Friday, May 30, 2014

Monsters (2010)

Director: Gareth Edwards
Writer:    Gareth Edwards
Cast:       Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga

Set 6 years after a NASA space probe crashed into Mexico, carrying samples of life within solar system, parts of Mexico bordered with USA has been classes as infected zone teeming with extra-terrestrial creatures. The film follows the trip of a cynical journalist Kaulder (Sccot McNairy) who is escorting his boss's daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) across the border to apparent safety of United States of America which has created a huge wall to protect itself from the monsters.

Film is a road love story set in the backdrop of humans trying to adapt to the presence of these alien creatures. There is a class difference between the couple and Samantha is engaged and she appears not to be too happy with her choice. It sounds very Bollywoodish but it is handled in a subtle way. Unlike other films of this genre, the film doesn't show the first encounter with the aliens and people living in Mexico have adapted their life around it. They are much more annoyed with the United States for destroying their homes and forcing migration. Obvious comparison will be made with District 9 which also featured aliens being restricted to a zone and its metaphorical depiction of a modern day apartheid. Monsters is very different to it since the title itself is a deception as it concentrates largely on the relationship between the human protagonists which could have very well been set in a war zone in stead of this Aliens backdrop.

The film was produced within a budget of $500,000 and the shooting equipment cost just $15,000. It didn't have a finalized script and most of it was shot in an opportunistic way. Most of the actors were not professionals and they just persuaded the local people to do the acting parts. Much of the dialog was ad-libbed by the characters who were just given an outline of the situation. This gives a Herzogian touch to the film. Gareth Edwards went on to direct $160 million Godzilla which I saw last week. Good that I saw it first because if I had seen Monsters first I would have went with very different expectations and wouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I did.

Since Monsters is driven largely by the relationship between the two characters, Edwards was looking for a real life couple to portray it to get a good chemistry. Scoot McNairy was dating Whitney Able back then and are now married.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ramji Rao Speaking (1989)

Director: Siddique-Lal
Writers:  Siddique-Lal
Cast:       Mukesh, Saikumar, Innocent, Rekha, Devan
Language: Malayalam

Three unemployed men find the answers to all their financial problems when they decide to get in the middle of a kidnap and ransom scheme.

Siddique-Lal had their first on screen credit in Nadodikattu which was based on their story idea. Ramji Rao Speaking was their directorial debut which also introduced actors like Saikumar, Rekha, Harishree Ashokan and N.F. Varghese into  Malayalam cinema. The character Mannar Mathai played by Innocent is the one with which he is identified most with and the comedy is delivered in a deadpan style. The film has much in common with Nadodikattu in the sense that unemployment is the major theme and they are both more complete films when compared with their respective sequels, 'Mannar Mathai Speaking' and 'Pattanapravesham' which can be considered as more funny.

Siddique-Lal directed films can be classed into two categories, with the first one comprising of 'Ramji Rao Speaking', 'Godfather' and 'Vietnam Colony' and the second one consisting of 'In Harihar Nagar', 'Kabooliwalah' and 'Mannar Mathai Speaking'. The distinction is based on the fact that films in the first category doesn't feel like having some portion purely dedicated for comedy and some portion for serious matters whereas in the second category we get such a feeling. In the latter category films, the first halves are purely dedicated to comedy which is then followed up with a segment of extreme seriousness. I am not saying that this is a drawback because when done properly like in 'In Harihar Nagar', it doesn't matter but 'Kabbolowallah' and 'Mannar Mathai Speaking' can be considered as their weakest films.

If I was asked to identify their best film, it would be a tossup between 'Ramji Rao Speaking' and 'In Harihar Nagar' and I don't think many would disagree with this. For me 'Ramji Rao Speaking' is a better film and has a higher quality of humor since it doesn't rely on an extremely stupid character like Jagadish's 'Appukuttan'. The film was a super hit in Kerala and was remade in Tamil (Fazil) and in Hindi (Priyadarshan). The Hindi one 'Hera Pheri' is one of the better Hindi films that I have seen but still noway near the quality as its original.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers:   Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham
Cast:       Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe

It is a re-boot of the Godzilla franchise in which the world's most famous monster 'Gozilla' is pitted against malevolent creatures that has been named M.U.T.O (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). M.U.T.O's are parasitic in nature and brought about the end of Godzilla's in old times. They feed on radioactivity for their survival and reproduction and mankind's only hope for their own survival is the bigger monster 'Godzilla'.

Continued theme in the film as pronounced by Ken Watanabe's character is that nature balances itself when its order is disturbed and mankind can do nothing to prevent that. In the film the actions taken by the US Army are ineffective when the monsters battle out in San Fransisco and this is a novelty in Hollywood action blockbusters. Many people are complaining about the lack of screen time for the title character. If they want mindless action, they should stick to Michael 'fucking' Bay's monstrosities that are passed as cinemas. What makes this version of Godzilla better than the usual fare is exactly the long buildup some people are complaining about. This foreplay is essential. The payoff is much better and the creators have manged to portray the helplessness the humans are facing with them being just a sideshow as Godzilla and M.U.T.O fight it out. The films works well on a standalone basis with a good but cheesy closure. The proof that they managed to convey the story properly is that people at the cinema in Kerela where I watched this were actively cheering Godzilla in the final battle sequence. Biggest cheer was when it batted the M.U.T.O away using its tail in a fed up manner. The highlight of the film would be the now famous flare parachuters diving into the dark San Fransisco skyline. The version I saw was PG-13 and film has not been released yet in Japan. I guess they would get a version in which there would be some fucked up mating scene involving the M.U.T.Os. 

The original Godzilla series from the 50s were allegorical about Japanese history with the world war and subsequent events. Japanese people were kept in the dark about the setbacks they were facing in the world war and in similar manner the existence of Godzilla was covered up intitially. This 2014 version is a great one-time watch without much Hollywoodization.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, May 23, 2014

In Harihar Nagar (1990)

Directors: Siddique-Lal
Writers:    Siddique-Lal
Cast:         Mukesh, Siddique, Jagadish, Asokan, Geetha Vijayan, Rizabawa
Language: Malayalam

Four well-off but currently unemployed friends bites more than they could chew when they cook up a story to get into the good books of a beautiful girl who moved in next door. 

It was the second film from the directorial duo of Siddique and Lal after the massive success of their debut feature 'Ramji Rao Speaking'. This partnership produced what can be considered among the best from Malayalam cinema when it comes to situational comedy. These two films were followed up with 'Godfather', 'Vietnam Colony', 'Kabuliwalla' and 'Mannar Mathai Speaking'. There was a steady downgrade in quality but all of them can be still classed as great films. The film that they directed independently are not a patch on the films that they made as a partnership. Lal directed two bastardized follow ups to 'In Harihar Nagar' which must be avoided at all costs. 

'In Harihar Nagar' comprises of set-piece after set-piece of high quality comedy situations graced with banter from the four characters that are iconic in their own right.  The fact that these lines are now used in everyday conversations by people who were not even born when this film came out says all about the quality of the film. The thing about the film is that the viewer does not become aware about the set-piece nature of its comedy since it has a very good story tying it all together. 

This period can be considered as a golden period for Malayalam comedy, marking a departure from 'Leave your brains out' slapstick fare made by the likes of Priyadarshan. Sathyan Anthikad, Siddique-Lal and even Priyadarshan came out with intelligent comedy films during this time period of 88-95 and the copycat films from lesser filmmakers are better than the ones that come out these days. The background score is another feature that was used so well in those days. They were very influential in adding more spark to the situations without having to convey everything verbally. Along with script, acting, direction, acting; this is another area in which Malayalam films have gone very backward when you compare the films since 2000 with those before. Along with the sorry sequels that come these days even the iconic background scores from films like 'Oru CBI Diary Kurup'. 'Irupatham Nootandu' are rehashed by the talentless piece of shit people who masquerades as artists in Malayalm films these days. Funny thing is that some of these very same people came out with the originals some 20 years back and proves that their is an expiry date for talent in film industry. The sequels can only be seen as retirement funds for these people and they are made with as much sincerity as political parties have when they make their election manifestos.

Lets not wallow much more about the sorry state of Malayalam cinema. I think I have seen 'In Harihar Nagar' about ten times and I guess I will see it again many more times. I remember being scared about Appukuttan's dentistry related ordeal in this film when I saw it for the first time as a 5 year old. I was also distraught and confused by the character 'Sethumadhavan' played by Suresh Gopi because Mohanlal's character from 'Kireedom' also went by the same name. Both these characters were of the tragic kind. The film also gives a relevant message about the danger of turning your stove on and getting distracted. LPG and stove explosion deaths were apparently quite common those days if you go by their frequency in Malayalm cinemas.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Atonement (2007)

Director: Joe Wright
Writers:  Ian McEwan, Christopher Hampton
Cast:      James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Brenda Blethyn

A 13 year old girl with writing aspirations wrongly accuses her sister's lover of raping their cousin, irrevocably changing the course of all three of their lives. Film  starts in pre second world war times and story progresses through the wold war with the sisters serving as nurses and the victim of the misunderstanding thrown from prison to the war front.

The first thirty or so minutes of the film progresses like a sleazy comedy film before taking the dark turn with the misunderstanding. It is debatable whether it was actually a misunderstanding or a willful mistake. The film from the start, through different point of view takes of the same event, gives an impression that things are not what they seem. The final convoluted plot twist might rub some people the wrong way but I liked the fact that author through one of his characters explains why he/she did so. Cinematography is excellent and the performances also. There is a five minute single tracking scene of the the Dunkirk beach with 1000 extras which will take your breath away.

It is essentially a 'Painkilli Katha' in the mould of 'Chirakodinja Kinavukal' but with very high production values and period settings. A great watch indeed.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Adharvam (1989)

Director: Dennis Joseph
Writer:    Shibu Chakravarthy
Cast:       Mammootty, Ganesh Kumar, Silk Smitha, Jose Prakash
Language: Malayalam

Film portrays the life of Anantha Padmanabhan, who was born to an aristocratic father and a lower caste mother. He grows up with his lower caste mother but his father, disturbed by a dire prediction, decides to take him under his wings and teaches him Vedas which is something exclusive to the Brahmin community. He becomes a learned man but faces hostility from the 'Savarnnas' which ultimately leads to the death of his mother and the prediction coming true with him deciding to study the fourth vedam, Adharva Vedam. Out of the four vedas- Rig, Yajurva, Sama and Adharva, the last one is the most ambiguous containing a collection of spells, incantations and speculative hymns. Unlike other vedas, it is more concerned with the material world and also sanctions the use of force. In the film it is associated with black magic.

The film is very atmospheric dealing with a rare subject and settings. It deals with the relevant subject of caste equations and conventions. Ananthan is facing an identity crisis living in a society where your caste dictates what you do in life. By the society he is considered a Pulluvan, of singing caste, but his upbringing  is that of a learned Brahmin. As for the film if you take out the outer shell of its setting, it is a story that has been told many times but what makes it extremely watchable is the  uniqueness of it being set in contemporary Kerala but its characters being a throwback to much older times. All that, said the last third of the film is really not good with it  making a horror turn.

Dennis Joseph is a script writer who is most famous for his works with the directors Joshi and T.S. Suresh Babu. The films he directed are very different to those films and are in some sense much better. Am a big fan of his debut film 'Manu Uncle' which I consider to be the best children's film that I have seen from Indian cinema. The songs are also outstanding in his films.

Rating: 3.5/5 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mallrats (1995)

Director: Kevin Smith
Writer:    Kevin Smith
Cast:       Jeremy London, Jason Lee, Shannen Doherty, Jason Mewes

Two friends are dumped by their respective girlfriends on the same day.  Both of them are man-childs with more time dedicated to comic books and Sega than their girlfriends. One of them think his girlfriend dumped him because he farted when she was going down on him. Miffed by the actions of their girlfriends they decide to hit their local mall.

Kevin Smith managed to get studio funding for this film after the success of his debut independent film 'Clerks'. Film received much derision upon its release due to unfair comparisons with Clerks. Since then it has achieved a cult following. For me it is great watch especially the first one hour. The scene with comic books legend Stan Lee playing himself and the last TV show scenes were bit drawn out. I am not a comic books fan/ follower but still the jokes are very enjoyable. The opening credits are laden with strips from pornographic spoofs of famous comic books. Kevin Smith's characteristic references to Star Wars, Jaws etc are strewn all over and Jay and Silent Bob have an extended cameo. The protagonists engages in intellectual discussions like whether Lois Lane will be able to carry Superman's kids and have their fortunes told by a topless Russian fortune teller who has an extra bodily part. The sarcastic references to American consumerism and danger that kids face in mall escalators are hilarious.

I saw the 95 minutes version of the film and have not yet got my hands on the extended 125 minutes version which was released on the 10th anniversary of the film. Since I felt this one was already a bit dragging, not watching the extended version might be a good idea.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ah fei zing zyun (Days of Being Wild) (1990)

Director: Wong Kar Wai
Writers:   Jeffrey Lau, Wong Kar Wai
Cast:       Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Language: Cantonese

Set in 1960, the film centres on Yuddy, who learns from the drunken ex-prostitute who raised him that she is not his real mother. This provokes him to look for his real mother even as he goes through fleeting relationships with several women causing emotional pain to them. One cannot say for sure whether his attitude towards women were shaped up even before him learning about his adoption. It could well be the case with him being raised by an ex-prostitute. The way he is leading his life is summed up by the following quote from the film:

"I've heard that there's a kind of bird without legs that can only fly and fly, and sleep in the wind when it is tired. The bird only lands once in its life... that's when it dies. "

By the end of the film when he is close to death he rephrases it by saying that the bird thought it had no legs which indicates that he was conscious about the self destructive path he was taking. 

The film primarily revolves around the love triangle between the characters played by Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau, who all were the stars of Hong Kong cinema in those days. Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) is smitten by Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) but when she confronts him about moving in with him, he rejects her by saying that he is not the marrying type and cares for only his happiness. She finds solace in the company of a cop who really wants to be a sailor played by Andy Lau. He falls for her based on their brief encounter but she never realizes it and they never meet again. He leaves his job and decides to become a sailor and he has a chance encounter with Yuddy in Philippines. Till that point I thought the film was just a goodish film but the last 15 minutes of the film just elevates it into greatness.

Film marked the first collaboration between Wong Kar Wai and his frequent DoP collaborator Christopher Doyle. But it is not shot in the trademark style of theirs. It was also a pioneering film for Hing Kong film industry by bringing in elements of emotional ambiguity and a new wave arty style. It even provoked a spoof called 'Days of Being Dumb' starring Tony Leung.

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Duo luo tian shi (Fallen Angels) (1995)

Director: Wong Kar Wai
Writer:    Wong Kar Wai
Cast:        Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro
Language: Cantonese

Like Chungking Express, film is divided into two story lines but both meshed together instead of one being followed by the other like in the former film. One of them tells the story of a  professional killer (Leon Lai) who has a lady business partner who basically looks after his room in Chungking Mansions when he is away on assignments. They have had their partnership for 155 weeks without meeting each other. The second storyline follows the activities of He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who breaks into closed down shops in the middle of the night and pretend to be running those businesses. He proclaims through narration that he is incapable of speaking after eating expired pineapples (Chungking reference) at the age of five. Three ladies are primarily involved in their lives and film follows their abstract relationships.

The exquisitely flowing cinematography from Christopher Doyle is even more amped up when compared with Chungking Express and the characters even more abstract and weird. When I first watched it I thought it was just a good film but not nearly as good as Wong Kar Wai's other great works. That is a mistake one could make if you are focusing too much on plot and not soaking in the stunning imagery and atmosphere of the film. I have learned to not look too much into the plot of these films and this is essential when you are watching Wong Kar Wai films. The characters are very weird and dreamy but that sits very well with the way the film is shot. I have never enjoyed John Woo's famous shoot them up scenes where the protagonist armed with two guns takes on a large group of armed bad men in a crowded setting mainly because we are meant to take it seriously. But similar scenes in Fallen Angels are so enjoyable because of the nature of the characters who are wielding these double guns. 

Overall it a great Wong Kar Wai experience but for people who are not familiar with his work it might be better to start watching some of his other works before coming to this. In terms of balance 'Chungking Express' 'Happy Together' and 'In the mood for love' are his best works, but 2046 and Fallen Angels are still great films nevertheless. I am also gonna revisit 'Days of Being Wild' soon.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Angel Heart (1987)

Director: Alan Parker
Writers:  William Hjortsberg, Alan Parker
Cast:       Mickey Rourke, Rober De Niro, Lisa Bonet

Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a private detective in 1955 New-York. He gets a new case from the mysterious client Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to locate the whereabouts of a man called Johnny Favourite. The search leads him to a black magic world in Louisiana and it is a journey of self discovery.

The film is kind of a precursor to films like Jacob's Ladder and Devil's advocate and it didn't achieve much success during its run maybe because of  being ahead of its time. It manages to capture the characteristic sleaziness of 80s films. This was the first film I have seen of Mickey Rourke from his earlier days. The original novel was set entirely in New York whereas in this adaptation Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning) takes a detour to Louisiana and the location and settings felt very familiar having  recently watched HBO's 'True Detective'. The director doesn't really try to pull off a big twist in the end since it is made apparently very clear throughout the film through Angel's hallucinations and dreams. It is a very atmospheric psychological thriller  and the presence of Robert De Niro, albeit in a role with less of screen time, adds to the creepiness. He apparently impersonated Martin Scorsese for his portrayal. 

To sum it up it is a superior version of Devil's Advocate, which came much later, without the screen chewing from the Pacino like character.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers:  Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Cast:       Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bel Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Kumar Pallana

Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) has been an insensitive asshole (in his own words) all  his life and he is banished from his family. Tenenbaums have three children of which one is adopted, Margot played by Gwyneth Paltrow. The other two are Chas played by Ben Stiller and Richie played by Luke Wilson. All of them were considered as kid geniuses growing up but they didn't live up to the expectations in their adult lives. Richie is in love with Margot who is unhappily married to Neurologist/Scientist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray). Royal is broke and he decides to cook up a cancer story to get his place back in his family even as they are united after a long time under one roof. 

Royal Tenenbaums was Wes Anderson's much anticipated follow up to 'Rushmore' and it didn't disappoint, and ran away to become a commercial and critical success. Wes Anserson films are not for everyone and many people don't get the charm of his unique settings and absurd humor. For his fans his films are a much anticipated event in the film calendar. His latest film 'Grand Budapest Hotel' has been also very well received and I can't wait to see it. It has got Ralph Fiennes added to the Wes Anderson family along with the usual suspects.The only film of his that I didn't particularly like was 'Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' and I have been meaning to revisit it for some time.

Royal Tenenbaums is among Gene Hackman's last few films and is certainly his last great one. Kumar Pallana, who died recently, is a regular fixture in Wes Anderson's films and here he plays the role of family butler. He was a hired assassin in Calcutta who ended up saving Royal's life after stabbing him in the gut. Wes Anderson's love for India is no secret and it can be seen in the TV footage of Richie's tennis match choke against a player named Gandhi who beat him 6-0, 6-0 & 6-0. No one realized that Richie's choke was because of his heart being broken after Margot's marriage  the previous day. Chas was a highly successful businessman as a kid and he ended up expropriating his father's wealth. Margot was a playwright and Royal's frank but insensitive assessment of his adopted daughter's (one fact he never fails to mention) debut play was the reason he was kicked out from his family's life for good. The final scene shows Royal's epitaph which was inscribed thus upon his own insistence: 'Here lies Royal Tenenbaum who died saving his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship'.

Royal Tenenbaum is my favorite Wes Anderson film along with Rushmore. I hope I could add 'Grand Budapest Hotel' to the above list.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Submarino (2010)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers:  Jonas T. Bengtsson, Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Cast:       Gustav Fischer Kjaerulff, Sebastian Bull Sarning, Mads Broe Andersen
Language: Danish

Two brothers are haunted by the death of their younger infant brother for which they were partly responsible through negligence. Having had a substance abusing and alcoholic mother, they themselves are on a self-destructive path in their adult lives. In terms of personalty they are mirror images of their childhood selves with the elder one having a stronger but impulsive character while the younger one being bit of a meek.

The film largely goes along predictable lines but we care for the characters deeply enough to be continuously in a sense of foreboding. Substance abuse is obviously a big problem is Western World but it was a surprise to see that the younger brother's son was not taken away from him by social services. The social services in Scandinavia is famous for being overly paranoid about abuse/negligence suffered by children and Thomas Vinterberg's recent film 'Jagten' kind of handles that subject. 

Film is an adaptation of Jonas T. Bengtsson's  novel of the same name and it was funded by broadcaster TV 2 which insisted that at least half the cast and production crew would be first timers. This has given the film a very raw feel of the social class that it depicts and one would also be reminded of 'Requiem for a Dream' as well. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ustad Hotel (2012)

Director: Anwar Rasheed
Writer:    Anjali Menon
Cast:       Dulquer Salman, Thilakan, Nithya Menon
Language: Malayalam

An urban chef from a rich family is stuck in his grandfather's old restaurant 'Ustad Hotel' as his passport is confiscated by his businessman father when the son tries to leave India against his wishes. His father wants him to manage a five star hotel whereas he wants to work and settle in Europe where he did his studies. Film goes along all the predictable lines reminding one of the Malayalam saying:' Kala vaal pokkumbozhe ariyam'.

The film was a huge box office as well as critical success upon its release. I had previously tried to watch it some time back but stopped after the first half hour as it went along the cliched path. This time around I stuck with it the whole way through and have to say what comes after the first half hour is even worse. At least there was some freshness in how it was presented at the beginning (especially the story moving opening credits). It would have been a watchable film if it just went along the predictable feel good path with binary characters, but it decides to ramp it up further with the laughably bad and manipulative charity preaching that it does in its last act. It was a cringe-fest.

The songs were good and the different Muslim setting might have given it a veneer of being something different. It is anything but.

Rating: 1.5/5

Peeping Tom (1960)

Director: Michael Powell
Writer:    Leo Marks
Cast:       Katlheinz Bohm, Anna Massey, Moria Shearer

A young man with voyeuristic behavior murders women using a movie camera to film their dying expressions of fear.

The Peeping Tom character 'Mark Lewis' was used by his scientist father as a guinea pig for his studies on fear and nervous system. He never experienced privacy during his childhood and this experience growing up has led him to invade other people's privacy subjecting them to the terror he faced as a child. He falls in love with a young woman from the floor downstairs to his home and while this does not stop him from his usual activities, he cares about the girl and actively tries not to capture her on camera and thus end up killing her. 

The film at the center  of it has a character who do terrible things but for whom we feel sympathy for. Not surprisingly it got widespread criticism upon release. Directed by Michael Powell of the Powell-Pressburger duo, it is said that Peeping Tom was a huge setback for Powell's career as a director in England. Over time it has gained a cult following and people like Scorsese consider it as a masterpiece and rightly so. One will be reminded  of Hitchcock and can positively say that this film would have influenced several Polanski films (Apartment Trilogy). Considering its release year of 1960, it is kind of a bridge between the Hitchcock films before 60s and the much more surreal fare from Polanski in the 60s.

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, May 5, 2014

Margot at the Wedding (2007)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer:    Noah Baumbach
Cast:       Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black

Margot is a successful writer who is intelligent and can be very condescending. She is visiting the home she grew up in with her son to attend her sister Pauline's wedding with whom she has not talked for some time. She is  not impressed by the groom and starts what others consider to be meddling.

The film's tagline is : 'One Family...Infinite degrees of Separation'. They had an abusive father which could have affected their personality growing up. The short stories that Margot writes tend to be autobiographic which is one of the reason for her troubles with Pauline. The very condescending nature of  Margot is evident when she dishes out suggestions to what others should do and she considers herself impervious to irrationality and feelings. There is a scene in which she is having a talk about her book and when the interviewer asks how autobiographical it is about the abusive father in the book, she starts talking about her father. The interviewer then interrupts and says that he meant her as a parent upon which she breaks down realizing how she has come a full circle. The film kind of reminded me of About Schmidt even though the protagonists are complete opposites.

This was Noah Baumbach's second film after his debut feature 'The Squid and the Whale' for which he was nominated at the academy awards. He managed to get the star cast working below their usual pay to do this film. I actually liked this film more than the much more acclaimed Squid and the Whale. 

Rating: 4/5 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Trivandrum Lodge (2012)

Director: V.K. Prakash
Writer:    Anoop Menon
Cast:       Jayasurya, Anoop Menon, Honey Rose
Language: Malayalam

The film revolves around the inmates of a dilapidated 'Trivandrum Lodge' located in Fort Kochi/Mattanchery area.

The film when it got released divided the audience over its frank treatment of sex and lust in the script. The language used was also controversial but I was getting only the fucking beeps since I watched it on a TV channel. The hoopla over it shows how hypocritical Kerala has gone about this subject over the years. This is an industry which came out with even bolder films like 'Arapatta Kettiya Gramathil' and 'Thoovanathumbikal' decades ago.

The film has numerous characters and the makers manage to quite pull off almost all of them well in an interesting way without too much contrivance. The least interesting parts in the film are Anoop Menon-Bhavana story arc and the eviction problem faced by the tenants. It felt like a badly executed effort to justify the title for the film and a cheap plot device to reach a logical end-point. Apart from these, film was a very enjoyable watch and probably just for one time. I am not entirely sure about the nod given to 'Thoovanathumbikal' through the cameo appearance of the character 'Thangal'. Its very brief and so it was not too cringe worthy and the repeat of: 'Thanthayilla chatthu poyi, thallayund' is a favorite line for me from Thoovanathumbikal mainly because of how it is delivered by Babu Namboothirippad. However the nod to 'Beautiful' was a bit too much. That is reserved for greats like Kubrick & Tarkovsky and no marks like V.K. Prakash shouldn't be attempting it. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Director: David Lean
Writers:  T.E. Lawrence, Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Cast:       Peter O'Toole, Omar Sheriff, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn

A flamboyant and controversial military figure and his conflicted loyalties during his World War One service in the middle east.

The film is close to three and hours long and it completely justifies that because of the  complexity of its main character. I felt like watching a prequel version of Apocalypse Now (Heart of Darkness) essentially depicting character's descent into madness. Rather than the war leading him into darkness the character from the beginning itself is questionably a bit crazy. There is a hint about homosexual orientation in the character's portrayal. The fate of the Arab World portrayed rings true even now as the basic problem there is the tribal culture and warring between groups.

The film was shot mainly in Jordan, Morocco and Spain and some of the characters are amalgamation of several different characters from history. Cinematography is excellent and it is amazing to think that they were actually able to make this film in those days. It completely justified its epic status and the only minor quibble would be every character speaking English. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Le conseguenze dell'amore (The Consequences of Love) (2004)

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writer:    Paolo Sorrentino
Cast:       Toni Servillo, Olivia Magnani, Adriano Giannini
Language: Italian

Titta di Girolamo (Toni Servillo) is an introverted man living in a hotel for the last ten or so years. He is an insomniac, regular irregular heroin user (its complicated) and there is something dark about his past. He falls for the hotel barmaid which has its own consequences.

This was the first film of Sorrentino that I watched some years back and I loved it then but maybe for different reasons than for loving it again during my second watch. Sorrentino is someone who can make any scene amazingly stylish with some thumping soundtrack and the presence of his protagonist in slow-mo. The film starts off with the line: 'A person who likes to spend a lot of time alone should be very imaginative'. Servillo's characters in both this film and 'The Great Beauty' are people with whom I can identify a lot with. A life in a hotel would suit me fine as well. 

For me the film's title is a deception. The suicidal action taken by him is not necessarily due to him falling in love with the barmaid. It just acted as a trigger for him reacting to his bosses for taking away his freedom and there is great deal of build-up to it. His conversation with his brother sums up how people like me feel when idiots like them try to offer advise. People have different personalities and things that make you happy won't be necessarily what certain others would enjoy. So don't invite people to do things that you would enjoy as a privilege without due consideration about what they would prefer. 

Titta: In the world there's a certain kind of cult, with men and women of all social classes, of all ages and of all religions. It is the insomniacs cult. I'm part of it. For ten years. Those who don't belong to the cult sometimes tend to say: "If you can't sleep, you can read, watch TV, study or do something else". That kind of phrase is deeply annoying to the members of the cult. And the reason is simple. Cause the insomniac has only one obsession: to sleep.

Rating: 4.5/5