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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Director: Matt Ross
Writer: Matt Ross
DOP: Stephane Fontaine
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler

In the forests of Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the World, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.

It is one of those films which has a very interesting premise which keeps you very much engaged during the initial parts of the film but kind of peters out a little bit towards the end once the novelty starts wearing off. I was very much reminded of the film 'Frank' not just because of the similarity in the color tone used. In one sequence from the film, the father asks his daughter to give her interpretation of the book she is reading, which apparently was Nabokov's 'Lolita'. She explains that she is conflicted about her attitude towards the protagonist Humbert as she is both repulsed by him as well as have empathy towards him. That is pretty much how the audience is supposed to feel towards Viggo Mortensen's character in the film as many of the things that he is doing with his kids can be perceived as child abuse while the initial half of the film have us appreciating their lifestyle. He is challenged during the second half of the film by his sister and his father-in-law. George Mackay, playing the eldest son, is excellent in his role with the character conflicted about whether to join any of the Ivy League colleges to which he has got admissions to. But it is the younger son who calls bullshit on their father's ways of doing things.

It is overall a very fun watch with many laugh out loud moments as well as some contemplative ones. It is not as good as what critics have made out to be but still a very good watch. Another film that I was reminded of was Yorgos Lanthimos' 'Dogtooth' even though the treatment and its philosophy is totally different as Captain Fantastic is totally honest to his kids about the ways of the world. One problematic aspect I had with the film was the transition of Viggo Mortensen's character from what seems to be quite a wise guy to a caricatured version of a hippie leftist as the film progresses.  I was not totally convinced by it. Anything Viggo Mortensen is in these days is a recommended watch as he has been a champion of small indie films after his early success with the big budget TLoTR trilogy.

PS: When you image search 'Captain Fantastic' in Google, Steven Gerrard turns up among the top results. Another fun fact is that Matt Ross, the writer-director of the film, is the Gavin Belson from 'Silicon Valley'.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, May 5, 2017

CiA: Comrade in America (2017)

Director: Amal Neerad
Writer: Shibin Francis
DOP: Renadive
Cast: Dulquer Salman, Siddique, Dileesh Pothan, Soubin Shahir
Language: Malayalam

Aji (Dulquer Salman) is a Pala Communist, a rare breed, born to a rich Kerala Congress dad (Siddique). He falls in love with a US NRI girl who did her graduation in Kerala. One fine day, she goes back to US without warning and her marriage is fixed. Aji doesn't have enough time to get a valid visa and has to take other extreme measures to get to USA.

The film begins with birthday wishes to Karl Marx and thanking credits for Jay Z and Kanye West. It is the third film to come out in Malayalam in the Communist genre and I haven't seen the other two. It doesn't take itself too seriously and is told with a consistent humour track. First half of the film is set in Kerala and the latter half abroad. The premise of the film, which sounds very clichéd, is nevertheless interesting due to the exotic nature of its settings but is difficult to execute well due to obvious constraints of budget and language. They have managed to execute it well enough to make it a decent watch overall. First half of the film is better though but the Malayalee men's victim-hood psyche will let them enjoy the ending as well as the protagonist takes one for the team in a dignified manner.

Interestingly enough, the KM Mani character in the film comes with Oommen Chandi's hairdo and recent events in Kerala politics makes it a curious take. Like all Amal Neerad films, it is strong on the technical front even though the drone fetishness is becoming tiresome. There is a pretty cool reference to Big B, which remains by far the director's best film till date, and a cheeky dig at Mohanlal's obnoxious dialogue from Raavanaprabhu. The humour track in the film works quite well and it should be a decent one-time watch at the cinemas.

Rating: 2.5/5

Sunday, April 30, 2017

सैराट (Sairat) (2016)

Director: Nagraj Manjule
Writer: Nagraj Manjule
DOP: Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti
Cast: Rinku Rajguru, Akash Thosar, Tanaji Galgunde, Arbaz Shaikh
Language: Marathi

In interior Maharashtra, a fisherman's son and a politician's daughter fall in love against the restrictions of caste hierarchy. Things pretty much escalates from there.

Finally managed to watch the very much hyped Sairat after coming across it on Google Play, where it is available for Rs. 100 to rent. Well, it was most definitely worth all the hype. It is the highest grossing Marathi film of all time with it crossing Rs 100 crores at the box office and it also managed to do well in other states as well. I do remember it being played in Kochi multiplexes but was not able to catch it then. The genius of Sairat is its commercial success because it is a subject matter that has been dealt with numerous times but more often in an offbeat manner without much commercial success. Masaan is a recent example which had one of its storyline featuring similar themes but done in a way such that it was the weak point of the film as it seemed forced and a bit contrived.

The first half of the Sairat is hugely entertaining with a stylised approach of storytelling despite its rural settings. Even there the director does some interesting things with the girl character taking the lead more often. The second half is not the usual rose-tinted take on what happens after an elopment with the director taking a social realist approach as life becomes a lot harder for the protagonists. Some aspects of it reminded me of Malayalam film Annayum Rasoolum but Sairat is still very much superior.

Indian society is one where kids from middle and upper caste/class are a pampered lot in return for trading away their freedom. Arranged marriages helps you to continue enjoying this pampering as the vast network of family support is still there. When people opt for love marriages outside the class/caste norms in places like Kerala, more often you just lose this support network. But in most other places of India, the family won't leave you alone and you have to escape from the place. This is quite the norm in Indian villages, which Ambedkar had rightly described as den of ignorance and narrow-mindedness among other things. So for many people the anonymity in cities become a huge relief.

When it comes to Arranged Marriages Vs Love Marriages, my view is that it should be viewed from the point of view of freedom. Youngsters should be free to choose the latter and family should be free to withdraw their support network if the kids opts so. It is well within their rights to have a say in the choice of new relatives they are inheriting with a marriage if the marrying couple is expecting support from family. But in India people never deal with things in an adult manner due to the inherent melodramatic nature.

Coming back to the film, it is a glorious watch with great performances from the excellent cast. The two friend characters of the boy is worth a special mention. On the technical front also it is on solid footing with some breathtaking visuals.  Remake rights have been sold for many languages including Malayalam but I don't see it happening here with Kismath already doing something similar. Karan Johar acquired the Hindi rights. But in my opinion, people should just watch the original and can't understand what is everyone's problem with watching a film using subtitles.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, April 23, 2017

രക്ഷാധികാരി ബൈജു ഒപ്പ് (Rakshadhikari Baiju, Oppu) (2017)

Director: Ranjan Pramod
Writers: Ranjan Pramod, T S Arjun
DOP: Prasanth Raveendran
Cast: Biju Menon, Aju Varghese, Janardhanan
Language: Malayalam

Baiju is a slacker kind of Government officer whose highlight of the day is the time he spends with youngsters on the ground every evening playing cricket. He is 44 years old and is the captain of sports group 'Kumbalam Brothers' which he had co-established as an eight year old. The members had come and gone and he had been the only permanent fixture.

The ground that they play in is quite small and is the kind that we used to play. It is not basically a ground but just a backyard with just sufficient tree clearance to have a pitch set up and play. When we were growing up, surrounding area was undergoing the process of wetlands getting filled up in order to construct houses on them. Once it is filled up, there would be a time gap for the construction to start and we had the place for ourselves to play cricket. Once the construction starts we'll have to look for some other place to play and over the course of me getting from 10-15 years old, we had three such places which got filled up and now three houses stand there. I guess we played a part in getting the soil set.

Above paragraph is what the film is about. It will make you nostalgic in a good way. None of us had any pretensions about being serious cricketers and it was just time-pass. That is what makes this film different from 1983, which was a bit more fairytale like. It doesn't have any storyline per say and is just a series of things that happen without any great resolution. They had a rich friend guy of the protagonist set up during the interval point to save the day during climax, which is a clichéd tradition of Malayalam cinema (Think Balettan). Thankfully, they don't go that route and it is so refreshing to see a light film sans a contrived happy ending. Another good thing is that it didn't feel the need to hammer its 'Message' into your head with a sledgehammer.

Ranjan Pramod had a series of hits in early to mid noughties as a writer and had completely disappeared off the radar after his directorial effort 'Photographer' bombed very badly at the box office. I had seen that film in an almost empty theatre back then. He was the writer to give Sathyan Anthikkadu his last good films. It is really great to see him back. It is a dark horse at the box office and hopefully won't be swept away by the tyranny of Bahubali which is set to hit screens next week. Eros being the distributor gives me hope. Do watch it in a hall with good sound system because the dialogues can be a bit hard to catch. Do watch it if you want to catch a simple film without any melodrama.

Rating: 4/5

City of God (2011)

Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Writer: Babu Janardhanan
DOP: Sujith Vasudev
Cast: Indrajith, Prithviraj, Rima Kallingal, Parvathy
Language: Malayalam

Lijo Jose Pellissery's second film features an ensemble cast and has multiple storylines with them getting linked throughout the film. Some of the characters in it are involved with the local land Mafia, one of them is an actress and some are Tamil migrant workers from construction sites.

One big question in multiple storyline films is how often do all of them come in spatial contact in the film. The ones that does it best, like Haneke's Code Unknown and Iniaritu's Amores Perros, keep it minimal but when they do they make it count. My biggest problem with City of God is that the characters from different storylines seem to be coming across each other quite frequently and unnecessarily. The narrative that LJP goes for is very non-linear and quite ballsy. Very often he first shows a scene and goes back to show how different characters arrived at that scene. For a Malayalam film, it must have been quite novel when it came out. It is very chaotic and enjoyably so during the first hour of the film as you are figuring out its characters and storylines. But once you figure it out, it becomes really tiresome and boring and it doesn't help that the heavily caricaturised Tamil storyline takes more of screen time.

Nayakan, despite all its faults, was a good first attempt but you won't be as forgiving for CoG. He seemed to have been wanting to do a lot of things all at once and the result is not always coherent. He was more grounded in Amen, a film I didn't enjoy, which was his first and only commercial success till his masterpiece Angamaly Diaries came out this year. On the whole I've only enjoyed Double Barrel and Angamaly Diaries, last two films in his filmography comprising of 5 films so far. Those are the ones I could watch at the cinemas and I don't know how big a factor that is. Anyway, he seems to have come leaps and bounds as a director and is the most experimental among mainstream Malayalam film directors.

Rating: 2.5/5 

Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins
Writer: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney
DOP: James Laxton
Cast: Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Mahershala Ali

A chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young, African- American, gay man growing up in a rough neighbourhood of Miami.

I really didn't have much idea about the film when I was going in apart from the knowledge about the Oscars that it won and something about Wong Kar-Wai. I am wary of Oscar winning films as they very often tend to be very award-baity and won't stand the test of time. Also because of the whole diversity controversy from the year before, it seemed like they were overcompensating for it this year. The first half of the film with an overly showy camera movements and deliberate slowness did nothing to alleviate my fears about it going in. But the second half of the film totally blew me away and put the whole film in a different light. Now I see where the Wong Kar-Wai comparisons come from and I was expecting Christopher Doyle's name as its cinematographer.

The film is divided into three chapters with each titled after protagonist's names- 1. Little, his nickname provided to him by those who bully him, 2. Chiron, his original name and 3. Black, a nickname given to him by a friend. He is quite submissive during the first two chapters as he is confused by his sexuality and how others behave towards him. His junkie mum is not at all a helping figure for him during this ordeal. You think he finally breaks free towards the end of second chapter when he finally reacts violently. It is the point from when it started getting interesting for me. Then it cuts into the third chapter with him in his 20s running drugs business. But you later learn that rather than embracing his sexuality, he had rebuild himself from the ground up during and after his jail time. The film is basically about how the surroundings shape your life.

It is a terrific watch and I am glad it won ahead of the musical La La Land, which I'm totally disinterested to check out. The second half of the film, which is visually sumptuous, takes it to a whole new level and it is difficult to describe why. Three actors play the protagonist in the three chapters and all of them are terrific. The whole cast is terrific with Mahershala Ali, familiar from House of Cards, also involved in the first chapter.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Café Society (2016)

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
DOP: Vittorio Storaro
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carrell

In the 1930s, a Bronx native moves to LA and falls in love with a young woman who is seeing a married man.

Woody Allen is still managing to do a film a year and this one is his latest starring Jesse Eisenberg in the Woody Allen role, who has a deer in the headlights quality. Unlike his latest few films, it is not set in Europe but in 1930s America with the age-old West Coast versus East Coast routine we're so familiar from Woody Allen films like Annie Hall. It does have a mish-mash feel to it but generates more than enough laughs to make it a pretty good watch.

Eisenberg has been in a Woody Allen movie before and it is the first outing for Kristen Stewart. Emma Stone had been starring in the last few. Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine have been the best among the latest Woody Allen films. Café Society is a good watch without being nearly as good as those two.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, April 16, 2017

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
DOP: Robbie Ryan
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan

A middle-aged carpenter who requires state welfare after suffering an heart-attack is joined by a single mother in a similar scenario. He is advised by his doctor to rest while the state benefits department deems that he is fit to work and denies him benefits till he can win an appeal. Meanwhile he has to rely on job seekers allowance for which he has to pretend to be looking for jobs that he cannot take due to his medical condition.

The film couldn't have come at a better time as we've had Brexit and Trump happen since its release with the whole World pretty much reinforcing a death-wish like far right turn. It is not to say that the film explains the results but it is dealing with the woes of working class poor from the developed world which is cited as the prime-mover. The film begins with a voiceover sequence during its opening credit where the protagonist is being asked ridiculous questions as part of an assessment by a 'Healthcare Professional'. It is set in Newcastle and had me thinking wrongly that the lead actor was the Geordie from Alan Partridge TV series. Most of the Northern cities in England have been ravaged by the Thatcherite policies and quite recently by the Tory led austerity measures after the financial crisis. NHS and the benefits program are always a prime target even though the Brits are quite possessive of the former. The film shows that the bureaucratic benefits machinery over the years have transformed itself into a mechanism which will wear the people down from getting the benefits and it is the most weak and vulnerable that suffers most. In India also, we can foresee this coming with the introduction of Aadhar which will gradually mutate into a mechanism to take away the support systems that are already there in place.

The cruel bureaucracy is contrasted with the community nature of the people who are suffering. The other main protagonist of the film is the struggling single mother of two, played by Hayley Squires, who is new to the town and is late for an appointment because of which her benefits money is denied. She meets Daniel Blake during this ordeal and he starts taking care of her. The contrast cast between the communal nature of these people and robotic state is very stark which you don't totally buy because of the easiness with which Tories have come back to power. They do pit the working class people against each other by playing the tax card and maybe that is that.

Overall, it is a bleak and depressive film that leave you angry but there are many light moments throughout. It won Ken Loach his second Palme d'Or at Cannes. He is a very political filmmaker and the only films of his that I've watched apart from this are Kes and The Wind that shakes the Barley. I, Daniel Blake is a masterpiece and I am surprised that it didn't create much buzz at the academy awards. Says something about America that.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig
DOP: Doug Emmett
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick

Highschool life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her only friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother.

Angsty teenage dramas are very hard to get right for all audiences and this is one which manages to do so. It is R-rated and has realistic language which is unusual because most of the films in this genre is aimed chiefly at not so adult population goes for a milder rating with mild language. Edge of Seventeen is suitable for all and is a fun watch even though it gets through most the clichés that you expect in terms of character progression.

Hailee Steinfeld, who made her debut with Coens in the 'True Grit', plays the protagonist and Woody Harrelson plays the role of a very non-cuddly, non-PC history teacher. Their chemistry is excellent. Overall it is a good watch with very good performances. It is one of those films where you don't end up pausing to see how much of it is left. Another film from this genre that I had like was Emma Stone starrer 'Easy A'.

Rating: 3/5

High-Rise (2015)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Amy Jump, J.G. Ballard
DOP: Laurie Rose
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss

Life for the residents of a Tower block begins to run out of control. It is set in a luxury tower block during the 1970s and it represents social hierarchy with the higher you live means higher your position is in the social order. The architect of the building, played by Jeremy Irons, resides in the top floor and this social hierarchy was not intended by him as he wanted the tower to be a crucible for change. Tom Hiddleston plays a bachelor doctor who had moved recently into the apartment.

It is an adaptation of a British dystopian novel with the same name from J.G. Ballard. It is very well acted, technically excellent and gorgeous to look at but suffers from the fact that its theme is not quite novel these days. We almost had the same thing, but set in a train instead, in Snowpiercer which worked surprisingly well. Snowpiercer had the veneer of a genre action film. Ben Wheatley's effort is more in-depth with point of views from all sides. But I found it to be a little too straight-forward, quite like Neon Demon which also I saw recently. It might go on to become a cult classic like Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'.

Ben Wheatley is a very promising director with Kill List being my favourite film of his. A Field in England is also a great and weird watch and I have to revisit it soon. I didn't enjoy Sightseers particularly. High-Rise was his first biggishly produced film even though it is still a small production compared to Hollywood standards. Jeremy Irons is always a great screen presence and come to think of it, the only film I've seen Hiddleston in previously was the excellent 'Only Lovers Left Alive', in which his character was quite the opposite. High-Rise is not recommended for all but certainly for Ben Wheatley fans like me. Others should probably watch Kill List first.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Split (2017)

Director: Manoj Night Shyamalan
Writer: Manoj Night Shyamalan
DOP: Mike Gioulakis
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley

Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities. They must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.

Genre of multiple/split personality disorder films is a tired one with many of it having this aspect as a twist device. So how do you overcome that? By having the central theme explicitly spelled out in the poster itself. Identity is another one which ended up having this many personalities and it worked well as a B-grade film. Split was made with a modest budget of $9 million and it collected $272 million worldwide from the box office acclaiming critical success as well with many declaring that Shyamalan is well and truly back. He took the first baby step with 'The Visit', which I haven't seen and I was curious to see whether the man Time magazine had quite prematurely proclaimed as the new Hitchcock was really back at it. Am glad to say that he just hit it out of the park. He is famous for his twist endings and the twist in this film is that there really isn't one in it if you discount the one which revealed the narrative universe it is set in. I was euphoric for quite a few minutes after that reveal.

It works as a horror thriller with a tour-de-force central performance from James McAvoy. Joaquin Phoenix was initially supposed to take this role and am really glad that McAvoy got it because the box office fate might have been quite different. I was not a big fan of him when I saw him first in the X-Men: First Class film but he has grown on me with films like Days of Future Past, Filth, Atonement and  Trance. You will really dig this film if you, like Tarantino and me, consider Unbreakable as Shyamalan's best film. That was one which came much ahead of its time with the plethora of super- hero films coming almost a decade later.

I do think Split will work very well on re-watch as well as it was quite hard to keep up with many of the different personalities and there wasn't much spoonfeeding going on. Shyamalan is currently working on the sequel to it and I do wonder how they're going to pull it off with the age of a certain actor. He still has plenty of time to leave a body of work to cement his place among the greats.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, April 3, 2017

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
DOP: Jody Lee Lipes
Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Language: English

A depressed and withdrawn man is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after his brother's death. This requires him to move back to Manchester by the sea from Boston and he really doesn't want to because of the things that happened in his life when he was living there.

I was under the impression that this was an extremely sad and depressive film but I found it to be more of a black comedy and ultimately a feel-good film. Not sure if it is because of the staple diet of all the tear-jerker films from Sibi Malayil that I had feasted on while growing up. The film begins with Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) being a janitor and caretaker of several apartments in Boston living a very withdrawn and isolated life. He gets a phonecall regarding his brother's hospitalisation and by the time he reaches the hospital he is dead. While he is taking care of all the arrangements in an unconventional manner, we're given flashbacks from his past to let us gradually know what is simmering under Lee's exterior. It is a very subtle performance from Casey for which he rightly won the academy award for best actor. I've always been a huge fan of his and felt he was quite underrated till this film came around. He already had a tremendous body of work prior to this with films like Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone and The Killer Inside Me.

This is Kenneth Lonergan's third feature film and I have also seen his second one, Margaret, which was in post-production for six years. I seem to be the only one who interpreted Maragaret as a depiction of United States' interventionist foreign policy and their reactions when they get some blowback. Lonergan made his name as a playwright and it was supposed to be Matt Damon who was going to play Lee but he got held up with that Chinese action move about some fucking wall. He thankfully recommended his good friend Casey's name for it and rest is history.

Even though Michelle Williams is prominent in its posters, she is there only in it for like 5-6 scenes. One thing I really didn't get is the way some people were referring to 'The Lee Chandler' in the film and might suggest that many in town saw him as guilty regarding the event that happened in the past. Or maybe just because of his behaviour after. Performances are all great and the icy wintery setting is just perfect. It is a terrific watch but as a darkly funny feel-good film.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Neon Demon (2016)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn, Polly Stenham, Mary Laws
DOP: Natasha Braier
Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Keanu Reeves
Language: English

When aspiring model Jesse moves to LA, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

As per Nicolas Winding Refn, who describes himself as a pornographer, Neon Demon came out of his desire to make an horror film about beauty and obsession. There is nothing better than fashion industry to set such a story in. We are used to many such films and what I've back in mind is not Madhur Bhandarkar's 'Fashion', with which I had the misfortune of having to watch thirty minutes of it. I am mostly talking about films like Black Swan and The Starry Eyes. But it is not to say they are similar because the approach is entirely different.  When he describes himself as a pornographer, what he means is that he likes to film what he wants to see and the objective is to get a reaction. All his recent English films have scenes that are supposed to shock you towards the latter half and become news. Compared to Drive and Only God Forgives, he goes even more extreme this time round and you've to see it for yourself. As far as narrative and dialogue is concerned, it is much more simpler till the last act where it goes ape-shit and all symbolically literal.

It is a good watch but you're left with the feeling that you're not seeing something deep or new. That is also kind of apt as that is how the fashion world is. It is purely down to your preferences though. It is gorgeous to look at like all his films with stunning soundtrack from Cliff Martinez. The performances are all good and it may go on to become a cult classic. It got a very divisive response from Cannes and Refn was delighted with it.

If I were to rank his films the order would be:

1. Only God Forgives
2. Drive
3. Valhalla Rising
4. Pusher 1
5. Neon Demon
6. Bronson

Rating: 3/5

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Great Father (2017)

Director: Haneef Adeni
Writer: Haneef Adeni
DOP: Roby Varghese
Cast: Mammooty, Arya, Baby Anikha, Sneha
Language: Malayalam

David Ninan (Mammooty) is the great father, to his daughter Sarah whose hero worship of him makes you think whether the makers were intentionally going for a pretty potent Electra Complex in the initial part of the film. She tells tales to her schoolmates about David's supposed exploits in Bombay where he locked horns with the underworld. He is now a builder in Kerala and they are a rich posh family with the doctor mother being the other member. But the great father fails to protect his daughter when she meets with a harrowing experience in his absence. What follows is the father having to live up to the built-up reputation by bringing the culprit to meet a father's justice even as an acrimonious Andrews Eapen (Arya) is leading the investigation from the side of cops.

The film takes a while to get going and it is after the incident that happens to David's daughter that things start getting interesting. There is a lot of foreplay in the first half before David unleashes his black beast vehicle just before the interval point. This is good because it puts stop to most of the cheap potshots aimed at Mohanlal that was placed in the beginning of the film to draw some cheap applause. Second half of the film involves David leading a parallel investigation and he is ahead of Andrews most of the times. Plenty of stylish scenes are thrown in, where Mammooty is at his best, but the last stunt in the film is quite comically bad. Director had avoided having Mammooty do lot of stunts by keeping most of it off-camera with us being shown only the consequences. They would've been better off if he had defeated the peadophile serial killer using his brains rather than through a very laborious action sequence. Most of the action sequences in the film are quite poorly done including the car crash sequence at the beginning. Where it scores is with its stylishness, BGMs and the tender moments in first half of the film. There is one jump-scare moment which won't look out of place in a horror film.

Arya as Andrews Eapen is surprisingly good and the kickass BGM that accompanies him aids it in considerable measure. The film is produced by August Cinemas and the trademark yellow and white van makes another appearance after Double Barrel and Darwinte Parinamam. The film has a good chance of making it big in the box office as peadophilia related harassments are a hot topic in Kerala these days and the producers have cleverly positioned it as a family film as well. The film has even one character arguing the other side about peadophilia which is again a recent hot debate topic. Comedian Louis CK did it best with his bit in SNL and it is the best argument for looking at the problem with a little more open mind rather than shutting down the debate entirely.

Overall the film is a good watch with underwhelming beginning and end. Those who expect an overload of 'cool' scenes tailor made for fans might get disappointed and as will people who expect an intelligent thriller. You will be satisfied if you are expecting a mix of both. In that sense it is quite similar to Oppam but since it was marketed as a clever thriller, I was disappointed with that film. Great Father's marketing as a mix of many things will aid it as it manages the expectations.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Director: Tom Ford
Writers: Tom Ford, Austin Wright
DOP: Seamus McGarvey
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aron Taylor-Johnson

A wealthy art-gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband's novel, which she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale.

Amy Adams plays the character of art-gallery owner who is living an unhappy bourgeoisie life in LA. She receives a draft of the first novel from her ex-husband who has named it after his nickname for her- Nocturnal Animal. The film has three timelines- present times in LA, the novel which is set in present day-ish Texas and New-York of twenty years ago when they met. The three locations play up to their usual stereotypes. When she reads the novel and visualises its characters, it is Jake Gyllenhaal himself who is playing the protagonist. While critiquing his writing, when they were married, she had accused him off writing about himself. Ending of the film is such that you suspect that the novel is quite autobiographic for him.

It is an excellent watch even though you do think it is kind of shallow and hollow after you finish watching it. That is kind of fitting considering how the protagonist's LA lifestyle is depicted. She seems to think that it is his revenge on her and there is this art painting titled 'REVENGE' she gets disturbed by, which can be seen as a nod to this. But I don't think that is how the audience is intended to take it.

I haven't seen any of Tom Ford's other films and he made his name as a fashion designer. It indeed is quite stylish in the present LA settings. The opening credits is certainly a very memorable one. Performances from all concerned are excellent and it is always a delight to watch Michael Shannon in action. Some might accuse a certain flimsiness in the characterisation of the novel part of the film but I thought it worked well to keep reminding the viewer that you're in a novel within the film.

Rating: 4/5