Friday, July 31, 2015

Housebound (2014)

Director: Gerard Johnstone
Writer:    Gerard Johnstone
Cast:       Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru

Kylie Bucknell is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention, Her punishment is made all the more unbearable by the presence of her blabbermouth mum, who thinks the house is haunted. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers and strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she's inherited her overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit who's less than happy about the new living arrangement. 

So, this is just the second film from New Zealand that I have ever watched with the other one being the excellent 'What We Do In The Shadows', which also came out last year. It was only after seeing this film getting compared with that one did I actually came to know about it and both films are comedy ones. While WWDITS was more in a spoof documentary style, extended out of a short film, Housebound mixes several genres expertly giving it a very unique feel to it. It starts off as a supernatural horror film and then proceeds to psychological thriller category and ends up as a mystery thriller while navigating through all this by using acid comedy. One could also make comparisons to films in 'Cornetto Trilogy' but Housebound works more on a scary level with the style of humor being very different as well.

The role of main protagonist is played expertly by Morgana O'Reilly who seems stuck into her teenage self with the attitude that rest of the world is too stupid for her liking. It works very well. The humor in it will surprise you and there are portions in the film in which it works entirely in the thriller mode. We care sufficiently for the characters to really feel worried about their safety. There are plenty of gory scenes but the ending is a bit on the cheesy side. I felt very happy at seeing a scene where a mobile rings for an extended time and the ringtone turned out to be 'Hello Moto', which is also the same one that I use. It actually made me feel more appreciative of the ringtone since I kind of hate hearing it in real life as I hate attending phone calls. 

Overall it is a great watch and the running time of 110 minutes, slightly on the higher side, is used to navigate through the different genres. That kind of thing is very risky to do since you can very easily lose the audience but they manage to pull it off effortlessly. The film also reminded me of the ones from the McDonagh brothers (In Bruges, Calvary) and is a definite watch for those who like those kind of films. I will be adding this one into my 'Best of 2014' list. There is gonna be an American remake for this film and I can't see the fucking point since it is in the same fucking language, albeit with accents.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, July 30, 2015

La Vénus à la fourrure (Venus in Fur) (2013)

Director: Roman Polanski
Writers:  David Ives, Roman Polanski
Cast:      Emmanuelle Seigner, Matthieu Amalric
Language: French

An actress, who came late for an audition, tries to convince a director how she's perfect for a role in his upcoming production. The entire film features only these two characters and is totally dialog driven, which is largely them reading the lines of the play. It is based on the play of same name by American playwright David Eves, which itself was inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Mascoh's novel 'Venus in Furs'. The word Masochism is of course derived from the name of the Austrian author and that is a trivia you get from this film.

Emmanuelle Seigner is real-life partner of Roman Polanski and the way Matthieu Amalric plays his role is like he is mimicking Roman Polanski. So the boundary between what is fiction and what is real is really blurred, like it is in the film itself between the two characters, which is again blurred in the play within the play. So that should itself be enough to say that the film is bit of a mindfuck and am not sure entirely what it is going for in terms of an actual plot. The surface level impression is that the actress is a feminist activist and is irked by the sexism in the play and the whole thing is a charade to punish the director for it.  
I think we can give Polanski the benefit of doubt and assume that the film is not really about the plot but how audience's moods are affected by the film. The director in it represents the audience, and like us, he is also exasperated by the actress who is holding him up by her late arrival and demand for an audition. Even though the poster of the film convey a sensuality, there is not much of that on offer. But as soon as the audition starts, we are intrigued by it and the director also goes through the same change of emotions and culminates with the absurd ending. I might be being pretentious here but that is what I think he was going for.

Overall, it ends up being a good watch even though I was exasperated by it initially. It is difficult to follow such dialog heavy films when you are relying entirely on subtitles and to make matters worse, there was a slight lag in the print that I saw. The budget must have been meager since the entire film was set in one place and involved only two actors. It is Polanski's first non-English-language film in 51 years. His previous feature film, 'Carnage', also had this play like feel to it and is the best one among his recent outings.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Unfriended (Cybernatural) (2014)

Director: Levan Gabriadze
Writer:   Nelson Greaves
Cast:      Heather Sossaman, Mathew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson

A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force which is using various online accounts of their dead friend to contact them. The entire film is set in real time on a character's computer screen. 

It is another one of those films that can be classed in the found-footage supernatural horror category, a genre of which I am not a big fan of. I got interested in the film because of 'seeing an entire film through what is happening on a computer screen' aspect of it. I guess, only those who are familiar with using Skype, Facebook, Gmail, different sounds of their notifications etc will be interested in this film, which means a large chunk of 15-35-year-olds won't find the way it is filmed to be problematic at all. Maybe that is why it has been a huge box-office success, grossing $54 million on the meager budget of million dollars. It was shot over just 16 days as well. 

For me, the film was very interesting in the first 45 minutes or so because of the novelty factor after which it gets a bit tiring and cliched. It deals with a very relevant theme of cyber-bullying but mixing it with supernatural horror genre didn't fascinate me very much. I just wish they had done something much more interesting with the innovative idea of having the film shot from the perspective of looking at someone's computer screen. There is this film 'The Dirties' from 2013, which mixed the issues of bullying and school shootouts in an expertly fashion and is a definite recommendation from my side. Unfriended is a decent one-time watch but will be considered as a serious missed opportunity in an artistic sense. I guess the makers won't care because of the financial success and a sequel already greenlit. I hate Hollywood!!!

PS: It seems American teenagers don't know how to use Ctrl C and Ctrl V. Fucking amateurs!!!

Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers:  Thomas Hardy, David Nicholls
Cast:       Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturrdige

In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor. It is an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1874 novel with the same name and is actually the fourth adaptation of novel to the screen as a feature length film.

I avoid going through synopsis of a film as much as possible because it is always best when you know nothing about them going in. It being directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, Jagten) should be reason enough to check it out and I did see the name of Tom Hardy attached to it. Alas, it was the writer Thomas Hardy that they were referring to but it doesn't matter because we got the Scandinavian version of the actor Tom Hardy in it, Matthias Schoenaerts. For Schoenaerts, it is a role very much against type considering the films that I have watched him in are 'Rust and Bone' and 'Bullhead', both of which had him playing nearly deranged physical characters. 

The chief role in the film is of course played excellently by Carey Mulligan. Her character can best be described as a confused feminist living anachronistically in Victorian England. Some might also describe her as a 'cock-tease'. The choices that she makes could be described as a bit stereo-typical when viewed from a modern context but these stereotypes are anyway based on broad gender generalizations that we can make from an evolutionary perspective. What I am talking about is her choosing the flash Sergeant in stead of the two gentlemen who courted her. When you adapt a novel into a film, because of the time constraints, you do get a feeling that they are cramming a lot into it and seems very plot heavy. I generally prefer films that don't rely too much on plot, but one should give some leeway when viewing such adaptations, because they have to stay quite true to the source material. 

Overall it is a very good watch with excellent performances from all the main characters. The color tone of the film is quite similar to how it was in 'The Hunt'. The actions that Bathsheba takes must have been scandalous for the time it is set in and the film doesn't go into that very deeply but trusts the intelligence of the audience to guess how it must have for her from the title of the film itself. Film is worth checking out if you are a fan of Vinterberg or if you just fancy Victorian period films. If you like it, I would recommend the excellent Danish film 'A Royal Affair' as well.

Rating: 3.5/5  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Best Malayalam Films From Recent Times

It seems like there has been a renewed interest in Malayalam cinema off late owing to the successes of films like 'Drishyam' & 'Premam'. I consider the period 1980-1995 to be the golden age of Malayalm cinema and what followed after that was a period characterized by very bleak mediocrity. That time-period coincided with the utter dominance of the two stalwarts, Mohanlal & Mammootty, in all areas of the industry including the creative process and the writers/directors took backseats as films were tailor made for them to 'Perform' in larger than life roles. A bi-product of that was the creation of fans associations and the intense competition between the two sets resulting in the making of some really bad films. It is not fair to just blame the two stars and their asshole sets of fans for the fall in standard since there was also a dearth of talent in all other areas of the industry to accentuate the situation.

Things are beginning to change and a generational shift is well and truly happening. Even though some people are calling this to be again a golden age for Malayalam cinema, I am bit more cautious and would class it just as a recovery from the doldrums. The films that gets noticed and mentioned by non-malayalees are the big box office successes and as is often the case, much better films goes under the radar. So here is a list of what in my opinion are the best Malayalam films from recent times, which I define as post 2010...

  1. Angamaly Diaries (Lijo Jose Pellissery)
  2. Maheshinte Prathikaram (Dileesh Pothan)
  3. Maayanadhi (Aashiq Abu)
  4. Ozhivudivasathe Kali (Sanal Kumar Sasidharan)
  5. Akam (Shalini Usha Nair)
  6. Njan Steve Lopez (Rajeev Ravi)
  7. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (Dileesh Pothan)
  8. Sexy Durga (Sanal Kumar Sasidharan)
  9. Monsoon Mangoes (Abhi Varghese)
  10. Munnariyippu (Venu)
  11. Chaappa Kurish (Sameer Thahir)
  12. Vedivazhipadu (Shambhu Purushothaman)
  13. Neram (Alphonse Puthran)
  14. Aadu Oru Bheekara Jeeviyanu (Midhun Manuel Thomas)
  15. Annayum Rasoolum (Rajeev Ravi)
  16. Kammattipaadam (Rajeev Ravi)
  17. Idi (Sajid Yahiya)
  18. Munroe Thuruthu (Manu)
  19. Veettilekkulla Vazhi (Dr. Biju)
  20. Lukka Chuppi (Bash Mohammed)
  21. Rakshadhikari Baiju (Ranjan Pramod)
  22. Premam (Alphonse Puthran)
  23. Shutter (Joy Mathew)
  24. Double Barrel (Lijo Jose Pellisery)
  25. 1983 (Abrid Shine)  
  26. Drishyam (Jeethu Joseph)

മണിച്ചിത്രത്താഴ് (Manichithrathazhu) (1993)

Directors: Fazil, Priyadarshan, Sibi Malayil, Siddique-Lal
Writer:     Madhu Muttam
Cast:        Shoabhana, Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi
Language: Malayalam

A young couple, Ganga (Shobhana) and Nakulan (Suresh Gopi), arrives at Nakulan's ancestral home, knows as Madampalli, for a vacation. Hailing from a family that follows tradition and superstitions, Nakulan's uncle Thampi (Nedumudi Venu) objects to the couple's idea of moving into the allegedly haunted mansion, which they ignore. The couple moves in, following which seemingly supernatural events begin to happen. 

Film can be best classed as a Psychological thriller and is widely considered as one of the best Malayalam films of all time. We Malayalees, exhibit a lot of superiority complex and generally see rest of India (Bengalis are an exception for some reason, maybe communism) as how Developed nations perceive under-developed ones-be it in the economic sense or when it comes to art and culture. So Manchithrathazhu, which came out in early 90s, is often cited as another one of these justification for this sense of superiority because it is a film which was much ahead of its time for general Indian audience and the fact that it was made in Malayalam and was a huge success in Kerala even as early an in 1993 kind of justifies our awesomeness. Also the fact that it was remade into several other languages a decade or so later but they still had to add a lot of unnecessary things to make it palatable for those audience as a commercial cinema, strengthens our conviction that rest of India is so behind. 

All the above xenophobia aside, what makes the film such a beauty is that it has all the elements that are required from a commercial point of view but it does it in such a way that it respects the intelligence of the audience. It is a film which satisfies all kind of people but I was shit-scared when I saw it for the first time in a theater as a seven-year-old. I remember saying special prayers before going to bed (those were the days) and since I was living in an old 'Tharavadu' like house in those days, we had designated a guest room as our own version of 'Thekkini' from the film and used to not go there after that. I really had seen it then as a horror film and it took me a second viewing some 5 years later to realize that there is nothing supernatural about it. 

Even though Fazil is given credit as the director of this  film, it also credits Priyadarshan, Sibi Malayil and Siddique-Lal as second unit directors. That itself shows the ambition of the film since all of them were leading film directors in Malayalam Cinema during that time. It can be a recipe for disaster but their output in the film is seamless. The water-tight screenplay from Madhu Muttam is the biggest reason for its success and I guess all the directors involved would also have contributed to it, especially for the comedy parts. I am really interested in a documentary interviewing all these people behind the camera to describe how this collaborative effort happened and what was the level of contribution from each of them. 

What stood out for me during this watch was the level of detail involved in the film and how well they manage to convey it without feeling like expositions. I had watched 'Back to the Future' recently and its script is held up as some sort of perfection for how well every detail of it in the beginning has a significant bearing later in the film. I am not really a big fan of that since it is also some sort of convolution. I like it when the film have things in it which doesn't have anything to do with the plot per se but adds minor but really cool things to it in terms of world building and fleshing out supporting characters. 'John Wick' and 'Mad Max: Fury Road' from recent times are good examples of such films. In Manichithrathazhu, there is a ten-minute sequence in the beginning through which the dynamics of relationship between the different families in it is established in a neat fashion. The tension between Nedmudi's and Innocent's families is not really a necessary detail for the plot of the film but such small details are really great to have. Also, almost all the characters from the film are so well developed, without having to dedicate much time on an individual basis, that you can really describe what kind of personality they have and why they behave like they behave when put in the larger family relationship context. I am talking about characters played by Nedumudi, Innocent, KPAC Lalitha, Sudheesh and characters like 'Alli' and 'Sreedevi'. All of this is done with minimum fuss. The sequence in which KPAC Lalitha is seemingly coming on to her husband character played by Innocent and both of them gets embarrassed when 'Sreedevi' enters the room is a case in point. That scene can be purely seen as a comedy one but it is a nice little detail that the spinster, Sreedevi, is the third person involved in it and it kind of adds to her status as a tragic figure in the family. Of course, we get more details regarding her relationship with Nakulan only later on in the film, but these are just nice little things that you notice on repeat watches regarding how intelligently this film was made.

The film won National Award for 'Best Popular Film for Providing Wholesome Entertainment' and Shobhana was awarded National Award for 'Best Actress'.  It broke the record to become the Highest Grossing Malayalam film of all time then and I suspect if you adjust for inflation and calculate, it might still be holding that record. It is a really a worthy one to hold that record because I think no other films from Malayalam have managed such a fine balance when it comes to making a film that is so commercial yet so intelligent. I have embedded a youtube link for the film with English subtitles for those who are interested to watch it in all its glory.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Barfly (1987)

Director: Barbet Schroeder
Writer:    Charles Bukowski
Cast:       Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway, Alice Krige

Film is based on the life of successful poet Charles Bukowski and his exploits in Hollywood during 60s, 70s and 80s. 

I had seen '9 Full Moons' two days back and Barfly was something that came up frequently while reading about it. The comparison is based on the odd personalities of the couple in question. In 9 Full Moons, they were a bit more subtle about it while in Barfly, both of them are equally 'damaged' heavy drinkers. Mannerisms of Mickey Rourke, playing the author character Henry Chinaski, is a bit off-putting initially but you get used to it. I guess those who are familiar with Charles Bukowski would know what to expect. I have seen the film 'Factotum', which again featured the character Henry Chinaski, many years back and kind of knew what was coming. In Barfly, the romantic angle is not the center piece of the film and is more of an examination of the character Henry Chinaski. I think if you don't already know that the character is an aspiring writer, then you might find the intermittent burst of literary flourishes bit out of the blue. 

Overall the film is a great watch but not for everyone. I found it endearing by the end even though I really don't buy his theory about living the life this way to help aid his literature. Maybe, I need to read some of his work to totally get it. The opening credits with shots of various bars/pubs sets the tone for the film and the visuals for it are stunning to say the least and reminded me of  the bar scenes from 'Swingers'. Night scenes in the film are especially great and 'The Kino Flo' lighting was first developed for this film. 

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, July 16, 2015

മാണിക്യക്കല്ല് (Manikyakallu) (2011)

Director: M. Mohanan
Writer:   M. Mohanan
Cast:      Prithviraj, Salim Kumar, Nedumudi Venu, Samvrutha Sunil
Language: Malayalam

Film is centered around a government school which achieved the dubious distinction of 100% failure rate in SSLC examination (10th standard). It has got only around 50 odd students and its teachers and the principal have various side-activities to attend to. Things begin to happen when a young teacher joins the school and attempts at changing the mindset of his colleagues and students.

It turns out that the film is based loosely on what happened in Brennan Higher Secondary School, Thalassery. A reference to that is made in the film as well in terms of the history of the school. Film can be seen as having a skeletal form of 'Aaram Thampuran', but with the setting changed. In stead of the temple festival, you have the students passing the SSLC exams as final goal and in stead of Mohanlal's verbal and physical battles, you have Prithviraj's persuasive reasoning. Both of them have something from the past that attracted them to this place and even the respective female leads in them are quite similar. So it is not a stretch to say that they basically the same film but with different treatment. 

Film has a very basic and predictable story-line and the first half of it is quite nicely paced and good to watch. It does struggle in the second half and some very unnecessary songs in it does not help at all. Songs are good though and are quite familiar to me through radio even though I didn't know that they were from this film. Students in the film are also quite good and most of the supporting cast does well even though I am quite sick of Nedumudi Venu again playing a Headmaster role.

Overall the film, despite the imperfections that are there mainly because of it adhering to conventions, is a good one-time watch. Role is perfect for Prithviraj since it has him in his interview mode. He always comes across, during his interviews, as someone who speaks a lot of sense and the role in this film suits his preachy style. It is set in a very remote like village, which I think is a lazy thing that is prevalent in Malayalam cinema off late, and I would have preferred a straight adaptation of the real life story, set in Thalassery.

Rating: 2.5/5   

9 Full Moons (2013)

Director: Tomer Almagor
Writer:    Tomer Almagor
Cast:       Amy Seimetz, Bret Roberts, Donal Logue

Frankie (Amy Seimetz) is an emotional train wreck, careening around East LA music scene drinking and getting lost with strangers. Lev (Bret Roberts) is a reserved and tormented soul. He drives a limo and aspires to work in the music business. Meeting in an after hour seedy nightclub, they embark on a roller-coaster relationship exploring what love is like for two quiet people who maybe 'damaged' beyond repair.

What is with number 9 and romance? I looked it up, in fact, and a numerology page which showed up first on the google search says that it is the number of universal love, eternity and faith. As for other films in similar genre, I could think of ' weeks', which I haven't seen, and Michael Winterbottom's '9 Songs', which I have. Roman Polanski's 'The Ninth Gate' is not quite in the same genre but can be classed as an erotic mystery thriller. 

Coming back to 9 full moons, the gender roles of the characters are quite reversed during the initial parts of the film with Frankie taking more of the initiatives. Lev moves in with her and later gets a music gig to assist a famous country musician who is currently on a downward trajectory. As he gets busier with the assignment, a more traditional gender dynamics develop between the couple. It is quite difficult to describe what makes the film unique but I guess the behavior of its two protagonists is the best thing about it. Both of them are excellent in their roles, especially Amy Seimetz, who was also in Shane Carruth's 'Upstream Color'. Compared to that role, Frankie is kind of the opposite, especially in terms of the way she talks. I was expecting this film to be more of a mindfuck for some reason but it turns out to be quite a 'Feel Good' film. 

Overall it is a very good watch. The reasons for why they are like this is not made clear in the film until the end parts of it where some clues are given. It did feel a little more plot-driven than it should be and did raise my eye-brows during certain scenes- for eg; Frankie reacting in an angry manner when she finds him rummaging through her stuff, a very unsubtle and totally out of the blue scene where she looks longingly at a kid etc...Harry Dean Stanton also makes an appearance in the film as Lev's father in a cameo role. The film is worth checking out for its uniqueness and especially if you are a fan of films like 'Blue Valentine'. 

Rating: 4/5   

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Philips and the Monkey Pen (2013)

Directors: Shanil Muhammed, Rojin Philip, Rojin Thomas
Writers:    Shanil Muhammed, Rojin Thomas
Cast:        Sanoop Santhosh, Jayasurya, Ramya Nambeeshan, Vijay Babu
Language: Malayalam

Ryan Philips is a smart young boy in fifth standard who has a big problem when it comes to studying mathematics. As he struggles to escape from doing his maths homework, he resorts to mischievous acts, little realizing the trouble he is making. The title of the film comes from a magical 'Monkey Pen' that he gets which helps him in doing his homework and turn around the opinion about him in his school.

The film begins with a title card which says that 'one should put themselves in the shoes of a young kid' and that seems to be a warning to the audience that it is a film meant for kids only. My problem with the film is that it is not quite a film meant purely for children or adults. It kind of falls between the two and in that sense it is neither for kids nor for adults. I am not in a position to judge whether kids will like this film but as a grown up, I wouldn't recommend it for them because of the various adulty things in the film like a sharpened pencil getting shoved in the arse of a kid as a revenge tactic. It would have been alright if they just cut away immediately but they had to just go back and show blood dripping out of it...WTF!!!... I know that our film certification process is so fucked up that kids see plenty of fucked up things in films that are certified as universally view-able, but it is just mind boggling to see such scenes in a film that is supposedly meant for kids. Of course the makers can justify it by saying that they were sending across a message that: "Kids, don't shove pencil up the arse of other kids", but I don't buy that. Then there are silly things like romantic interest for a 10 year old and the same girl dying in an accident. Give me a fucking break!!! You want to include all the melodramatic bullshit of mainstream India cinema in a kids film as well? FFS!!! 

I decided to watch the film because scenes from this film are used to generate memes in usual places on internet (ICU, Troll Malayalam etc). Most of the kids in it are very good, which is a rare thing these days, but the main kid's performance is a bit uneven. He is annoying in many places but rather good sometimes. There is a tendency to make adults also perform like kids in Children's films these days and Ramya Nambeeshan's mother character is an example for that. 'Manu Uncle' is my favorite film from the children's category in Malayalam cinema and it is one that is equally enjoyable for adults. It works with a very Enid Blytonesque 'Famous Five' premise and the kids in it are not too saccharine and adults behave quite normally except for Suresh Gopi's legendary character 'Minnal Prathapan', who is a bit caricatured. It is better to watch that film again than waste your time on a piece of shit film like this one.

Overall the film is a rather terrible watch. There are several jumps in timelines when it comes to the story telling aspect of it which gives it a false sense of sophistication. I knew I was in for a bad time as soon as I saw the old guy from flashback scene with the British behave like a one year old, only to serve as a plot device. Then there is the Maths teacher role played by Vijay Babu who swings wildly in terms of his behavior without much justification for it. Only saving grace for this film is the sporadic laughs that it generates in some places but they are not nearly enough to save it. At around 140 minutes it is just too long and I thought of turning it off much before its ending. It was a commercial and critical success when it got released and ran for more than 100 days.  

Rating: 1.5/5

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ഷട്ടർ (Shutter) (2012)

Director: Joy Mathew
Writer:    Joy Mathew
Cast:       Lal, Vinay Forrt, Sreenivasan, Sajitha Madathil
Language: Malayalam

The film portrays unexpected incidents happening in two days and a night in the city of Kozhikode. The story centers around the mess created by three mean - a Gulf Malayali, an auto driver and a film director. As can be seen from the poster above, it involves a prostitute as well and the title of the film is not derived from the camera mechanism, but from a room whose shutter is down and locked.

I went into the film without knowing anything about the story and was expecting a murder mystery or something like that. In a way that helped because the expectation of a murder and things going out of hand helps in enjoying the film even more as it turns out to be more of a satirical-thriller in the mould of Alphonse Putharen's 'Neram'. He was rumored to direct a Hindi remake of the film after 'Neram', but the project fell through. Lal plays the role of the Muslim Gulf Malayali, who is perturbed by the manners of his teenage daughter and decides to arrange for her engagement. Usually, Muslims have their 'Mundu' tied towards the left and are teetotalers but he is just the opposite. His drinking buddies are some of his 'friends' from the neighborhood and they are portrayed as the leeching kind which is very typical for NRIs in Kerala. They are there for the drinks and in exchange they will flatter the guy during the drinking session while behind his back they will be gossiping about him. Their drinking session takes place in the empty shop room that the protagonist owns just in front of his house. Vinay Forrt plays the role of his trusted Auto-rickshaw driver who also masquerades as the procurer of alcohol, a common phenomena in Kerala. The NRI gets locked up inside his shop-room with a prostitute and the film follows whether he can escape from it without harming his reputation in town. It works very well as a satire on typical middle class hypocrisies and false moralities in Kerala. 

Overall the film is a very good watch and the director achieves a fine balance between it being a thriller and satire. Things could have easily gone sideways if he chose to end it with violence and some shit moral message but he opts to go in a different direction. What really helps is the casting of Lal, who is now kind of type-cast playing negative rough roles and in the initial parts of the film his character is given that treatment. So we kind of expect a doomed violence that never quite happens in the film. Vinay Forrt is also excellent in his role as the auto driver and is the character through which every other ones connect. Sreenivasan plays a typical 'Sreenivasan' role from recent times. Sajitha Madathil, who made her name as a theater artist, plays the role of the prostitute and this is her second film.

Some minor points to complain about would be a totally unnecessary connection between the film director character and the prostitute which happens during the final scene of  the film. It is as if Malayalam films should have a cheap twist towards the end and I really get pissed off when I see that. I just feel it is just disingenuous without adding anything to the film since the probability of all the characters having multiple connections between them is just too convoluted. Another minor quibble could be that, there was no need for that conversation between the NRI guy and his daughter towards the end which comes across as a very  unsubtle social message. It was quite obvious from the get-go regarding who will open the door after the phone-call mistake. He could have just chose to convey it in an ambiguous manner with some knowing looks between the characters and by having the NRI dude just change his decision on his daughter's future. And the last criticism would be there are these imagined scenes which works as twists, like him going back to the house to face hostilities, and I just think it is another one of these cheap tricks. But all that said, it is a very good watch. It was remade into Marathi by V.K. Prakash recently and is also getting made in Tamil. I don't think a Hindi remake by Alphonse Puthran would have worked very well because I imagine it to be very similar in tone to 'Ek Chalis Ki Last Local' and what made the film work very well for me in Malayalam was the casting of Lal and the threat of violence that he offers. Shutter was Joy Mathew's directorial debut and his love for Kozhikode is apparent in the film, even though it is a bit jarring sometimes, especially the love-in for autowallahs.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Apartment Troubles (2014)

Directors: Jennifer Prediger, Jess Weixler
Writers:    Jennifer Prediger, Jess Weixler
Cast:         Jennifer Prediger, Jess Weixler,Megan Mullally

Two codependent roommates, on the verge of eviction, flee New York for the promise of sunshine in Los Angeles where their friendship is tested by a chance at fame, a fortune teller and an amorous wealthy aunt.

It is basically a remake of Bruce Robinson's 'Withnail & I' with female protagonists in stead of male and English settings changed to America. It also kind of reminded me of Noah Baumbach's 'Frances Ha' with its hipster New-York settings and similar kind of issues for the protagonist. Even though you feel the two characters in 'Apartment Troubles' are kind of hipsters initially, that goes out of the window pretty soon when you learn that they really have trouble behaving like adults and are confused as hell. One of them is an adopted child from a very rich family who are trying to avoid her now due to her eccentric nature. So you have the two characters choosing not to use electricity in their apartment as part of setting an environmentalist example while at the same time having no trouble in using a private jet to travel to LA from NY. Film goes through without exactly pinning itself down to a particular genre and can be best described as a light comedy. By the time they reach LA and the aunt starts coming on to her niece's friend, you realize what is going on with the film with respect to its similarities with 'Withanail & I'. It is basically the same film with some inversion of sex and geography.

Overall  it is a good light watch even though it does really push the audience into disinterest at some points. Film doesn't even have a Wikipedia page and I guess it is just about as Indie as you can get. It is a decent enough watch even if you have seen Withnail & I and is much less darker especially when it comes to the ending. The poverty is also much starker in the original film.

Rating: 3/5

ട്രാഫിക്‌ (Traffic) (2011)

Director: Rajesh Pillai
Writers:  Bobby, Sanjay
Cast:       Sreenivasan, Kunchacko Boban, Rahman
Language: Malayalam

It is a multi-narrative 'thriller' that intertwines multiple stories around one particular incident which leaves the characters in it with two hours to take a heart meant for transplant from Kochi to Palakkad in under two hours during daytime, a task you know is an impossible one if you are familiar with Kerala roads and traffic. It is inspired from a real life event that happened in Chennai.

First of all this is not about the Steven Soderbergh film with the same name which was an excellent one. Recently in an interview, Alphonse Puthran had stated that 'Traffic' was the film that really kicked off the so-called 'New-Gen' films in Malayalam. It was a big hit and was also received very well by critics. I wasn't too interested to watch it, first of all because there was an influx of multiple-story line films in Malayalam following the success of Traffic and all of them looked like shit from the bits and pieces that I have watched of them and secondly, I am not a big fan of its screenwriters,Bobby-Sanjay duo, who are overrated as hell. Last Vishu, I had the misfortune of catching significant portions of a traffic copycat film called 'God's Own Country' and it is the kind of film that will make you want to bang your head against concrete. It seems Sreenivasan, with his social message bullshit, is a constant fixture in these kind of films. 

Anyway, going into Traffic, I expected it to be a half decent film considering the number of copycats it spawned. After the quite interesting first twenty minutes or so it is such that you can put it into the 'So bad it is good' category. (പകച്ചു പോയി എന്റെ ബാല്യം!!!)  According to its Wikipedia page, it won state award for Best Screenplay and I guess those who gave that award doesn't regard 'Badly written Exposition scenes' to be such a big deal. I really felt for Anoop Menon, who had to execute the bulk of terrible expositions in his role as Police Commissioner in a Traffic control room. It seems the screenwriters were hellbent on how bad they can make it and you get a stream of terrible exposition scenes from all characters at one point or the other. Only good thing about them is that I had a great time watching it due to its unintentionally funny nature. 

Apart from all the rantings about bad expositions, I hate it when they make very unsubtle social commentary on things and for eg; you got a character, who is a radio producer, chiding the RJs for what she construes as political statements in the show and demands that their only consideration should be entertainment. The thing is, in India, private radio channels cannot broadcast news or have any sort of political discussion and this fact could have been easily used in that scene in an intelligent way in stead of the bullshit about entertainment. To top it all, they included a scene to justify the existence of 'Insert a Star's name Fans Association' who in my opinion are significantly responsible for the steep standard fall in Malayalam cinema. In the initial part of the film, Sreenivasan is shown as a traffic cop who is back after a suspension for taking bribe. I thought that was interesting because you don't get morally ambiguous characters typically in Malayalam films. Then, they went about ruining it by having a totally unnecessary flashback later in the film to show that he was forced to take bribe due to an unavoidable reason. I fucking hate this moralizing shit and it is a constant theme in Bobby-Sanjay films from what I have seen. The only interesting film that I have seen of theirs is 'Mumbai Police' even though they fucked it up towards the end. 

So, overall the film is rather bad but you do get plenty of laughs out it because of its lameness. Funny that they missed out on all the hilly parts that you have to get through when you're travelling from Thrissur to Palakkad. In a way it is as if the film was written by two overenthusiastic school kids who think of themselves as very clever. I am not surprised that it did very well because the average Malayalee audience don't mind getting things explained to them and it is pretty common here in Crime mysteries to have the 'Hero'/Police Officer explaining all the things that happened in the story during last ten minutes of the film to a stumped audience of superior officers, when in fact the scene is designed to spoon-feed the audience just in case they didn't fully get all the intricacies involved. I guess that is why enjoyed 'Premam' very much because the director have left plenty of things unresolved for us to work out like: 'Did Malar really have Magnesia?', 'Is Celine younger sister of Mary or just a neighbor?', 'How did Celine know about Malar?' etc...

PS: Less said about the Nivin Pauly cameo, the better...

Rating: 1.5/5

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Merchants of Doubt (2014)

Director: Robert Kenner
Writers:  Erik M, Conway, Robert Kenner, Naomi Oreskes

A documentary that looks at pundits-for-hire who present themselves as scientific authorities as they speak about topics like toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and climate change. It begins with a look at the tactics employed by the big tobacco companies to generate doubts among the general public and policy makers about the accuracy of scientific studies on harmful effects of cigarettes. Same tactics and players are being used now to do the same regarding the consensus on human made climate change by the corporations involved in Oil, Power and Automobile industries.

It is not such a revealing documentary if you are already familiar with the lengths American corporates and their lobbyists go in pursuing their profit-motive. They have a version of capitalism in which regulation plays no role and you can always count on the bogey threat of 'Attack on our Freedom' to counter call for actions on environment. As far as I go, your freedom should be unlimited as long as you are not causing direct harm to others, but in case of things like Cigarette smoking, toxic chemicals and CO2 emissions;  you are causing direct harm and you cannot play the freedom card. The film delves into the nature of debate that is conducted over climate change and concludes that it is not a scientific argument, since there is almost 100% scientific consensus on the issue, but rather a political argument which pits a convoluted and naive form of libertarian-ism against all others. One could argue that it is not even ideological and is just about money. 

You have a very surreal 1984 like doublespeak involved in American political discourse, with the voice of climate change deniers coming from lobbyist assholes and cranky scientists who works for think-tanks, with interesting names, and are all conveniently funded by industries that stand to lose if proper action is taken to combat climate change. In 2008, during the Presidential debates, there was almost near consensus among all the republican candidates regarding climate change but within a year, they all flip-flopped and became climate change skeptics or deniers. I guess the money from Koch cunts helped to bring about that transformation. Now  you have a situation where some loony republican is bringing snowballs into senate-floor to claim that climate change is a hoax. 

The film is a great watch overall and if you are somehow on the other side of the fence, my heartfelt condolences to you, then it should be conclusive enough for you to change sides. I really don't see many non-American people having this doubt at all regards to human made climate change and only in USA you have this false debate going on. The media's habit of giving false equivalence under the garb of giving time for both sides in the debate, when there is a significant credibility gap between the two sides, also helps to manufacture this doubt. Well, they are funded by the big business and maybe they are also part of the propaganda. The film is produced by Omidyar Network, from Pierre Omidyar (e-Bay founder), and this is part of his experiments with news media which also includes Glenn Greenwald run 'The Intercept' news organization. 

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

സ്ഫടികം (Sphadikam) (1995)

Director: Bhadran
Writer:    Bhadran
Cast:       Mohanlal, Thilakan, Sphadikam George
Language: Malayalam

Aadu Thoma (Mohanlal) is the village rowdy who is at odds with his very strict father, Chacko Master (Thilakan), a retired school headmaster. Over the course of the film we learn that his father, who believes that Mathematics is World's heartbeat, wanted him to be a genius in mathematics whereas his son's interest lied with practical science. The corporal punishment and constant discouragement forced him to leave the house as a teenager only to return 14 years later as the village rowdy. Film is basically about the relationship between the father-son duo and the title of the film translates as Prism, which is a metaphor for how differently humans can behave when faced with different kind of experiences in life.

These days we are not so blessed with a deluge of films that are classed as 'Mass', a word that I very much hate when used to describe a film or a scene. This film would qualify as such without even trying to be so and that makes it much more better when compared. In stead of having scenes that try to milk the audience for effect, this one is all about the character and so the scenes just comes naturally without feeling as if it is a set-piece. Film maker invests enough time in developing the character. Aadu Thoma is like a Christian version of Mangalassery Neelakandan from 'Devasuram' but while the latter mellows down very much after the first half of that film, Aadu Thoma is pretty much the rough guy the whole way through. I do think first halves of both these films are very much superior to their second halves since it is more interesting when we don't know much about the characters. I do rate both films overall around the same level and these two anti-hero characters are iconic when you talk about Mohanlal's filmography and it is precisely this anti-heroism that makes them so.

Overall it is a very good watch but there is an element of laziness when it comes to continuity in certain scenes. Also there are some scenes in which some characters just turn up conveniently for no apparent reason. The ending of the film seems very rushed and putting a time-bomb in a lorry doesn't seem that logical to take out a character as there is no guarantee that he will be in the lorry when it explodes, especially when timer is set for hours later. There is a unique visual tone to the film which gives it a Western feel sometimes and there are some great shots from under the lorry. Action sequences are very well done with a realness to it. Ending of the film have the protagonist getting arrested and you will really feel for the character in the same way that you felt for Mohanlal's character from 'Naduvazhikal'. A non-triumphant ending is something that you don't see nowadays in such kind of films and they always have laughably convoluted ways by which the hero escapes justice after killing dozens of people. Film was the highest grosser from 1995 and ran for a total of 225 days at the box office. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Night Moves (2013)

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers:  Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Cast:       Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard

Three radical environmentalists look to execute the protest of their lives: the explosion of a hydroelectric dam. I went into the film without knowing anything about it and the plot is revealed very gradually in a slow-burn fashion which I very much enjoyed. 

First half of the film is very good and you root for them to complete the bombing and escape, but, the second half is bit of a letdown. One of the three, stereo-typically the lady in it, find it hard to cope when she learns that a camper died due to the flooding caused by dam explosion. Really, is that it?!! I guess we are kind of de-sensitized to all these terrorist atrocities these days and one death seems too insufficient to make someone repent their actions. Also, in this era of suicide bombers, we kind of expect them to die and not worry too much about their escape plan. Maybe, that is exactly what the film is going for to show that these are very idealized people who thought they were doing something grand and when they realized that fuck all was achieved, they kind of lost it. The rest of the film is the usual mistrust between the three of them with the two men fearing that the lady will rat them out and leads to predictable outcomes. The ending of it was also a bit fresh without any resolution and that part I liked. It is trying to do what 'The American' did for assassin-procedurals but doesn't quite pull it off. Nevertheless it is a good watch. 

I was kind of reminded of the German film 'The Edukators' which I highly recommend as a stylized entertaining watch. It also featured three radicals, whose agenda was anti-capitalism, spreading chaos by breaking in and vandalizing rich people's houses. The second half of the film features them three in hiding in a secluded location after a kidnap and the changes in relationship dynamics between the three. Structure and plot is not similar but it did remind me of that film. As for Night Moves, it is a good watch if you're into slow procedural films. Performances from all concerned are good, especially that of Eisenberg's, and the whole damp feel with exquisite locales is also perfect.

Rating: 3/5   

Friday, July 3, 2015

Tabu (2012)

Director: Miguel Gomes
Writers:  Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo
Cast:       Telmo Churro, Miguel Gomes, Hortencillo Aquina
Language: Portugeese

A restless retired woman teams up with her deceased neighbor's maid to seek out a man who has a secret connection to her past life as a farm owner at the foothill of Mount Tabu in Africa. It is filmed in black and white and title of the film is a reference to F. W. Murnau's silent film with the same name, Tabu.

I think this is the first Portuguese film that I have ever watched. I saw it after seeing its name in the Indiewire list of 50 best films from this decade and I think I have seen it mentioned elsewhere as well. It is basically a very simple story that is elevated to a higher level by the way it is told. There is a significant prologue to it before it gets into the main story. Film begins with an abstract scene from Africa about the suicide of an explorer, hoping for a better future, after the death of his wife. Then it cuts to present day Portugal and the protagonist for this segment is the kind retired woman, Pilar. Her neighbor, Aurora, stays with a black maid appointed by her neglectful daughter. Aurora is paranoid and behaves pretty much in the manner that old people close to death would do. She mumbles things about her crocodile in Africa and writes an address and hands it to Pilar when she falls sick. Pilar seeks out and meet the old man mentioned in the address and by the time they reach the hospital, Aurora dies. Then the old man narrates their connection from Africa and turns out that there was more to Aurora than meets the eyes. They had an adulterous relationship in Africa and rest of the story is basically about that. It might sound a bit Bollywoodish and bit like fucking Titanic, but it is a great strange watch. It is shot very much like a silent film with the story largely told through narration in stead of actual dialogs. Some people might be put off by the initial segments of the film but I do think that made the film special since you are not sure where it is going. The contrast between Aurora from the present and the past is so stark, not just in terms of age, and that made the film stand out for me as there is an element of playing with our expectations.

Overall it is a great and unique film. It is not a political film and doesn't try to make a statement about colonialism in any significant sort of way. I saw some criticism for it regarding that, which is utter lunacy as every film doesn't have to be political or with some social message. It is a simple story of love which is told in such a manner that the adulterous nature of it is not made out to feel like cheating in any sort of way. Nobody is portrayed in a bad light and everything happens in a matter of fact way except for the two central characters who feel guilty. It won 'Silver Bear for a feature that opens new perspectives' at the Berlin Film Festival 

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Kung Fury (2015)

Director: David Sandberg
Writer:    David Sandberg
Cast:       David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone, Steven Chew

In 1985, Kung Fury, the toughest martial artist cop in Miami, goes back in time to kill the worst criminal of all time- Adolf Hitler aka Kung Fuhrer. It is a live-action short film and pays homage to 1980s martial arts and police action films. 

Film was funded through a kickstarter campaign which featured a minute long trailer of the film. It raised $630k, exceeding the original target goal of $200k, but falling short of the $1 million mark required for making a feature length film. I guess that was a blessing in disguise because the current running time of 31 minutes is just about right and as can be seen from other Grindhouse films like Planet Terror and Deathproof, a feature length film out of Grade-B material can be bit of a stretch. I haven't seen many/any of the films that it is referencing in the martial arts/police action genres but I am told that there isn't much exaggeration involved in the film and they used to be as crazy as this. There are references to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mortal Kombat, Matrix, Terminator and many other films/animes. Plenty of cool one-liners (Tank You, I'm disarming you etc) and a cheesy product placement. Then there is the 2-D Video gamey fight sequence which reminded me of that scene from Oldboy as well. Film was released for free on Youtube and is embedded below.

It is an awesome watch and do check it out. I have seen some people describing it as 'too bad it is good' and that is not the correct description as it is very intelligent and self-aware. Film made its debut at the Cannes and the makers are now working on making a feature length film set in the same universe. Am not too sure about that though. As far this one goes, it is certainly the best one that has come out in the Grindhouse genre which was revived by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez with Deathproof and Planet Terror respectively.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) (2014)

Director: Roy Andersson
Writer:    Roy Andersson
Cast:       Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom, Viktor Gyllenberg
Language: Swedish

Sam and Jonathan, a pair of hapless novelty salesmen, embark on a tour of the human condition in reality and fantasy that unfold in a series of absurdist episodes. 

Film starts with the statement that it is the third part in a trilogy dealing with human existence. I hadn't watched the other two and, in fact, I haven't seen any other films from Roy Andersson. He is widely rated by many of his fellow swedes and Ruben Ostlund, director of the excellent Force Majeure, is a fan. I remember him saying in one interview that Roy Andersson is bit of an unknown quantity outside his country and you could see why with this film. I think the level of enjoyment you get from this film is predicated on how well you know Sweden's history. It is not to say that you cannot appreciate the film at all without it as I did enjoy watching it even though it came intermittently.  

It is like those films where the mood that you are in determines a lot about how well you like it. It is basically showing the pathetic existence of many people in it. Happiness is something that I think should be the sole reason for one's existence. Many people compromise on that for various reasons which got a lot to do with the choices that we make out of following societal conventions. It also deals with things like exploitative aspects of Human civilization in terms of slavery and all that. There is one poignant and disturbing scene towards the end where a big round thing is rotated by having slaves locked inside and having it lit from under. Then some elite comes to watch this exercise and it is a metaphorical allusion to how wealth of West was built through Colonial exploitation. This is true even now if you consider what can now be called as Financial imperialism. Plenty of things that people from West enjoy on cheap is made by corporations that bend rules and establishes sweatshops in underdeveloped countries and also through resource extraction.

Overall the film is a decent enough watch even though it might not be up everyone's alley. Film jumps through timelines in terms of its characters even though the setting is same with regards to space and architecture. It won 'Golden Lion' award at Venice film festival and seems to very highly rated by most critics. I might have liked it more if watched it in a better mood. Anyway I am going to catch up with his other films as I have already obtained some of those.

Rating: 3/5