Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Ghost Story (2017)

Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
DOP: Andrew Droz Palermo
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

The film follows the ghost of a recently deceased musician who remains in the house shared with his wife.

More apt title of the film would be 'A Ghost's Story' as it is told from the perspective of the ghost. Why did nobody think about doing that. To be fair there is a Malayalam film called Aayushkaalam, which is a remake of some foreign film, that is somewhat like this but not solely from the Ghost's perspective. We initially think the film is dealing with wife's grief but later realises that it is about the grief of the ghost as she gets over it and moves on, emotionally as well as physically. House is later occupied by a Mexican single mom and her kids, some young partying folks etc before it is torn down for a skyscraper. Ghost finally decides to end his 'life' and enters a time-warp.

It is not really a horror film but some of the scenes work really well on that regard. There is one scene where a character kind of explain the film which was not necessary. One can also interpret the last part of the film as the search for resolution by the audience for a film which ends on an ambiguous note. It is really a cool film even though it kind of ends with a very often used plot device. If you're into relationships and all that, it can be a very affecting film.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected) (2017)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach
DOP: Robbie Ryan
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller

The adult children of Harold Meyerowitz reunite in New-York for their father's career retrospective.

It is not a solo show but a group display of works by artists from the university where Harold taught. We learn over the course of the film that all the grown-up characters in it are dealing with disappointments in terms of how their career turned out. Harold had gone through several marriages and have three kids from different marriages. While he carries the air of an accomplished artist, especially when dealing with his family, he is himself jealous of his more successful friends in the New-York scene. Adam Sandler's Danny is a stay at home father, a successful one unlike his father, but he is now divorced and struggling. Ben Stiller plays Matthew, a successful personal wealth manager and his father's favourite kid, and he is himself disappointed that him not being an artist diminishes his standing in the family. Harold is now married to Maureen (Emma Thompson), an alcoholic. The retrospective and father's health issues brings all the kids together and the film largely deals with that situation, after having two chapters leading up to it to establish the characters.

The earlier dialogues from the film will sound very exposition like and you later realize that it is justifiable because of Harold's many marriages and physical and emotional distance between the characters. It is a typical Noah Baumbach film and should be a great watch if you are a fan of his like I am. It has a very different look from previous films of his and it is no surprise that it is his first collaboration with Robbie Ryan.  It is also his third film with Ben Stiller and got to say it is a very Ben Stiller role for him. Good to see Adam Sandler doing something worthy so soon after Punch Drunk Love.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, October 13, 2017

കാറ്റ് (Kattu) (2017)

Director: Arun Kumar Aravind
Writer: Ananth Padmanabhan, Padmarajan
DOP: Prasanth Raveendran
Cast: Murali Gopy, Asif Ali, Shebin Benson
Language: Malayalam

Film revolves around a few people who are in the business of making fireworks and is set in late 70s and early 80s period. The only way we get a sense of the time is through the various films that they mention during the film and it is indeed the Jayan era. The settings look much older but that was a time when villages did exist in Kerala. Murali Gopi plays the role of Chellappan who is sort of a village playboy. Asif Ali is a naive and shy simpleton who is taken under his wings by Chellappan. Film is a depiction of their life and rivalries.

Arun Kumar Aravind was someone who made a very solid debut with 'Eee Adutha Kalathu', which was a very well done multiple storyline film on a meagre budget. He went on to produce the excellent adult comedy with brains 'Vedivazhipadu' and got his biggest hit as a director with the political film 'Left, Right, Left', which I think everyone overrates. That was later followed up by a Fahadh Faasil- Murali Gopy starrer film which was a disaster commercially as well as critically. Murali Gopy is a constant in all these films. Kattu is based on a short story from Padmarajan (Name is related to Queen Bee) and is penned by his son. When the trailer of the film came out everyone pointed out similarity between Thakara and the character played by Asif Ali. After watching the film I don't think the comparison holds.

Unlike the very cheap looking Eee Adutha Kalathu, Kattu is technically great and sumptuous to look at. Malayalam films are getting better and better on these things. With a running time of more than 150 minutes, one wishes they put as much care in storytelling and get a tight cut without much flab. God knows why the directors still feel the need to have one or two songs which don't move the story forward. Caste is the center of topic during the opening scene which is set in a Tamil Nadu village. But that is not explored further. Murali Gopy has finally confirmed which side of the fence he sits with Tiyaan and it is the 'Sophisticated Hindutva' side. That doesn't get much play in this film but if you do a subtle reading of it, it is basically a Christian character playing divide and rule over the Hindu and Muslim characters. How British of them!

The first half of the film is the shorter of the two and goes along quite smoothly. Second half is a bit dragged out and it becomes quite predictable. Still several characters are etched out pretty well even though all of them are male. It is paced deliberately in a leisurely manner. It is basically a character and lifestyle study and one of the better ones from Malayalam among the ones that are set in period. It is a genre which is very hard to get right within the budgetary constraints of Malayalam cinema and Kattu, despite its flaws, is a worthy effort.

Rating: 2.75/5

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Solo (2017)

Director: Bejoy Nambiar
Writer: Bejoy Nambiar, Dhanya Suresh
DOP: Girish Gangadharan, Madhu Neelakandan, Sejal Shah
Cast: Dulquer Salman, Sai Dhansika, Neha Sharma, Anson Paul
Language: Malayalam, Tamil

Solo is an anthology film of four shorts all directed by Bejoy Nambiar and all staring Dulquer Salman. Four of the characters he plays are named after four names of Lord Shiva and each story starts off with a very cool graphic portrait of Shiva representing four of the five elements- water, air, fire and earth.  All four stories span over four years and thus incorporating the fifth element- time.

'Kerala Cafe', which came during the early part of Malayalam new wave, was an anthology film which earned rave reviews but wasn't a success at the box office. 'Anju Sundarikal' was another one that came out and both these had different directors doing each of the shorts. They've not been a success at box office and like most anthologies, some of the stories work very well and some are a miss. Since each shorts are smaller in length, it can tide over the ones which don't work. Each shorts in Solo are in excess of forty minutes and that puts a great amount of risk if any of the stories don't work out for its audience.

Coming to the individual stories, I thought the first two were quite alright without being impressive (Shekhar, Trilok) while the third one (Shiva) surprisingly enough was the crappiest while it had the best teaser and background score. At this point,I was quite underwhelmed by the whole experience but the last one, Rudra, redeemed it for me as it doesn't take itself too seriously unlike the other three. A common thread running through each story are the minor twists. First two are very guessable as enough hints are given while the third short is so bad that I wasn't even bothering about it. The last one had the most audacious one which has garnered such a backlash from audience to the point that the makers have tweaked it to remove the twist altogether. Glad that I saw it first day itself before the sissy bunch had its say. It is not like something like that have never been tried before in Malayalam cinema. Jaagratha comes to mind.

I'm not well-versed with the tenets of Hindu religion to catch nuances that could be possibly there. The four stories are about love, revenge, death and fuck knows what, in that order. As far as I know, Shiva was the local God here before the Aryans came here with their Vedic shindig. There was this Vishnu Vs Shiva conflict among the followers before Shiva was also coopted to the Vedic story. Anyway, the film had a very savarna Brahmanic slant to things when you consider the three weddings in it and also the fight scene. Don't know if it is a conscious decision from the director or to do with the fact that he is sort of an outsider to Malayalam despite being a Malayalee.

Overall it is a decent enough watch with the expected level of technical excellence and solid background score. First weekend collection should be enough for it to break even and that is quite something for such an experimental undertaking.

Rating: 3/5 (On the basis of original Rudra climax)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

American Made (2017)

Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Gary Spinelli
DOP: Cesar Charlone
Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

A pilot ends up working for the CIA initially as an aerial recon photographer and later as a delivery boy of weapons. He also gets mixed up in the drug business also as a deliverer using his planes for the Medellin cartel. It is a biographical adaptation of the adventures of Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot.

Film can be seen as a companion piece to Jeremy Renner starrer 'Kill the Messenger', where he played the role of a journalist who discovers that CIA is involved in a drug racket to fund the contra rebels in Nicaragua. It was a more serious film while Doug Liman goes for comedy in this one and it works very well. His last outing with Tom Cruise was 'Edge of Tomorrow' which mixed action with humour and had its lead in a  self-deprecating role. A sequel is expected to be announced with the same team.

Barry Seal was around 40 when the events shown in the film starts and they could have had Tom Cruise in an aged appearance. He looks really weird with all the plastics, just like Mammooty is these days. Domhnall Gleeson, who was great in Ex-Machina, gets a meaty role. Apart from him and Barry's wife, the only other interesting characters we meet are the brief appearances by the cartel members including Pablo Escobar. Tom Cruise is still able to carry the film through in a slightly 'Wolf of Wall Street' manner, but without breaking the fourth wall blatantly. It is a good watch overall.

Doug Liman had a brilliant start to his career with films like Swingers, Go and culminating with Bourne Identity. Then he went a bit shit with the likes of Mr & Mrs Smith. He is now back in form and his next one, Chaos Walking, looks very interesting with the likes of Charlie Kaufman involved.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, September 30, 2017

തരംഗം (Tharangam: The Curious Case of Kallan Pavithran) (2017)

Director: Dominic Arun
Writers: Dominic Arun, Anil Narayanan
DOP: Deepak D Menon
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Balu Varghese, Neha Iyer, Santhy Balachandran
Language: Malayalam

Tovino and Balu Varghese plays the role of two traffic cops who gets suspended after their goof up in an unofficial operation. Tovino is living in with his girlfriend and is a slacker selfish kind of person who is in debt. They now take up another private detective operation which gets them into all sorts of situations meeting some 'interesting' characters.

The debut director's short film, which was in black and white, was heavily stylised and one would expect something similar. Especially so, when you see the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, Robert Rodriguez, Guy Ritchie thanked among many others, in a list too long to read during opening credits. Surprisingly enough, it is the style that the film lacks and you just end up with a comedy of errors kind of storyline. Films of Edgar Wright and Guy Ritchie are characterized by their editing flourishes and very interesting transitions and we got something similar in Double Barrel, which bombed heavily at the box office. Maybe that experience have scarred all aspiring filmmakers from trying something as audacious style wise. Not to say that Tharangam is devoid of any as there are a few interesting things thrown around but not nearly enough for the genre that it is going for. It has enough laughs to be interesting enough for a kind audience. It is the sort of film that normal Malayalee audience won't have enough patience in a theatre watch but might enjoy when they try it on small screen with lowered expectations. Other films that could be compared with are Kili Poyi and Neram. Kili Poyi was attempted in the early days of new-gen wave and deserved appreciation then. We've come a long way since then and experimental films have kind of become the norm now.

Performance wise it is a good one overall and the combination of Tovino-Balu-Santhy works very well. But there is a one-noteness in Tovino's performance as he seems to be always on the edge. His character situation is such but some variation and subtlety could be brought. First half of the film goes on a fair clip but things get quite strained in the second half. Film ends with a very chaotic (not in a good way) kind of ending which was a characteristic of late 80s Priyadarshan films, another director that was thanked during the opening credits. Overall it is a compromise film between Priyadarshan and Guy Ritchie inspirations and ends up neither here nor there.

PS: Rock n Rolla train track chase scene idea is replicated here.

Rating: 2.75/5

Sunday, September 24, 2017

പറവ (Parava) (2017)

Director: Soubin Shahir
Writers: Muneer Ali, Soubin Shahir
DOP: Littil Swayamp
Cast: Amal Shah, Govind Pai, Shane Nigam, Dulquer Salman
Language: Mattanchery Malayalam

Soubin Shahir is making his directorial debut with this tale of Dove raising kids from Mattanchery. They have a dove flying competition in mind in which the objective is to get the birds to fly for the longest time before they get back to the terrace where they are reared. Over the course of the film we're introduced to three generations of male characters with the other two being one of the kids' elder brother and their gang of friends and rivals and the third being the generation of their fathers who all have now settled down earning bread for their families.

The film is at its best when we are following the story of the kids which is captured in all its raw magnificence. Obvious comparison would be with Guppy which was slightly less feel-good in its portrayal and also had a much more credible and subtle conflict between the generations. Soubin manages to give an authentic feel to everything and it apparently took very long to shoot the film probably because of all the dove scenes. There is even a dove sex scene which was missed by the sanskaari censors. They were probably expecting mating using tears. We're induced to the story of elder brother and their gang towards the interval point and we get Dulquer Salman in Charlie MK II role.

Malayalam films quite often portray Muslim characters in a very cartoonish manner and there were these obnoxious scenes from Charlie and Ustad Hotel where little girls are shown in full black burqas as if it is a cute phenomenon. Parava does its Muslim characters full justice by showing their vulnerabilities instead of extreme piousness. There is one 'blink it you miss scene' where a somewhat insignificant character from film is feeling visibly proud when he sees Hashim Amla getting a century on TV. Detailing is quite in vogue in Malayalam cinema ever since Maheshinte Prathikaaram.

Parava is around 150 minutes long and am usually sceptical when films go that long. But you never feel any lag whole way through it. Still you are left with feeling that they didn't properly mesh it together and some of the scenes don't make much sense. Kids are introduced to the villains in a very convenient manner and that acts as a segue to the flashback scenes. Dulquer Salman can only be introduced with him hitting a six in the last over. But what follows make fuck all sense because he is seen getting himself deliberately run out to give strike to Shane Nigam, who apparently is the star batsman. Even some of the climax scenes make not much sense as the kids go from heartbreak to elation and then again to heartbreak for no obvious reason. I wish they had given even more prominence to the kids storyline and leave us giving only hints about the other storyline involving Dulquer Salman and Shane Nigam. Overall, Parava is a good watch with great technical excellence and casting choices but could have been even better with some prudent editing and writing choices.

Rating: 3.25/5

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Raw (2016)

Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
DOP: Ruben Impens
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Laurent Lucas
Language: French

When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.

Both of her parents had studied in the same vet school and her elder sister is currently studying there. She is considered as a potentially brilliant student and like all 'studious' ones is somewhat an outsider. She is forced to eat rabbit's liver in its raw form during one of the hazing rituals and surprisingly enough, she digs it, even though she got an allergic reaction to it at first. A scissor related accident causes one of her sister's fingers to come off and she ends up eating it. Now, she is like a dog that tasted human flesh and can't help herself from having more. She then proceeds to learn that her sister had also undergone the same transformation in the college and it runs in the family.

This is the third film related to food habits that I've seen recently with Okja and The Bad Batch being the other two. It is basically a coming of age story with some sibling relationship as something which eats each other metaphor thrown in, in a literal manner. It is extremely visceral and stylishly shot with great use of pop music. We see the film from the point of view of the cannibal who turns into so with the trigger being the hazing related rituals. It is such a taboo subject in our society and it is rare to have a film that takes 'in their shoes' take on it. Even in Amirpour's 'The Bad Batch' it was approached as big bad 'they'. The ending of the film is necessary though it creates a few logical loopholes.

Body-horror is a sub-genre that is synonymous with the name David Cronnenberg. Even the ones that claim to belong to this genre these days concentrate more on horror/psychological aspects of it rather than treat them as a drama of sorts. Raw can certainly be categorised as a body-horror film in the Cronnenberg mould. It is a very good watch if you can stomach it, no pun intended. It did cause some faintings when it was screened at Toronto film festival. I do have to say that many of the cringy parts of it are the kind you watch half laughingly. It is titled as 'Grave' for its original France release.

Rating: 3.75/5

Monday, September 4, 2017

It Comes at Night (2017)

Director: Trey Edwards Shults
Writer: Trey Edwards Shults
DOP: Drew Daniels
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.

The film is very light on exposition and it takes a good half an hour or so for us the audience to figure out what exactly is going on. The protagonists themselves don't exactly know what really happened and how many people might have survived. Their house is secluded and in the woods and film begins with them deciding to kill the grandfather who is infected. Trust is always an issue. The film really got some hype due to its poster, trailer and the rave reviews it generated from the critics. The audience had a mixed reaction to it because its marketing was quite misleading as it is in fact a psychological thriller orather than horror. The sequences that they used in the trailer were largely from the nightmares that the teenager is having and the director does not hide that they are so in the film. He intentionally opens up different possibilities and none of them are resolved. It ends up as another one of those 'What fucked up things humans are capable of doing when they are desperate' films and my reaction to it was 'meh'. It is well made and all that but I really don't get all the hype. I hadn't even seen the trailer or posters to be actually misled by it. Had to be said though that the initial scenes do build up tension really well.

One film I was reminded of was the excellent 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' even though the premise is very different. Maybe it is the secluded cabin in the woods kind of settings. Joel Edgerton was excellent in 'Black Mass' and he is the same in 'It Comes at Night', a title which don't need to be changed for its porn remake. In fact the entire cast is great.  When the new family comes in there is a power dynamics at play between the two family heads and the hormonal teenager is also affected by the young wife. Like all things in the film, the director does not expand further on it. He supposedly stated that he wanted the audience to be as confused as the protagonists are and that can work really well on many occasions. Great performances, aspect ratio gimmicks and all that aside, but it didn't do it for me here. Checkout Xavier Dolan's 'Mommy' for some great use of aspect ratio as a storytelling device.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Adam Joan (2017)

Director: Jinu V. Abraham
Writer: Jinu V. Abhraham
DOP: Jithu Damodhar
Cast: Prithviraj, Bhavana, Narein
Language: Malayalam

The film is centred around a Malayalee family settled in Scotland and the kidnapping of a child and associated murder that happens. There is some visible strains in the relationship between the family members which adds to the intrigue regarding the motive of the kidnapping.

The film's teaser raised eyebrows because of its exquisite Scottish settings and technical excellence. After watching the film I can conclude that there isn't much in the film apart from that. Like almost all recent films from Prithviraj, apart from Ezra, it is close to three hours long and it seems that he is smitten by the word 'epic'. When you make films that are nearly three hours long one should ensure that there are enough things in it to sustain audience's interest. This film sadly manages to lose its audience after the motive is revealed sometime after the interval point. Ezra was one film that you can appreciate purely for its technical excellence and novel Jewish settings even though it touches many of the clichés from horror genre in a self-aware manner. One thing going for it was the comparatively short running time which don't give you too much time to think. The Jewish baggage from that film is carried over to this making you wonder about the fate of 'Lucifer', which is slated to be 'officially' Prithviraj's directorial debut. He should really be hiring a good editor. Another thing is that one shouldn't reveal/explain too much about these kind of mysterious shit because audience will then start applying logic to things. The ambiguous nature of Mohanlal's character from Koothara was what made it work really well for me and I do hope Lucifer is in that vein.

It is certainly good to see such kind of technical excellence in Malayalam cinema and looks like the budget was put to good use. Maybe that also made them reluctant to cut things on the editing floor. Prithviraj is in his usual 'epic drama' mode of acting with perfect lines and calculated delivery. It seems that he is too invested on the technical side of things to be mindful of the repetitive nature of his performances these days. Adam Joan ends up as a very well-packaged turd of a film.

PS: They should really approach Scottish Tourism to see if they can get some subsidy.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, September 1, 2017

ഞണ്ടുകളുടെ നാട്ടിൽ ഒരിടവേള (Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela) (2017)

Director: Althaf Salim
Writers: Althaf Salim, George Kora
DOP: Mukesh Muraleedharan
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Shanthi Krishna, Lal
Language: Malayalam

Kurien (Nivin Pauly) is in England and his rich Christain family (NRI moneyed) is in Kochi. His mother suspects that she has breast cancer and asks Kurien to come back without telling him the reason why. He thinks they have arranged a marriage for him and happily returns. First half of film largely deals with their parents having trouble telling the kids the big bad news. How they face it in their own quirky ways is the second half.

Film can be classed in the genre of 'Cancer Comedy' which has been there in Hollywood for sometime with '50/50' being one of the finest in the genre. In Malayalam, the usual norm is to have tear-jerkers when it comes to dealing with life-threatening illnesses. So it is refreshing to see a film dealing with the disease in a comedic fashion and doing so quite blatantly. I was quite put-off by its posters and teasers since everything looked too polish. The film does not go too far in that regard in terms of its settings mostly as their house has an old school mosaic flooring, which is a sign of poshness from early 90s. Polishness is there though in terms of interactions between the characters since no-one ever gets angry in the film. One can forgive them for that because it anyway wears its feel-good factor on its sleeves. It is better anyway to not add too many complexities and fail.

Many had commented that Nivin had put on some weight when the teasers came for the film. They address that in the film in a self-aware manner making you doubt whether it was intentional. Humour in the film works really well for most parts and Nivin is back in his safe-zone after two misses in the form of 'Action Hero Biju' and 'Sakhavu' preceeding it. Another film I was reminded of was 'Anuraga Karikkinvellam' and one reason for that is the way the camera is handled. The way the relationships between the family members are shown was better in AKV but this one does not have any glaring weak portions to turn a certain section of audience off. Looks like a certain blockbuster for Nivin, who is also the producer of the film.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (1988)

Director: George Sluizer
Writers: George Sluizer, Tim Krabbé
DOP: Toni Kuhn
Cast: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege
Language: Dutch, French

Rex and Saskia, a young Dutch couple in love, are on vacation in France. They stop at a busy service station and Saskia is abducted. After three years and no sign of Saskia, Rex begins recieving letters from the abductor.

The film is told from the perspective of both the victim (Rex) and the abductor, who is a self-confessed sociopath. Unlike the usual portrayal in serial killer films, Raymond (abductor) is a middle class chemistry teacher leading a normal life with his family. He is not super-intelligent but a perfectionist of sorts. You see him constantly practising and refining his methods and even practises some moves on his daughter. He is surprised to see new missing posters put up by Rex three years after the incident and decides to confront him and exploit his curiosity. We learn from their interactions that Raymond's antics are not serial in nature but a one-off abduction. He had once saved a young girl from dying and feels that he can kill one for that heroic act.

One of the striking things about the film is its editing as it is pretty much revealed early on itself who the abductor is. Both of their stories are interspersed and the suspense is regarding the fate of the victim. The last act of the film is pretty terrifying and Stanley Kubrick had called it one of the most terrifying films he has ever seen. What makes it effective is the randomness of selection and you will put yourself in place of the victim. Raymond is claustrophobic and he has something similar in sort for his victim. One film I was reminded of was Michael Haneke's Funny Games which was like a sick spoof of the horror genre. Vanishing does break several genre conventions and has plenty of uneasy light-hearted moments.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Night Moves (1975)

Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: Alan Sharp
DOP: Bruce Surtees
Cast: Gene Hackman, Susan Clark, Jennifer Warren, Melanie Griffith

Harry Moseby is a private detective who is called in to trace the whereabouts of the step-daughter of an ageing actress whose media mogul husband is her only source of work.

The neo-noir films from the 70s are characterised by vulnerable detectives unlike the more cleverer and macho ones from the 40s. Chinatown is the most famous one from 70s even though I hold Robert Altman's 'The Long Goodbye' as the best. Night Moves is another one in similar vein with Gene Hackman's Moseby being a good detective but always being a bit late and one-step behind the crimes that happen in the film. He laments that things just fell into place for him rather than him working out things cleverly. Can't really fault him though because at the end of it you realize that the plot is too convoluted with too many convenient coincidences. That didn't really dilute the quality of film as it is more focused on the characters rather than the plot.

Moseby is also facing some difficulties in his marriage with his wife being unhappy about the nature of his work. At the beginning of the film, she and her gay friend invites him to watch Eric Rohmer's 'My night at Maud's' and he declines it by stating that watching Rohmer films is like watching paint dry. Later that night he discovers that his wife is having an affair. When he travels to Florida, as part of the case, a similar opportunity like in Maud's is presented to him. Despite the convoluted nature of the plot, it is a great watch with great performances. It also has got a unique visual sense with the grainy LA Florida colour tone. The film's title comes from the Knight Moves in chess but spelled differently. In psychiatric terms Knight's Move thinking is referred to something like Schizophrenia.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Swimmer (1968)

Directors: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack
Writers: Eleanor Perry, John Cheever
DOP: David L. Quaid
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule

Neddy Merrill (Burt Lancaster) has been away for most of the summer. He reappears at a friend's pool. As they talk, someone notices that there are pols spanning the entire valley. He decides to jog from one pool to another to swim across the whole valley and to reach his home. As he stops in each of the pools, his interactions with the pool owners tells his life story for us.

The place where we see him first dive into is quite far from his home and down in the valley. The familiarity and the fondness displayed by his hosts is a bit misleading as we know later that farther he is from his home, the less they know about him. As he gets closer and closer to his home, the nature of interactions he has with the hosts turn more and more hostile as we learn more things about his life. He seems to be oblivious about his past and paints a rosy picture while his hosts starts confronting him with things. After a lot of struggle and pain, when he finally reaches his home, what we find out is not a twist for us, the audience, but is for him.

The film is an adaptation of John Cheever's short story with the same name which was published in The New Yorker magazine. You do feel that the translation from paper to screen is not entirely convincing and the film had its own production difficulties. Frank Perry was fired after the first cut was screened and Sydney Pollack was hired to salvage the project. He re-shot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule's character with whom the swimmer had an affair. It is a very good and different watch but is not the classic one would expect. There is a French and  Eric Rohmer vibe to it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thrissivaperoor Kliptham (ത്രിശ്ശിവപേരൂർ ക്ലിപ്തം) (2017)

Director: Ratheish Kumar
Writer: P S Rafeeque
DOP: Swaroop Philip
Cast: Asif Ali, Chemban Vinodh, Baburaj, Aparna Balamurali
Language: Malayalam

The film revolves around two groups of friends from Thrissur who are carrying a grudge from their schooldays and Asif Ali plays an outsider character who gets involved with the group led by Chemban Vinodh.

It is another one of those films from Thrissur with the highly recognizable slang of theirs. It begins with an introduction to the place and states the fact that it is a place full of rounds and you can't leave there without doing a full round. One of my life's ambition is to get to Ernakulam route when traveling from Calicut route without having to go to Mannuthy. Signboards are such that you will get confused and will end up in Mannuthy, which is in Palakkad route.

This is a film that I ended up watching purely based on the strength of its trailer and poster design.  It suggested a level of technical quality which it delivers. The casting of younger actors as school version of its characters looked quite solid in terms of how similar they looked. The film is largely in the skit mode of comedy which are all individually quite well done. But the weak point of the film is the flimsy way in which they are connected. It does take pot shots at moral policing in the Kerala society but not in a consistent manner. The whole serious plotline involving Aparna Balamurali's character could have been entirely avoided as it jarred with the exaggerated humour from rest of the film. One feels like the director threw it in to have the mandatory social message thingy. The ending of the film is shambolic where he throws in the mandatory twist as well. Overall it has a good first half, underwhelming second and an exasperating ending. One-time watch.

Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Midnight Special (2016)

Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
DOP: Adam Stone
Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child's special powers.

It is not really a good idea to read the above synopsis as the best bits of the film is when there is a lot of mystery about what exactly is going on. This is sustained quite till the last act of the film and some might rile about the ending which can elicit some 'Is that it?' kind of reaction. Things are not resolved and I didn't have any problem with that. One can draw some parallels between the reactions that Jesus would have got from the Bible story and truth to be told it is a very unconvincing story. Son of God came down to Earth, did some magic stuff, got some followers, died, and went back to heaven. The religion which got spawned out of it added some fillers like 'He died for our sins' which makes fuck all sense to me since there is supposed to be a second coming where people will be judged again and stuff. The point is that if you read the new testament (not that I have), things are quite unresolved and this film is also like that. Jeff Nichols might have been intentionally going for that.

It is a very good watch overall with a great cast. Good to see Michael Shannon in a slightly less intense role than usual. Special effects in the film are quite well done and the some of the architecture at the end is quite stunning. 'Take Shelter' is Jeff Nichols best film so far. 'Mud' was one of the earlier films from the so called 'McConaissance' and I would rank Midnight Special slightly above that.That is a reminder for me to re-watch 'Killer Joe'.

Rating: 3.5/5  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater
DOP: Shane F. Kelly
Cast: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Zoey Deutch

In 1980, a group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood. It takes over the course of 3-4 days leading up to the opening of college year with a group of freshmen joining their seniors from the baseball team as they occupy an independent apartment instead of the usual central dorms.

The film is considered to be a spiritual sequel to Linklater's breakout film 'Dazed & Confused' which was set on the last day of high-school in 1976. He had this story in mind back then itself but got financing to make it only now, possibly on the back of the success of Boyhood. Boyhood also ends with a guy getting into the college and that also is sort of a continuity coming to this film. Linklater's characters are generally very talky and the subject of much of the talk can be existential. This is something that you don't expect in a film with baseball jocks as its characters. I was slightly put off by it initially as it all seemed a bit too scripted and had turned it off after about 20 minutes a month back. Gave it a try yesterday and the film was indeed pretty great. Things that put me off like the philosophic nature of some of the conversations and what seemed to be the presence of token black guy in the group could be argued against by the fact that Linklater was himself a baseball player for his college team and the protagonist character is a version of him. It is conceivable that he indeed had these sort of conversations with his team mates and he might have had only one black teammate.

There is not much of a plot to speak of, which should never be a complaint when you are watching Linklater films, and there is not even a character arc or coming of age aspect to it. They are just moving from one party to another and in between we see them playing all sorts of games which most of them take very competitively. Some of them are at the same time very self-aware and not. You have one of the characters looking at normal students and commenting that they will go on to have a very average life with regular jobs while they all will have very interesting lives to look forward to as if all of them are going to make it as baseball players. It is a meandering watch and enjoyably so. It is always a good when you don't want the film to end. Performances are all good and the soundtrack is great.  It is a must watch for Linklater fans.

Rating: 4/5

The Warriors (1979)

Director: Walter Hill
Writers: Sol Yurick, David Shaber, Walter Hill
DOP: Andrew Laszlo
Cast: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright

In the near future, a charismatic leader summons the street gangs of New York City in a bid to to take it over. When he is killed, The Warriors, one of the gangs, are falsely blamed and now must fight their way home while every other gang is hunting them down.

The film came at a time when crimes and gang related violence were a problem in NYC. There is this narrative that the city solved it using the broken windows policing method and the counter-narrative to it is that the reduction was correlated to the legalization of abortion whose effect came 'teenage' and some more years down the lane. Walter Hill's adaptation of Sol Yurick's 1965 novel with the same name drew the ire of the critics when it came out mainly because it was neutral about the gangs it depicted. There was also some violence during the first days of its screening as many gang members were turning up to watch the film. Things would naturally take a violent turn when they spot their rivals during the screening.

Like 'The Driver', the story is very simple and it has a very stripped down quality to it. It has a very video game feel to it as well and it is no surprise that it has spawned video games since its release after achieving the cult status. I was pleasantly surprised to see the comic book transitions used in the film and it turns out Walter Hill couldn't include it during the theatrical run as there was no time during post-production. It was included in the Director's Cut which came out in 2005. It is very stylish in its choreography and the lady RJ reminded me of Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction. The stunts do look a bit comical now though. It is a great watch overall without being as good as the driver.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mississippi Grind (2015)

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Writers: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
DOP: Andrij Parekh
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller

Down on his luck and facing financial hardship, Gerry (Mendelsohn) teams up with younger charismatic poker player, Curtis (Reynolds), in an attempt to change his luck. The two set off on a road trip through the south with visions of winning back what's been lost.

The film is from the makers of Ryan Gosling's breakout film 'Half Nelson', for which he got an Oscar nomination, and the tone of this film is also similar. The addiction in the film is related to gambling instead of drugs. It is not the glitzy kind of casinos that they visit as they are fairly low-key and the people they meet are everyday Americans. Stylistically the film is very 70s and Bendelsohn does remind one of Dustin Hoffman from those days in terms of both appearance and performance. The tone of the film is closer to 'The Gambler' (1974) rather than 'The Rounders', in which Matt Damon did another one of his reluctant genius kind of roles. The film mostly progresses as Gerry's story but the mysterious nature of Curtis character is also peeled away over the course of the film. The question of whether Gerry is chasing money or trying to get his addiction fix is the prime motif and the film ends leaving it hanging. We really will for it to end well for him but the you feel he is gonna squander it anyway subsequently.

The film was made on a very low budget which is keeping with its aesthetics. It is a very good watch with good performances all round. It is supposed to be a loose remake of Robert Altman's 'California Split' which I haven't seen. That reminds me of 'Nashville' which has been there on my to watch list for a long time.

Rating: 3.25/5  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
DOP: Hoyte van Hoytema
Cast: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh

Film follows the events in French port Dunkirk where allied soldiers are surrounded by the German army and attacked from the air by the Luftwaffe during second world war.  If you have a cursory knowledge of second world war, you will know how it ended with many of the troops rescued and that is not really a spoiler.

The last film that I liked from Nolan was Inception and that was a long time ago. He is someone whose speciality is in having convoluted narrative techniques. Building interesting characters have never really been his forte. In his last film, Interstellar, he tried to make it about characters and it miserably failed (Murphhhhhh!). In Dunkirk, he is playing to his strengths by not trying to establish many/any characters and we are straight away put into their situations and follow from there. There is also his trademark narrative flourishes and that is essential for the storytelling as well. From the beginning itself three timeliness are introduced: first one from Dunkirk beach one week ago, second one from a civilian yacht called up for action from one day ago and the third one with three fighter pilots defending the rescue mission from one hour ago. We jump from these timeliness throughout the film and they converge at its climax very effectively. Filmmaker trusts his audience to make note of it and those who don't can still enjoy it as a minor twist.

It would've been easier for him to have us
invest too much into the characters and leave us hanging, wondering about their fate. But this is purely about the war situation they are in and it is glorious. It is a no-nonsense treatment like it was for Mad Max: Fury Road. Some might complain about the lack of blood and flying limbs  (PG-13), unlike Saving Private Ryan, but it anyway manages to convey the danger and fear without any of that (Hans Zimmer, bro). As for Saving Private Ryan, what good is all the violence in first thirty minutes if you are following up that with a sappy feel-good story. The color tone and the cinematography feel is similar to how it was for in Interstellar during that sea and tidal tsunami scene. It was also very refreshing to see realistic looking firing and explosions, especially during the dogfights.

Overall it is a stunning watch and do see it at the widest screen near you with the best sound system. Some British critics have called it Nolan's best film till date and I wouldn't go that far. He still tries to shoehorn some character arc resolutions and clichéd tension building scenes which were not really necessary. At one hour forty five minutes, there isn't any flab to it and it is a shame that intervals are mandatory in Indian cinema theatres. I'll certainly be trying to catch it again at the cinemas.

PS: Waiting for Tom Hardy in Nazi PoW camp sequel directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Rating: 4.75/5

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Colossal (2016)

Director: Nacho Vigalando
Writer: Nacho Vigalando
DOP: Eric Kress
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell

Gloria is an out-of-work party girl forced to leave her life in New York City, move back home in a small town. When reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, she gradually comes to the realization that she is somehow connected to this phenomenon.

Nacho Vigalando was the director of Spanish time-travel film 'Timecrimes' which was excellent. The tone of Colossal is totally different from the intense thriller nature of timcrimes and is more of a comedy film. The central premise of the film sounds very preposterous and it is quite commendable that they manage to sustain it without losing the audience almost till the end. I say almost because it does kind of loses you towards the end but is still a very fun watch. There is this big allegory it is trying to make with her addiction and how that might be having unintended consequences in a very unsubtle manner. The weak point of the film is obviously in the portrayal of her addiction which I think came out more as cute rather than self-destructing. I won't blame Anne Hathaway for that because those are decisions made by the director. She was good in her role as was Jason Sudeikis in a role against his type. His motivation remains somewhat unclear throughout and we are not sure whether it is plain jealousy, spurned love or a combination of both.

It is surprising that it didn't do that well in box-office grossing around four million on its 15 million budget. It is much better than many of the comedy films and monster films out there. Only other ones I can think of in this genre are 'The World's End' and 'Attack the Block', both of which came out from the same school. Colossal also works as a spoof. It is much better to watch it without knowing many things about it.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, July 17, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
DOP: Michael Seresin
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson

After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Ceaser wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.

It is the third installment of the Apes franchise with the first one exploring the origins story and second one showing the ascendancy of apes over humans. Quite naturally one would expect that the third one will have the apes establishing full control over the planet but nope, they had to do a filler one to stretch out the franchise. You have Ceaser still struggling having to take his tribe to the promised land while battling a renegade colonel in 'Ape-ocalypse Now'. Rise was a film that I liked, especially the latter half of it, while Dawn was really great, getting my hopes up for this one. I was incredibly disappointed and bored by it and am bemused by the universal praise it is getting from everywhere. It is such a shit film with glaring plot-holes and overall blandness that I was thinking of quitting on it thirty minutes into it. The fact that I was sitting there with a fucking 3-D glass, which constantly gives me headaches, also contributing to it. I was not actually planning to watch it on 3-D but that is the only way you can watch it at the cinemas in third world countries like India because studios and cinemas think we are neanderthals who gets enamored by gimmicks.  3-D and superhero franchises are the worst things to have happened to Hollywood. Fuck you, James Cameron!!!

My biggest problem with this film is that it doesn't take the story forward enough. The expectations from studio films are so low these days that mediocre ones like this one gets highly praised. The special effects and the apes are very convincing and you don't feel all the CGIing. Snowy setting is also very effective as I was longing for the desert that they were talking about pretty quickly. Matt Reeves had also directed the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and this is very much like Spectre, Sam Mendes' disappointing followup to Skyfall.

Rating: 1.5/5 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Driver (1978)

Director: Walter Hill
Writer: Walter Hill
DOP: Philip H. Lathrop
Cast: Ryan O'Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani

The Driver (Ryan O'Neal) is a getaway driver and the best in the business. A detective (Bruce Dern) is hellbent on nabbing him and lays a trap in the form of a bank job.

None of the characters in the film have any names and there is minimal dialog. It was supposedly inspired by Melville's Le Samourai and went on to inspire films like 'The Drive' which is in fact a mix of many films including William Friedkin's 'To Live and Die in LA'. The Driver is very stripped down with a basic plot like many great crime films like Michael Mann's 'Thief'. The more stripped down they are the, better they stand the test of times. This film was in fact a disaster both commercially and critically when it came out. The protagonist, in what is a genre cliché, is reluctant to commit to the projects he is getting into and there is this one last job before retirement routine going on. It will be interesting if someone goes against this routine by having the getaway driver be very loud and gleeful about getting a project.

I haven't seen Bullitt yet and not enjoying Peckinpah's The Getaway is one of the reason why. It is on the to watch list along with Varnishing Point after these films getting mentioned a lot in the lead up to Baby Driver. Coming back to The Driver, it is Bruce Dern who steals the acting bits while Ryan O'Neal is quite fittingly indifferent to things. Many of the things that you see in the film will seem like clichés now but they must have been quite novel when they came out. I haven't seen any of the other films from Walter Hill and Warriors do get mentioned a lot from his filmography.

Rating: 4.5/5

Okja (2017)

Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writers: Joon-ho Bong, Jon Ronson
DOP: Darius Khondji
Cast: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal
Language: English, Korean

The film begins with the launch of a super pig competition by the multinational food company 'Miranda Corporation' led by Tilda Swinton. Competition involves sending out 26 super baby pigs to different parts of the world and judging them after ten years. One of those pigs is Okja, raised in Korean mountains by Mija. Film follows the story ten years later as the company is trying to take away Okja back to United States for its competition's finale.

Director's previous English language film 'Snowpiercer' was a surprise hit where Tilda Swinton played a very hammy character. She continues in the same mould in this one as well and there is Jake Gyllenhaal giving her company by taking it to 11. Film takes a while to get going as there is a thirty minutes or so of setup to show the relationship between Okja and Mija. The CGIed super pig is convincing. Things starts get going when Mija reaches Seoul after the company takes her pig away. We are also introduced to the hilarious animal rights activists led by Paul Dano's character. The film takes several tonal shifts throughout  and quite successfully. Comedy in it works very well and the ending portion of the film could come off as Vegan propaganda. I wouldn't strictly call it that as it is more about the practices of Monsanto like companies rather than being a Vegan advocacy film. For many people, animal rights begin and ends with their pets. In India it is largely restricted to the rights of Cows for so-called religious/Muslim baiting reasons and of Stray dogs because some people take man's best friend title too seriously. The film also end in that vein with Mija being concerned only about her pet Okja

It is a great watch overall and I enjoyed it even more than Snowpiercer. I had recently viewed 'The Bad Batch' through the Vegetarian prism and it can be put as a counter-piece to Okja. Okja was produced and released by Netflix and it created controversy at the Cannes where it premiered. People at the Cannes have decided to not admit films that don't have a sufficient theatrical release window from next year. I think its a shame as studios are largely restricting themselves to the franchise model of shitty reboots, sequels and prequels and alternate means like Netflix are funding original films these days.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright
DOP: Bill Pope
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Lily James

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors that are active right now. He was supposed to direct Ant-Man but dropped out after differences with the studio over creative choices. His only other previous big budget film has been the excellent 'Scott Pilgrim Vs the World' which didn't do very well at the box office. Baby Driver is in fact a moderate budget film compared to that in spite of it boasting a kick-ass cast in supporting roles. When you have William Friedkin (To Live & Die in LA, French Connection, Sorcerer) waxing lyrical abut what is essentially a car stunt film, you do get excited if you were not already for it being an Edgar Wright film. The film relies on practical stunts and car chases which is always the right way to go. Lead character suffering from severe tinnitus and him having to play music from his iPod to drown it out is a good enough excuse to have a killer soundtrack to go with it.
The film has got almost universal praise and after all the hype I was slightly disappointed by it despite it still being pretty great movie experience. British critics do have a bias when it comes to projecting Brits doing very well in Hollywood. Baby Driver is in my opinion Edgar Wright's weakest effort so far and some might bring up 'World's End', but I will re watch that one before Baby Driver. One of the problems with Baby Driver is that it kinda blew its wad in the first twenty minutes itself with its best car chase scene and the excellent single shot opening credits sequence. After that the film is basically playing with our expectations mainly by having Jamie Foxx play a negative character and Jon Hamm becoming an antagonist. The humor in the film is not as good as in Wright's other films and there are some tonal inconsistencies that it cannot justify throughout. This might sound like I am too down on the film but it is just that I was expecting it to be Mad Max: Fury Road level of perfection as an action film. Baby Driver is still a great watch.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, July 8, 2017

ടിയാൻ (Tiyaan) (2017)

Director: Jiyen Krishnakumar
Writer: Murali Gopy
DOP: Satheesh Kurup
Cast: Indrajith, Prithviraj, Murali Gopy
Language: Malayalam

Film is set in a UP village, 600 KMs from Badrinath, where the house of a Malayalee vedic preacher (Indrajith) is targeted by a Godman's ashram as it is trying to expand. As more and more villagers starts siding with the Godman and threats turns physical, a mysterious Muslim man (Prithviraj) extends his support and comes in aid.

Murali Gopy's 'Ee adutha kalathu' was a film that I very much enjoyed while I couldn't stand the extremely cartoonish 'Left Right Left', which in my opinion is very much overrated. His father Bharat Gopy, a great Malayalam film actor whose career was cut short after a stroke, was known to be close to the Hindutva right wing group RSS in his later years. Murali Gopy has also been accused of soft Hindutva with EAK having a short scene where they show RSS guys in their knickers doing their morning activities and LRL being very anti-left in its politics. When this was addressed to him, he had quipped that people will change their opinion once they see Tiyaan. I beg to differ after seeing the film.

It is common for Indian films to not take a strong stand against religion and when they do want to address the problems, more often than not they use the proxy of attacking Godmen as a cop out. Amir Khan's PK was also guilty of this. The first half of Tiyaan also proceeds like this and it was quite decent enough while being very unsubtle and cartoonish like LRL. It loses its way completely in the second half with introduction of 'good' Godmen characters and miracles. None can say that they were not warned with the film having the tagline: 'When miracle meets man, epics are born'. It ends up as another retelling of the adage 'Religion is not bad but it is the charlatan followers and Godmen who gives it a bad name'. I, being an atheist, am predisposed to call bullshit on this. But the film is even more problematic as it kind of endorses the caste system and Manusmriti and even has the Muslim character achieving enlightenment after his interactions with some Hindu yogis in the Himalayas (Ghar Wapsi?). When the Yogi advises him to keep his religion as according to him, Islam is a great religion, I was really totally bewildered by the total cringe factor in all this. This film's 'Secularism' reminded me of people sharing the below photo as proof of India's secularism.

As if all the above bullshit was not enough, the film ends with a 'Karan-Arjun' moment. Technical wise, the cinematography is good with some of the non-set sequences in Haridwar and Himalayas being the highlight. I was bemused by the mass action sequences in the trailer but it is justified in the film. Prithviraj's one is a retelling by another character and so exaggeration is acceptable. Editing wise, the length becomes a problem especially in the second half and they could've avoided the elaborate clichéd backstory for Prithviraj's character and kept it mysterious. Performance wise, everyone is good and problems I had with the film is with its content. The scope of the film is ambitious and people should check it out. Sanghis and atheists will probably end up hating it but that still leaves a large target audience for it in Kerala.

Rating: 2/5

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Bad Batch (2016)

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
DOP: Lyle Vincent
Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey

Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is abandoned in Texas wasteland and is fenced off from civilization. While trying to navigate the unforgiving landscape, she is captured by a savage band of cannibals led by the mysterious Miami Man (Jason Momoa). She manages to escape from their, minus a leg and an arm, and reaches The Comfort which is kind of owned by a cult drug dealer played by Keanu Reeves.
As she adjusts to the Bad Batch, she realises that good or bad depends on who is standing next to you.

There is a line in the film delivered by Miami Man to Arlen, "You don't see the way things are but the way you are". That is also kind of applicable to how you perceive a film. It seems the film has not been received that well by the critics World over but I totally enjoyed it. Don't know whether it is because of me living through the Modi shit-storm in India where people are lynched for their food habits, I quite literally interpreted it as take on Veganism/Vegetarianism Vs Normal people's food habits. As they impose their shitty Paneer Vegetarianism on rest of the people, it is quite normal to see people claiming that if you eat meat what really stops you from eating humans down the line as if it is a natural progression.

So the film did make a lot of sense to me as I viewed Arlen's character as representation of the Vegetarian brigade who is totally appalled by the cannibalistic Miami Man gang. To be fair she is well within her rights as she was their food. After her escape from there and recovery at Keanu Reeves' place, she is quite bored and ventures out with a gun and inadvertently kidnaps Miami Man's daughter who is then kind of adopted by Keanu who has a bunch of gun trotting pregnant bodyguards. Out on the desert again after a psychedelic drug experience, she meets the Miami Man and gradually warms up to him and his cannibalistic ways. It ends up as a love story with them feeding his Spaghetti demanding daughter her pet rabbit. That was like a middle finger to the Vegans.

There was also Jim Carrey playing a hermit without any lines who guides the characters at various points. The film is much larger in scope compared to Amirpour's previous film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which was dubbed as first Iranian vampire film. The first 20 minutes of Bad Batch can totally gross you out but there is not much gore after that. Film is very stylish in its Western kind of setting and Jason Momoa is just cool riding his scooters. The soundtrack is just rad. One can accuse that it is style over substance but what is wrong with that anyway as long as it is done well.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, June 30, 2017

തൊണ്ടിമുതലും ദ്യക്സാക്ഷിയും (Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum) (2017)

Director: Dileesh Pothan
Writers: Sajeev Pazhoor, Shyam Pushkaran
DOP: Rajeev Ravi
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Nimisha Sajayan, Alancier Lay
Language: Malayalam

The title of the film translates as ' The Stolen Good and the Witness' and it revolves around a gold chain theft that happens in a KSRTC bus where the thief promptly swallows the chain. Some people had figured out this basic plot by interpreting the poster itself and it is no big spoiler that anyway as it happens in the beginning part of the film itself.

Dileesh Pothan's debut feature Maheshinte Prathikaaram was one I watched first day first show itself having not seen the trailer and was completely blown away by it. The only thing I could go by was the title of the film which made me expecting it to be a revenge thriller kind of film. This false expectation actually made me enjoy the film more as I was continuously surprised by it even as I was dreading something bad to happen. I went on to watch it three more times at the cinemas and 2-3 times on small screen as well. It was a film marked by extreme detailing and very realistic and authentic settings and surroundings. Still some of the humour in it is a bit skit like in nature and somewhat cinematic.

We've since had Angamaly Diaries which I reckon is slightly superior to Maheshinte Prathikaaram. One way to know whether the DVD of a Malayalam film is released is by the sudden influx of film's visuals in troll pages. Maheshinte Prathikaaram was heavily used and still used these days in troll pages while Angamaly Diaries hardly created a flutter there, surprisingly enough. Come to think of it, that is testament to the difference in the nature of humour in both these films.

Coming back to this film, the only thing they did as part of promotion was the release of a very short teaser and a video song. The expectations of a thriller that I had when I watched MP was met in this film with the second half working more like a social thriller. Rajeev Ravi is the DOP of the film and the second half of the film works more like his kind of films with it being a commentary on the systematic corruption in India even though it doesn't do any good for any indulging in it at lower levels. It gets pretty intense even though there is plenty of humour being thrown in intermittently. It is a much more adult film in its treatment than MP and it is best advised to see it without any preconceived notions like the director himself has been stressing during his interviews.

When the project was initially conceived Fahadh was supposed to play the husband and Soubin Shahir the thief. When the latter dropped out Fahadh took the role of thief and Suraj came in as the husband. Casting is pretty much spot on but you do see the hangover from Action Hero Biju in Suraj's portrayal. There are many newcomers portraying various roles and many real-life policemen were also cast. Overall, it is another great one from Dileesh Pothan. It might not have the same rewatchability factor going for it as it did for MP, but the sync-sound coupled with difficult Kasargode slang will certainly ensure plenty of re-viewing. Shyam Pushkaran has been given an added credit as creative director, curiously. It might not do as well as MP at box office but in terms of quality it is not that far off.

PS: When the show ended, I realised that Alancier Lay was also among the audience. His role is also pretty much as important as Fahadh's and Suraj's as the corruption angle is explored from these three perspectives.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Bigger Splash (2016)

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: David Kajganich, Alain Page
DOP: Yorick Le Saux
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson

While vacationing on a Sicilian island with her boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts), a rock star (Tilda Swinton) receives an unexpected visit from an old flame (Ralph Fiennes) and his seductive daughter (Dakota Johnson).

Tilda plays the David Bowie like rock star who can't talk now as she is recovering from a surgery.  Her current boyfriend is sort of an unsuccessful documentary filmmaker who got hitched up with her after egged on by her ex-boyfriend, Harry, who was a producer for Rolling Stones. He has a curious relationship with his new found 'daughter' and it is only natural that she is planning to get a DNA test done for confirmation. It was Tilda's recommendation to the director that she would play a largely silent character opposite to incredibly motormouth Harry. Performance-wise all four actors are on great form and Schoenaerts has been great in every film I've seen him in. His is the character that audience can mostly relate to.

I haven't seen any of the director's other films and first thing that you notice is the very interesting camera positions and movements which makes the film very stylish in spite of its laid-back Sicilian island setting, which is quite close to Tunisia. I was reminded of Matthew McConaughey starrer 'The Paperboy' and I am not entirely sure whether it was because of the visual style or because of the 'sleaze'. Another one that you will be reminded would be 'Sexy Beast' and you will know why when you see the film. The film makes some interesting turns and character choices towards the end but since it has earned enough credits over the build-up, you go with it. There is also this minor migrants topic on the sideline which gets tied up towards the end along with some sneaky snakes trying to get into their compound. A Bigger Splash is a great and unique watch and the director wants to reunite with all four actors for his next film. I will certainly be checking out rest of the films from his filmography.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, June 17, 2017

American Honey (2016)

Director: Andrea Arnold
Writer: Andrea Arnold
DOP: Robbie Ryan
Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

A teenage girl (Sasha Lane) with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and and young love as she crisscrosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.

It is one of those rare Hollywood/Indie films from which focuses on the poorer section of people from these developed countries. The characters that the protagonist/we meet in the film are the so-called white trash (Chavs in England) and since they are not really a bunch we could easily warm up to (casting Shia LaBeouf doesn't really help even though it is effective), it took a while for me to get into the film. It is almost three hours long and I finished it in three sittings. You do get interested in the film after the initial jitters but by the end it is a bit underwhelming. I don't know whether it is because of us Indians beings so used to seeing much poverty in and around us as well as in films from our part of the World, the ones from the West doesn't have the same effect unless done really well like 'The Wire' or 'I, Daniel Blake', for example. The characters in it are into selling magazines in the guise of charity and other cooked up stories and follow a very capitalistic model os rewards and punishments. When the girl is teamed up with Shia's character, who is like a trainer, she starts objecting to his methods of selling as she prefers honesty. I didn't really buy it and one of the main reason is that she doesn't look like a teenager, at the risk of coming off as a racist. The reason that she joined the crew was her attraction towards the trainer and there is considerable sexual tension involved between the two and the boss lady played very well by Riley Keough.

Overall it is a decent enough watch without being all that good for me. I enjoyed Andrea Arnold's only other film that I have watched, Fish Tank, much more. It is a film that ends up with a Lolita like situation with excellent central performances from Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender. It was a film that had a very cool blue tint while in American Honey it is warm reddish.

Rating: 2.5/5 

Monday, June 5, 2017

فروشنده‎ (The Salesman) (2016)

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
DOP: Hossein Jafarian
Cast: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
Language: Persian

While both participating in a production of "Death of a Salesman", a teacher's wife is assaulted in her new home, which leaves him determined to find the perpetrator over his wife's traumatized objections.

It is not made clear initially whether the assault was sexual in nature. They also don't have a detailed conversation about it. The husband decides not to report it to the Police as he doesn't want his wife to go through the ordeal of recounting it again and again  but becomes obsessed with finding the culprit. It is not clear, to him also, what he is going to do with him in case if he catches him. As he obsesses over it, cracks start appearing in their relationship as she is not very sure about his priorities.

The film got some publicity due to the 'Muslim' travel ban issued by Donald Trump and Asghar Farhadi making a public condemnation of it and declaring that he is not going to come to America for academy awards anyway. He had already won an Academy Award for 'A Separation', an excellent film. His follow up to it, Le Passe, was also great. It was almost as if the academy award for 'The Salesman' was a foregone conclusion due to the politics surrounding it. I got to say it pales in comparison with the other two Farhadi films that I mentioned above. It is by no means a bad film but is certainly very overrated. I am not familiar with 'Death of a Salesman' and can't comment on how well it fits in well with this film.

PS: The film got a quite wide theatrical distribution in India and our censors had the dubious distinction of further censoring an Iranian film.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Paterson (2016)

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
DOP: Frederick Elmes
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifiteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley

A quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest of details.

So basically Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson in the film Paterson which is set in Paterson, New Jersey. Whew! It is a week in his life beginning Monday and we see that he is living a mundane existence along with his wife of Iranian descent. He gets up every morning at around 6.10 AM, eats breakfast alone, walks to work and in between during his work he writes poetry in his secret notebook, eats lunch on bench facing a waterfall, gets back from work, picks mail, fixes mail-box, greeted by his wife as she tells him either that she will be in the cup-cake business or how she has ordered a guitar and plans to be a famous country-singer, takes their dog, Marvin, for a walk, have a beer at his usual place during their walk, gets back and sleep. Rinse...Repeat... One would think that this would make for a very boring film but it is anything but.

I was struggling to get some sleep at 4 AM and decided to go for it after a cup of coffee. Not really the best way to start a Jim Jarmusch film, or any film for that matter, but two hours just flew by and I was totally riveted by it. Am not really into poetry and is not the best person to judge the quality of the poems he is writing. I really didn't think much of it for what its worth. He is being encouraged by his wife to make a copy of it as a backup. The dog is like a third member of the family and is quite the villain as he is bored with his life in this home. Most of the film is Paterson listening to other people's words and conversations and you feel he is conflicted about whether he is actually a credible poet. There is one encounter with a little girl and as she reads a poem written by her, which is very obviously better than what he has managed so far, his insecurity is heightened and when she quips that it was interesting to meet a bus driver who knows about Emily Dickinson, it doesn't really help. His life is so mundane that the breakdown of his bus on a Friday is like 9/11 for him. But the film celebrates his incident free life without bells and whistles and is subtly funny throughout.

Water falls from the bright air
It falls like hair
Falling across a young girl’s shoulders
Water falls
Making pools in the asphalt
Dirty mirrors with clouds and buildings inside
It falls on the roof of my house
Falls on my mother and on my hair
Most people call it rain

It is a great watch with an excellent central performance from Adam Driver, who was also in Noah Baumbach's 'While we're young' as a pretend hipster. There is also this cameo appearance from the two leading kids from 'Moonrise Kingdom'. With 'Limits of Control, 'Only Lovers Left Alive' and 'Paterson', I think Jim Jarmusch is in the strongest phase of his career and he is aging like fine wine. His band 'SQURL' did the score for this film as well. One can say that there is a narrative resolution at the end of it after his meeting with the Japanese guy and I found the concluding poem to be good and kind of explains the film.

Rating: 4.5/5