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