Sunday, February 28, 2016

വേട്ട (Vettah) (2016)

Director: Rajesh Pillai
Writer:    Arunlala Ramachandran
Cast:       Kunchacko Boban, Manju Warrier, Indrajith
Language: Malayalam

Story revolves around a commissioner of Police, Sreebala (Manju Warrier), who is investigating a missing celebrity case with the help of her ACP colleague Xylex Abraham (Indrajith). The whodunnit part of the case gets resolved quite quickly when they capture Melvin Philips (Kunchacko Boban) but things gets murkier as they question him further in order to recover the body.

The director of the film passed away yesterday, a day after the release of the film. He had health issues even when he was shooting this film and it was reported that he was not fully involved during the post-production work. He is someone who is considered to be an important figure for the revival of Malayalam cinema which is also described as the 'New-Gen wave'. It can be disputed whether his second film, Traffic, was indeed the first among the many that followed it but it is indisputable that the big box office success of that film was indeed a turning point. It is not a film that I rate very highly but the risk that he took with the multiple story line format was indeed worth applauding since it was not very familiar for the normal Malayalee audience. The film had its flaws because of the less than perfect expositions. 

Coming back to Vettah, it has been billed as Malayalam's first 'Mind-Games' film. Like in Traffic, Kunchacko again plays a role which seems negative. The jumps in timelines are presented without making it very explicit which is proof that the director trusts his audience to follow it. But some scenes seemed very muddled as well and it might be because of the director not being involved very much during the editing part of the film. It is usual in Malayalam for these type of films to end up as very contrived affairs and Vettah is no different on that regard. As far as down to earth investigative films are concerned, I consider Padmarajan's 'Kariyila Kaatupole' to be the gold standard in spite of its extremely contrived and improbable ending. I don't think there is any other film of goodish nature from Malayalam where the culprit is manipulating the investigating officers to compare it with. In English, it is a genre onto itself with films like 'The Usual Suspects' and 'Se7en'. Vettah is a good effort considering all the constraints we have in terms of audience's expectations. I would have preferred a more subtle storytelling approach but that is not what the director is going for. BGMs employed are proof for that but I did enjoy the campy nature of the film. 

As far as performances are concerned, Indrajith was quite average and Manju Warrier played it straight. Kunchacko Boban does shine in his role which anyway had the best scope for delivering a standout performance. A recent event of shocking nature is used quite well in the film. Kunchacko Boban's cynicism regarding obtaining justice from the system here is not convincingly conveyed and it would have helped if the characters played by both Manju Warrier and Indrajith were portrayed in a more negative fashion like Prithviraj's character from 'Mumbai Police' or Asha Sharath's from 'Drishyam'.  Overall, it is a decent one time watch and is a better film than Traffic, in my opinion.

Rating: 2.5/5 

Nina Forever (2015)

Director: Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Writers:  Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Cast:       Abigail Hardingham, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, Cian Barry

After his girlfriend, Nina, dies in a car crash, Rob unsuccessfully attempts suicide. As he begins to overcome his grief, he falls in love with a co-worker, Holly. Their sex life is complicated when Nina, unable to find rest in the afterlife, comes back to life to sarcastically torment them whenever they have sex.

It is basically a comedy film with a tinge of body horror. Kiwi film 'Housebound' was a recent one which successfully mixed horror and comedy and this one could be classed as a similar one even though the tone is a little bit more serious. I am not a big fan of horror films and whenever I watch them these days I try to explain it away as psychological issues. Most of the ones that I do end up turns out to be psychological thrillers anyway rather than pure horror (The Babadook for eg). This one is also along those lines even though both of them could see Nina. There is a minor twist in the end with regards to who is responsible for Nina and it is not done in a disingenuous way. It gives a proper closure for the film and also is in keeping with the opening scenes of the film where a boyfriend ditches Holly for being too vanilla and not complex enough. 

It is very funny and the way they try to navigate the Nina situation is hilarious. At first Holly tries to accommodate Nina by trying out a menage-e-trois situation which doesn't work. The she tries to remove all physical traces of Nina from Rob's apartment but that doesn't work either. We are given hints about who is responsible for bringing Nina into the situation during those scenes when she starts appearing even when they are not having sex. Holly even tries out having sex with Rob on her grave and that also ends up not working as Nina quips that don't say the word 'Closure'. It is self-referential in that sense. Overall it is a great watch if you can stomach body horror. It is gonna be a cult classic.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Steve Jobs (2015)

Director: Danny Boyle
Writers:  Aaron Sorkin, Walter Issacson
Cast:       Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the mac. 

It is a film that became a box office failure because of the plethora of Jobs films that came ahead of it. That was a shame because it is the best film out of the lot even though I am making that call without watching the other ones (Who the fuck wants to watch one with Ashton Kutcher anyway?). I am familiar with the story from the film 'Pirates of Silicon Valley' and some documentary that aired on CNBC after his death. There are chiefly two camps when it comes to Steve Jobs- One venerates him like a God while the other think he is an exploitative asshole. The film will satisfy all the other neutrals like me because it treads the middle path and kind of tries to explain the man. That, said the general reaction have been that it is too unkind to him. Some people associated with Jobs have also denounced it. I just think it is safe to assume that there is a quite heavy dose of fiction to it and the makers are quite honest about it. You can safely assume that things won't be this dramatic ahead of all these product launches. What is brilliant about the making that all his characteristics are explained without being too obvious about it. His complicated relationship with his daughter being explained with his own daddy/mummy issues (he was adopted) will sound certainly lame but it isn't so when you watch it. 

Michael Fassbender is my favorite actor from his generation and he continues to amaze. As for recent Danny Boyle films, I tend to enjoy his less successful ones than the hits like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. It might just be a breakthrough role for Seth Rogen, who plays Steve Wozniak, and Kate Winslet is excellent as usual. But it is a shame that Kirsten Stewart won't be winning awards in the supporting actress category for her role in 'Clouds of Sils Maria'. 

PS: I think Bill Gates will be bitter about why no one cares about his story. I guess someone should do it as a charity. 

Rating: 4/5

Monday, February 15, 2016

റാണി പത്മിനി (Rani Padmini) (2015)

Director: Aashiq Abu
Writers:  Syam Psuhkaran, Ravisankar
Cast:       Manju Warrier, Rima Kallingal, Dileesh Pothan
Langauge: Malayalam

The story revolves around two women, Rani and Padmini, who are on a journey from Delhi to HImachal Pradesh with different purposes but happen to end up together by chance. 

It is basically an odd couple road film with Padmini being the older more traditional Kerala girl and Rani being a younger tomboy sort. One would think that it is a bit more serious toned story of self-actualization going by the poster and synopsis. It is actually served with dollops of comedy with very cartoonish side characters. There are things that are ridiculously bad about their backstories in terms of characterization. Padmini got a villain like mother-in-law who is forcing his son to go for a divorce because her daughter-in-law decided to go for a job. Why her husband agrees for a divorce, only God and Aashiq Abu knows. You could maybe justify it by saying that non-resident Keralites, who haven't integrated to their place of stay, tend to be more conservative than people living in Kerala as they seem to live in a time warp. In Rani's case, she is on the run from an underworld don about whom she informed the Police. Since, from the get go, her story is presented in a comedic track you can forgive the cartoonish nature of the characters. The backstories are revealed only gradually and Rani's story is told only after the interval. 

I hadn't seen any of the films featuring Manju Warrier since her comeback but going by her performance in adverts, it seems she has lost some of the naturalism. That is the case for this film as well but some of  the blame lies with the director. I think all the directors consider her to be very senior to them and are afraid to correct her performances these days. It is Rima who steals the show in this film in terms of overall performance and the chemistry between the two is quite good in a confrontational sense. Their relationship isn't too saccharine to make it intolerable and I got reminded of a similar genre film- 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'. Some have criticized it for its unsubtle feminism but I thought it was handled with much more intelligence than '22 Femle Kottayam', which was universally praised but I found to be very overrated. There is this guy who approaches Rani in a restaurant with a seemingly casting couch like offer but in the end it turns out that the guy was genuine. Aashiq Abu has also poked fun at Malayalee's misguided notion that all films should have a message and a film can only be good if it satisfies that criterion. Here you have Padmini, the traditional girl, insisting that she likes stories with a message. Both Rani and Padmini tell a fantasy story which are visualized in the film and I found both of those to be hilarious. 

Overall it is good watch despite its very obvious flaws. Songs and BGM are great with stunning cinematography, amply aided by the stunning locations. At 140 minutes, it is about 10-20 minutes longer than it should be. I think people will enjoy it for what it is if they watch it being aware that it is a light comedy film. It is a treatment that we haven't seen so far in Malayalam and the audience also needs to get out of their comfort zone to enjoy it. It was a worthy effort from Abu and his team.

Rating: 3/5 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

ഞാൻ സ്റ്റീവ് ലോപ്പസ് (Njan Steve Lopez) (2014)

Director: Rajeev Ravi
Writers:  Santhosh Aechikannam, Ajithkumar, Rajesh Ravi, Geethu Mohandas
Cast:       Farhaan Faasil, Alancier Lay, Sujith Shankar
Language: Malayalam

A moody and confused college going teenager witnesses a gang attack and as his curiosity behind the encounter starts to get the better of him, he realizes that his DYSP dad and the Police are also involved. 

I was slightly put off by the above synopsis as it sounds like some cliched shit. That was before I had watched Rajeev Ravi's debut film- 'Annayum Rasoolum'. It was a film which I was able to finish on my third try only because of the poor sound quality of it on small screen. It had sync sound and the TV broadcast of Malayalam channels is such that you get really terrible output from it. Rajeev Ravi films are ones which you cannot really go by a simple synopsis of the plot because it happens to be much more than about a plot per se. H goes for extreme realism and rich characters and it worked out well for him in his debut film, which was surprisingly a box office success. One fault I found with that one was its running time and he rectifies that in 'Njan Steve Lopez, which is around two hours long. It is also a better film than 'AR' with a a very ambiguous plot and the director deciding to not spell it out for the audience. Unsurprisingly, this time, it was a box office disaster.

The greatest thing about the film is its ambiguity. It is not out of the shock of learning some undesirable things about his father that he decides to act out. His father, played by the excellent Alancier Lay, is a rough character from the beginning. There was not much love lost between them because of the incident. He is just confused and is going with the flow of things as per what he can understand about the situation. There is a certain amount of naivety in how he perceives things and it is not as if the actions of the Police, from what we can decipher, are all that bad. The gangster (Sujith Shankar), with whom he bonds over his own kidnapping (Stockholm Syndrome), was the one who killed a gangster in front of him. It could be that the Police was just facilitating the rival gangsters to restore order by giving them opportunity to exact their revenge. One could even make another film telling this tale from the perspective of his father. 

Overall it is a great watch in the style you would expect from Rajeev Ravi. He even managed to sneak in a wanking scene in what I figure to be a 'U' rated film. It didn't get a DVD release and was made available for streaming through Reelmonk. The film marked the debuts of Alancier Lay and Sujith Shankar in a significant sense and both of them star in very good roles in the recent release 'Maheshinte Prathikaram'. It was also the feature film debut for Farhaan Faasil, in the titular role, and what I heard about him was that his performance was very one note. I am not a big fan of nepotism in Malayalam film industry but his performance was quite good and it was exactly what was required for this film. I just wish I could see this film on a big screen. 

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Deadpool (2016)

Director: Tim Miller
Writers:  Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Cast:         Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, TJ Miller, Morean Baccarin

A former special forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers but a butt- ugly face. He adopts the alert ego, Deadpool, while trying to locate the doctor/villain who might be able to cure his face so that he may get back to his girlfriend.

I really don't have much interest in these comic book films and the ones I've liked have been the likes of Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs the World which kind of laughs at the genre. Deadpool is in similar vein but amped to a different level with a very witty protagonist, who likes to break the fourth wall, and R rated level of violence, nudity and dirty talk. I am assuming some of those because we, in India, are getting a version that was cut by about four minutes by the CBFC (Certification Board by fucking cunts). You have to rely on lip reading to decipher many of the dialogs as well. I wouldn't have normally watched such a cut but wanted to check out this screen which is supposed to be Kerala's best. Deadpool being some sort of a spoof on a genre that I dislike also was enough of an attraction.

Anyway, despite the cuts and all, it was worth it. It had more than enough laughs in it to sustain till the end even though you can almost predict what he is going to do next by the end. I was way ahead of the curve when it came to what happened to the bad guy as well as the usual post-credits marvel scene. The references to 127 Hours and David Beckham was very funny. It also poked fun at the studio with the statement that you are seeing only two from the X-Men because they couldn't afford any of the other actors. The in-jokes involving X-Men were accessible even for an outsider like me.

I generally prefer origins stories because they tend to be the only interesting bit in these kind of franchises. Deadpool fits that bill and the way the story is presented also keeps you interested throughout the film. I didn't think much of the action set pieces but deadpool's running commentary keeps you interested. A CGI explosion sequence in particular looked laughably bad. Still, it is great fun watch.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Action Hero Biju (2016)

Director: Abrid Shine
Writers:  Muhammed Shafeekh, Abrid Shine
Cast:       Nivin Pauly, Joju George, Anu Emmanuel
Language: Malayalam

The tagline of the film states that it is a ride with a Kerala Police officer and it is also presented in such a style. There is no central plot for the film and it is presented as vignettes from the daily routine of a Police sub-inspector. The title of the film, which suggests it to be in the mould of Police action films that featured Suresh Gopi, is ironic since it tries to be just opposite of that. 

This is Abrid Shine's second film as a director after making a very good debut with '1983', which can be classed as a sports/nostalgic/feel-good film. Sports films are very hard to get right and he managed to do that with 1983. This one had considerable hype prior to its release with it being Nivin Pauly's first film after the huge success of 'Premam'. First half of the film works quite well with some very good humour. I generally take issue with the skit format of comedy in Malayalam films these days but it doesn't matter for this film since it aims to be in such a format anyway and there is the context of a Police officer and Police Station to the whole thing. I had huge issues with the film 'Amar, Akbar, Anthony' for the same reason but the quality of comedy and its placing is much better in AHB. But sadly, it pursues the AAA model further in the second half with its social message bullshit. Just that it is not as unsubtle as AAA but that is not a hard thing to achieve. The film ends up as a rich man's AAA but still manages to be thoroughly average overall. 

The film picks low hanging fruits like 'Freakenmar', gays etc for some of its humour and the usual middle class worries of Malayalees like drugs in schools also features. Some people have billed it as a realistic take on Police life but I thought it just went too far on the other side and ends up as a very binary portrayal. I don't know if it is the after effect of 'Rohith Vemula' issue but I am seeing caste everywhere these days. I don't know if it is just me but I saw a very castiest/classist tinge running throughout the film. There is also this 'poor me' attitude from some of its male characters with the frequency of females being the bad apples in this film seeming disproportionately high mainly due to the presence of Suraj Venjaramoodu and house-maid story-lines in the second half, which are meant to tug at our heartstrings. There were some rumours about production time difficulties for this film and it seems true based on the evidence of the second half. What starts out as a realistic portrayal becomes ridiculously bad during its climax. You  have the hero single-handedly taking on four quotation guys and choosing to use his gun, how he still has it after the long fight is still a mystery, only after getting stabbed. On top of that, he delivers a sermon about Police, which only served to expose his limitations as an actor with the handling of long monologues, which is a core competency of the likes of Suresh Gopi, Mohanlal and Mammootty. They also came sporadically during the first half but I initially thought those were actually some intelligent joke on how ridiculous it is to have such monologues in films. But turns out they were just some limited acting. 

To sum up, it is a film of two halves with a quite good first half and rather average to poor second half. The low pay and long hours of Police officers in India explains a lot about why they end up behaving like they do. It would have been compelling watch if they actually tried to incorporate that in a good manner. The only realism in the film is to do with some of the procedures that they show rather than in any of its characters. AHB turns out to be a missed opportunity. Prithviraj starrer 'Vargam' was a quite good police film from recent times.

PS: The leading lady/girl of the film is supposed to be the daughter of an entrepreneur/film producer in real life. That is all that is required to be said about her role and performance.

Rating: 2/5

Spotlight (2015)

Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers:  Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Cast:       Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, Stanley Tucci

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Boston is a unique place in USA with a very distinct cultural identity. It is very Irish and Catholic and you need that information in hand to realize how big a story it would have been there when Boston Globe broke it. The film follows Globe's 'Spotlight' team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States.  It is based on a series of stories by the Spotlight team that earned The Globe 2003 Pulitzer prize for public service. The film begins with the appointment of Liev Schrieber's character as the Chief Editor of The Globe. He is an outsider and a Jew. The film is set in 2001 and when they start talking about cuts due to the creeping presence of online media, you do worry that they are gonna for a nostalgic sermon about the goodness of the old model. That worry is misplaced since they don't pursue it further and it is the Chief Editor who initiates the story as he thinks that enough follow up was not done for the story of an abusive priest and there is something institutional about Catholic Church's culpability that they can focus on. He is an outsider and sometimes it takes to be an outsider to shake things up. There is this one line that he delivers which sums up the scandal: 'It takes a village to raise a child but it also takes a village to abuse one'. 

I'm a sucker for media led investigative stories and count 'The Insider' and 'All the President's Men' as among my all time favorite films. So it was quite natural for me to get excited about Spotlight. But the tone of the film is sharply different from the two films that I mentioned in terms of how less cinematic it is. Some would say it is more realistic but there are things in it which didn't really work for me. I thought the parts in which they show couple of reporters' (Mark Ruafflo and Rachel McAdams) private lives didn't really work for me and found them to be quite half-baked. I am a big fan of Ruffalo but thought his mannersims for the role was unnecessarily distracting. Don't know if he is basing it out of the real life person he is portraying, and if so, you don't really need that level of accuracy when you are playing someone who is not that famous. Michael Keaton, Liev Schrieber and Stanley Tucci were excellent in their respective roles. I actually didn't recognize Tucci in his getup with hair even though found the face to be very familiar. 

Overall it is still a great watch but don't think it is the 'Best Picture of 2015' material that they are talking about. At the end of it they show places from around the world where instances of child abuse from Catholic priests were unearthed after Globe broke their story and Ollur in Kerala also figured in it and it is not very far from where I live. The story is here: Kerala church priest, accused of raping nine-year-old, arrested. The film also cites a psychiatrist priest who studied the phenomenon for the Catholic church who says that as per his studies, 6% of Catholic priests in USA have molested children. The celibacy rule for the priests, unsurprisingly, is to blame and 50% of them are not celibate anyway. It is indeed funny how Catholic Church wants prohibition of alcohol in Kerala when they can learn from their own clusterfuck that prohibition never actually works.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Legend (2015)

Director: Brian Helgeland
Writers:  Brian Helgeland, John Perason
Cast:       Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton

The film tells the story of identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organised crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s.

Tom Hardy plays the role of the identical twins in the film and when you have such a scenario playing out in a film, how well the actor is doing can be judged by whether you are not conscious about the fact that the same dude is playing the two roles. Since the two characters have very distinctive mannerisms and behavior, that aspect is handled with great ease and it is a great performance from Tom Hardy. Sadly the film ends up as a showpiece vehicle for Tom Hardy to display his acting skills with the other characters and story aspects not being interesting enough to make it a good watch. When you are making gangster films of this nature, you can either go the Goodfellas route, where you make the protagonists likeable and ones whom you can root for despite their criminal activities, or you can go the 'Black Mass' route, where they are just thoroughly unlikeable psychotics. Legend kind of treads the middle path and fails to satisfy the audience even though the film has some very good moments. You really don't care much for the wife character of Ronnie and that can be a problem when the entire film told from the perspective of their relationship. That said, the misdirection involved regarding the fate of the narrator was a cool trick and reminded me of 'Me, Earl, and the dying girl'.

Overall it is a decent watch without being any good at any point of time. Tom Hardy is always interesting in all the films that I have watched of his and this is no different and people can check it out purely because of his involvement. The film just left me feeling the same way as when I watched 'Bronson' even though this one was much more enjoyable to watch. Got to say Americans in general have got gangster films tone right down to a tee when compared with the Brits. You can also sense the same when the Krays meet their American backers. There is a sense of small-time British brashness compared to the professionalism of US mafia.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, February 5, 2016

മഹേഷിന്റെ പ്രതികാരം (Maheshinte Prathikaram) (2016)

Director: Dileesh Pothan
Writer:    Shyam Pushkaran
Cast:         Fahadh Faasil, Soubin Shahir, Anushree, Alancier Lay, Aparna Balamurali
Language: Malayalam

Mahesh is a small level studio photographer in Prakash, Idukki. He is not having a good time with his lover deciding to ditch him for an arranged marriage with a guy who is settled abroad. On top of that he gets into a random fight in his town's street with a random guy during which he is thoroughly beaten. Feeling completely emasculated, he vows that he won't wear a chappal/slippers/shoes till he gets his revenge on that guy... To make matters worse, his nemesis gets a job in Gulf and Mahesh has to wait to get his revenge for which he doesn't look capable anyway.

The opening credits is set to a song which is like an ode to Idukki and you worry that it will be another one of those films which preaches the goodness of rural life. Thankfully it doesn't do that and it is not a serious film like the title would suggest either (The title translates as Mahesh's Revenge). It is a comedy film based on a true story, apparently, and while that when said as  an anecdote or when written as a synopsis might seen interesting enough, they have fleshed it out enough to make a very good film out of it and do full justice to it. It is an amazing directorial debut for Dileesh Pothan who used to be one of Aashique Abu's assistants.

The guy who played the role of distributor to great effect in 'Monsoon Mangoes' again stars with Fahadh in this film in a role which can be classed as that of a sidekick. Mahesh calls him uncle but that doesn't mean they are related going by the Kerala norms. The central event in the film happens after a random set of things happening and they are done with great comic timing. But you do worry that it is going into the skit format of comedy which is vogue in Malayalam cinema these days. Not to worry, they are done with a purpose and is indeed central to it. The guy who plays PT sir (Soubin Shahir) in Premam also stars in the film and times his dialogs very well. I found his performance in Charlie to be a bit disappointing but he is great in this one. Girls with pimples are also in vogue these days and the second love interest for Mahesh is one of that variety played by an actor (Aparna Balamurali) who is presumably making her debut. She does her part very well in a role, if not done well, could have easily derailed the whole film. There are in fact plenty of actors making their debuts in this film and most of them are absolutely great.

Overall the film is a great watch and it has got blockbuster written all over it. At two hours, it is indeed cut to the correct length and you actually get the feeling that they were padding it with some songs to stretch it out. Most of the songs move the story forward anyway and so it doesn't matter. It doesn't get sentimental at any point of time and the ending kind of reminded me of Neram. Some might find it a bit anti-climactic or abrupt but i thought it was perfect. Fahadh is badly in need of a significant hit and this one looks like a sure bet.

PS: There is an element of that god-awful film 'Natturajavu' in this one in terms of a story thread.

Rating: 5/5