Monday, August 28, 2017

Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (1988)

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Night Moves (1975)

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

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

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

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


Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Swimmer (1968)

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thrissivaperoor Kliptham (ത്രിശ്ശിവപേരൂർ ക്ലിപ്തം) (2017)

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

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

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

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

Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Midnight Special (2016)

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5/5