Thursday, July 31, 2014

Vedivazhipadu (2013)

Director: Shambu Purushothaman
Writer:    Shambhu Purushuthaman
Cast:       Murali Gopy, Indrajith, Saiju Kurup, Anumol

Three friends decide to hire a prostitute on the day of the Aatukaal Pongala (a Hindu festival in Trivandrum) when their wives are busy with the same festival

Film was produced by Arun Kumar Aravind and like in his other films Trivandrum is a major character in the story. The director Shambhu Purushothaman who is making his debut, a graduate from Satyajit Ray film and television institute, wrote the story also. Cinematography is handled by Shehnad Jalal and he should be getting a special mention because the visuals are really good. The film attracted controversy because of its unabashedly frank treatment of the subject and the juxtaposition of a religious festival with adultery would have alerted the overly sensitive moral policing assholes. It was initially denied censor certificate but finally managed to get released with an A certificate.

So finally about the film. It is a black comedy and despite being billed just as a sex comedy, it is one with brains. It is a frank treatment of subjects like arranged marriages which mostly forces people with not much in common into relationship slavery, societal hypocrisy, moral policing in the modern Kerala society and the overall creepiness of the society as a whole where sexual repression manifests into things like misogyny. The acting is good throughout by all concerned which is like a big achievement for modern Malayalam cinema with the general scarcity of talent. The humor is not consistently good with it sometimes bordering into slapstick territory but still there are plenty of genuine laughs. It is a shame that the film didn't do well at the box office since it puts all the supposedly 'New Generation' films to shame with its no holds barred approach. Still the ending of the film again is kind of a moralizing one without being too preachy and in your face.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Left Right Left (2013)

Director: Arun Kumar Aravind
Writer:    Murali Gopy
Cast:       Indrajith, Murali Gopy, Hareesh Peradi, Lena

Interlinked story of  three men (an evil politician, an eccentric cop & a former revolutionist) with different perspectives on life resulted due to confrontation of death in their childhood.

If my memory serves me right this film received quite universal praise when it was released. I decided to watch it after being impressed by the Writer-Director duo's previous film 'Ee Adutha Kalath'. To say that it was a disappointment for me would be an understatement. Am I missing something? Film got some helpful controversies accompanying its release due to its portrayal of the two distinct factions of communist party in Kerala led by VS and Pinarayi Vijayan. Rather than making a point about their ideological difference in a subtle manner, it chooses to do a caricature which is too ridiculous to be taken seriously. It wouldn't have been a problem if it stuck with the character stories like in the first half of the film, but it decides to make the problems in the party its center point with the ridiculous flashback scenes before the climax which had a distinct feel of them just trying to shoehorn all the characters into the revenge narrative.

In my opinion the film wanted to say something about the communist party but they ballsed up big time the way they did it. That is the problem with these multiple character story-lines which can look utterly ridiculous if they cannot pull it off with conviction. For me whatever that can be said about the ideological differences in the party has already been dealt with in Venu Nagavalli's 'Lal Salaam'. It is a political outfit struggling with its ideology in a capitalist world where it cannot operate without contradicting itself. The Mohanlal's character in Lal Salaam takes a sabbatical from the party to set a business up and be financially independent. He find himself ostracized from the party when he becomes rich as he is also classed as bourgeoisie. What is happening now in the party can be classed as kind of reverse of this with the party itself being run as a sort of business. 

Rating: 1.5/5

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ee Adutha Kaalath (2012)

Director: Arun Kumar Aravind
Writer:    Murali Gopy
Cast:       Indrajith, Murali Gopy, Tanushree Ghosh, Anoop Menon

The film features the lives of six different persons from different strata of the social life of the Trivandrum city, interconnected due to unexpected events beyond their control.

The film starts with a line about Rubik's cube's possible number of combinations and out of these one fits it perfectly. Like this, film is trying to piece together all these different characters into its narrative. It doesn't manage to do it in a perfect manner but considering the budget it is a very good effort. Film is interesting because of the aspects of modern Kerala society it touches upon, which were hardly tackled before by Malayalam cinema. The hospital owner played by Murali Gopy is unhappy with his life and makes life miserable for people around him. He has got a trophy wife (Tanushree Ghosh) who was an actress before their marriage and she is unhappy with the way he treats her emotionally and sexually. Then you have the real estate/blade mafia don played by Baiju, Yellow journalist (Jagathy), investigative journalist for a regional news channel (Lena), the commissioner of Police who got training from Scotland Yard (Anoop Menon) and finally the stereotypically poor man who has to commit a crime for greater food (Indrajith) for whom we are supposed to feel sympathy for. 

Film can be seen as the first one among what is now described as 'New Generation Films' in Malayalam cinema which are known for frank treatment of some previously ignored subject matters, real life like dialogs (I mean bad language) and morally ambiguous characters. But the thing is, most of these films still operate under the untold but prevalent moral restrictions imposed in Indian cinema. One feels like watching 40s and 50s Hollywood films where the genre noir itself has a predictable ending of crime doesn't pay. In this film also the characters for whom we are supposed to sympathize for don't end up doing 'morally' questionable actions, be it adultery in the case of Tanushree Ghosh's character or stealing in the case of Indrajith's character. Things happen by accident absolving them of outright blame. I just want these guys to truly push the boundaries where we as audience should be questioning ourselves for rooting for some unlikeable characters and their actions. Only then will I say that these guys are actually pushing boundaries. Take the case of Murali Gopy's character for whom they give an explanation for his behavior. They use it as a plot device but I wish they left it unexplained. They could have just left him as a financially successful man who doesn't know how to be happy and treat those around him with respect. Such a character would be quite common in modern Kerala society. 

The film is not perfect but it is great watch and its shortcomings can be forgiven because of the limited budget and inexperience of people (Director & Writer) behind it. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

Director: Errol Morris

A film about the former US secretary of Defense and the various difficult lessons he learned about the nature and conduct of modern war.

The title 'Fog of War' refers to the military concept depicting the difficulty of making decisions in the midst of a conflict, many of which can be interpreted as stupid with hindsight. The documentary film which was initially conceived as a TV interview is based on around twenty hours worth of interview material Errol Morris had with McNamara. It was filmed using a device Morris use which he calls as 'Interrotron' which permits the subject to look directly at the camera and see Morris on a small monitor. The involvement of Morris in the final cut is minimal and we are left to make judgements based on what we hear from McNamara. McNamara is largely held as the man who was responsible for the extent of US' involvement in the Vietnam war and the documentary provides  us a counter-factual insights into various events during that cold war period. World War Two (Japanese Bombing) and the Cuban missile crisis is also covered in the film. 

The following are the lessons that Errol Morris thinks we should learn from what McNamara is saying:
  • Empathize with your enemy
  • Rationality will not save us
  • There's something beyond one's self
  • Maximize efficiency
  • Proportionality should be a guideline in war
  • Get the data
  • Belief and seeing are often both wrong
  • Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
  • In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
  • Never say never
  • You can't change human nature

It can be used to judge the current wars in Ukraine and Israel-Palestine conflict. Morris had asked McNamara to judge the Iraq war based on those lessons but he declined to do so and said the viewers can come to their own judgement. 

The documentary film gives us an insight into the mind of an undoubtedly an exceptionally bright man who had a difficult job as Secretary of Defense in the Cold War period.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, July 25, 2014

Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) (1987)

Director: Wim Wenders
Writers:  Wim Wenders, Peter Handke
Cast:       Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander

An angel tires of overseeing human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.

The German title of the film translates literally to 'Heaven above Berlin' and it is about invisible and immortal angels who listen to the thoughts of the human inhabitants and comfort those who are in distress. Out of the two angels whose perspective we largely see in the film, one of them played by Bruno Ganz (Hitler in Downfall) is having an angelic existential crisis with him longing for a human life. He is sick knowing everything that is going on through the minds of people whom he sees and wants a bit more of surprise and intrigue to his existence. The angelic perspective in the film is shown in black and white and of humans' in color. The last half hour of the film is largely in color.

Most of the dialog are poetic in nature and also delivered in that style. The film begins with the following lines:

Damiel: When the child was a child, it walked with its arms swinging. It wanted the stream to be a river, the river a torrent, and this puddle to be the sea. When the child was a child, it didn't know it was a child. Everything was full of life, and all life was one. When the child was a child, it had no opinion about anything, no habits. It often sat cross-legged, took off running, had a cowlick in its hair, and didn't make faces when photographed.

Angels in the film can be seen as the enlightened/intellectual souls who are highly aware of what is going on truly knows what drives people's desires and their actions (They have read 'Selfish Gene'). Damiel is sick of this and wants a more normal life which is why he embraces what is human life in this film. He later discovers that he is not the first angel to do this. When he finally meets the girl whom he fell in love they have the following conversation/monologue as if they have known each other for a long time:

Marion: Now it's serious. At last it's becoming serious. So I've grown older. Was I the only one who wasn't serious? Is it our times that are not serious? I was never lonely neither when I was alone, nor with others. But I would have liked to be alone at last. Loneliness means I'm finally whole. Now I can say it as tonight, I'm at last alone. I must put an end to coincidence. The new moon of decision. I don't know if there's destiny but there's a decision. Decide! We are now the times. Not only the whole town - the whole world is taking part in our decision. We two are now more than us two. We incarnate something. We're representing the people now. And the whole place is full of those who are dreaming the same dream. We are deciding everyone's game. I am ready. Now it's your turn. You hold the game in your hand. Now or never. You need me. You will need me. There's no greater story than ours, that of man and woman. It will be a story of giants... invisible... transposable... a story of new ancestors. Look. My eyes. They are the picture of necessity, of the future of everyone in the place. Last night I dreamt of a stranger... of my man. Only with him could I be alone, open up to him, wholly open, wholly for him. Welcome him wholly into me. Surround him with the labyrinth of shared happiness. I know... it's you.

The film ends with a to be continued note and it was later on followed up with a sequel 'Faraway, so close!' which I haven't seen yet. Then comes the closing credits which begins with: "Dedicated to all the former angels, but especially to Yasujiro, Francois and Andrej" which is a reference to legendary filmmakers Ozu, Truffaut and Tarkovsky. 

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Naduvazhikal (1989)

Director: Joshi
Writer:    S.N. Swami
Cast:      Mohanlal, Devan, Murali, Madhu, Thilakan

Arjun (Mohanlal) is the son of a man with big influence who made his money through smuggling. He is dragged into his father's affairs who is arrested due to business enmity.

Film is another one in the crime-family drama genre which takes significant influence from Godfather. Mohanlal plays the role of the protagonist who is at first weary and reluctant to enter into his father's affairs. Like in Godfather the situation forces him into taking the mantle and gradually over the course of the film grows into the role. This transformation is done in a very convincing and nuanced way ultimately leading to the climax scene which is among the most iconic action sequences in Malayalam film history. Film is from an era where the scriptwriters took utmost care to flush out supporting characters who are also memorable in their own right. The roles played by Jagathy and Thilakan are prime examples for this. This is another role for Jagathy in which he plays a parasitic character with ambiguous affiliations. Some of his lines are as quotable as you could get ("Panikkare nambinaal....ujwalamaayirunnu prakadanam....").

Film is not uniformly great with some scenes that have not aged particularly well. It is supposed to be based on a real life character in Calicut town even though I cannot substantiate it. I would rank this film second among Joshi's filmography with 'Dhruvam' being his best. It is staggering to think that film got released very close to 'Kireedom' and both were super-hits as the following poster would suggest.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lord of War (2005)

Director: Andrew Niccol
Writer:    Andrew Niccol
Cast:       Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke, Jared Leto

An arms dealer confronts the morality of his work as he is being chased by an Interpol agent.

The film starts with the following line:

 "There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?"

 Then in the opening credits it traces the life of a bullet from its factory to its final resting place, the head of an African child. The film is largely narrated by the Orlov (Nicolas Cage) which bears some resemblance to Goodfellas. The character is based out of several real life figures who profited largely from the breakup of USSR with all the cold war inventory smuggled out from the former USSR countries. It was interesting to see Ukraine playing an important role in the film and, because of the recent events, Crimea and Odessa meant something. 

I think the main problem with the film is that Andrew Niccol, whom I greatly admire, is mindful of the fact that he cannot glamorize it as much as say in Goodfellas because of the subject matter and the film comes off as a bit drab. The other characters apart from Orlov are poorly written or not well developed enough to make an impact. This is especially true for characters played by Jared Leto and Ethan Hawke and they were just wasted. The film just comes off as lots of information they are trying to fit into as a film. It is watchable but not very good. A R Rahman's Bombay theme music is used in one scene.

Rating: 2.5/5

Enemy (2013)

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers:  Jose Saramago (Novel), Javier Gullon
Cast:       Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon

A man seeks out his exact lookalike after spotting him in a movie.

Denis Villeneuve is a director who uses the color tones well to add to the visual story telling. 'Incendies' had a blue tint whereas 'The Prisoners' had a grey one conveying the grim nature of the story. I liked Incendies but thought the prisoners had glaring plot holes. He is one director who is not afraid to depict really outlandish plots hoping to carry it through how well immersed the viewer can be in the viewing experience. So how much you rate the film will depend a lot on how well you enjoyed whilst watching it so that you could suspend your disbelief which is needed very much. 

Enemy is also no different with him going for the color tone similar to another one of Jake Gyllenhaal film 'Zodiac'.  It is a twist on the multiple personality disorder which is a genre in itself in film industry. Contrary to most other films in this genre we as audience realize pretty much from the get go what is going on. When it happened I was going like 'Oh no! Not another one of these'. Then my focus went on to keeping a watch on which all characters are together in a scene, when one interacts with another whether the third one is present on the screen and so on. I was sincerely hoping that the director would add another twist to show they are different people which I think is fair to expect from a Denis Villeneuve film if you go by the twist in 'Incendies'. The director takes this twist and finally does a reverse flip by ending it again on the Schizophrenic reality of the situation. The ending which alludes that it was all in his head might be disingenuous to many viewers going by the reviews, but I thoroughly enjoyed as it is a self aware play on the genre. I also loved the end credits.

It was good to see Melanie Laurent in it (Shohsanna from Inglorious Basterds) and Jake Gyllenhaal picks good solid films to act in.The film was adapted from Jose Saramago's novel 'The Double'.

Rating: 5/5

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director: John Landis
Writer:    John Landis
Cast:       David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Joe Belcher

Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.

John Landis is known for directing comedy films like Trading Places and National Lampoon's Animal House. The initial draft of American Werewolf in London was written by him in the late 1960s which was then shelved for a decade. It can be described as a horror comedy with more stress on the comedy parts which makes it very watchable even now. The make-up effects during the transformation are really great and the horror moments are really edge of the seat stuff which cannot be said about many other horror films where the directors don't know how to build an uneasy tension. Evil Dead which also came out in 1981 is also supposed to be an horror film with plenty of humor about it but I wouldn't know about that since I watched it when I was around 11 years old and was proper terrified. John Landis went on to direct Michael Jackson's legendary Thriller music video and by watching this film I know where it came from.

The ending would have been funnier if he had killed off his girlfriend too instead of going the King Kong way. The relationship between them is done pretty well. John Landis is an American but he manages to give the film a characteristically British humor. My only prior exposure to werewolves were through the character Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series. The final werewolf attack happens in a Porno theater with a porn film running in the background. That film from what is shown is also as odd as this one.

A sequel to film came in 97 titled 'An American Werewolf in Paris' and it didn't do very well. I haven't seen it but looks like Julie Delpy was in it. Film follows the adventures of the child conceived by the werewolf in first film and his nurse girlfriend.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blue Ruin (2013)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer:    Jeremy Saulneir
Cast:       Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves

A mysterious outsider's quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood town to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

Film was crowd-funded through kickstarter and was screened at the Cannes where it won the FIPRESCI prize. Macon Blair plays the awkward assassin and the fact that he is not a well known actor helps us to relate to him imagining it to be how we will also behave if we dare to do it. I was reminded of the Malayalam film 'Thazhvaram' which was also a revenge film.  I liked Thazhvaram but thought it would have been a greater film if they hadn't shown the flashback to justify the revenge act. 

In Blue Ruin the back story is not shown but alluded to by the characters in their conversations. The film loses its steam in terms of the intrigue as it progresses with the characters and their motivations established. Still its a great watch. The great thing about it is that even though the protagonist has a noble end, if we think about it, we will realize that he fucked up big time by creating a needless shitstorm. To be fair he had no way of knowing.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seinfeld (1989–1998)

Creators: Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld
Cast:       Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards

I had finished my second time watching of the entire series in order, around 4-5 months back. I was meaning to write about it at that point but 'Yadda yadda yadda' and I missed it. See what I did there.  Now am on fourth season in my third time watching. I guess it is never late to write about it amidst plethora of articles coming about the show's 25th year anniversary.

First of all I don't rate Seinfeld as my favorite sitcom. It is 'The Thick of It' for its sheer genius in all its episodes. Maybe it is not fair to compare Seinfeld which had 180 episodes to 'The Thick of It' which had just  24 episodes in which it had to maintain the quality. Well that is generally the difference between US shows which tends to go for over 10 episodes a season whereas 6 is the norm in British TV. But Seinfeld is more of a British show with its sense of humor and maybe one of the reason why I like it a lot.

As they themselves describe in the show 'It is a show about nothing' and that is why it is so timeless. The show really gets its identity from the third season onwards with the creators getting bolder and bolder and having a clear idea about where they want to take it. First season is quite ordinary and their interactions almost unrecognizable from how they are later on. It would seem like just another show about relationship troubles. Jerry's father is played by a different actor and Kramer is named Kessler in the pilot. Still it has its moments with the second episode 'Stake Out' establishing 'Art Vandelay' and George's desire to be a architect which is a running theme throughout the series. I had seen many random episodes of Seinfeld before I got all of them together and watched it in order. You will miss so much if you don't watch it in order because you won't get many of the in-jokes like Kramer's friend whom we never see 'Bob Sacamano', imaginary erotic film 'Rochelle Rochelle', Kramer's sharp lawyer 'Jackie Chiles' etc.   

Many articles have referenced the fact that it was the first popular show with despicable characters as protagonists and laid out the path for characters like 'Tony Soprano' and 'Walter White'. But the genius of it is that I don't find them despicable maybe because I find plenty of it very relatable with my nihilistic, narcissistic attitude towards life. Plenty of us will relate most to the neurotic George Constanaza, the self proclaimed Lord of the idiots who will drape himself in velvet if it was socially acceptable.

I normally prefer sitcoms without laugh tracks but the Seinfeld is different from other shows in its usage because they perform in front of a live audience during recording. That is why we can see them waiting for the laugh to subside especially during Kramer's entrances. We can also see them clearly being not able to hide their laughter during performances and this would normally constitute bad acting. But when they do it it is endearing and we love the show more because of it. Plenty of hoopla was around the finale which I found to be quite crap on second viewing. But that really doesn't matter because it is not a drama where the finale would change the way we view the previous episodes. When they decided to stop the show while it was at its peak, Bill Gates was offering Jerry more than one million dollars an episode. It has now earned more than $1.5 billions through syndication and both Jerry and Larry are about $500 million rich. Certainly I wouldn't cite financial success for quality of the product as can be evidenced by my disdain towards 'Titanic' and 'Avatar'. But for Seinfeld since it is success is earned though a long period of time justifying the timeless nature of it, the financial success is indicative of its quality. 

Larry David went on to make Larry David starring sweary HBO's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' which is also among my favorites in my top 5. It is largely improvised but there is some predictability to each episodes in the way they structure it. For people suffering from Seinfeld withdrawal symptoms it is a sure shot remedy. 

Rating: 5/5

White Material (2009)

Director: Claire Denis
Writers:  Claire Denis, Marie N'Diaye
Cast:       Isabella Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Issach De Bankole

A white family which owns a coffee plantation in an unnamed post-colonial African country finds themselves in the midst of a civil war. The husband is trying to get his family out of the country whilst the wife (Isabella Huppert) is worried about the unharvested coffee beans.

If you read the synopsis you kind of expect a predictable film along either of the following lines: 1) Africans cannot run things without their white masters and it is really a case of white man's burden 2) White people in the film is caught up in the violence with the rebels justified in the actions against the post colonial ruling elite. Since Claire Denis is behind the film it does not fall in either of these categories. It doesn't have a big message. All the three sets: White Family (Referred to as White Material in the film), the rebels and the ruling elite militia are kind of neutral in the sense that all of them are equally despicable. 

Isabelle Huppert's character is running the plantation and that is the only life she wants. She refuses to see the warning signs willingly. It was funny to see Roger Ebert in his review describe her as a courageous fighter whilst throughout the film I was wondering how incredibly naive she was. One will be reminded of the hippies, anti-capitalists, humanitarians who naively think that people left to their own devices are capable of living in a communal way with equality for all. The only character for whom I felt some degree of sympathy was the husband played by Christoper Lambert. 

It is a great watch but might not be suitable for everyone. If you are expecting something conventional where you are told whom to sympathize for, then its not for you. For the very reasons that I like this film, some people will hate it.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Director: Richard Linklater
Writer:    Richard Linklater
Cast:       Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck

The film follows the various groups of teenagers during the last day of school in the summer of 1976. The incoming junior high students are given the initiation along the expected lines with them being given  a backside thrashing and other lame hazing rituals. As in real life, only some of the seniors are overly enthusiastic about this with the character played by Ben Affleck being the prime candidate for the alpha dickhead. His character also reminded me of the one he played in Mallrats. 

This was Linklater's second major film and it shares some similarity with his debut feature 'Slacker' in the sense that there is no large narrative or story arc about it. It is just a bunch of high school kids doing some random stuff. If you are to call one character central it would be Floyd (Jason London), the school team quarterback who is pissed off with his coach and authority. Film was a moderate success upon its release but is now a cult classic with even Quentin Tarantino naming it quite high up in his list of best films of all time. Linklater is quite an underrated director and I never think of him when I list my favorite directors but the sheer number of his films that I found to be great should warrant him to be in the list. Before Trilogy, A Scanner Darkly, Waking Life, Bernie, Dazed & Confused- that is some real good filmography he has got there. His latest one 'Boyhood' which was shot over a 12 year period is also getting rave reviews and one reason I watched Dazed & Confused again is due to my frustration about not getting access to watch Boyhood. Lets hope it turns up in the usual places soon.

This was also Matthew McConaughey's debut film and the role is quite memorable with his characteristic opening line of 'Alright, alright, alright'. He plays a creepy guy who dropped out from school long time back but likes to hang out with them. His line in the film about schoolgirls is also quite legendary: "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age. ". He reminded me of Mohanlal's character in 'Sarvakalshala'. Shame that he wasted his career over the next two decades doing shitty rom-coms, none of which I have watched. 

Dazed and Confused is one of the best films of its genre along with 'Stand by me' and 'Breakfast Club'. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Social Network (2010)

Director: David Fincher
Writers:   Aaron Sorkin, Ben Mezrich
Cast:       Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake

Film tells the story of creation of facebook as it is recounted during two lawsuits against Mark Zuckerberg, one by the Winklevi twins and the other by facebook's cofounder Eduardo Saverin.

When I saw it for the first time I was not using facebook and found the film to be great. You don't need to give a fuck about facebook to enjoy the film like is the case with Formula One and 'Senna'. The use of lawsuit to do the narration is extremely clever and they manage to make it very enjoyable even for people who are not clued upon internet start-ups, VCs and the importance of leaving monetizing late for such companies to succeed. Sean Parker's perfect analogies also helps. Jesse Eisenberg is perfect to play Mark Zuckerberg. Neither Zuckerberg nor any of the other facebook staff were involved during the production of the film but Saverin had cooperated for the Ben Mezrich book from which it is largely adapted. Fincher was also supposed to direct the Steve Jobs film but dropped out due to differences with Sony Entertainment. It is a shame because Jobs story had all the potential and the film that they finally ended up making looked disastrous based on the reviews.

I was searching for the spelling of Winklevi on Google and it turns out that the expression is in urban dictionary meaning coming second or not being quite good enough. Hehe. Also loved the Larry Summers  character portrayal and the stuff about him being a treasury secretary. Anyways the film is great even though it might be a bit Hollywodized, but who cares, it is the best film about silicon valley so far. HBO's TV series 'Silicon Valley' is also quite good.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New World (신세계) (2013)

Director:Hoon-jung Park
Writer:   Hoon-jung Park
Cast:      Jung-Jae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Jeong-min Hwang

The boss of Goldmoon crime syndicate is dead and choice for succession is in between two of his underlings. The cops want to influence the succession using one of their undercover cops who has been on this assignment for ten years but wants out now.

It is Eastern Promises meets Infernal Affairs meets Donnie Brasco meets Godafther. One would expect with this many possible influences it will be uneven with jarring cliches. It is anything but. Stylishly shot with subtle performances to go with some great set-piece sequences, it is a really ambitious project. Normally I find East Asian languages to be not very subtle sounding but since this film has lesser amount of dialog compared to other films of this genre, it was really fine. Jung Jae-Lee gives a Michael Corleonesque performance and other male characters are also well written and developed. Twists are kind of predictable but the film is not really about them.

I was not at all surprised to see that it is part of a planned trilogy and I wouldn't be surprised if one of them is a prequel and the other a sequel to the events in New World. Something similar was done with Infernal Affairs but with not so good results. Lets just hope these guys make a better fist of it. 

Rating: 5/5 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Salinui chueok (Memories of Murder) (2003)

Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writers:  Joon-ho Bong, Kwang-rim Kim, Shim Sung-bo
Cast:       Kang-ho Song, Sang-kyung Kim, Roe-ha Kim

Film is based on the true story of South Korea's first known serial murders, which took place between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi province. The film follows two detectives who are trying to solve the crimes.

Quentin Tarantino had included this film in his top twenty films since 1992 (Reservoir Dogs). I recently saw Joon-ho Bong's futuristic sci-fi action film Snowpiercer which was a great watch with some over the top action and concepts but in an extremely enjoyable way. When a foreign director does a film in a language foreign to him you don't expect much subtlety which was the case with Snowpiercer. I was expecting Memories of Murder to be much more of a brooding thriller considering the subject matter but it is done with some deadpan humor especially at the beginning. As the film progresses it sheds that style and become much more about how the investigation is affecting the two detectives. Some of it is quite camp with the line uttered by the more sophisticated detective from Seoul becoming from 'Document is the truth' at the start of the investigation to 'Document is a lie' by the end. Some of that might be a case of lost in translation and it is quite a great watch. 

Obvious comparison is to be made with David Fincher's 'Zodiac' which came later in 2007. The endings are similar and both are based on true stories. Don't know whether the Korean film influenced Fincher film in any way but Zodiac is much more of a character study done with much more subtlety.  But Memories of Murder is much more fast paced and both films have their own place.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Sopranos (1999–2007): Season One

Creator: David Chase
Cast:     James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli

'Family-Redefined'- That is the tagline and it kind of explains it. The first season of the series centers on New Jersey Mob Boss Tony Soprano, who is facing an existential crisis and is seeing a shrink to come to terms with it. His Uncle who is their boss albeit in name only, is having a power struggle with him and his mother is pulling the strings.

So I have finally started watching The Sopranos. When it comes to naming the best TV series of all time, it is usually a tossup between 'The Sopranos' and 'The Wire' for most people whose opinion I respect. Breaking Bad also comes up but I think its recency is a cause for it. I found it to be overrated and binned it after completing three seasons.

 The mafia stories and crime families have been done to death in many films and there is even one character in this series who models himself as Al Pacino. For it to standout the treatment should be different and it is so. In mob films like Godfather the importance is given more to how macro-events in their business dealings affect their family, in 'The Sopranos' it is all about micro level feelings that the characters feel, especially the main protagonist and mob activities happen largely around the periphery. Same thing can be said about the film Donnie Brasco which is also a favorite of mine. Him seeing a shrink helps to convey the same to the audience and it is not just an exposition device since it also influences the plot in a great way. 

The first season has been good but there is some episodic nature to it especially during the 5-9 episodes I think.  I guess I have been spoiled by 'The Wire' which treated its audience with great respect and the motto for it was 'Every pieces matter'. Something minute  that happened in one episode could come significant episodes or even seasons later. What I mean by episodic nature about Sopranos is that there are things that happen all of a sudden in one episode without any build up to it serving just as a plot device for that particular episode. The example for this would be Meadow Soprano's suicidal friend who apparently spends a lot of time in their house but that episode is practically the first time she is shown in it. I think we could forgive this since it is just the first season and I hope it changes over the subsequent seasons.

The late James Gandolfini carries the show and surprisingly enough he plays a vulnerable character unlike in the films that I have seen of him (True Romance, In the Loop, Killing Them Softly). Looking forward to watching the next season which I will start pretty soon.

Rating: 4/5 

Les salauds (Bastards) (2013)

Director: Claire Denis
Writers:  Jean-Pol Fargeau, Claire Denis
Cast:       Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Julie Bataille

Marco returns to Paris after his brother-in-law's suicide, where he targets the man his sister believes caused the tragedy- though he is ill prepared for her secrets as they quickly muddy the waters.

I haven't seen any Claire Denis films prior to watching this and from what I have read, this film also has her characteristic style in the sense that she won't spell it out for the audience what the character's are feeling and expositions are minimal. So we are to figure it all out by paying attention and watching closely even the gestures. Film uses flash forwards and most of them come again in the chronological order as the film progresses but some are left hanging, like the kid's bicycle getting found in the woods by the Police.

It is a very atmospheric film with original soundtrack and unlikeable characters. It was screened at the Cannes in the 'Uncertain Category' which I think is a good criterion to get your hands on films that are unconventional. It is a good one time watch and I will be certainly seeking out other Claire Denis films.

Rating: 3.5/5  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Calvary (2014)

Director: John Michael McDonagh
Writer:    John Michael McDonagh
Cast:       Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly

A priest (Brendan Gleeson) is threatened during a confession by a man who claims to have been abused by some priest when he was 7 years old. He thinks killing off a good priest will make more of a statement and asks the father to get his affairs in order and that be ready to die on next sunday. The film then follows his activities over the next one week.

It is now very common to have films dealing with the abuses perpetrated by church and its priests and unlike those films John Michael McDonagh tells the story in which the priest is the good character trying help the community which has a great deal of cynicism about the Church. The church has only itself to blame for its shenanigans in Ireland and 'Philomena' is another recent film which dealt with similar subject matter. By having character like Father James who is not a bigot and deals the matters that he encounters in a realistic manner, the director is not trying to portray the whole Church in similar light. He is a man who was once married and is father to his daughter, but then decided to become a priest after the death of his wife. He is trying to stay relevant to those he serves unlike most of the church. Film might not be realistic in the sense that all the cynics are shown to be extremely faithful when it comes to their confessions. That doesn't matter because it is a black comedy. 

Film is also highly self aware with constant references to the roles they are playing and some of the characters echoing what we think as an audience. There is one scene in the film where the atheistic doctor played by Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger from GoT) tells the following story to the father in a pub: 

I can't find the fucking quote but is a about a three year old boy who became deaf, dumb, blind and paralyzed after an anesthetic mishap. He goes onto to say how the boy must have felt upon regaining consciousness with all the darkness thinking his parents would turn on the light. When that doesn't happen, he must have cried but he won't be able to hear his own screams and it must be like entombed inside your own body.

Similar to reaction given by the father I was also going What the fuck and why is he telling this now and in what context. It is really fucked up. 

John Michael McDonagh's first film 'The Guard' was a good watch and this film is much better. Both the McDonagh brothers are doing great.

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pranchiyettan and the Saint (2010)

Director: Renjith
Writer:    Renjith
Cast:       Mammootty, Jesse Fox Allen, Priyamani
Language: Malayalam

Cherremmal Eenashu Francis, a.k.a. Pranchiyettan (Mammootty) is a successful businessman based in Thrissur. He longs for social recognition since he has poor educational background and in all other aspects of life he so far had disappointments. Film is narrated in a flashback mode with him having an imaginary conversation with St. Francis in his church. 

The flashback mode helps the film in making the episodic nature of the story feel palatable. Pranchi is incredibly naive and prone to falling for bad advice from his friends circle. The character is in some sense similar and in contrast with the character he played in 'Azakiya Raavanan' which is a much better film when it comes to the comedic aspects of it. Both films have really weak third act. In Pranchiyettan, the third act was potentially good but is let down by really poor script and acting which might be a case of both influencing each other. I don't know if it is a case of older film-makers  not able to make script for child/teenage actors or the latter simply not having the necessary skills or it could just be both. 

When I saw it for the first time I was not convinced by the lazy episodic feel of it which felt like comedy routines. This time round I didn't mind it so much because I was multi-tasking by browsing the net also. Mammootty is the best when portraying rich loser/arrogant characters and this is a very good version of it. He also adds some subtlety to the character with his mannerisms and not just relying on the slang aspect of the dilaogs.  It is a good watch and could have been a great film but for the third act.

Rating: 3/5