Monday, March 31, 2014

Snowpiercer (2013)

Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writers:  Joon-ho Bong, Kelly Masterson, Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette
Cast:      Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton

A failed experiment to combat global warming leads to the planet going frozen with the only survivors being the ones in a train (snowpiercer) that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. A class system is evolved in it and there is always a simmering tension leading to failed revolutions and the film depicts the latest one led by Curtis (Chris Evans). 

One will be reminded of Matrix, Orwellian novels like 1984 & Animal Farm, Brave New World etc while watching it. It is an adaptation of French graphic novel 'Le Transperceneige' and is produced by Korean Investments Corporation along with others. Park-Chan Wook also served as an executive producer. 

It explores the ideas of social class system, God, Nature, Nazism and social order. One might think that it suffers from not having a well known actor in the lead role but I think it is intentional keeping in mind the twist at the end. Didn't realize it was Tilda Swinton playing the role of Mason, the minister, until the end credits rolled. She steals the show playing this character which would remind people of Margaret Thatcher. In two hours Joon-ho Bong achieves much more than Matrix trilogy in its entirety could. It doesn't have revolutionary action sequences and coupled with the dark nature of its theme it might not do well at the box office.

Rating: 4.5/5

Nadodikkattu (1987)

Director: Sathyan Anthikad
Writers:  Sreenivasan, Siddique-Lal
Cast:       Mohanlal, Sreenivasan, Thilakan, Innocent, Shobana

Two unemployed malayalees pursue the dream of going to Dubai but ends up in Madras.One of them is B-Com first class (Mohanlal) and the other one is a pre-degree holder (Sreenivasan) and it is a case of mistaken identities with an underworld don (Thilakan) thinking they are CID officers out to get him.

Nadodikkattu is probably my favorite Malayalam/Indian film of all time. Yesterday as I was trying to kill time before the Liverpool-Spurs game I ended up watching it again for the 'n'th time where 'n' is a very large number. Sathyan Anthikad is famous for making comedy/satirical films based on everyday problems in the Kerala society. He would have thought these problems would be limited to the times in which he was making those films but most of his films haven't aged one bit as almost all these problems still persists. Be it unemployment (Nadodikkattu, Gandhi Nagar Second Street), union problems (Varavelpu), polarized politics (Sandesham) and eviction problems (Sanmanasullavarkku Samadhanam). With Sathyan Anthikad, Sreenivasan and Siddique-Lal, who provided the basic story, you have the best people in comedy Malayalam film industry has ever seen behind this film. It also established the ever-bankable acting partnership of Mohanlal-Sreenivasan who always seems to be in a love-hate relationship. 

It is one of the most quotable films from Malayalam with even people who were born long after the film was made inserting them into everyday conversations. Late 80s and early 90s were the golden age for Malayalam Cinema and its greatest strength were the director-writer duos like Sathyan Anthikad-Sreenivasan, Sibi Malayil-Lohitadas, MT-Hariharan, Siddique-Lal and the one man show that was the late great Padmarajan. To supplement them we had the greatest actor India has ever seen in Mohanlal and a set of supporting actors who makes the biggest difference. It is very easy to contrast this with the level of talent plying in the industry now dominated by good technicians who don't have access to good writers and acting talent because they don't exist anymore or they are not able to get into the industry dominated by friend circles and nepotism. 

Nadodiakkttu is a near perfect film with a vast array of supporting characters in Pannikkar Ammavan (Shakaradi), Gaffoorkka (Mamukkoya), Driver Balan (Innocent), Pavanayi (Captain Raju) and Kovai Venketesan (Janardhanan) along with the main trio of Mohanlal-Sreenivasan-Tilakan. Even the characters who are just there for one scene like Bobby Kottarakkara and Seema makes their roles memorable. The film was followed up with two other films Pattanapravesham (Sathyan Anthikad) and Akkare Akkare Akkare (Priyadarshan) in which Mohanlal and Sreenivasan again donning the roles of Ramdas and Vijayan. Pattanapravesham is almost in the same level as Naodikkattu in terms of comedy but latter is the better film. The third one Akkare Akkare Akkare was not that bad but pales in comparison with the other two. I really hope the plan to have a fourth one never materializes.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Borgman (2013)

Director: Alex van Warmerdam
Writer:    Alex van Warmerdam
Cast:       Jan Bijvoet, Hadweych Minis, Jeroen Perceval
Language: Dutch

A vagrant/homeless man enters the lives of an upper class family and turns their lives into a psychological nightmare especially for the elders in the family.

Every year I try to get my hands on films that I was looking forward to which are essentially the ones from my favorite directors. After that comes the films that have the awards season buzz about them and those will be done by the time academy awards get done. Now is the time for films that flew under the radar and were too weird to get awards and will go onto become a cult classic. Usually these are the ones that will stand the test of time. You get to know about these films from critics/friends who have a similar taste to you and I got plenty to look forward to over the coming days having acquired many unseen ones from Mihir Fadnavis' top 40 list which you can find here:

From the synopsis given at the beginning one might be reminded of Michael Haneke's 'Funny Games'. While 'Funny Games' was really an elaborate and clever spoof on horror genre, Brogman deals with people who are among the upper bourgeoisie having trouble finding happiness in their lives which is a running theme in Haneke's other films. The films starts with an opening title card:"And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks" . Then there is an amazing scene in which a bunch of vagrants are driven away from their hiding place under the soil by a priest and a some tough looking people. Borgman, the chief vagrant, then get himself introduced into the lives of  this family who lives in a designer house with a large garden. The husband is busy with his job and the wife who is an artist is seemingly unhappy with her life. Their three children are taken care by a young lady who lives with them. You feel a biblical theme running through the film but nothing supernatural is shown in the film. There is a line in the film where the husband tells the wife that there is no need to feel guilty about being affluent and they are just fortunate that they were born in the west. The wife replies that unfortunate things are bound to happen soon enough for those who are fortunate. She develops feelings for Borgman essentially to escape from her monotonous life and encourages him into reintroduce himself into the family as their gardener. Borgman seemingly has some ulterior ambition with other members of the family as he saves the children from their modern settings and take them along with him for fuck knows what.

It is an engrossing watch and one of the best films from last year. Must get my hands on Alex van Warmerdam's other works.

Rating: 5/5 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Paperboy (2012)

Director: Lee Daniels
Writers:  Pete Dexter, Lee Daniels
Cast:       Zac Effron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, David Oyelowo

A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate. He brings the inmates' girlfriend (letter grilfriend) and an English reporter colleague with him and they are driven around by his 20 year old brother who was thrown out from his college.

In the film the death row inmate played brilliantly by John Cusack is described as white trash and the film can be described in the same way. It is sexually charged, violent and pulpy in a good way. The all star cast plays against their type in the swampy setting which reminded me of the Louisiana setting in 'True Detective'. All the characters are messed up in some ways. It is an early film in what is described lately as 'The McConaissance'. It reminded me of Springbreakers but the better talent on show makes it a more watchable film.

Rating: 3.5/5  

The Passenger (1975)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers:  Mark Peploe, Peter Wollen, Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast:      Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, Jenny Runacre

A journalist in Africa fakes his own death by swapping identities with a dead arms dealer and proceeds to keep his appointments in various cities in Europe. 

It is another masterpiece from Antonioni dealing with alienation which is a recurring theme in his films. It is the third and final English film he to fulfill his contract with the producer Carlo Ponti. Cinematography is excellent.There is a particular scene in which the girl he encounters in Spain asks him what he is running away from, he asks her to sit with her back against the driving seat, and as they drive through the road laden with trees on either side, the shot of a smiling Maria Schneider is exquisite. The scene is to signify that David Locke, the journalist is running away from his past. He looked unhappy and demotivated as he was slogging away in Africa covering a guerrilla revolution. It is significant that the character is named after the English philosopher John Locke, whose theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern concepts of identity and the self. He was the first to define self as the continuity of consciousness. At birth the mind is a blank state and knowledge is instead determined only through experiences. The character is trying to start again with a clean slate by assuming the identity of a person about whom he doesn't know much. By keeping his appointments he is in the process of putting himself in danger to learn the unknown which is again what he was doing in his career as a journalist. In that sense he cannot run away from his past and falls back to doing what he has always done. 

The ending scene at hotel where Locke is assassinated in a Spanish hotel at twilight is a seven minutes single shot. The film was not universally well received at the time of its release with many critics including Roger Ebert considering it to be pretentious. It is my favorite Antonioni film with an understated performance  by his standards from Jack Nicholson.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Short Term 12 (2013)

Director: Destin Cretton
Writer:    Destin Cretton
Cast:       Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallaghar Jr.

Short term 12 is a foster care facility and the film is told through the eyes of the supervisor Grace, who is also in a relationship with her co-worker Mason. We learn more about Grace as she interacts with a new inmate with whom she relates to a lot.

It reminded me of the Malayalam film 'Mudra' which was set in a juvenile facility but was more about the inmates rather than the caretakers, whom were all not very nice towards them. In Short Term 12 the caretakers are very nice/too nice and story is kind of predictable and manipulative. It is a decent film tackling a situation that is rarely dealt with by mainstream cinema.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Bourne Trilogy (2002-07)

Directors: Doug Liman, Paul Greengrass
Writers:    Tony Gilroy, William Blake Heron, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi
Cast:         Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, Clive Owen, Karl Urban, Edgar Ramirez, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine

Loose adaptation of Robert Ludlum's action.thriller spy series based on the character Jason Bourne, a CIA assassin suffering from extreme memory loss.

I decided to watch them again after having acquired 720p files of all the three films. I think this was my fourth or fifth time watch of what is essentially the best action films franchise. The impact of it was such that the James Bond films with Daniel Craig were also forced to make a turn to have more realistic action sequences and solid stories instead of lame gadgets and CGIs. Still none of the three Craig films-Casino Royale, QoS or Skyfall comes anywhere close to the level of any of the Bourne films (I don't consider Legacy as a Bourne film). Even the product placements are miles better in the Bourne films whereas in Casino Royale it stood out like a sore thumb (Reminded me of malayalam films 'Nerariyan CBI). 

Enough with the comparison to Bond films. The first film 'The Bourne Identity' was directed by Doug Liman (Go, Swingers) who many considered as an odd choice. It is the most story/character driven out of the three and the Franka Potente character gives some emotion to the film when all other characters in the films are coldhearted. The three set-pieces come at equal intervals with the car chase using the 'MINI' through the streets of Paris set to Paul Oakenfold's 'Ready Steady Go' being the highlight. 

In the second film 'The Bourne Supremacy', Bourne is motivated by revenge and guilt as he comes back to Europe after his girlfriend is killed in India. It is directed by Paul Greengrass with his trademark shaky camera technique which suits very well for this kind of action films. That said some where put off by it. In terms of balance between the action sequences and the story this film is the best out of the three and probably my favorite as well. It was also good to hear some Malayalam in the background during the Goa bridge scene.

In the third film 'The Bourne Identiy', again directed by Greengrass, the motivation of Bourne is kind of flimsy and it acts merely as a tool to get him to do the action set-pieces. It is the most action oriented out of the three and the best logical point for the creators to end the franchise with Bourne having retraced his steps back to the training place. In between Supremacy and Ultimatum Greengrass managed to direct United 93 as well.

It was lovely to see the nods to L'avventura (Italian Boat's name in Identity) and Berlin-Alexanderpatz (Tram in Suporemacy). The closing credits are done very well with Moby's Extreme Ways. In all three I was left with the same grin that Stiles had in Ultimatum.

Trivia: Bourne never smiles in Supremacy and Ultimatum.

Rating: Trilogy: 5/5
The Bourne Identity:5/5
The Bourne Supremacy:5/5
The Bourne Ultimatum:4/5  

Monday, March 10, 2014

True Detective (2014)

Creator:  Nic Pizzolatto
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Cast:       Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan

The lives of two detectives get entangled over a span of 17 years as they hunt a for a serial killer in Louisiana.

The season one of the anthology format HBO series True Detective ended yesterday night/today morning crashing HBO Go in the process. It is the ultimate opposite to the Netflix produced House of Cards and its binge release model where the entire season is released in one go. House of cards is a great watch as long as you don't get much time to think about it since there isn't much depth to the story. True Detective is something which need time for the viewer to think, chew on and digest and the frenzy it has created in the internet over the last 9 weeks is testament to that. The brilliant title credits, existential nature of the dialogs, the mythical universe of Carcosa and the Yellow King and at the end of it all you are left with a feeling that they only scratched the surface with their investigation: which I think is very much intentional.

The interviews that Nic Pizzolatto has given over the last month helps a great deal in interpreting or confirming your interpretation of the season. The idea of Carcosa and Yellow King comes from Robert W. Chambers book called 'The King in  Yellow' which got a sales boost because of the TV show. It is a collection of ten short stories and the first four of them mention a play called 'The King in Yellow' which induces despair or madness in those who read it. In similar vein the case ultimately don't implicate any people higher up in the food chain and one feels that those who mattered escaped at the end of it. The detectives know it and we the audience feel it. Marty's daughter Audrey storyline is not taken up and there are many intentional loose ends which ultimately is the whole point.

Pizzolatto has also spoken at great length about storytelling and its importance to mankind. The penetration of religion is proof of that and the creator himself is an atheist who grew up in a very religious environment. In the show Rust starts off as a nihilistic atheist and ends on an optimistic spiritual note with the brilliant line at the end:“Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.” The weight of the world or the universal truth seems to be on his shoulder in the earlier episodes and by the end of the season he seemed to let it all go and find comfort in being spiritual which is essentially what religion do for a lot of people. When you are faced with questions, ugly truths and purposelessness, then faith goes a long way in solving all that by ignoring all the above said things. The same is with the case: they didn't get anyone directly connected to the senator and had to be contend with the dead end that is the death of the lawn mower man. The same thing happened with Reggie Ledoux in 1995 who before his death utters that these things will continue to happen. Rust also says the same thing during the interrogation scene where he goes 'time is a flat circle'. 

Another one of my interpretation is to do with the show itself. In the first five-six episodes it was a real genre bender when it comes to the buddy-cop investigative series. By the end it kind of tailed off which again I think was intentional. One can compare it with way the show ended with the allusion to the age old story of light Vs darkness as opposed to the real world situation of moral ambiguity. 

I will most certainly be revisiting the whole season soon looking for more clues. It is good that it will be having a different story and different characters next season. It can be really seen as an eight hour length feature film and the fact that it had just one single director unlike other normal TV series made a big difference in terms of its quality. In what is described as a golden age of television, I think it will be quite difficult to top this season of True Detective.

Rating: 5/5

Greenberg (2010)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers:  Jennifer Jason Leigh, Naoh Baumbach
 Cast:     Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a failed musician turned carpenter recovering from a nervous breakdown, who comes to live in his brother's house in LA whilst they are on vacation. Greta Gerwig plays Florence, his brother's assistant, an unsexy and awkward girl in her 20s. Something develops between the two of them but don't expect a usual Stiller comedy as it is very dark and the title character is a bit of a prick.

It is really an intelligent character study about some really awkward characters that won't feel misplaced in a Todd Solondz film. Stiller is playing the role of his career and he looked physically also different with his frailness. Baumbach is certainly one to watch out for. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer:    Stepehen Chbosky
Cast:       Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller

A coming-of-age drama of an introverted freshman who is taken under  the wings by two seniors who welcome him into their group of friends. 

It is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky who also ended up directing the film. Originally John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) was meant to make his directorial comeback with this film  but he died in 2009. It was meant to be a dark comedy but with Chbosky at the helm they have made it less dark and too sweet for its own good. The seniors who the protagonists becomes friends with are just too nice to him and are in the 'Juno' mold which has become so cringe inducing now. I know they didn't have Google in those times but to think that these characters who are supposed to have good taste in music couldn't even recognize David fucking Bowie's 'Heroes' is quite unbelievable. I found it really difficult to get through all the saccharine bullshit from the first hour of the film and the last half hour of it is much more interesting but is not quite enough to make it watchable.

Rating: 1/5