Monday, September 29, 2014

Rush (2013)

Director: Ron Howard
Writer:    Peter Morgan
Cast:       Daniel Bruhl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara

The film depicts the merciless rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl)

Hunt is a brash playboy whereas Lauda is more of a Schumacher style perfectionist. One cannot really say that the film puts one character over the other and it is as much a character study as it is a sports film. I generally don't like Sports based films because they generally tend to be very cliched tales of making a comeback against all odds and as if that is not good enough they tend to exaggerate on top of that. This one is not much different, with the rivalry between the two characters exaggerated and then trying too hard to make them come out even at the end. The rivalry itself and the turn of events are remarkable enough for them to make it in a semi-documentary style without Hollwoodizing much. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Hunt taking the interviewer to the cleaners didn't really happen. The script is sometimes cringe inducing and as if we didn't understand the characters from the first 15 minutes itself, they have to do a whole explanation routine in the last scene. 

The color tone of the film is very good and the race scenes are done very well. The commentary that they give with the race is a bit Americanized.  I am not a huge fan of Ron Howard even though I quite enjoyed watching 'Apollo 13' and 'A Beautiful Mind', both of which are done in a feel good fashion. I think a British director would have handled this film better because subtlety is not something that Americans do well especially considering that Formula One is kind of alien to that country. Senna is a far better film than Rush and it is also more compelling despite being a documentary.

Rating: 2.5/5 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

സപ്തമശ്രീ തസ്കര (Sapthamashree Thaskaraha) (2014)

Director: Anil Radhakrishnan Menon
Writer:    Anil Radhakrishnan Menon
Cast:       Prithviraj, Asif Ali, Chemban Vinod

A group of seven people, including both con men and common men, plan a small heist with a big reward.

This is Anil Radhakrishnan Menon's second film after 'North 4 Katham' which got National award for best film in Malayalam language, fuck knows how. Must have been a very poor year for Malayalam cinema. This one is better than the first one, but not by much. When you are making a heist film which relies very much on comedy, you needs to make it very crisp. There are some very good laughs in it but it comes within a very lagging storyline. Also, I don't know exactly how to put it, some of the humor didn't hit the right notes because of the way they were presented. It seemed there is a linger after the punchlines as if the director is waiting for a clap or something. The story is narrated through a confession given by Chemban Vinod's character to a priest who I found to be extremely annoying. The films is set in Thrissur and the slang didn't really help in my opinion as there was a distinct self awareness in the way it was delivered by many of the actors.

It is decent towards the end, with a well executed heist sequence, but I wouldn't have made it till the end if I was not watching it at the cinemas. I didn't mind the twist at the end because it is more believable than a common man masterminding the whole thing. Obvious reference for people to make would be Steven Soderbergh's 'Ocean's Eleven'. In Ocean's Eleven they establish all the characters in about 30 minutes whereas in this film it takes up the entire first half of the film. All the setting up stuff for the heist that can be done in about 30 seconds sequences run into minutes without adding much humor and thus being very difficult to tolerate. You don't need to give complete explanation to the audience on how you are going to get into the building through the AC ducts and then proceed to show the entire thing. Either one will do. Overall the film is a decent watch but not very good.

Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Margin Call (2011)

Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer:    J.C. Chandor
Cast:       Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore

Follows the key people at an investment bank, over a 24-hour period, during the early stages of the financial crisis.

I have seen people referring to the film as an account on Lehman Brothers. The head of the Investment Bank is named Tuld which is similar to then Lehman Bothers' CEO Fuld. The thing is, at the end of the film it is shown that they were the first to successfully liquidate their considerable position on MSBs and thereby starting the meltdown. That would make them more similar to Goldman Sachs whose actions were described as the one who ran out the door first locking it behind them. In the film also Tuld says to the skeptical Kevin Spacey character that it is not panicking if you are out the door first. 

This was my second watch and the good thing about the film is that it doesn't try to overly explain the technicalities behind what is happening which makes it very crisp. The film is not really about making its audience understand the minute details and it very much works as a disaster film where we don't really care much for the people who are in danger.  There are characters in it who represent the man on the street questioning the way they do things and the exorbitant money that they make. It might not be very realistic to have characters in the middle of it questioning the morals and ethics behind it but I think the film gets away with it mainly by having an incredible cast list.

It is incredible that the the budget for the films was just $3.5 million when in fact it looks very much like a $35 million picture. They managed it by having a very 90s cast list who also might have taken a pay cut in order to express their outrage after the 2008 financial crisis. It is a great companion piece to the academy award winning Charles Ferguson's documentary 'Inside Job'. 

Will Emerson: Jesus, Seth. Listen, if you really wanna do this with your life you have to believe you're necessary and you are. People wanna live like this in their cars and big fuckin' houses they can't even pay for, then you're necessary. The only reason that they all get to continue living like kings is cause we got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and then the whole world gets really fuckin' fair really fuckin' quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don't. They want what we have to give them but they also wanna, you know, play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. Well, thats more hypocrisy than I'm willing to swallow, so fuck em. Fuck normal people. You know, the funny thing is, tomorrow if all of this goes tits up they're gonna crucify us for being too reckless but if we're wrong, and everything gets back on track? Well then, the same people are gonna laugh till they piss their pants cause we're gonna all look like the biggest pussies God ever let through the door.
Seth Bregman: Do you think we're gonna be wrong?
Will Emerson: [long pause] No, they're all fucked.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reversal of Fortune (1990)

Director:Barbet Schroeder
Writers: Alan M. Dershowitz, Nicholas Kazan
Cast:     Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Ron Silver

Wealthy Sunny von Bulow lies brain-dead in a coma, husband Claus guilty of attempted murder; but he says he is innocent and hires Alan Dershowitz for his appeal.

The film is adapted from Alan Dershowitz's 1985 book Reversal of Fortune: Inside von Bulow Case. Unlike other trial based films, the protagonist lawyer is not really up against it in terms of insurmountable odds. The case is quite easy to break and thereby prove his client's innocence but he is in a moral quandary because he doesn't fully understand his client and is not entirely sure about his innocence.  Even the trail scene in the film is there just in passing and the whole film aims to capture the nature of relationship between Mr and Mrs. von Bulow. It is made obvious that Claus married Sunny because of her riches. Their marriage is in doldrums and he wants to get out of it through divorce whereas she wants to commit suicide. We know that Claus is also not too unhappy about it but the question is whether he tried to make sure that she is dead and voluntarily put her in this state. Even if he did, should we think he is guilty of a big crime because of the state of their marriage and general unhappiness. The good thing about the film is that the lawyer character harvest these suspicions throughout the film and never believes him completely with regards to his version of the events. So there is no big twist at the end of it which helps us to appreciate the way they build the characters. 

Jeremy Irons is superb in this film and he got an academy award to show for it. He did some great work during that time period (Dead Ringers & Kafka). He is an actor with great presence and it is a shame that his career didn't take off the way it should have in the latter part of the 90s. It is not really great when IMDB picks Lion fucking King and Die Hard: With a Vengeance as his career highlights when we check his bio. Reversal of Fortune is a solid little film that I think was held up in a much higher regard when it got released because of the familiarity with the case.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Directors: Andy Wachowksi, Lana Wachowski
Writers:    Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Cast:         Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving

Neo and the rebel leaders estimate that they have 72 hours until 250,000 probes discover Zion and destroy it and its inhabitants. Morpheus believes that he can prevent this by getting Neo to the Source to fulfill the prophecy. The whole film  is a buildup to Neo's meeting with the Architect who can be interpreted as the God (Creator) of the matrix.

 The story progresses significantly through three meetings and the three overly long action sequences associated with them. First one is Neo meeting Oracle and the Kill Bill like action sequence with 'more and more' agent Smith's. The second one is the meeting with Merovingian and the highway action sequence. The third one is meeting with architect which completely flip many of the assumptions that the characters themselves had about their own existence. Unlike the first film, the balance is not quite right but still I enjoyed it more than I thought I would this time round. 

One may wonder about the reliability of explanations given to Neo by these three people but if we go by their words, especially of that of architect, this is the second version of the Matrix. The first one was created as a perfect world like the Garden of Eden in Bible and it ended up as a disaster because of lack of choice. So the second one (Serpent & the apple) was created with a seemingly false sense of freewill which worked for the majority 99.9% of people in the matrix. The rest would always free themselves from the matrix to form the Zion and 'The One' is a systemic anomaly in the matrix. The Oracle, who is referred to as the mother of the Matrix, with her prophecies about 'The One' gives a purpose to the people of Zion but the machines just use 'The One' to selectively destroy the Zion and reboot this version of Matrix. It has been rebooted five times and Neo is in the sixth iteration. All of this is explained by the architect to him and he can choose either to cooperate with him and save the people in the matrix by helping him selectively destroy the Zion or go back to the futile resistance causing all of their deaths. 

In a way some people will feel that they were deceived by the directors since all the events leading up to the meeting with the source/architect is along the expected lines as desired by the machines. I don't have a problem with it because there are plenty of clues given leading up to it. Both Oracle and Merovingian talks about the versions of the One, comparison with the previous versions, expectations about the next version etc. Then there is also the talk about control especially in the scene between Neo and the leader of Zion where the latter appears to doubt whether Zion itself is a form of control exerted by machines on them even though they think they are free. Snake in the Garden of Eden must have also been created by God and if that is the case he/she also desired that the humans will disobey given a choice. One could view this version of God as a creator who does not take operational control of his creation and just watch from sidelines how it is going to play out which I am led to believe is similar to the role of Brahma in Hindu mythology. I am not well versed with the mythological aspects of various religions since I don't give a fuck about them and so many of the symbolism that they have included in the film is lost on me. Still it is worthwhile to dissect it because vast majority of people in this world are still influenced by it. Even in the developed world where religion does not play a vital role, I think majority of people live a life akin to slavery tied to their jobs, desires or social conformance. 

I still feel the whole Neo-Trinity love angle in the film is a weak point even though it is central to the plot. One reason for it is the script itself which is not that great during those scenes and also the unconvincing portrayal by Keanu Reeves who is not a even a good actor. In terms of meat in the story second one in the trilogy is the most significant even though it kind of gets diluted by the plethora of action scenes. It also dilutes the significance of first film somewhat with the revelation about the iterations in matrix but first one still works very well because of its subtext message about capitalism.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, September 21, 2014

ഞാന്‍ (Njaan) (2014)

Director: Ranjith
Writer:    T. P. Rajeevan
Cast:       Dulqar Salman, Suresh Krishna, Anumol
Language: Malayalam

The film is an adaptation of the acclaimed novel 'K T N Kottur: Ezuthum Jeevithavum' by T. P. Rajeevan. This is the second instance of Ranjith adapting one of his novels, with the other being 'Paleri Manikyam'. The backdrop for the novel is a small village called Kottrur in pre-independence India. The character  Kottur who hails from a feudal family is supposed to be a humanist social worker. He thinks that being affiliated to a party, which is synonymous with rigidity for him, will limit the way he would like to work. The farming union he helped to build is too communist for Indian National Congress and he is too apolitical for soon to be communist leaders. He gets ostracized from his own union because of this which leads to him doing random stuff like getting addicted to liquor, going back to writing and finally marrying a blind girl who is the third major woman in his life. The film works as an introspection for the protagonist who realizes that he ended up as a big hypocrite when it comes to his own personal life and the original title of the novel Kottur: Ezuthum. Jeevithavum can also be interpreted as what he preached and what he actually did.

One can also consider the main protagonist to be a reflection of the director Ranjith himself. He is considered by many in the Malayalam film industry to be a great writer/director and some even treat him as if he is second coming of Padmarajan. In reality he is just an above average director who got this stature because of the very poor standards of his contemporaries. He is perfectly capable of doing some good work but I think he makes too many films without giving much thought about perfecting any of them (Am talking about the ones for which he got acclaims and not the ones he did purely for commercial reasons & I haven't seen Paleri Manikyam and Kaiyoppu, both of which are supposed to be good). The only films that can be considered very good in his filmography are Devasuram, Orkkapurathu and Nandanam and all of these comes with flaws. Njaan is also likewise.

The story of the character is told as a search about him by a blogger who is planning to create a play on it. I think it is a technique to get people into the cinemas without giving away the fact that it is purely a period film. The problem with it is that it will get the wrong kind of audience into the theatres which can be detrimental to the enjoyment for the original target audience. Nevertheless I enjoyed the shared viewing experience that you get with hearing the crude comments hurled by people who are not that amused by the film. I think they could have done away with the whole cringey modern day search for the character angle and driven the film entirely through narration. It would have shorten the film for good. It has plenty of flaws and I am not a huge fan of Dulqar Salman's acting and this one also didn't do anything to change my opinion. The second half of the film is much better and the very odd characters in it give a different surreal feel. Even though politics in it is not the forefront factor of the story, the questions that it raises are still very relevant in Kerala politics. The INC is portrayed as the party for the bourgeoisie and the soon to be communist leaders are shown as if they don't rate the intellectual capability of those for whom they fight and it is inevitable for them to end up as feudal top down leadership model.

The character Kottur is shown to have a good understanding about how these two parties are gonna eventually  end up as and he continuously takes an apolitical stand and proclaim himself as a humanist. The choices that he takes in his personal life ends up wrecking many people's lives. Even though I don't see anything wrong with what he does, he himself feel guilty about these things and view them as a by-product of his lust. Even though he is very progressive by the standard of the times he live in, he himself is disappointed by the way he treated the women in his life. This introspection leads him to fuck off into oblivion without a trace.

Overall it is a flawed film but a good watch nonetheless if you can manage to sit through  it.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

കിലുക്കം (Kilukkam) (1991)

Director: Priyadarshan
Writer:    Venu Nagavalli
Cast:       Mohanlal, Revathy, Jagathy, Thilakan

Joji (Mohanlal) is a poor tourist guide in Ooty who is dependent on his roommate and 'still photographer' Nischal (Jagathy). He encounters a Malayalee tourist named Nandini whom he mistakes to be a rich girl. It turns out that she is a bit mad and they get stuck with her. 

I was not really planning to watch it when it came on TV yesterday but the fact that I went through the whole film just like that is testament to its quality. The comedy scenes from the film have been repeated numerous times on TV channels and I haven't seen the film as a whole for a while. So I was surprised to see how well it stands up even now despite being very familiar with many of the sequences. The main reason for that is unlike more recent comedy films in Malayalam, which are just several set-piece sequences strung together, you don't feel the set-piece nature of the sequences because there is a natural progression to the whole thing. The many of the comic aspects is in the way the different characters interact and most of them have a love-hate relationship. I think the prevalence of set-piece comedy sequences in Malayalam films could be attributed to the influx of people from mimicry background into the industry. We can even see that in the nature of comedy that 'In Harihar Nagar' has, but it is rightly considered as one of the best comedy films of all time in Malayalam because it kind of takes best of both worlds.

I was surprised to see that Venu Nagavalli wrote the screenplay for this film since I associate him with a different kind of films in the mould of 'Sarvakalashala' and 'Lal Salaam'. Priyadarshan's 'Minnaram' and Venu Nagavalli's 'Kalippattam', both of which came out later can be seen as following a similar formulae to 'Kilukkam' and am not talking about all of them being set in Ootty. Only drawback of Kilukkam is its very low production quality which one does not usually associate with Priyadarshan films. It looks as if everything was rushed and they didn't try to perfect any of the shots and didn't give a fuck about the visuals that they were getting. For a film that is set in Ootty it looks quite atrocious. One reason for it could be that Mohanlal was very busy those days. I checked it out and he had ten major releases in 1991 starting with Kilukkam!!! All the four main characters along with Innocent are in true form aided by the excellent script. It is light-hearted whole the way through and should be seen as a pure comedy film instead of picking faults in the storyline. It was remade into Hindi by Priyadarshan himself as 'Muskurahat' which was a box-office disaster. Kilukkam ran for more than 300 days and collected three crore rupees in 1991. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Matrix (1999)

Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Writers:    Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Cast:         Keanu Reeves, Hugo Weaving, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss

A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.

I saw the film for the first time shortly after it got released through my cousins from Australia who were here for vacation. The film was shot in Australia (Sydney) at around $60 million since it would have cost around $160 million if it was made in US. That sits well for the film because the cities in it lacks an identity which wouldn't have been the case if it was shot in a well known city in US. I didn't understand much of the film when I saw it (14 years old dude), and apart from the cool action sequences, only thing I could remember was Thomas Anderson getting interrogated in an uncomfortable fashion by Agent Smith. I also saw Matrix Reloaded when it came just for the action sequences. I saw the trilogy properly in order and with understanding in and around 2007 and have seen the first one, Matrix, numerous times since. Unlike the other two in the trilogy, it holds up well because it has got a good balance of story, philosophy, intrigue and action. 'Matrix Reloaded' put too much stress on action and the last one 'Matrix Revolutions' was just about mildly interesting. Many people have castigated the trilogy as a whole because of the low standards of last two films, but I think it is unfair on 'The Matrix' since it works well as a standalone film. 

The Wachowskis approached Warner Brothers with their idea and the studio balked at giving $80 million for the director duo whose only previous experience was making the lesbian noir film 'Bound'. In stead they gave them $10 million to see how it goes and Wachowskis spent that amount entirely for the opening ten minutes action sequence involving Carrie-Anne Moss (her first major film). Impressed by the footage they green-lit the project. The film is supposed to  be heavily influenced by Japanese manga 'Ghost in the Shell' which I haven't seen. The story which blends religious elements, mythology, sci-fi and action is a perfect recipe for a studio blockbuster which stand up really well when compared to the Superhero/Comic Book/Sequel-Prequel-Reboot shitfest that we are getting used to off late. In that sense even the subsequent films in the trilogy are also better when compared to the recent blockbusters since it at least is original for a Hollywood film.

The role of Neo was originally offered to Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio. All of them refused and Keanu Reeves, whose long career as an actor is a miracle, landed the role. The fact that even he couldn't wreck the film is testament to the high standard of the concept and how revolutionary was its production quality. To be fair to Mr. Reeves, he was kind of perfect for the role because he was not made to deliver many lines and most of it were questions. In terms of acting, the excellent Hugo Weaving steals the show. Gary Oldman and Samuel L Jackson were approached for the role of Morpheus before it ended up with Laurence Fishburne.

It is interesting that 'The Truman Show' also came out that year and both of these films spawned paranoia syndromes associated with their concepts. The idea that it is a simulated world that we are living in is also something that some scientists are considering as a possibility. As artificial intelligence is becoming more and more advanced it is not inconceivable that we can create a simulated universe using it. The other sci-fi films prior to it that dealt with AI like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Stanley Kubrick's AI which came out later were strictly in the old school sci-fi territory of ultra seriousness. Wachowskis made it cool and for the masses without dumbing down the idea too much. I read that studio insisted on making the film to be more expositionary as they feared that the initial script was too vague for many to understand. That is the only drawback of the film since some of those lines don't stand up well during repeated viewing (and that stunt training scene involving Morpheus and Neo). But the blue pill-red pill sequence would still rank high up if you are making a list of the coolest exposition scenes. 

Overall its one of the best sci-fi/fanatsy/action films of all time which should be judged as a standalone film without using its shittier sequels as a stick to beat it with.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Flight (2012)

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer:    John Gatins
Cast:       Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly

An airline pilot saves almost all his passengers on his malfunctioning airliner which eventually crashed, but an investigation into the accident reveals something troubling.

This is return to live action film for the director Robert Zemeckis after a gap of almost twelve years. He is firmly in the Spielberg school of film-making of which I am not a fan. The only films of his that I have seen before watching this are Forrest Gump and Cast Away both of which I find to be very overrated but good one time watches. I know that I should watch 'Back to the Future' for which he is most famous for. Unlike those films this is an R rated film and is his first one of them since early 80s. He also reckons that at $31 million budget, this is his cheapest film since 1980 when adjusted for inflation. 

This film is also a great one time watch with it being stylish and comical at times but largely being a character study. Some people can be put off by the tonal changes that it takes but I enjoyed it. The highlight of the film of course would be the central performance by ever reliable Denzel Washington. Support cast is also great which also includes a cameo from John Goodman who appears always with 'Sympathy for the Devil' as the background score. One could argue that the ending is a bit moralizing but it is a credible one. If they had ended it any differently, people would be complaining about glorifying an addict. 

The incident with the flight is loosely based on 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight that left no survivors and was also inverted by its pilot. Some of the in flight things that are shown early, which constitutes only a small part of the film, are a bit Hollywoodish but can be excused since it is basically a character study. Overall it is a very good watch with a strong performance from Denzel Washington.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, September 13, 2014

മുംബൈ പോലീസ് (Mumbai Police) (2013)

Director: Roshan Andrews
Writers:  Bobby, Sanjay
Cast:       Prithviraj, Jayasurya, Rahman

ACP Antony Moses finds the killer of his friend ACP Aryan Jacob and just before revealing it, he meets with an accident which leaves him with amnesia. Days later, he is forced to investigate the murder once again by retracing his steps.

The film was good commercial success and received positive reviews for its slick execution and the ending that could be termed as bold and shocking for an Indian film. I couldn't watch it when it hit the screens but was aware about the basic plot through a friend of mine, Daivd Lazar, whose review of it is as follows: 

I am gonna spoiler the film since the plot holes largely relates to the twist itself. The basic gist of it is that Antony Moses is a homosexual and his friend discovers about his sexuality and threatens to report it to higher officials so that he is not dangerous to society. This prompts Antony to kill his friend and subvert the subsequent investigation. The main problem I had with it was that Antony Moses seems to have forgotten about his sexuality after his amnesia causing accident. The ever reliable internet tells me that it is not possible since Amnesia affects only parts of memory whilst sexuality is based on how the brain is wired. Lets leave that plot-hole aside (suspension of disbelief) and concentrate on the next one which really lets the film down. The homophobic reaction by his friend Aryan is very unrealistic and Antony's reaction to the video which prompts him to confess is also unrealistic. They could have easily done a better fist of it by making it either a case of cheating in a love triangle or just by eliminating the third person and making it a case of misinterpretation of relationship between the two main characters Antony and Aryan. Either of this would have justified the motivations behind the murder and confession. The confession relies very much on Antony seeing that video which shows that Aryan had changed his mind. But the recording of the video and him threatening Antony is supposed to have happened during the same night before the shooting which is also not credible. All this changes if Aryan was also secretly gay and was let down by seeing Antony with another man. Clues for this is also given in the earlier part of the film and if that is the case then it is really brilliant. But I think it is a case of them kind of compromising on the twist and making a hash of it.

The execution of the film is very good and even though I knew about the plot which relies very much on a twist, it was a great watch since it is done in a nuanced way giving us sufficient clues about the twist. The jumping between the timelines is done seamlessly and the expositions are also done very neatly unlike most other Malayalm film thrillers. The Antony Moses prior to the accident is portrayed as a very rough character giving credibility to the plot and I liked Pritviraj's performance despite his ever present smugness which is quite suitable for this role. It is very good watch and could have been a a great one had it not been for those plot-holes.

Rating: 3.5/5

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers:  Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J.J. Abrams
Cast:       Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames

Ethan Hunt comes face to face with a dangerous and sadistic arms dealers while trying to keep his identity secret in order to protect his grilfriend.

Mission Impossible was a TV series in US television that was broadcast from 1966 through 1973. It introduced the agency IMF (Impossible Mission Force) which operated primarily by using confidence tricks, infiltration and high technology on its targets. The IMF agents usually deceive their targets into cooperating with them without detecting any kind of deception until the impossible mission is carried out. The structure of an episode followed a predictable path with the first half used to develop the story of target with the IMF agents coming only in the second half. The famous soundtrack usually kicks in during the opening credits shown against a fuse being lit.

The film franchise based on the TV series kicked off with the Brian Dd Palma directed installment Mission Impossible. In the films the agents are more like a commando unit rather than ones operating primarily through cleverness and deception. There is not much time given for developing the bad guy. Mission Impossible when it came out was received very well primarily because compared to other action films from that time it was kind of different due to its grittiness. Obvious comparison is to made with the Pierce Brosnan starring James Bond films which were you know well shit. Mission Impossible One hasn't aged very well but is still a good one time watch. The greatest thing about it is that the legendary tune is not used until the final action sequence. The second Mission Impossible was directed by John Woo and ten minutes was all I lasted. The laughably bad opening rock climbing scene followed up with the self destructing message (a running theme) was enough to fuck it off. I haven't seen the fourth one, Ghost Protocol, which was received quite well when it got released.

The best thing about Mission Impossible 3 is Philip Seymour Hoffman with the rest of it being very average. Ethan Hunt is kind of semi retired with him taking a trainer role for IMF recruits and is trying to lead a normal life with his girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) who doesn't know about his background. The core of the story is supposed to be him being forced to do an impossible task to save his girlfriend. Tom Cruise and Michelle Monaghan have next to no chemistry. You get all the running themes of the franchise like Ethan Hunt falling and hovering above ground on a thread, self destructing message,  Boss being bad twist and of course the soundtrack. The customary Tom Cruise sprinting scene is also there about which there is a funny compilation video in youtube titled evolution of his runs.
There are plenty of set piece sequences, some of them good and some average. The film starts off really well with the flash forward scene of Ethan Hunt being interrogated by Philip Seymour Hoffman's character (Owen Davian) establishing who is really going to boss the film. We are literally waiting for Owen Davian to appear again on screen amidst Ethan Hunt doing all his circuses. To be fair to Tom Cruise he himself does most of the stunts giving it some authenticity. The script is at times terrible doing expositions and laughably cringe-worthy lines with the 'Oh wait, I love you' (give me a fucking break!) being the highlight. The film marked the end of the distribution partnership Tom Cruise's production company had with Paramount Pictures which was a big setback for him.  The main reason for Paramount to end it was his private life antics which was turning the audience against him. Thats what you get if you are part of the studio big budget tent-poles- you live by the sword you die by it. J.J. Abrams got the directorial gig on the strength of 'Lost'  and  'Alias' both of which I haven't seen. The film had the highest budget for a directorial debut with with it coming around $150 million.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Collateral (2004)

Director: Michael Mann
Writer:    Stuart Beattie
Cast:       Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith

A cab driver (Max) finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer (Vincent) as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in Los Angeles. He must find a way to save both himself and one last victim.

One could say that it works like a buddy film with shades of True Detective in the portrayal of the two characters. Tom Cruise's Vincent in the 'Rust Cohle' cold philosophical mode and Jamie Foxx's Max as the naive man believing in the 'American Dream' and all that shit. When I watched it for the first time some years back I didn't think much of Jamie Foxx's performance which I thought was a bit stereotyped. On second watch I guess I was a bit harsh on him even though I still have problems with the strength of relationship shown between Max and Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith). I also have problems with Max's shitty island postcard which I thought was just too cheesy. 

The story hints that Vincent was using Max to frame him for the murders and finally kill him as the detective Fanning (Mark Ruffalo) suspects. I don't think that necessarily is the case since all the killings Vincent is carrying out are related to one single case. But one can never say for sure and this ambiguity serves the film very well. One could also say that as the film progresses Max becomes more like Vincent and vice-versa. What makes the film different from the usual action films is that many bystanders get killed which is a big no no in Hollywood. In a typical Hollywood film, Mark Rufallo's Fanning character don't get killed but in this one he is killed off with nonchalance by Vincent and it serves as the breaking point for Max. What is great about it is that, even though it never tries to portray Vincent in a positive light in any sort of way, we are really sad to see him go. It got nothing to with him being played by Tom Cruise in a very much against the type manner but basically because it is the most interesting and mysterious character in the film. It is certainly up there with Tom Cruise's best roles along with Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut and Rain Man. 

It was the first major film to be shot using Viper Filmstream high definition camera and Michael Mann opted for it since he thought that digital filming would suit better for the night environment of the film. The scene of coyote running across the road was unplanned and that improvised scene serves the film well. The highlight set-piece of the film would be the club scene set to Paul Oakenfold's 'Ready Steady Go' which was also used in Bourne Identity's mini chase sequence. If I were to rank Michael Mann's films, Collateral sits in the the top three along with 'The Insider' and 'Heat'. I haven't seen Manhunter yet but some people consider it as the best Hannibal Lecter film. The Last of the Mohicans is also a great one time watch. 

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers:   Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan, John le Carre
Cast:        Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt, Mark Strong

In the bleak days of Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6.

The film is an adaptation of John le Carre's novel with the same name which had earlier been adapted as a BBC seven part mini series. Some of the minor criticism that the film received was with regards to the dilution of complexity that comes with condensing the universe that John le Carre created into a two hour feature film. Having not read the novel, I found the film to be sufficiently complex and non-expositionary to be enjoyed as a standalone film especially when contrasted with the other films that usually come in this genre. The plot can be quite hard to follow with lots of things happening all of a sudden as it move towards the end but the pacing is just about right and it is refreshing when the filmmakers treat their audience as intelligent beings capable enough to decipher things. 

I was watching it for the second time and was trying to figure out whether it was kind of predictable in the way 'Whodunnit' films usually sets up the culprit as a total surprise. To be fair the predictability in the film is more due to the casting choice rather than the way things unfold.  

Tomas Alfredson had earlier directed the excellent 'Let the right one in' and his next project will be 'The Snowman'. It is quite some feat for him to direct such an incredible cast without getting overwhelmed in his first major budget English film. The bleak English weather in the period setting is captured just about the right way with the colour tone he uses in the film which is in sharp contrast with many other period films where everything looks extra shiny. Have to say that Gary Oldman is getting a bit typecast these days in the wise older man roles and I would love him to do something similar to the mad stuff that he did in the 90s like 'Leon' and 'True Romance'.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Conte d'été (A Summer's Tale) (1996)

Director: Eric Rohmer
Writer:    Eric Rohmer
Cast:       Melvil Poupaud, Amanda Langlet, Gwanaelle Simon, Aurelia Nolin
Language: French

A shy Maths graduate takes a holiday in Dinard waiting for his girlfriend Lena. She is late and he strikes up friendship with another girl Margot. She in turn introduces him to a further lady (Solene) who fancies him. Thus the young man finds himself having to manage this situation which is kind of novel for him. As Margot, whom he kind of friend-zoned, tells him that he is like a bum who wakes up as a millionaire having no  idea what to do.

Richard Linklater's Before trilogy is certainly among the best one could  find in the romantic conversational type genre. It certainly is very realistic but a drawback that one could say with that is that the couple in question adds too much star quality in those films even though the level of maturity shown by them in terms of thought process  kind of justifies. But at the end of the day they are not that relatable even though you kind of nods in agreement with what they say. A Summer's Tale is like a rawer version with the characters exhibiting a level of intellectualism that borders on the pseudo territory which makes it much more relatable. It is much harder to pull off because doing extremes is easy since the filmmakers also tend to be on extremes when it comes to talent and thinking. The characters can be quite irritable but no rulebook says you have to like the characters in a film to enjoy the film. 

The three girls in the young man's summer fits into the three of the four broad stereotypes that one could fit people into based on intellect and beauty. His girlfriend Lena is both intellectual and beautiful but he doesn't have a strong hand (George Costanza speak) in that relationship and feels a sense of inferiority with her. Margot is an intellectual but plain looking and even though they both kind of try to keep their relationship at the platonic level she is attracted to him. Solene is the stereotyped cheerleader type of girl. None of the ladies are kind of ideal for him and he likes to have the decisions taken out of him by circumstances like the ending of the film suggests.  

The film is the third one in Eric Rohmer's Tales of Four Seasons which also includes 'A Tale of Springtime', 'A Tale of Winter' and 'Autumn Tale'. This is the first film I have seen from Eric Rohmer and I will certainly check out his other films. He dies in 2010 and was part of the French New Wave in the sixties. One can certainly see his influence in the works of Richard Linklater and Noah Baumbach,  both of whose films I enjoy a lot.

Rating: 4/5 

Friday, September 5, 2014

La Voie lactée (The Milky Way) (1969)

Director: Luis Bunuel
Writers:   Luis Bunuel, Jean-Calude Carriere
Cast:       Paul Frankeur, Laurent Terzieff, Alain Cuny
Language: French/Sapnish

Two drifters go on a pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Along the way, they hitchhike, beg for food, and face the Christian dogmas and heresies from different ages.

The title refers to the the fact that the original name for Milky Way was 'Way of St. James' which directed pilgrims from northern Europe to Spain. The film plays with time with the two main characters encountering individuals from older times in the modern setting of the film including Jesus Christ who is depicted as more of an ordinary man with him  joking around, feeling hungry, making mistakes and so on. Luis Bunuel was a prominent atheist during his time and he coined the phrase:'Thank God I'm an atheist'. Through his many films he had rallied against moralism and organized religion. This film works as vignettes of absurdisms he wants to present about Catholic dogma. Things like trinity of Christian God, Freewill in the context of omnipotent God and Virginity of Mary are discussed pointing out how people cannot get their head around these things when they actually think about it. The so so called heresies shown in the film are historicall accurate with the end credits preceded by the following statement from Bunuel:

The film is not very cinematic but is a decent enough watch. For atheists like me who are not that interested in the lunacies associated with Christian faith (or any faith for that matter) the film doesn't hold much interest. Better to watch much more slapstick yet poignant ones like 'Life of Brian' which I think would have been influenced by this film.

Rating: 2.5/5

피에타 (Pieta) (2012)

Director: Kim Ki-duk
Writer:    Kim Ki-duk
Cast:       Min-soo Jo, Jung-Jin Lee, Ki-Hong Woo
Language: Korean

A loan shark is forced to reconsider his violent lifestyle after the arrival of a mysterious woman claiming to be his lost mother.

The title refers to the Italian Pieta (Pity) referring to depictions of the Virgin Mary cradling the corpse of Jesus. When I saw the film I was not aware about the poster showing something similar and didn't get the Christian references while watching the film apart from a big cross that is shown in some of the initial scenes. South Korea has a growing Christian population and the pope also visited the country recently. When you have this overt christian symbology coupled with showing an incestual kind of relationship, you will definitely attract controversy which it did. But to be honest this film is quite tame compared to most other Kim Ki-duk films when you compare the level of violence and shock factor. The story is also much more straight forward and quite cliched when you look at it in the macro sense.

I was reminded of Oldboy when I watched it and revenge is a theme that is quite specialized by Korean films. It is kind of a reverse take on Oldboy's plot-line with almost everything being the complete opposite. I was not that impressed by the film till about the last 20 minutes since it just seemed to be a very ordinary film with nothing hidden from the audience even as the main protagonist is kept in the dark.  It is just another tale of revenge and redemption with the industrialization and consumerism of South Korea as the backdrop for general unhappiness. The last twenty minutes of the film is quite affecting with us genuinely rooting for the protagonist which is quite an achievement for the director. Kim Ki-duk specializes in these kind of films where despite the violence and questionable deeds done by the characters we care deeply for them. 

I don't consider many of the Kim Ki-duk films in the great category but he is consistent when it comes to making odd little films that are very watchable even though you are forced to look away  by the things that he depicts on screen. This is a good entry point for those who haven't seen any of his films because the story is quite mainstream but still it carries many of the Kim ki-duk's trademarks. For those who are familiar with his work it is not that impressive just because of the above stated reason. It won the Golden Lion at Venice and it was the first Korean film to win top prize at one of the three major international film festivals-Venice, Cannes and Berlin.

Rating: 3/5