Sunday, September 27, 2015

Court (2015)

Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Writer:    Chaitanya Tamhane
Cast:       Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi
Language: Marathi

The apparent 'suicide' of a sewage cleaner leads to the arrest of a Dalit activist/folk singer. The 65-year-old is held on grounds of abetting the suicide through his lyrics, which asked Dalits to commit suicide since that will give them more dignity than living through India's regressive social system under which their status haven't improved much since independence. The film follows the personal lives of the Judge, the public prosecutor and the activist's lawyer as the case meanders its way through India's notoriously slow legal system courtesy of numerous excuses and delays.  

Film got almost universal praise for its accurate portrayal of court system in India and the makers also marketed it as a realistic court-room drama. While it is true in that sense, this kind of marketing disguises the political nature of the film and that is a stroke of genius as it didn't generate the level of controversies it could have if they had marketed it as a political film. It has been selected as India's nomination for Academy Awards in the foreign film category for next year and it is mind-boggling that such a choice could have happened under the watch of a right wing conservative BJP government. I do remember reading news about some no-mark getting appointed recently related to this selection process and maybe the guy was so bad that he didn't even understand the true nature of this film. It is done in such a non-judgmental fashion that maybe the right-wingers thought that film was actually justifying their position on issues like 'Freedom of Speech', Dalit rights etc.

I was reminded of works of Ruben Ostlund and Michael Haneke while watching this film. The former for its extremely dark humor and the latter for its potential to plunge you into a state of depression. The male advocate, who is appearing for the activist, is a progressive guy with 'so-called' westernized lifestyle. He is not comfortable with Marathi, which suggests that he is an immigrant in Mumbai, a controversial thing in right wing politics of Maharashtra. The public prosecutor is a woman whose background is extremely conservative and the director chooses to show her family attending a theater performance containing xenophobic material. The judge is your traditional old patriarch guy with a penchant for moral policing and dishing out advises for no good reason. The film culminates with him slapping a kid angrily for disturbing in his sleep. It is essentially the right wing slapping the progressive nuisance in a society where 'collective' rights are given much more importance than 'individual' rights and things like 'Freedom of Speech and Expression' don't have much of a place in it and most people don't understand what it entails. Both the public prosecutor and the judge are put in the collective context of their family and relatives while the defendant's advocate is being shown in isolation with him exhibiting some exasperation when dealing with his parents. I am not in a position to judge whether any of this was done with subtlety since my politics will naturally prompt me to perceive it according to my own biases and maybe a non-political person is in a better position to comment on that.

It is a must watch film and should be a landmark one for Indian cinema. It went to many international film festivals that actually matters (Venice, Vienna etc) and won numerous awards. Since it doesn't really explain the caste issues that it is dealing with, I don't know if a foreign viewer would be able to appreciate in its entirety. I don't really care much about the Oscars but a shortlisting in the Foreign Film Category will surely help the film get a wider exposure, not only in foreign countries but also in India. It did get released here in Kochi with subtitles and I really regret not being able to catch it at the cinemas.

Rating: 5/5     

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer:   Jesse Andrews
Cast:      Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke

High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

It is an adaptation of Jesse Andrews' novel with the same name and his screenplay for the film featured in 2012 Black List of Hollywood's unproduced screenplays. The director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon got interested in the project after reading a leaked copy of the script and decided to make this as he was looking to make a personal film after the death of his father. He had previously assisted the likes of Martin Scorsese and Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu. Brian Eno scored the film using a combination of unreleased recordings and a few original compositions. The film got screened at Sundance Film Festival, where it got a standing ovation, and was picked up by Fox Searchlight Pictures. 

It must have been really a difficult film to market since by the sounds of it, it looks like a really cliched story-line. The spoof films that they have done had the potential to wreck the movie if it was included in a self-indulgent manner. But the director manages to pull it off with great restraint as we are shown only glimpses of it and I had to really pause the film to catch up with the frame on the left. It does help that the films that they are spoofing are world film classics and its always nice when you do a spoof voice-over of Werner Herzog. Some of the tropes in the film, like managing the audience's expectation by being upfront about its intentions and cliche-breaking, is not really novel but is done in a neat manner. Despite its veneer of apparent cliche-breaking it is quite replete with nerdy indie film cliches like the nature of parents characters, teachers etc. But you do get surprised by how well it worked for you in a matter of fact fashion.

Overall, it is a very good watch with good performances from all concerned. Film is really about the 'Me' in the title and Thomas Mann carries the role well. There is a clever misdirection involved wrt the fate of 'Dying Girl' that is there to get us invested in the story. By the end, it might feel a bit disingenuous for some but I didn't mind it. 50-50 is a cancer film done well in a comedic fashion and this is another one that could be added to that list.

Rating: 3.5/5 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rubicon (TV series) (2010)

Creators: Jason Horwitch, Henry Bromell
Cast:       James Bridge Dale, Jessica Collins, Lauren Hodges, Dallas Roberts, Christopher Evan Welch, Arliss Howard, Michael Cristofer

Will Travers is an analyst at a New-York based federal intelligence agency who is thrown into a story where nothing is as appears to be. He discovers that he maybe working with members of a secret society that manipulates world events on a grand scale. The series is probably inspired by how intelligence was massaged to get a consensus for War on Iraq in the aftermath of 9-11 attacks. 

I stumbled on to this series after reading a review of Mr. Robot in LA Review of Books. This was cited as a very underrated one with similar conspiracy sensibilities as well as for respecting audience's intelligence. It was broadcast in AMC and was cancelled after the first season, comprising of thirteen episodes. It also had other problems like the creator leaving due to creative differences after the pilot and show was later taken care by Henry Bromell, the executive producer. You could see over the course of the season how that affects the series as there is a conflict between whether it is primarily about the conspiracy or is it about Office politics and team dynamics. That is especially apparent in the season finale which seems a bit directionless and understated in a bad way. 

Overall, it is still a very good watch and a breath of fresh air when compared to traditional TV staple. It does have the cheap look of a TV series, which is not true for Mr. Robot. The fact that it didn't get renewed for a second season doesn't really matter since it reached its logical conclusion and anything after that is better if not done. Same is true for Mr. Robot, which has been renewed for second season, and I can only see it going downhill from here after the excellent first season. In Rubicon, performances from all concerned are very good but I found James Bridghe Dale's acting in the very last sequence of the series a bit underwhelming. Michael Cristofer is deliciously hammy and he will play a bigger role in Mr. Robot's next season, which is great news. Arliss Howard's 'Kale Ingram' is the Doug Stamper (House of Cards) equivalent for this show and like Doug for HoC, he is my favorite from this show. Just found out that he played John Henry (LFC and Boston Red Sox Owner and figurehead of FSG) in Moneyball. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm) (2013)

Director: Xavier Dolan
Writers:  Xavier Dolan, Michel Marc Bouchard
Cast:       Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lisa Roy, Evelyne Brochu
Language: French

A young man (Xavier Dolan) travels to an isolated farm for his lover's funeral where he's quickly drawn into a twisted, sexually charged game by his lover's aggressive farmer brother (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). He learns that his lover's homosexuality is not known to the mother and the brother forces him to behave like a normal friend of her son in front of her. He also learns that the brother had also invented a girl-friend for his brother to please his mother and he is trying his level best to keep the facade going. As we progress in the film, we are not sure who is really the aggressor in this equation and more and more things are revealed about the household and the pariah status it enjoys within the community.

The film is adapted from a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, who also helped in writing the screenplay, and this is a sort of departure for Xavier Dolan who had made films out of his own original output up till this one. It is a film that you can get easily disappointed with if you try to pin it down to a particular genre. I had read some review headline which described it as a horror flick and the director also do some bits in it to class it as such. But I found it to be more of a mystery film with a heavy dose of black humor to it. I enjoyed it thoroughly and you will also do the same as long as you don't insist on it adhering to some genre conventions. It doesn't try to overly explain itself and you are free to interpret it any which way you want. The brother character turns out to be really endearing from my POV and his life must have been a really difficult one with his aggressive nature being a bi-product of his own ambiguous sexuality. 

Prior to this, I had only seen 'Mommy' from Dolan's filmography. It id difficult to believe that he is just 26 years old now. It seems some of the mixed reactions that his films get from critics is to do with them being conscious about his age. 'Tom At The Farm' was screened in the main competition section at the Venice Film Festival where it won the 'FIPRESCI' prize (Enterprising film-making). It is in French, like 'Mommy', as it is set in French speaking Quebec region of Canada. Dolan had cited Haneke's 'Funny Games' and 'Piano Teacher' as his favorites and you can see shades of those films in this one. I guess the best way to describe the film would be to something like that as well.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, September 19, 2015

എന്നു നിന്റെ മൊയ്തീൻ (Ennu Ninte Moideen) (2015)

Director: RS Vimal
Writer:    RS Vimal
Cast:       Prithviraj, Parvathy Menon, Sai Kumar, Bala, Lena, Tovino Thomas
Language: Malayalam

Ennu Ninte Moideen (Yours, Modieen) is a romantic thriller based on the real life love story of Moideen (Prithviraj) and Kanchanamala (Parvathy Menon), which happened in 1960s in and around Calicut. The director had previously portrayed this story in documentary form and with this film, he is making his feature length format debut, adapting the same story. 

I was not familiar with the story even though the director, in some interviews he gave this week, made it sound like it was a very commonly known story in these parts of the world. He made it sound like it is our own version of 'Romeo and Juliet' with the added bonus that it actually happened. Like in that one as well, it is tale of forbidden love. The villain in the story is their respective religions and the things that it imposes on people as societal norms. Both the characters hail from rich families and even their fathers are very thick friends. The first forty minutes of the film is quite excruciating to watch as they show how they fall in love. The two titular characters are portrayed predictably in a binary manner, as is the norm in Indian cinema, and I don't know if the director went for portraying that part of the film the way Malayalam films from those era would have portrayed it. I found it totally cringe-inducing and was really feeling miserable since the film was supposed to be three hours long. But things did change after that when they declare their love in front of their family members and it starts to get interesting.

It is interesting basically because what follows is not at all what we expect. Instead of the usual fleeing together (ഒളിച്ചോട്ടം), they just basically stay put and start wearing their family down. This is not done with the aim of getting consent but out of concern for Kanchana's siblings whose future could be affected by her decision. What follows is a wait lasting considerably more than what you would think it would be and it kind of reaches a point where the opposition to their marriage is purely out of inertia rather than anything. Good thing about the film is that most of the family members are not portrayed in the same binary manner and you do get the impression that they are just the prisoners of  societal conventions. 

Overall, it is a good watch, but they could have made it better by doing away with all the initial foreplay and get straight down to business. Prithviraj was cast in the film based on suggestion by the real life Kanchana and I read that she fell out with the director because of some deviations he made. It is difficult to believe the climax happened in real life the way it is shown. That scene and the the earlier court scene are something that you can see from a mile off. It is now a cliche in Malayalam period films set in this kind of period to have the protagonist as a rebel communist/socialist and this film is no different, but I guess it at least they have the excuse of it being biographical. Performances from all the supporting characters are really good and from the leads as well after the initial parts of the film. 1960s aspects of the film is done with some authenticity. Songs are well used to move the story forward and BGM also worked well I think, having paid not much attention to it. I read somewhere that its budget is a whopping Rs 13 Crores and I do think it will struggle to break even on that. They could maybe market it as a 1960s 'Love Jihad' saga and thereby generate some controversy to bring audience in. 

PS: I can suggest an alternate title for the film: 'Once upon a time in Monsoon soaked Calicut'. Coz its always fucking raining. 

Rating: 3/5

Monday, September 14, 2015

ആട് ഒരു ഭീകരജീവിയാണ് (Aadu) (2015)

Director: Midhun Manuel Thomas
Writer:    Midhun Manuel Thomas
Cast:       Jayasurya, Vijay Babu, Vinayakan, Saiju Kurup
Language: Malayalam

Shaji Pappan (Jayasurya) and his friends get a goat as the prize for winning a tug of war competition. They don't know what to do with it and try their best to barbecue it, after failing which, they try to dispose it but they just can't get themselves away from it. Meanwhile, Shaji Pappan's friends begin to take a liking towards the cute goat while Pappan himself remains steadfast in his hatred towards it, which is explained through his backstory. More and more characters get introduced into the story-line and it works as a hilarious road-trip film set in Idukki, Kerala's high-range district.

It is common in Malayalam films these days to target the kids here since it is a sure-shot way of getting more asses on seats since the parents will also accompany them. I hadn't seen a trailer of the film but did watch some interview with Jayasurya in which he was talking about the importance of the Aadu (Goat) in the film and I thought it was gonna be another one of those shitty kids' movie. I missed it at the cinemas and the negative reviews it got ensured that it didn't get much of a theatrical run. I don't know if they had a deliberate strategy to project it as a children's film or whether it was a cheeky misdirection as it continues even during the opening credits, which is animated. But within five minutes into the film, we realize that it is not in fact a film for kids but solely intended for an adult audience.

I decided to watch the film after it became an internet hit after the release of its DVD. The fact that some students dressed as Shaji Pappan during their Onam celebrations was a proof for that. Negative reviews from normal Malayalee audience is no guarantee that a film would be shit, based on recent experiences, and the inverse of it is also true with many that got near universal acceptance turned out to be utter cliched shite. So I took the plunge with Aadu and it was an enjoyable watch. It continues to surprise you with character introductions and cameo roles from the likes of Sunny Wayne, Renji Panicker and Aju Varghese. Best way to describe the film is that it is a lower budget 'Double Barrel', with characters that are complete opposite 'Thani Nadan' (village) versions. Shame that both of them proved to be disasters at box office but will continue to garner a cult following. First half of the film chugs along at a good pace with a very good interval point. It does get a little muddled during the second half with pacing issues and too many sidetracks which doesn't always work well. With a running length of two hours, it is around twenty minutes longer than it should be but on the whole it is a very enjoyable watch. Indrans plays a character which is a caricature of CPI(M)'s Idukki secretary, MM Mani, and it took me some time to realize that. Vijay Babu is delightfully hammy in his role as Police Inspector, Sarbath Shameer, and his production company partner, Sandra Thomas, also makes an appearance in the film.

The directorial and editing flourishes are quite good and it does take audience's intelligence for granted with regards to keeping up with the story and that is always a good thing. Midhun Manuel made his writing debut with Om Shanthi Oshana, which did very well commercially but I was disappointed by it. I did enjoy some really campy scenes in it, like that Chinese characters sequence, and hated the whole cliched formula of it- which is a mix of nostalgia, village farmer goodness and coming of age drama. In Aadu, he doesn't do the cliches and goes full retard with a mix of spoofy mass scenes, peppy BGM, great character introductions and unpredictable plot. Film takes place in Idukki disctrict and its exquisite beauty is captured fully well on camera. Performances are great but I found Dharmajan Bolgatty to be quite irritating throughout the film. It is highly recommended for everyone as long as you watch it in the right mood.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, September 13, 2015

കൂതറ (Koothara) (2014)

Director: Srinath Rajendran
Writer:    Vini Vishwa Lal
Cast:       Sunny Wayne, Bharath Srinivasan, Tovino Thomas, Mohanlal
Language: Malayalam

Koobrin, Tharun and Ram are three students from Kerala who end up as roommates while studying a course (Electronics & Communication Engineering like many of us) in which they don't have much interest in. They end up getting dismissed from college and the start-up IT firm that they launch only helps in increasing their debt. Not knowing where to go and what to do, they meet a mysterious man in a Bar who starts influencing them. 

It is very common in Malayalam cinema these days to lecture us about moral and social lessons relating to motivation and responsibilities and the film is kind of a genre-bender by doing it in a very different way by adding some magical surrealism to it. Predictably, it bombed at the box office because the audience just can't accept films that surprise them in a good way. It is the same phenomena that happened to 'Double Barrel', whose box office returns is a sad indictment on the so-called intelligence of Malayalee film audience. Koothara has not yet been broadcast on TV channels and when it finally does, I expect people to wonder, in an ironic fashion, why it didn't do well during its theatrical run.

The common feedback that I got from people who had seen it was that the first half of the film was good but second half is terrible starting from the introduction of Mohanlal as the 'Mer-man'. I thought the first half was rather average with some good laughs to go with some terrible acting from Bharath. Bad dubbing can always spoil an otherwise good film and I don't know why they couldn't do it well or cast someone who is comfortable in Malayalam. College and hostel life is portrayed with quite good authenticity but overall it is inferior in every way compared to what was done in 'Premam'. I like the second half of the film and especially Mohanlal's cameo as the mysterious 'mer-man'. I am quite sick of Mohanlal and Mammootty giving us life lessons through their larger than life roles and this is how they can do it in an enjoyable way. Another annoying feature from recent films is the way they refer to older Malayalam classics and most of the time I find it obnoxious. This one does it in a subtle enough manner in sync with the story to make it enjoyable. There is even a throwaway reference to director's debut film, Second Show, which he did with Sunny Wayne. 

Overall it is a good watch and the makers should be applauded for their bravery to do an experimental film. Performances on the whole is quite good and I enjoyed Mohanlal's deliberately hammy performance. Cinematography is gorgeous, especially in the second half with boat scenes. The CGI, when it is used, was also quite good considering the industry it is in.  It is a good second film from the writer-director duo. I'll certainly check out their next feature when it happens.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Comet (2014)

Director: Sam Esmail
Writer:    Sam Esmail
Cast:       Justin Long, Emmy Rossum

Set in a parallel universe, Comet bounces back and forth over the course of an unlikely but perfectly paired couple's six-year relationship. 

The parallel universe part doesn't really have a bearing on the story and this is something that has been done in a not so different fashion prior to it in '500 Days of Summer'. I saw it after being impressed by Sam Esmail's TV series Mr. Robot. Like that one, Comet also wears its references on its sleeves but it does so as a ruse to give some sophistication to the film when in fact it is a very simple story told in a non-linear fashion. You get the typical Lynchian concept he used in his LA/Dream trilogy, which is the story happening inside the head of someone just before their death. In Comet, Esmail plugs this through the Sixth Sense reference. During one of their conversations, the girl exasperates about time based art like films, theater, concerts etc stating that it requires viewer to watch it through beginning, middle and to end whereas art-forms like Painting doesn't require you to do so. That is said during a point in the film where up till then, segments were very short and you think that is what he trying to do by being all over the place in terms of chronology so that you can watch the film from any point of it. But, later on, the segments become quite long and sort of traditional. So it basically ends up as a very talky minimalist version of 500 Days of Summer.

Overall, it is a good watch with clever enough conversations but is the kind that you will forget about in no time. I am not saying that as a negative thing but that is how these kind of films always end up as. That is unless, I missed some of its cleverness if he actually did put some conversations across different timeline segments instead of containing each of them in a particular segment. Chemistry is good between the lead actors and performances engaging. Justin Long looks like Tony Leung in extreme close-ups. It had a very limited theatrical release and went for VoD.  

Rating: 3/5   

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mr. Robot (Season 1) (2015)

Creator: Sam Esmail
Cast:      Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday

Follows a young computer programmer (Malek) who suffers from social anxiety disorder and forms connections through hacking. He's recruited by a mysterious anarchist, who calls himself Mr. Robot (Christian Slater). 

It is really great and further discussion is not possible without spoilers. So stop reading, watch it and come back. Don't even fucking google it.


The TV series got nod for second season even before it got aired because of the rave reviews it got after the pilot got leaked on the internet. It has got super high production values and cinematography and the New-York setting is amazing. Thematically and stylistically, it is most similar to 'Fight Club' and rather than presenting the thing as a very big twist, we are given every clue in the first 3-4 episodes to figure the shit out. Not like the subtle clues given in Fight Club, but really blatant ones to make us aware about the Fight Club connection. Even when the twists are presented, the protagonist is always the last one to know, and it makes an effort to make us say it even if we hadn't figured it out earlier. That is really a cool thing and very unique to this program. House of Cards brought 'breaking the fourth wall' as a significant narrative technique for the show but Mr. Robot takes it to another level by giving it a 'Truman Show' like twist. Protagonist is an unreliable narrator because of his state of mind and that can be used to paper over any cracks in the plot-hole sense on re-watch. 

Apart from Fight Club, other things I got reminded of were American Psycho (Scandinavian couple), Matrix and V for Vendetta. I have seen people saying it got a Dexter vibe to it but I haven't seen that show to comment on that. The technical things it shows are supposed to be very accurate for a TV show and that is a fresh thing since hacking is glossed over normally in films and TV shows. TBF, since it is so central to the show, you have to actually do it in this credible manner. You know you are in safe hands when everything is shown through command prompt window rather than some shitty graphics laden window. 

I did think the show suffered a mid-life crisis during the middle episodes but the way it ended with the last three justifies that approach. First 3-4 episodes works in a consistent manner with the Fight Club vibe and the mannerisms of the protagonist is really 'aspergic'. We are made to really think about whether it is all in his head during those but the following three episodes achieve a degree of normalcy and you end up quite disappointed thinking that all the uniqueness of the show is gone. It again swings back into the Fight Club mode in the last three episodes and the middle part of the show was a ploy to lull the audience to lower their guard.  

The show is very referential and self-aware and there is a cool Pulp Fiction reference as well along with the 'I'm pretty fucking far from okay' quip. They even managed to include the Ashley Madison hack and Chinese market crash from recent news into the story-line. 
As for the next season, I am not sure how they can make it intriguing because lot of the intrigue of this season was to do with the possibility of that 'Whether it is in his head' question. There is every chance that it will turn out to be quite average next season. That doesn't matter since it works very well as a standalone show of ten episodes the same way as Matrix did with its first installment. The naming of episodes is really cool as well. Some might criticize the show for the stupidity of what they are doing in terms of ideology but that that would be stupid because it is not happening from a sound basis and same was true for Fight Club. The narrators in both are really flawed individuals and you cannot really expect Chomsky level intelligence from them. Your level of enjoyment would also depend on your assessment of the central performance from Rami Malek and I though he was excellent in it. It is difficult to believe that it is a US Network TV show and not something from HBO or Netflix. It is indeed the 'The Golden age of TV'. 

PS: I binge watched it over a 26 hour period and I do think it is better to do it this way since you don't have time to think about plot-holes. They had to delay the airing of season finale due to the recent Virginia shooting incident. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, September 7, 2015

Damsels in Distress (2011)

Director: Whit Stillman
Writer:    Whit Stillman
Cast:        Greta Gerwig, Anaeligh Tipton, Carrie MacLemore, Megalyn Echikunwoke

A trio of girls set out to change the male-dominated environment of the Seven Oaks college campus, and to rescue their fellow students from depression, grunge and low standards of every kind. They adopt a new transfer student to their clique and over the course of the film, the four girls date less attractive men in order to help the men's confidence. 

Film is really out there even if you are familiar with Whitman's other films. This one, he made after a long gap of twelve years and he is really a vastly underrated figure when you consider that he made three great indie films with his first three efforts over an 8 year period. The humor in Damsels in Distress is really quirky and outlandish and very different from his previous films. Stylistically, it is a very unique film and you can't really pin it down into some sort of category. I haven't seen Animal House but it is like an inverse take on such films with the characters being unbelievably frank, cooperative and naive. There isn't much of a plot to speak of and even though the humor in it is quite uneven in terms of frequency, there are more than enough laughs to make it worthwhile. 

Overall, it is a very good watch while not being as good as any of the previous Stillman films. It might not be for everyone but I did enjoy watching it. Performances are really good and Greta Gerwig is a favorite actor of mine with her performances in all these quirky films. Can't wait to watch Noah Baumbach's 'Mistress America', which is getting rave reviews.

Rating: 3.5/5  

The Last Days of Disco (1998)

Director: Whit Stillman
Writer:    Whit Stillman
Cast:       Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, Chris Eigeman

Story of two female Manhattan book editors fresh out of college, both finding love and themselves while frequenting the local disco. The first three of Whitman's films are together classed as 'Doomed-Bourgeoisie-in-Love' series and this one concerns a group of Ivy league and Hampshire graduates. Film is set in early 1980s New-York and the two main characters were not really friends during their college days but circumstances have conspired to make them share an apartment with a third girl. Personality wise they are polar opposite with the Kate Beckinsale character being the dominant one. 

Unlike previous Whit Stillman films, where the interactions between the main characters were a bit endearingly harmless mischievous kind, in this one it is much more cutthroat and cruel. That kind of took me aback initially but it is kind of realistic if you go by the stereotypical way female acquaintances are supposed to interact. Humor in it is much more of the darker kind and film as a whole is quite three dimensional compared to his previous efforts. If you think you are gonna get a typical Whit Stillman film, then there is a chance that you might get disappointed by it. But it is still a great film in which Stillman chooses to go a bit more adult. All his first three films are set in 1980s with Metropolitan being the latest one in the chronological sense of its setting. There is references to previous two films with Matt Ross' (Gavin Belson from Silicon Valley) being kind of a cartoonish take on the protagonist from Metropolitan and Taylor Nichols making a cameo reprising  his role from Barcelona. There is also this USS Maine reference from Barcelona as well.

Overall, it is another great one from Stillman with his own identity etched on to it rather than being very Woody Allenesque. Chloe Sevigny as the uptight protagonist reminded me of Greta Gerwig and sure enough, she is in Stillman's next effort 'Damsels in Distress', which came out after a very long gap in 2011. Disco didn't do very well financially but was very well received by critics. That fact that it is in the Criterion collection itself should be enough of an advertisement now.

Rating: 4/5 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Barcelona (1994)

Director: Whit Stillman
Writer:    Whit Stillman
Cast:       Taylor Nichols, Chris Eigeman, Tushka Bergen

Ted, a stuffy white guy from Illinois working in sales for the Barcelona office of a US corporation, is paid an unexpected visit by his somewhat less stuffy cousin Fred, who is an officer in the US Navy. Over the next few months, both their lives are irrevocably altered by the events which follow Fred's arrival, events which are the trivial stuff of a comedy of manners at first but which gradually grow increasingly dramatic.

Yeah right, it is not a post on how Capello's Milan raped the favorites, Cryuff's Barcelona, 4-0 in the 1994 Champions League final. I had recently discovered Whit Stillman through his debut film 'Metropolitan'. This is his second film after a long gap of four years and he had a significantly higer budget of $3 million to work with. It took me about three weeks to obtain the 1.7GB print and it was totally worth it because of the exquisite way it is visualized. Barcelona frequently figures at top among the best cities to visit/live lists and lent itself very well for films. We are now very familiar with such English films set in European cities with Woody Allen filming his recent ones there. One could really say Whit Stillman got there first, but then again, considerable Woody Allen influence is there in Stillman's films itself.

In 'Metropolitan', we had rich kids from privileged background fretting about the hate that other people have for them and worrying about downward social mobility. Instead of that, we have two American guys fretting about the hate that people from other nationalities have for American, quite unreasonably in their opinion. That and other things like why Europeans look down upon US 'culture', which Americans themselves accept in a self-deprecating manner. It is summed up in the below conversation.
Fred: Maybe you can clarify something for me. Since I've been, you know, waiting for the fleet to show up, I've read a lot, and...
Ted: Really?
Fred: And one of the things that keeps popping up is this about "subtext." Plays, novels, songs - they all have a "subtext," which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that's right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what's above the subtext?
Ted: The text.
Fred: OK, that's right, but they never talk about that.

It is tremendously funny like you would expect and is a must watch if you are a fan of Woody Allen. Film is quite hard to describe and best way to do is to say it is like a Woody Allen film. Stillman's first three films are supposed to be part of a trilogy with the third and last one being 'Last Days Of Disco', which I am going to watch pretty soon. Both Taylor Nichols and Chris Eigeman were in Metropolitan as well.

Marta: Ramon is very persuasive, and he painted a terrible picture of what it would be like for her to live the rest of her life in America, with all of its crime, consumerism, and vulgarity. All those loud, badly dressed, fat people watching their eighty channels of television and visiting shopping malls. The plastic throw-everything-away society with its notorious violence and racism. And finally, the total lack of culture.

Rating: 4/5 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Best of 2015 (2015)

I thought 2014 was a glorious year and compared to that 2015 has been rather underwhelming. Anyway, I will be updating this list as and when I watch good ones from 2015 and the minimum cut-off is 3.5/5. Short films, TV mini-series, documentaries etc-all included... Yet to see- 'The Forbidden Room', 'Macbeth', '45 Years', 'Son of Saul', 'Dheepan'...
  1. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)
  2. Slow West (John Maclean)
  3. Kung Fury (David Sandberg)
  4. Clouds of Sils Maria (Oliver Assayas)
  5. Court (Chaitanya Tamhane)
  6. The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer)
  7. The Martian (Ridley Scott)
  8. Bitter Lake (Adam Curtis)
  9. Show Me A Hero (Paul Haggis, David Simon)
  10. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
  11. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
  12. Duke Of Burgundy (Peter Strickland)
  13. A Most Violent Year (JC Chandor)
  14. Eden (Mia Hansen-Love)
  15. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
  16. Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)
  17. The Big Short (Adam McKay)
  18. Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)
  19. Titli (Kanu Behl)
  20. Look Who's Back (David Wnendt)
  21. The Ardennes (Robin Pront)
  22. Masaan (Neeraj Ghaywan)
  23. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)
  24. Going Clear (Alex Gibney)
  25. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)
  26. While We're Young (Noah Baumbach)
  27. Youth (Paolo Sorrentino)
  28. Black Mass (Scott Cooper)
  29. Nina Forever (Ben & Chris Blaine)
  30. Beasts of No Nation (Carey Joji Fukunaga)
  31. Yakuza Apocalypse (Takashi Miike)
  32. Best of Enemies (Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville)
  33. The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher)
  34. Merchants of Doubt (Robert Kenner)
  35. The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt)
  36. Lukka Chuppi (Bash Mohammed)
  37. Premam (Alphonse Putharen)
  38. Aadu (Midhun Manuel Thomas)
  39. Double Barrel (Lijo Jose Pellissery)
  40. Deadpool (Tim Miller)
  41. Far From The Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg)
  42. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
  43. The Revenant (Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu)
  44. Mustang (Deniz Gomez Erguven)
  45. Deep Web (Alex Winter)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Le meraviglie (The Wonders) (2014)

Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Writer:    Alice Rohrwacher
Cast:       Alba Rohrwacher, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Monica Bellucci
Language: Italian

Nothing will be the same at the end of this summer for Gelsomina and her three younger sisters. It is an unusual family which includes their father and mother along with another woman helper and they are a farming family with Honey being their main source of income. To this struggling group, a 14 year old juvenile boy is added and then there is this banal reality show, hosted by Monica Bellucci, in which they can participate with some attractive money on offer for the winners. 

It is really an unusual film which depicts the family in a very non-glamorous and realistic manner. It is quite common to make films in such settings with a very romanticized depiction and our Malayalam industry is replete with such (Ivide Swargamanu). Despite its grittiness, it turns out to be such a sweet film with nuanced performances. Toward the end, it does get a bit more serious in a very non-hammy way and even goes into the surreal territory. It works as a coming of age story of its protagonist teenager, Gelsomina. The basic story of struggling farming family is quite universal these days but participation from even the little kids in the activities is quite rare to see. This must be a really alien concept in Europe and that in itself might be its primary attraction.

It is a great and unique watch. It won the 'Grand Prix' award at Cannes. I would assume it to be semi-autobiographical for the director, going by her bio on wiki. I guess that authenticity is reflected in the film. It kind of reminded me of 'The Broken Circle Breakdown' in terms of its farming settings.

Rating: 4/5  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Show Me a Hero (2015)

Director:Paul Haggis
Writers: David Simon, William F. Zorzi
Cast:      Oscar Issac, Carla Quevedo, Catherine Keener

Mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Issac) took office in 1987 during Yonker's worst crisis. When Federal courts ordered public housing be built in the white, middle class side of town, it divided the city in a bitter battle fueled by fear, racism, murder and politics. It is a HBO miniseries comprising of six episodes of about one hour each and is directed in its entirety by Paul Haggis. It was written by David Simon (The Wire) along with journalist William F. Zorzi and is an adaptation of the book by Lisa Belkin.

The title of the series come from the phrase: 'Show me a Hero and I'll write you a tragedy' by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is not to say that the character played by Oscar Issac is a heroic one since the actual heroes in the doing good sense are the judge (Bob Balaban) and his consultant, Oscar Newman, for the housing project. The story is told largely through the mayor  character as well as through would be residents of the housing project and their would be neighbors. The mayor character played by Oscar Issac is very much similar to Tony Carcetti from The Wire in terms of their character arc when it comes to growing desperation. Wasicsko, from the right off, is pursuing his own interests but happens to fall on the right side of the issue due to outside compulsions. He gradually sells himself out like Carcetti as he tries to prop up his flailing political career while Carcetti was doing political climbing in 'The Wire' over the course of its latter three seasons. Carcetti is my favorite character from 'The Wire' and so getting something similar from this series as well worked very well for me. Oscar Issac has been in some great projects lately and this one can be added to the list. 

Even though it is story from the late 80s, it does have great relevance for USA of today as questions regarding racism is again at the forefront. It can also be viewed in the context of so called 'Multiculturalism' Vs Integration debate and I always favor the latter. Be it when it comes to countries with immigrants or be it Liverpool FC when it comes to integrating foreign players. Multiculturalism is an easy way out taken by politicians and integration, while being a complex task to implement, works better in the long run. 'Show Me a Hero' is done with a 'Take no prisoners' approach with the makers fully confident on the back of critical success of 'The Wire'. So you don't even get cinematic/colorful characters like 'Omar', and overall, it is done in an even more realistic manner compared to 'The Wire', if that is indeed possible. I haven't seen any other works of David Simon (Treme. Corner) and so I can only compare it to Wire. Catherine Keener bravely takes up the role of an old lady from the neighborhood who is against the housing project initially. Paul Haggis jumped at the chance of working with David Simon and told his agent to agree even without asking for the script. He offered to direct all six episodes himself after reading the script and that is a practice that I really like when it comes to TV (True Detective Season 1).    

To sum up, it is another social studies class from David Simon with a layer of drama added to it. If you've seen 'The Wire', I'm sure you won't need any recommendation to watch it and if you haven't seen it, let this series be your 6-hour gateway drug towards watching Wire. I ended up binge-watching the series over two days as my broadband connection reached FUP limit pretty early last month. As for this month, I exhausted the initial limit before top-up on the first day of the month itself, thanks to David Simon and HBO. Even though it could be described as tragic from the point of view of Oscar Issac character, it is really a feel good story.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

കിളി പോയി (Kili Poyi) (2013)

Director: Vinay Govind
Writers:   Joseph Kurian, Vivek Ranjit
Cast:       Asif Ali, Aju George, Sampath Raj
Language: Malayalam

Kili Poyi is a Malayalam stoner film directed by debutant Vinay Govind, a former associate of VK Prakash. It can also be characterized as a 'Bromance' film even though the nature of it is similar to the love-hate one involved between Malayalam's evergreen characters Dasan and Vijayan. That is referenced in the film and basic story-line is about the two central characters, played by Asif Ali and Aju Varghese, getting their hands on a bag full of cocaine inadvertently during their stress-busting trip to Goa. And, unlike Dasan and Vijayan, they decide to keep it and sell it for money. The bag references to Taxi Driver by featuring Robert De Niro with his mo-hawk in it and there are plenty of other references to Quentin Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction' as well as the similarity of plot with 'True Romance'. Even the song 'Girl, you'll be a woman soon' is used in soundtrack during a scene.

There have been plethora of Malayalam films recently that uses old cinematic references as a crutch to make up for their lack of originality. This one, which came out pretty early in the so called new-gen film wave that swept Malayalam industry recently, is a rare case of it being done in a good way. This is in spite of the rather average performances from its lead actors and not so great script. I caught up it on Asianet HD, and I guess you do have to watch it on HD to appreciate it more since the cinematography and shot-making is stylishly done, reminding me of the seedy look of 'Ek Chalis Ki Last Local'. The title translates, not literally, as someone losing their mind and is used to refer to getting high taking drugs. I assume the phrase would have been in existence prior to this film but it did bring it to the mainstream Malayalee lingo since then. Malayalam cinema have introduced/popularized so many new phrases and words into our daily life language and this is another one to add to the long list. Even the phrase 'Scene Contra', now popularized by the song from 'Premam', is featured in this film during a song sequence.

Overall it is a mindless fun watch, if watched in the right mood with a good print, and a very good effort from all involved. Film got an A-film certification and, predictably, didn't do well at the box office. Even though it is marketed as a stoner film, it doesn't go into the surreal territory enough to justify the tagline. They could have done it better if they added a bit more idiosyncrasies into it.  Still it is a decent enough effort considering the limitations that we have in our industry in showing drug use, sex and violence. 

Rating: 2.5/5