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

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad
DOP: Dan Laustsen
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Laurence Fishburne

After returning to the criminal underworld for repaying a debt, John Wick finds that a huge bounty has been put on his life.

Film begins where the first one ended with John still recovering his dear old car. So there is this big long action set piece even before the opening credits which settles the dog and car issue from the first film. John Wick, now chapter one I guess, did a little bit of world building with the continental hotel and its rules but we were not made to go deep into it. It is those little details and great gun-fu on simple revenge story backdrop that made it a sleeper hit. Revenge aspect can't be credibly rebooted for a sequel and they have opted to explore the assassin world in detail. What brings John back from his retirement again is a very convenient plot device but we don't care. He is forced to go on a mission in Rome and everything is amped up. The film manages to continuously surprise us in a good way and has got plenty of humour to it as well. There are some spoofy  elements to it as well. There is this sequence where the villain is on the phone with Wick and he is about to explain his actions in detail and John just hangs up his phone and checks out from the Continental hotel.

John Wick: the man, the myth and the legend, is super-hero level when he does the action scenes and they get over Keanu Reeves' acting limitations by having him injury plagued and grumpy outside of these sequences. He still manages to cringe us whenever he has to deliver few lines. The action set pieces are his forte and both him and the director does a very good job in having it varied and set to some stunning backdrops. The last one in the Museum with all the reflections is supposed to be a homage to Bruce Lee's 'Enter the Dragon'.

Overall it is a great watch and as good as the first one. That said, things do get a bit preposterous in some places with it being portrayed as if a quite significant percentage of the population is in the assassin business. Which might also explain why they are quite bad at killing John Wick. They have set things up nicely for the third chapter and Laurence Fishburne storyline will be significant to it. Third one is on its way.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Free Fire (2016)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
DOP: Laurie Rose
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley

Set in Boston in 1978, meeting in an abandoned warehouse for an arms deal turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

The guys who are on the buy side is the IRA (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley etc) and the sellers consist of a South African guy (Sharlto Copley), Armie Hammer etc with Brie Larson playing the role of a middle-woman. So the country and accent differences itself quite obviously become source of much of the humor in it. People have compared it to Reservoir Dogs with both having claustrophobic settings where tempers gets frayed but unlike Reservoir Dogs, there is no back-story or flashbacks and the balance between humor and intrigue is heavily loaded in favor of the former. Free Fire was shot in sequence and they have supposedly taken great care in giving full justice to the deterioration of location due to all the firing and being true to the spatial separation between the characters. If you are pedantic enough to notice those things, I guess you will be impressed. Overall I found it to be a very good watch but you kind of loses your interest towards the end which I think was a risk that they knowingly took by not choosing to flesh out any of its characters. It will remind you of Martin McDonagh films but it is more 'Seven Psychopaths' than 'In Bruges' and the settings change to America (film was shot in Brighton mind) obviously brings down the humor quotient. You will be a little disappointed if you come into it with the high expectations of a Ben Wheatley film but it is still very good. Their next project, Freak Shift, looks very interesting.

Ben Wheatley-Amy Jump duo is not so far known for doing out and out comedies and have been very good at making films that are quite different from each other. Kill-List and A Field in England are my favorite films of theirs. Michael Smiley is a constant fixture in their films. Free-Fire is so far their most mainstream of films yet and Martin Scorsese was also on board as an executive producer. It didn't do smashingly well at box office but who cares anyway.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Elle (2016)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writers: David Birke, Philippe Djian
DOP: Stéphane Fontaine
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Laffite, Anne Consigny
Language: French

A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who had raped her.

I had recently seen Huppert in 'Things to Come' and her initial matter-of-fact reaction to the rape, which is the first scene of the film, is quite similar to how she is in Mia-Hansen Løve's film. Even though I'm familiar with Paul Verhoeven's works like 'Basic Instinct' and 'Turkish Delight', I was watching it more as a normal revenge drama. It didn't turn out to be that way and is more close to 'Piano Teacher' than '22FK'. In contrast to Piano Teacher, Isabelle Huppert's character is much more empowered in this and she had described it as a post-feminist film. I can see where she is coming from.

There are many characters in it and all of them have significant storylines in relation to the main character. We learn that the businesswoman had a very dark past and she had built her career getting over that. Even though we root for her, she is not in anyway likeable as she is quite petty and cruel to almost everyone. It is as if the rape have her even more license to be her true self.

Verhoeven pursues a Catholic church angle to one of the subplots as well, which I don't think is in the Philippe Djian's novel from which it is adapted. Verhoeven was planning to set the film in USA due to which he had hired David Birke, an American screenwriter. But they could not get it made there due to obvious reasons and decided to make it in French, his first one in this language. Huppert was the obvious choice as she had been pursuing this role even before Verhoeven got attached to it. I can't imagine any other actor playing this role and film would be very inferior without her presence. It is provocative, unpredictable and a tremendous watch, but not for everyone obviously.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Personal Shopper (2016)

Director: Oliver Assayas
Writer: Oliver Assayas
DOP: Yorick Le Saux
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz
Language: English, French

I watched this film without seeing its trailer or even reading an IMDB synopsis of it. It is best if you do the same as well. Don't read further if you are planning to watch it.

A personal shopper in Paris refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person contacts her via text message.

Kristen Stewart is one of the most interesting actors among the young ones and both her and Robert Pattinson have been in some very interesting films since their stint with the Twilight franchise ended. She should have won some awards for her role in Oliver Assayas' previous film 'Clouds of Sils Maria'. In it she played the role of an assistant to a film actress and in this film she plays the role of a personal shopper for a bitchy fashion model, whom we don't see much in the film. I am not very well versed with the horror genre and so when they talk about medium and shit like that, I am a bit clueless. She and her twin-brother are mediums and they mean in the sense that they could feel the presence of spirits and converse with them. The film takes it sweet time to reveal the details and I love this treatment as there aren't many severely expository scenes. I was totally freaked out by the first night scene itself. I think it can be best described as an arty indie kind of ghost film which ends up as a mystery thriller of sorts. There aren't many dialogues and a large portion of the film is through her phone where she is getting texts from an unknown number. It is not that hard to figure out who is texting her even though she is thinking it is a supernatural presence as she is in the look out for her brother's spirit. It is almost 100% told from the perspective of Kristen Stewart's character and she totally carries the film through.

The director chooses not to explain almost anything and we have to figure out on our own. The ending will remind you of 'Sixth Sense' even though it doesn't make much sense. There is a scene towards the end where we see a man ghost walking past in the background out of focus and many viewers would miss it. I don't know if there are other hidden Easter eggs left by the director throughout the film. Oliver Assayas won the best director award at Cannes for this film and it was booed off by the critics during its premier there, which generally means it probably is very good.

Rating: 5/5 

Monday, May 29, 2017

L'Avenir (Things to Come) (2016)

Director: Mia Hansen-Love
Writer: Mia Hansen-Love
DOP: Denis Lenoir
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Andre Marcon, Roman Kolinka
Language: French

A philosophy teacher (Isabelle Huppert) soldiers through the death of her mother, getting fired from her job, and dealing with a husband who is cheating on her.

Most of the film industries of the World can be defined by the iconic actors that they produce and French film industry must be the only one where these iconic positions are held by the female gender. Am talking about the duo of Juliette Binoche and Isabelle Huppert. Some might point out Vincent Cassel but his popularity is to do more with his work in Hollywood films rather than the French ones even though he has been in many good ones in his his native language as well. I can't really choose between the two but  I have seen Binoche appearing in films directed by different directors while most of the Huppert films that I have seen have been directed by Michael Haneke who is probably the greatest director that is currently going.

Mia Hansen-Love's breakout film, Eden, was an excellent one that was based mostly of her brother's career as a DJ. 'Things to Come' is also another solid outing. While the synopsis suggests that it is probably going to be a sob story, it is anything but. Huppert takes the various setbacks in her life in her stride and is constantly moving forward. With her mother's death, her divorce and her teenage kids moving out of the house, she finds herself alone all of a sudden even though it affords her a great deal of freedom. She is also taken aback by the way her favorite student sees her as not much different from the bourgeoisie that he despises. Like most French films, nothing much happens in terms of plot development but is a tremendous watch. Like the lead character in it, the camera is always on the move and is not bogged down by the events.  One would think that with her being a Philosophy teacher, there would be a great deal of Philosophy being talked about. Director does not take it as a license for it being a Philosophy talk like how Richard Linklater's 'Before Trilogy' was (Am a great fan of those as well). Things to Come is a great watch with a great central performance from Huppert in a role that is not very intense like 'Piano Teacher' was.

Rating: 4/5 

Berlin Syndrome (2017)

Director: Cate Shortland
Writers: Shaun Grant, Melanie Joosten
DOP: Germain McMicking
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt
Language: English, German

A passionate holiday romance leads to an obsessive relationship, when an Australian photojournalist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave.

Film is an adaptation of a novel with the same name by Melanie Joosten and it is an Australian-German co-production. As the name indicates, it is a riff on the Stockholm syndrome and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that she is going to be a hostage in their relationship. The film is not told entirely from the perspective of the lady and there is a lot of German speaking as the guy goes about his daily business as a teacher. She makes several attempts to escape but it is not entirely about how she is going to manage to do that. We see her coping with her lack of freedom and how she changes gradually over the course of the film, physically and emotionally. We are not entirely sure about the motivation of the guy but we learn that he was in the Eastern part of Berlin before the collapse of the wall and his mother had defected to the other side. He still has affinity towards the GDR (East Germany) and resents his mother for defecting. The whole hostage taking relationship and locking away can be seen as an allegory of how things were under East Germany for its citizens.

I am generally not a fan of cities as the ones I have been generally exposed to have been the Indian ones. A city that is still developing is a hell-like place to be in but on the other hand an already developed one can be great to live in because of the culture and various options that you have. I have been outside Indian once and it was Germany that I visited. Berlin is a place that will leave you absolutely awe-struck and all I spent there was just about 5 hours. The lady in the film don't mange to get to see what all I saw in those 5 hours as she was locked up pretty sharpish. Berlin Syndrome is a very good watch and can be seen as a hostage drama rather than as a horror thriller.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, May 28, 2017

La isla mínima (Marshland) (2014)

Director: Alberto Rodriguez
Writers: Alberto Rodriguez, Rafael Cobos
DOP: Alex Catalan
Cast: Raul Arevalo, Javier Guiterrez, Nerea Barros
Language: Spanish

In the Marshland a serial killer is on the loose. Two homicide detectives who appear to be poles apart must settle their differences and bring the murderer to justice before more young women lose their lives.

Film is set in 1980 Andalusia, Spain as it is transitioning to a democracy after the end of Franco's regime. The older detective is the product of the previous regime while the younger one is from the present times with little respect for authority. The film has been compared with first season of True Detective and you can see that the comparison is not only coming because of the surreal marshy settings but also because of the dynamics between the two leads. To add to the similarities, it also ends with some loose ends not tied up together. The village in which the killings took place and the local police are a bit antagonistic towards the detectives and they are not very forthcoming in terms of divulging what they know. The film is not really about the plot or how ingenious their solving of crime is but rather about the atmosphere and mood it conveys.

It is a great watch overall with excellent performances from the two lead actors. The color tone and camera angles are such that you won't get the full glory of its cinematography on a small screen but you still can feel that it was very well done. Several of Sergio Leone's Western classics were set in Andalusia and you do get a feel of that even though the location is marshy and not a desert. It is a pretty cool watch.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, May 22, 2017

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: John Hodge, Irvine Welsh
DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremmer, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller

After 20 years abroad, Mark Renton returns to Scotland and reunites with his old friends Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie.

First things first, almost every frame in this film is fucking gorgeous. More often than not a film which comes as a sequel this years apart will be looking at how the characters have changed over the years. In T2 we find out that nothing much has changed and the film has almost the same plot as the first outing. Many had problems with this but I enjoyed it thoroughly. All the major characters who survived T1 makes an appearance. We approved of Renton betraying his friends and running away with the money at the end of T1 and by the end of T2 we realise that money is not a big difference for them at this point of their lives.

Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor had a falling out after the former cast Leonardo for 'The Beach'. The feud took a lot of time to get resolved and finally we got the Trainspotting sequel that we were waiting for. Am not sure whether Irvine Welsh's 'Porno' has same characters as Trainspotting because I read somewhere that this film placed the characters from Trainspotting in Porno rather than it being a straight adaptation.  Many memory flashes from the first film is used and the soundtrack is kick-ass as expected. There are some very convenient plot developments but you forgive that because it still is a riot.

"'Choose life'. 'Choose life' was a well meaning slogan from a 1980's anti-drug campaign and we used to add things to it, so I might say for example, choose... designer lingerie, in the vain hope of kicking some life back into a dead relationship. Choose handbags, choose high-heeled shoes, cashmere and silk, to make yourself feel what passes for happy. Choose an iPhone made in China by a woman who jumped out of a window and stick it in the pocket of your jacket fresh from a South-Asian Firetrap. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and a thousand others ways to spew your bile across people you've never met. Choose updating your profile, tell the world what you had for breakfast and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, desperate to believe that you don't look as bad as they do. Choose live-blogging, from your first wank 'til your last breath; human interaction reduced to nothing more than data. Choose ten things you never knew about celebrities who've had surgery. Choose screaming about abortion. Choose rape jokes, slut-shaming, revenge porn and an endless tide of depressing misogyny. Choose 9/11 never happened, and if it did, it was the Jews. Choose a zero-hour contract and a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and maybe tell yourself that it's better that they never happened. And then sit back and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody's fucking kitchen. Choose unfulfilled promise and wishing you'd done it all differently. Choose never learning from your own mistakes. Choose watching history repeat itself. Choose the slow reconciliation towards what you can get, rather than what you always hoped for. Settle for less and keep a brave face on it. Choose disappointment and choose losing the ones you love, then as they fall from view, a piece of you dies with them until you can see that one day in the future, piece by piece, they will all be gone and there'll be nothing left of you to call alive or dead. Choose your future, Veronika. Choose life."

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Director: Maren Are
Writer: Maren Ade
DOP: Patrick Orth
Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller
Language: German

A practical joking father tries to reconnect with his hard working daughter by creating an outrageous alter-ego and posing as her CEO's life coach.

I went into the film with knowledge that it is a comedy film and, hate to bring in a stereotype, but German films are not known for their comedy. The recent Hitler film 'Look who's back' ended up as very poignant towards the end even though it was supposed to be a laugh out loud comedy film. Toni Erdmann is is in the category of cringe comedy like the TV series 'The Office'. The drama is on an equal footing with the comedy here or even more prominent and it is a slow burner. The film starts from the perspective of the father but as it progresses we realize that it is the story of his careerist daughter who is leading a sad lonely life in Bucharest (Or is it Budapest). She is a consultant who is primarily in the business of advocating outsourcing and retrenchment of workforce. She calls her father a man living in the 70s with a green agenda. In the beginning of the film, we find Toni to  be very intrusive and the daughter puts up with it but as his behavior becomes even more outrageous she starts losing her shit. But by the end she kind of accepts him as the pain of her sad lonely life takes over and she begins to let go a bit. There is a sequence of her singing in the film and it is the kind that you watch with hands partially covering your face.

It is a great watch overall but is not recommended for everyone. Cringe comedy can be a hard watch for many especially if it is as dark like this. The film is almost three hours long. Toni's character is loosely based on director's own father. The film was nominated for academy awards in the best foreign film category and also was in the running for Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, May 20, 2017

ഗോദ (Godha) (2017)

Director: Basil Joseph
Writer: Rakesh Mantodi
DOP: Vishnu Sarma
Cast: Wamiqa Gabbi, Tovino Thomas, Renji Panicker, Aju Varghese
Language: Malayalam

The film is set in a fictional Kerala village (Looks more like TN though) where the old generation and new generation are at loggerheads with each other over the usage of a play-ground. The old dudes want it to be used as a wrestling arena and is led by their captain (Renji Panicker) who is also a strict father to Anjaneya Das (Tovino Thomas) who is in the latter camp which wants the ground to be used for playing cricket. Captain forces his son to leave for Punjab to join an M-Tech course and there the son meets a wannabe wrestler (Wamiqa Gabbi) who is forced by her family to stop pursuing it.

Am not a fan of Basil Joseph's debut hit 'Kunjiramayanam' and I couldn't get past forty minutes of it. I found the humour in it to be too spoon-fed and the pacing not right at all. What made me watch Godha first day itself was the presence of very promising Tovino Thomas and the involvement of E4E, a very dependable production banner in Malayalam. Godha didn't disappoint at all. The humour in it works very well and it should be seen as a fun comedy film with Wrestling as the background rather than a hardcore sports drama film. It does go the clichéd sports drama route in its last act which is the weakest part of the film. A weak last act is becoming a pattern for E4E films with both Guppy and Ezra guilty of it.

The star of the film is undoubtedly Wamiqa Gabbi who plays the role of the Punjabi lass. Film is quite feministic in its take and doesn't compromise the female lead character for some cheap applause for its male lead. Renji Panicker is playing against type which is a relief as his Mr Cool new-gen father roles have become quite clichéd. Performances from all concerned are excellent with Aju Varghese also playing a prominent role among the friend circle. There is a sequence in Punjab which trolls the beef politics of our current times but it looks a bit tacked on as I don't think Sikhs are that passionate about Gau-matas. There is also the clichéd introduction to Punjab using a Punjabi wedding, which to be fair is gorgeously shot. The conversation portion during the wedding party is one of film's high points.

E4E films are guaranteed to be technically marvelous and Godha is no different. Shaan Rahman's music and background score adds so much to the film and please do try to catch it in the best possible screen with Dolby Atmos as it demands it to be seen that way.  At 2 hours, it is cut to right length even though interval point is quite lopsided with first half being significantly shorter. Overall, it is a very good watch with a weak last act stopping it from being great.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
DOP: Toby Oliver
Cast: Daniel Caluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener

A young African-American man visits his Caucasian girlfriend's family estate. He is little uncomfortable because his girlfriend hasn't informed her parents that her current boyfriend is black. But she assures him that they are not racist and are super-liberal and would've voted for Obama a third time. Yeah, right. Things get a bit diabolical there.

Film is very relevant for its time where people are questioning the idea of post-racial America. It is not the racism of regular redneck Americans that is being scrutinized but that of the liberal elite types. That said, it is not political in the serious award bait kind of way and is more of a genre film with the genre being horror-comedy. The central situation is a black guy attending a party full of white guys with only the servants being the other black presence. The debutante director, who made his name as a comedian, could go the places that he did go because of it being a comedy film under the veneer of horror.

Film is produced by Blumhouse, founded by Jason Blum, that had also backed 'Split'. They are known for making low-budget horror films which tend to do very well at box office with Paranormal Activity being one of their earlier features. Get Out was made with a meagre budget of $5 million and went on to gross over two hundred million. It is a great watch overall with an excellent central performance from Daniel Caluuya who you might remember from Sicario. One film that you could compare it with is Hot Fuzz but with more full-on horror.

Rating: 4.5/5

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight
DOP: Simon Duggan
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer

WW2 American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who served during the battle of Okinawa, has vowed to never take a weapon and kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the medal of honor without firing a shot.

His choice of non-violence is due to religious reasons as a Seventh Day Adventist but he feels compelled to join the war effort as everyone around him is doing so. The first part of the film deals with his family background and his cheesy romance with a nurse from the military hospital. He joins the army but is faced with tremendous pressure to quit due to his refusal to pick up a rifle to do rifle training. He wears an extremely smug look that we are used to from evangelical folks and you feel like punching him in the face the same way his colleagues also do. He manages to pass the training with the help of a religious exception and has to assist his unit in taking over the 'Hacksaw Ridge' which is a very difficult target to achieve for the Americans.

Film is unique in the sense that it is told from the perspective of a medic which we are not very used to in war films. One which did do this before was the Band of Brothers episode 'Bastogne', which is also told from the perspective of a medic, and is incidentally my favorite episode of the series. The cheesiness of the first half of the film makes a weird sense by the end as the second half is just quite brutal warfare. It is a great watch overall with some great war scenes that can quite match Saving Private Ryan's first twenty minutes for intensity. The budget for the film was only $40 million and it looks much higher than that. Vince Vaughn is very good in his role as the sergeant and Hugo Weaving is great as the alcoholic ex-army man dad who doesn't want his sons to join the army. Many still cite Brave-Heart as Mel Gibson's best film and I haven't seen that one to make a comparison. The only other one I have seen of his is 'Passion of Christ', which I watched with my friends at the cinemas going to the next town, and I still can't figure out for the life of me why I did that. I am not generally a fan of actors becoming directors and find their efforts quite underwhelming. Hacksaw Ridge is certainly an exception.

Rating: 4/5  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Dheepan (2015)

Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré
DOP: Eponine Momenceau
Cast: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby
Languages: Tamil, French

Dheepan is a Srilankan Tamil warrior who flees to France and ends up working as a caretaker of flats outside Paris. Dheepan is not his real name and he had fled Srilanka with a lady and a girl posing as the deceased Dheepan family so that they could use their passports.

Film doesn't delve deep into the nuances of LTTE conflict in Srilanka as it anyway assumes the French audience doesn't know much about it and needn't be given too much details. The atrocities committed by the Government forces during the last days of the conflict did make Worldwide headlines. All these kinds of ethnic conflicts do have a universal language. The film did come out a time when the refugee crisis in Europe was making headlines and it earned Audiard a Palme d'Or at Cannes.

The apartment projects that Dheepan is working in is a Banlieue like setup and largely occupied by other non-first generation migrants. It is also beset with first-world problems like drug related gang wars. Same time Dheepan is also dealing with the fake family that he now has and his fake wife is reluctant to invest much into it. It is an engrossing watch from the get go and is difficult to describe the tone of the film. It basically is about how Dheepan and his 'family' integrates into the French society even though at its margins. People might find problems with how it ended as some have interpreted it as Audiard juxtaposing civil war in Srilanka with the gang wars in Europe. I saw it more as him showing the latter very much as a first world problem rather than equating both of their scales.

PS: It was indeed very strange to see a Tamil language film set in France.

Rating: 4/5

Train to Busan (부산행) (2016)

Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Writer: Park Joo-suk
DOP: Lee Hyung-deok
Cast: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi
Language: Korean

The film takes place in a train to Busan as a Zombie apocalypse breaks out in Korea which threatens the safety of the passengers. Most of the country is infected and it is not like getting out of the train will solve things.

The story is told mainly from the perspective of a father-daughter duo who are traveling to meet the mother, the other half of the divorced couple. Father doesn't have much time for his daughter as he is a busy hedge fund manager and advocates selfishness. Daughter is more influenced by her mother and is the do-good type. The situation they are in forces the father to be a hero as he teams up with other characters to survive it.

The film is really well-made on the technical fronts and the zombies in it are not the sleepy slow types but are quite rabid. Film is quite clichéd in terms of story progression regarding who gets killed and the social commentary that it is trying to make with the background and behaviour of its characters. But I do think they are knowingly embracing the clichés and so it is not that problematic. East Asian films are never known for subtlety once you exclude Wong Kar-Wai anyway.

Train to Busan got premiered at Cannes in the midnight screenings section but I would categorise it more as a thriller than horror. It was a blockbuster in South Korea and managed to gross close to $90 million worldwide. Some have termed it as a better version of World War Z but I haven't seen WWZ. WWZ-2 is supposed to be in the making with David Fincher at the helm.

Rating: 3.5/5