Sameer Thahir is also one from that stable. They have been instrumental in pivoting the industry from one which relied heavily on words to one which explores the medium as a visual one which it is supposed to be. Rajeev Ravi, another cinematographer turned director, did an  explosive interview with Southlive which can be seen as a rallying cry by the 'New-Gen' challenging the old-school guys. Although I don't totally agree with him on all the points, his honesty was just so refreshing. He proved that he can also walk the talk with his two films- Annayum Rasoolum and Njan Steve Lopez. Anyway, it has been interesting times for the Malayalam cinema and looks like the old style is more or less dead. 

Chaappa Kursihu is considered to be one of the ultimate 'New-Gen' Malayalam film but many just use the term to refer to films that are quite honest about sex and morality. They are much more than that. Overall, Chaappa Kurish is a great watch and is one of the best films to come out of Malayalam from recent times. While many of the so called new-gen films descend to cliches during the climax parts, Chaappa Kurishu goes full retard and the result is glorious. It didn't do very well financially but is very superior to films like Traffic which achieved financial success.

Rating: 4.5/5