Saturday, April 30, 2016

കിരീടം (Kireedam) (1989)

Director: Sibi Malayil
Writer:    Lohithadas
Cast:       Mohanlal, Thilakan, Mohan Raj (Keerikkadan Jose)
Language: Malayalam

The life of a young man turns upside down when he intervenes in a fight in order to rescue his father (a cop) from a ruthless local Gunda (outlaw). The title of the film translates as crown and refers to the fact that the villagers sees the fight as the handing over of the crown from the old Gunda to the new one. 

When searching for a poster for Naduvazhikal, I had come across the one on the left. It is really difficult to fathom that such two films would have come in within the space of a month in Malyalam and, I guess, those were the days. Kireedam is a film that you would not want to watch again because it is kind of Kerala's 'Hamlet' in terms of it being the ultimate tragedy. I think I saw it for the last time when I was less than 10 years old and it had a lasting effect because it also affected me while watching another film. I thought the same named character in 'In Harihar Nagar' to be also the same man and his fate in that film is also quite tragic. After having decided to give it a go, in order to actually gauge the merit of this film, I couldn't help but notice the 'same but not quite same' aspects of this film when compared with Naduvazhikal. Both sons get into these unwanted positions quite reluctantly because of their respective fathers and the reaction from their their dads are quite the opposite. Sethumadhavan is quite apologetic as he begins to excel inadvertently in his new role while Arjun becomes quietly confident. Both films are marked by iconic last sequence fights but Sethumadhavan's one is about survival while Arjun is in it for revenge. Both of them ends up in jail.

I really don't class 'Kireedam' as one of the best efforts from Sibi Malayil-Lohithadas combo. If you add Mohanlal to this, I actually prefer both 'His Highness Abdullah' and 'Dasharatham' to it. Kireedam is a bit manipulative and some of its side characters, especially Sethumadhavan's family and relatives, are kind of half-baked and cliched. What really elevates the film to greatness is really the tour-de-force performance from Mohanlal, amply supported by Murali and Thilakan. Mohan Raj's role as Keerikkadan Jose is so iconic that I only found out about his actual name today only. The rawness of the last fight and Mohanlal's mannerisms are so good that every Malayalee will have a little cry after watching the film's ending no matter how many times you have seen it.I guess you have to class such a film as great despite its flaws leading up to it. Film has been remade to other different languages, with a very low degree of success, and it is safe to say that it was Mohanlal who made this average material into a great film. He only got a special jury mention at the National awards where he lost out to Mammootty for 'Oru Vadakkan Veeraghada' and 'Mathilukal'.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, April 22, 2016

ലീല (Leela) (2016)

Director: Renjith
Writer:    Unni R
Cast:         Biju Menon, Vijayaraghavan, Indrans
Language: Malayalam

Kuttiyappan (Biju Menon) is a middle aged bachelor who is seemingly following a Bohemian lifestyle. The very first scene of the film establishes his infatuation with prostitutes even though he is shown as someone who acts as a 'saviour' for them, who are always portrayed as a victim. The film follows Kuttiyappan and his friend (Vijayaraghavan) looking for an elephant and a very young girl but the purpose of this combination is revealed only later.

The first half of the film works out pretty much like a poor man's 'Thoovanathumbikal'. The humor in it seems a bit forced and you don't feel the complexity that was there for Mohanlal's character. The goodness of Kuttiyappan's character is established in the first scene itself and that takes away any ambiguity that would have come in handy to keep the audience not sure of his intentions. That said, without the first scene, his actions towards the end would have come off as a cheap twist. During the second half, the film takes a darker turn and it can be really described as a film of two halves. You are guaranteed to like at least on half and I preferred second to the first.

An obvious comparison could be made with Renjith's 'Njan'. Both deals with the hypocrisies of its protagonists. In Njan, Dulquer Salman played a character who is very idealistic when it comes to preaching the society while being a big hypocrite when it comes to his personal life and people around him. Kuttiyappan was born into a rich life and both his parents are dead. He is living off their wealth and has got an old domestic help to take care of things. He has taken her for granted among other things. There is a sequence near the interval of the film where he is organising a felicitation for old, and now retired, prostitutes. One of them confronts him about his hypocrisy and general male attitude towards such things.

The second half starts off with him acting as if he needs to prove her wrong but the ending of the film just proves her to be right. He acts as if he is saving the life of a very young girl from prostitution but all the decisions are made by him. It is as if the young lady has no agency on deciding things about her life. The elephant decides to intervene as a slap for his male chauvinistic hypocrisies. One could also say that his so called sacrifice of deciding to marry a prostitute, is also out of convenience as his domestic help is in a bad state and possibly already dead.

Overall, the film is a very good watch with good performances all round. Renjith had reportedly pursued both Mammootty and Mohanlal to play the role of Kuttiyappan, but Biju Menon was quite perfect for the role. When it comes to leery characters, Mammootty's Kuttettan remains to be one of Malayalam's best ones as it remained quite unapologetic throughout. Jagadeesh plays a very against the type character to very good effect. Cinematography is stunning during the first half but was a bit of a letdown during those 'Thamarassery Churam' scenes in the second half. The only song in it is during the opening credits. The film could do well at the box office as almost all should like at least one half of it depending on their taste. It is not done perfectly but is a very worthy effort depending on your interpretation of it.

Rating: 3.5/5 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Favorite Directors List

Can't fucking sleep. So this is what I am doing. Putting up a fucking list. Here goes my list of favorite directors and three favorite films of theirs.

  1. Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove2001: A Space OdysseyEyes Wide Shut)
  2. Michael Haneke (The Seventh ContinentFunny GamesCode Unknown)
  3. Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Blood Simple)
  4. Quentin Tarantino (Pulp FictionInglourious Basterds, Reservoir Dogs)
  5. David Lynch (Lost HighwayMulholland Drive, Blue Velvet)
  6. Wong Kar Wai (Chungking ExpressIn the Mood for LoveHappy Together)
  7. Frances Ford Coppola (The Godfather: Part 2The ConversationThe Godfather)
  8. Michelangelo Antonioni (The PassengerL'AvventuraBlow-Up)
  9. Werner Herzog (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Encounters at the End of the World, Fitzcarraldo)
  10. Krzystof Kieslowski (The DecalogueThree Colours: RedThree Colours: Blue)
  11. Akira Kurosawa (RashômonRan, Ikiru)
  12. Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America, For a Few Dollars More)
  13. Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies & Videotapes, Traffic, Kafka)
  14. William Friedkin (The ExorcistTo Live and Die in L.ASorcerer)
  15. Luis Bunuel (Belle de JourThe Exterminating AngelViridiana)
  16. Andrey Tarkovsky (StalkerThe MirrorSolyaris)
  17. Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Ace in the HoleThe Apartment)
  18. Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, Vertigo, Dial M for Murder)
  19. Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, Network)
  20. Richard Linklater (BoyhoodBefore SunsetA Scanner Darkly)
  21. Robert Altman (The Long GoodbyeThe PlayerShort Cuts)
  22. Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left AliveDead ManThe Limits of Control)
  23. Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry, Certified CopyLike Someone in Love)
  24. Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The King of ComedyMean Streets)
  25. Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be BloodPunch-Drunk Love, Boogie Nights)
  26. Wes Anderson (RushmoreThe Royal TenenbaumsThe Grand Budapest Hotel)
  27. Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a time in AnatoliaClimatesDistant)
  28. Ruben Ostlund (Force MajeurePlayInvoluntary)
  29. Paolo Sorrentino (The Great BeautyThe Consequences of LoveThe Family Friend)
  30. Ingmar Bergman (PersonaCries & Whispers, Wild Strawberries)
  31. Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita, 8&1/2, La Strada)
  32. Andrey Zvyaginstev (LeviathanThe ReturnElena)
  33. Michael Mann (ThiefThe InsiderHeat)
  34. Jacques Audiard (The Beat that my Heart Skipped, Rust & Bone, Read My Lips)
  35. Nicolas Winding Refn (Only God ForgivesDriveValhalla Rising)
  36. Woody Allen (Annie HallManhattanMidnight in Paris)
  37. Xavier Dolan (Tom at the FarmMommyHeartbeats)
  38. Andrew Dominik (Killing Them SoftlyThe Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert FordChopper)
  39. Roman Polanski (Chinatown, RepulsionRosemary's Baby)
  40. Ridley Scott (Bladerunner, The MartianThe Counselor)
  41. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (BirdmanBiutiful, Amores Perros)
  42. Kim Ki-duk (Filmography as a whole is great, pointless talking about individual films)
  43. Pedro Almodovar (Filmography as a whole is great, pointless talking about individual films)
  44. Takashi Miike (Filmography as a whole is great, pointless talking about individual films)
  45. David Cronenberg (Filmography as a whole is great, pointless talking about individual films)
  46. Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party PeopleThe TripThe Killer Inside Me)
  47. David Fincher (Fight ClubZodiacThe Social Network)
  48. Edgar Wright (Hot FuzzShaun of the DeadScott Pilgrim vs. the World)
  49. Denis Villeneuve (EnemySicarioIncendies)
  50. Majid Majidi (Filmography as a whole is great, pointless talking about individual films)
  51. Takeshi Kitano (Hana-Bi, Kukujiro, Violent Cop)
  52. Jean-Luc Godard (Contempt, Vivre Sa Vie, Bande a part)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Blue Collar (1978)

Director: Paul Schrader
Writers:  Paul Schrader, Leonard Schrader
Cast:       Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto

Three workers, Zeke (Pryor), Jerry (Keitel) and Smokey (Kotto), are working at a Detroit car plant and drinking their beers together. They have a party together and get an idea in their heads that they should rob local union's bureau safe. First they think it is a flop, as they get only 600 dollars out of it, but then Zeke realizes that they also have gotten some hot 'material' in terms of paperwork. They decide to blackmail their union.

It is a very unusual film and it had Paul Schrader making his directorial debut. For a well known figure who made his name as the screenwriter of Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver', his films are very good to look at also in a surprising way. It is not as visually stunning as his later film 'American Gigolo', but the opening credits set to a great track will have you hooked. Film is very unusual in the sense that you are not entirely sure about the tone of the film. It changes from being a crime story, to a comedy and ultimately becomes a tragedy. It also got an unusual power relationship between the three of its protagonists considering the cliched way they would have you set up in a typical mainstream film. It also got one of the funniest robbery sequences you will ever encounter with a curious disguise. 

The relationship between the three characters are convincingly portrayed. None of them are binary in nature. The main message of the film is that the authority just puts you into different tribal groups and pits you against each other so that they could control you. It is also the natural mode that Zeke and Jerry defaults into when they are facing each other during the climax. It is almost always universally true and that is how the system works in practice. It is a great watch and one of the forgotten classics from that time period.  

Rating: 4/5

Monday, April 11, 2016

American Gigolo (1980)

Director: Paul Schrader
Writer:    Paul Schrader
Cast:       Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton, Hector Elizondo

A Los Angeles male escort, who mostly caters to an older female clientele, is accused of a murder which he did not commit.

One would expect it to be a pulpy film in the vein of 'Basic Instinct' if you go by the above synopsis. It is anything but. Film is directed by Paul Schrader, who also wrote 'Taxi Driver', and that should be a clue enough regarding the nature of the film. Its protagonist, Julian, is sort of a social climber in terms of how he goes about his business. This has created a situation where he is on his own when he is framed for a murder by someone. Later his pimp, who sets him up, reveals that he was very framable as he had stepped on too many toes among people from the highest of social classes. While all this is going on, he develops a reluctant relationship with a senator's wife, Michelle, and is contemplating retirement from his job. This is a trope that is used in many favourite films of mine like Drive and Thief.

The film is not an as intense character study as Taxi Driver was. It is also much more suave keeping in with the social class that Julian does business with. He is ambitious and takes pride in his job. When Michelle asks him why he prefers an older clientele, he replies that it is much more of a challenge and hence more satisfying. Even when he confronts his pimp regarding him being setup, he portrays a sense of helplessness, even as he inadvertently kills him. Film is not overly sentimental and the gradual acceptance of his fate is done in quite a subtle manner.

Some might find the ending to be unsatisfying and bit of a letdown. Things are not exactly resolved but I didn't mind it. The music, whenever it crops up, is delightfully 80s. Richard Gere is just elegantly stylish in what was a breakout role for him. I especially enjoyed the performance of the detective played by Hector Elizondo. Overall, it is a great watch.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Matchstick Men (2003)

Director: Ridley Scott
Writers:  Eric Garcia, Nicholas Griffin, Ted Grifiin
Cast:      Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman, Sam Rockwell

A phobic con artist and his protege are on the verge of pulling off a lucrative swindle when the former's teenage daughter arrives unexpectedly.

Nicolas Cage's recent filmography can be described as a sea of shit. But in between he gives gems like Bad Lieutenant and Kick-Ass. Matchstick Men is one such turn even though some might find all his twitching and mannerisms to be bordering on ridiculousness. Sam Rockwell is playing a typical Sam Rockwell role (think Seven Psychopaths) and Alsion Lohman is excellent as the daughter. The twist in it can be pretty much guessed from the get-go but that is not a big problem because they don't play it up to that extent. The film is basically about humanizing Nicolas Cage's character with the introduction of a father-daughter relationship in his life. The humor helps in tiding over what can be deemed as sentimentality. 

It is a very good watch as long as you find Nicolas Cage's performance in it to be not very distracting. At first, I found it to be a bit irritating but wasn't a problem  as the film progressed. It is an adaptation of Eric Garcia's novel with the same name which came out in 2002. It is always good to see Ridley Scott doing a normal kind of film as we normally associate him with films of 'epic' nature. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, April 8, 2016

ജേക്കബിന്റെ സ്വർഗ്ഗരാജ്യം (Jacobinte Swargarajyam) (2016)

Director: Vineeth Sreenivasan
Writer:    Vineeth Sreenivasan
Cast:         Nivin Pauly, Renji Panicker, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan 
Language: Malayalam

The film's title translates as 'Jacob's Heaven' and the Jacob in the title role is played by Renji Panicker, who is a successful businessman in Dubai with a settled family and four kids. During the aftermath of 2008 financial crisis, which hit Dubai rather badly, Jacob is cheated by his business partner and their business goes for a toss. Jacob had to go away and the rest of the story follows how his eldest son gets back their shit together.

First things first, I am not a fan of Vineeth Sreenivasan's films. Twenty minutes is all I lasted when I tried watching both 'Malarvadi Arts Club' and 'Thattathil Marayathu'. Vadakkan Selfie had a decent first half and its comedy worked well even though they were very skit like. So you can take my opinion with a pinch of salt if you are a fan of those films. That said, it is new territory for Vineeth, with this film being mainly for family audience.

The film has got the ultimate excuse for all its clichés with the tagline that it is based on a true story. One could argue that clichés exist because that's what happens in real life and it gets reflected in the cinema. But you have to make it interesting enough to make them a tolerable watch. Jacob is shown as a shrewd businessman with a heart of gold and an ideal family. Among his four children, one of them is the clichéd rebel, and two of them got a smile always plastered on to their face. Nivin is the normal sort of elder son. The way they show Jacob getting cheated, for such a shrewd businessman that he is, is laughably bad and they also introduce a cartoonish villain to make it simplistic enough for the audience. It seems that all business deals in Dubai involves cash only, like it is for real estate in Kerala. The money that Jacob owes to investors is 13 crores, very helpfully converted and told to audience, and shouldn't be a big deal for a family that is portrayed in first half in the first place.

During the second half of the film, Vineeth plays it safe by adding a dose of comedy, that is very near to his comfort zone. The main problem with the film is that it is all too predictable and is never interesting enough to make it a tolerable watch. At close to 150 minutes, it is just a tedious watch, even though it is shot very well.

As far as performances are concerned, Nivin was in the background for most of first half and he did very well there, making his presence felt whenever required. In the second half, he defaults back into his comfort zone along with the director. Songs in it are rather good, like your would expect in a Vineeth film. Renji Panicker does rather well considering the fact that he has to do a lot of preachy stuff during the first half. The ultimate failure of the film is that, it had to resort to words to preach us about the greatness of family, which shows a lack of confidence from the makers. The lines from the mother character, proclaiming the awesomeness of her being an 'Achayathi' were pure cringe. To sum up, it is a tedious watch where everything is rather too predictable. That said, it should do well at the box office as it is quite an inoffensive watch for a family audience who generally like simplistic stuff.

Rating: 1.5/5 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)

Director: David Zellner
Writers:  David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Cast:       Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard
Language: Japanese, English

A jaded Japanese woman discovers a hidden copy of Coen Brothers' film Fargo on VHS, believing it to be a treasure map indicating the location of a large case of money.

Coen Brothers made their names known worldwide with Fargo, even though their films prior to that were also absolutely great. It is not a wild theory to think that they would have really buried a case (with fake bills probably) and left it there for some enterprising film fan to find it. In that film, it was Steve Buscemi's character who buries the case in the snow-laden landscape next to a fence, only for the marker that he left to be buried in the snow. You kind of know that the protagonist Japanese lady would discover it in the end, but the ending alludes that the last sequence is a dream/vision that she is having just before her death during the severe snow-storm. The presence of her rabbit, which she had abandoned in a subway train in Japan, makes the ending not even ambiguous. I would have preferred a real ending like that as a hopeful one wouldn't have been misplaced. They had a very cheery song during the end-credits anyway, maybe to trick some viewers.

Kumiko is kind of a social outcast who doesn't have any friends and is kind of unhinged. Her only hobby is finding treasures and that is how she stumbles upon the hidden VHS copy of Fargo. One can draw some existential interpretation of the movie and even some religious ones. People who take films too seriously, like me, could find it rather disturbingly close to home. It is basically a un-romanticized version of 'Amelie'. First half of the film is set in Japan and the second half in USA as she travels to 'The New World', looking for the treasure, like a Spanish Conquistador. There she meets some rural characters that could be described as stereotypical, but that can be excused because of the nature of the film, and also, stereotypes exist for a reason. 

It is very different and a great watch. It is an international film with names like Alexander Payne attached to it. The film is based on an Urban Legend related to the death of Takako Konishi, who died of hypothermia in outside Detroit Lakes, in Minnesota. The film made its debut at the Sundance film festival and has been received very positively. Would love to hear the reaction of Coens to it.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, April 2, 2016

D'Ardennen (The Ardennes) (2015)

Director: Robin Pront
Writers:  Jeroen Perceval, Robin Pront
Cast:      Veerle Beatens, Jan Bijvoet, Eric Godon, Jeroen Perceval
Language: Dutch (Flemish)

A brutal home-jacking goes hopelessly wrong. Dave, one of the two robbers, manages to run off, leaving his brother Kenneth behind. Four years later, Kenneth is released from prison and much has changed. Dave has his life back on track and is trying to help Kenneth however possible, but is witnessing how the highly strung Kenneth tries to win back his ex-girlfriend, who is actually dating his brother now. 

The film really meanders at the beginning which terrifically sets up the brilliant last act as it becomes more stylized gradually. On that regard, it reminded me of the film 'The Guest', which also had a terrific soundtrack. The basic plot doesn't seem much but it is a gripping watch and we don't usually see protagonists who belong to this social class, in Western films, unless it is dealing with drugs. TBF, Belgian films that I have seen mostly features such social class (Broken Circle Breakdown, Rundskop). It was not surprising to see Michael R. Roskam's, director of Rundskop, name during the end credits.  Another great thing about this film is that is that it is not very expositionary and we are left to piece together the puzzle of what happened over the years. The first few minutes of the film features three different time period over the four years. It is a very confident way of film-making. 

The characters are played excellently by all concerned and you also get to see Jan Bijvoet, who was in Borgman. The actor who played Dave, Jeroen Perceval, was also involved with the screenplay of it. This film is highly recommended for people who like intense indie down to earth thrillers. 

Rating: 4/5