Monday, August 29, 2016

Beau Travail (1999)

Director: Claire Denis
Writer:    Claire Denis
Cinematographer: Agnes Godard
Cast: Denis Lavant, Michael Subor
Language: French

The film focuses on an ex-foreign legion (Denis Lavant) officer as he recalls his once glorious life, leading troops in Africa.

You can't do much wrong if you start your film with a club scene set to 'Kiss Kiss' song from Tarkan. The film has a meditative quality to it as we are shown various routines that the legion goes through in their non-combat days. First half of the film will work very well as an advertisement for recruitment. The character played by Denis Lavant is like the second in command with a father fixation for his own reporting officer. It could be sexual as well but it is not explicitly mentioned. In the beginning of the film, he mentions that 'Freedom begins with remorse'. The remorse that he is noting here is concerning his actions when he had a young man whom he thought of as a competition for him in terms of his superior officer's attention/affection.

It is an adaptation of Herman Melville's 1888 novella Billy Budd. It also reminded me of William Friedkin's 'Cruising' which also had a very confused protagonist. It is a great watch and has got a super great soundtrack. Claire Denis is a very interesting director and the films that I've watched of her's has a unique quality to them while each of them being very different in terms of settings.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, August 28, 2016

ഇടി (IDI) (2016)

Director: Sajid Yahiya
Writers:  Sajid Yahiya, Arouz Organ
Cinematographer: Sujith Sarangi
Cast: Jayasurya, Sunil Sukhada, Joju George
Language: Malayalam

IDI stands as an acronym for Inspector Dawood Ibrahim who dreamt of being a Police inspector after watching the various macho police roles played on screen by the likes of Mammooty and Suresh Gopi.

The teaser poster and trailer of the film suggested that it caters to the taste of a certain section of Malayalee audience who likes watching dumb Telugu and Tamil mass films. Idi is anything but as it is a very intelligent spoof film. But its misleading promotion might have backfired as it attracted the wrong kind of audience and is not doing terribly well at the box office. Even I decided to give it a go only after confirming that it is infact a spoof film as I was not very impressed by the trailer and initial reports. I'm glad I did it as I didn't want to add another one to the list comprising of  Aadu and Lukka Chuppi, two Jayasurya films that I missed out in theatres due to a combination of misleading promotion and poor word of mouth. He is known as the torrent star of Malayalam film industry and Idi will be another one to be added to his list of torrent hits.

One cannot really fault them for the misleading promotion because that in itself was a spoof on the audience. Sad fact is that Malayalee audience are not very good at judging things correctly when a film defies their expectations. Spoof films and screwball nonsensical comedies haven't done well at box office recently going by the box office fate of films like Aadu, Chirakodinja Kinavukal and Double Barrel.

Idi starts with them showing the birth of its protagonist, a spoof on a very annoying trend in Malayalam cinema. We realise that the film itself is a spoof by only about 20 minutes into the film. The first half of it is a laugh riot. It doesn't disappoint in the second half also even though the laugh quotient is taken a peg down leading up to its climax action sequence. I was not convinced by Jayasurya in the trailer but he is super good along with the entire cast. It is technically also very good even though the fight sequences in the trailer looked a tad amateurish. I think it is a case of the film being a whole lot better as a complete package even though the elements in it individually doesn't really stand out. The BGM was also a letdown in the trailer but the same works very well during the film. Please do watch it at the cinemas as it really deserves a much better box office returns.

Rating: 4/5

Ива́ново де́тство (Ivan's Childhood) (1962)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writers:  Vladimir Bogomolov, Mikhail Papav 
Cinematographer: Vadim Yusov
Cast: Kolya Burlyayev,  V. Zubkov, Ye. Zharikov, S. Krylov 
Language: Russian

The film tells the story of a young orphan boy and his experiences in world war two. It is based on Vladimir Bogomolov's short story 'Ivan'.

Even though the title and poster of the film might make you think of it as something in the mould of 'Come and See', it is not similar. Yes it does show the terrible things that come with wars, mainly through surreal dream like sequences about Ivan's childhood, but the film doesn't focus too much on that. Ivan is treated like a mythic character who comes in and out of the film. He is someone who is employed by the red army on a scouting/spying mission in enemy territory. His motivation is revenge against the 'Fritzs' for making him an orphan. He had been with the partisans previously.

The other characters in the film are the officers in the army who handles and take care of Ivan when he is back. Much of the story focuses on two of these officers, one is a captain and the other a lieutenant. It also involves a love triangle and a setpiece flirtation scene from which the above iconic image is taken. That whole scene is filmed in a mesmeric way.

Andrei Tarkovsky made his directorial debut with Ivan's Childhood. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival and established Tarkovsky immediately as one of the main directors of the era. It is not a typical Tarkovsky film as it is quite straightforward. Tarkovsky later expressed his misgivings about some of the decisions he made for the film but it is a great watch nevertheless. It is cited by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Kieslowski etc as a very influential film.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, August 21, 2016

പ്രേതം (Pretham) (2016)

Director: Renjith Shankar
Writer:.   Renjith Shankar
Cinematographer: Jithu Damodar 
Cast: Jayasurya, Aju Varghese, Sharaffudeen, Govind Padmasurya 
Language: Malayalam 

Three friends are running a beach resort in Cherai where they start experiencing some paranormal activities. They approach a priest for help and through him they meet a mentalist (Hypnosis, mind-reading, NLP, psychosis തുടങ്ങിയവയുടെ ഒരു ഭയാനക version, it's incurable), who tries to help them.

The film is marketed as a horror comedy and plenty of its humour comes from spoofing malayalam horrors films from the past. They also references dialogs from films from the past including Dasaratham, Manichithrathazhu etc. It is a lazy form of generating humour and in plenty of other films they generally sound tacked on but in this film it is quite seamless, helped by its spoofish nature. The rest of its humour is largely of the double meaning nature but you can forgive that because of the characterisation of its three main characters.

It doesn't try to rationally explain the events shown in the film and embraces its supernaturalness (is that a word?). That is quite commendable as it does away with the need for having to explain everything at the end. Another film that did this very well was Sibi Malayil's 'Devadoothan' which can be also classed as the best comedy horror film from Malayalam. It was unfortunate that it tanked heavily at the box office during its theatrical run. The basic structure of Pretham is also most similar to 'Devadoothan'. While Devadoothan amped up its creepiness during its second half, Pretham proceeds like a crime story. It also suffers from Deadpool syndrome, which means that it tries to sound clever and all by mocking several other films only for it to adhere to the same stereotypes to conclude its own story.

Film is technically very sound as an audiovisual experience. Heard Jayasurya mentioning in an interview that they had a very highly rated sound designer for this film and that is reflected in it with many of its horror elements coming off well with the aid of sound effects. In terms of performances, Aju Varghese was largely irritating, GP was surprisingly decent and both Sharaffudeen and Dharmajan excelling. Jayasurya as the self important mentalist came off as largely irritating and it might be due to my natural scepticism towards the reliance on the supernatural. Overall the film is a decent one-time watch.

PS: If you want to watch a really cool show involving mind-reading, NLP etc, check out shows by Derren Brown and I would recommend the one titled 'Something wicked this way comes'. There is nothing supernatural about it by the by.

Rating: 2.5/5

Sunday, August 14, 2016

ഗപ്പി (Guppy) (2016)

Director: Johnpaul George
Writer:.   Johnpaul George
Cinematographer: Girish Gangadharan
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Master Chetan, Sreenivasan
Language: Malayalam

Guppy (Master Chetan) lives in a fishing village with his mother who is paralysed and relies on a wheelchair. Their means of living is the guppy fishes that he is cultivating in a public drainage that he had blocked by the side of a road. An engineer (Tovino Thomas) arrives in the village to build a railway over-bridge. A series of events puts these two protagonists at odds with each other.

The trailer of the film has Tovino being questioned whether he is the hero or the villain of this story. That part of the story is the highpoint of the film as there is a whole lot of unpredictability to it. This middle portion of the film is sandwiched by the beginning portion and the end where the director plays it very safe by projecting too much goodness in its characters and some manipulative tragic elements.

It is around 150 minutes long but it is not the duration that I got miffed with but the safety option that the director took. That is especially disappointing when you consider the fact that the middle part of the film was really great providing heavy symbolic opportunity to have it as a representation of the Indian system. You've the poor guy living at the margins earning a living by breaking the law. He is both aided and squeezed by the representatives of state machinery. Then comes the idealistic fellow in the form of engineer who ends up doing more harm than good to all concerned, at least initially.

Overall it is a good watch but could have been better. Performances from all concerned are great and especially that of the two protagonists. It is extremely strong on a technical level with sumptuous visuals. The BGM is also fantastic and there are some obvious nods to Anurag Kashyap's Dev D in an audiovisual sense which is evident even from the trailer. Tovino has the making of a star and he does a much better version of Charlie in this film. It is sad that the film is not doing tremendously well in the box office with it being removed from my town after one week. I had to travel 30 kms to catch it but it was worth it as I could also check out the newly opened Aashirvad cineplex in Thodupuzha.

PS: I heard that it was filmed near Thirunnalveli in Tamil Nadu and the village doesn't really look like a place from Kerala. The number plates of vehicles carry KL 81 which I don't think is a valid one in Kerala. That was pretty clever from the director who has made a very promising debut.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, August 7, 2016

ആൻ മരിയ കലിപ്പിലാണ് (Ann Maria Kalippilanu) (2016)

Director: Midhun Manuel Thomas
Writers:. Midhun Manuel Thomas, John Manthrichal
Cinematographer: Vishnu Sharma
Cast: Sunny Wayne, Baby Sara, Aju Varghese, Leona 
Language: Malayalam 

Ann Mariya (Baby Sara) is a ten-year-old daughter of a doctor couple where the father of the house is away in Syria as part of a red-cross mission. This creates tension in the house with the wife not happy with him being away. Ann Mariya wants to emulate her father by winning a long-jump medal but her PT teacher, with whom she is at odds with, deliberately calls foul on her jump. Ann Maria is furious, which is a literal translation of the title, and puts out a quotation on him by trading her iPhone with whom she presumes to be Goondas (Sunny Wayn and Aju Varghese) but are actually unemployed small-time fraudsters.

This is Midhun Manuel Thomas' second film as director and third film as writer. His directorial debut, Aadu Oru Bheegara Jeeviyanu, didn't do very well at box office partly due to its positioning as a children's film when it was patently not so. But it went on to become Malayalam's first internet cult classic film with the help of torrent medium. Ann Maria is not marketed as a children's film but as one with a child as protagonist. They get that right as it is a film that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Based on the reactions that I've seen so far about this film, it is those who particularly didn't like Aadu who seems to be really taken by this film. Others like me are just finding it to be a very decent watch without even coming close to the standard of the tale of Shaji Pappan and his gang. It is similar to the level of Om Shanti Oshana, MMT's debut film.

AMK is fast paced with right dose of 'story' elements thrown in to keep things lively. It is shot very well and great BGMs are a given in Midhun films. It is a role out of his comfort zone for Sunny Wayn as he plays a full on comedy role. He pulls it off quite well even though there are a few scenes where his limitations are exposed. Siddique puts in a very hammy performance which is not uniformly great. Rest of the cast do a very decent job. Aadu 2 was announced halfway through the shoot of this film and I wonder whether it affected this film as the ending portions of it looks a bit half-baked capped off with a very amateur looking fight scene.

To sum up, it is a very decent one time watch for adults and probably a very good one for kids. It will get a wider acceptance than Aadu from the audience without being nearly as good. Am waiting for Aadu 2 which is surely gonna get a great opening.

PS: Migrant workers in Kerala, whom all are called Bengalis irrespective of their actual native places, are also becoming a presence in the reel world just like the real world.

Rating: 2.5/5 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Jason Bourne (2016)

Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers:. Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse
Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd
Cast:.       Matt Damon, Tommy Lee-Jones, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles

As is the case with other Bourne films, Bourne is on the run from CIA hit squads as he tries to uncover things from his past. One would think there isn't much to discover after the end of Ultimatum, the third film in the trilogy which tied the trilogy together nicely like Dude's rug, but they just add one more mystery for him to solve regarding how he ended up as a CIA agent.

The film begins with Julia Stiles in an 'Anonymous' kind of hacking setup hacking the CIA files to obtain the files relating to their black-ops programmes including treadstone. Bourne was living kind of an exiled life but is lured back in when his interest gets piqued by what Stiles hands over to him. On the opposite side there is Tommy Lee-Joness, playing the typical CIA villain from all other Bourne films, and Alicia Vikander who heads the cyber division. Vincent Cassel plays the asset who is hunting Bourne on orders from the villain. If you haven't still figured it out, you can watch the recent honest trailer on Bourne trilogy which points out that all these films have basically the same plot and setup as a backbone to show off its action setpieces.

The latest film which comes almost a decade after Ultimatum, touches upon things that have changed since then like increased privacy concerns related to social media, hacking threats, wikileaks etc. It also plays on the refrain that the likes of Facebook were funded by CIA as a surveillance tool.

Performances are great and the action setpieces are top notch. It is certainly the weakest among the Matt Damon as Bourne films but still a very good watch. Some have complained about Alicia Vikander's role being very light weight but I thought it was an interesting take on an ambiguous ambiguous character when contrasted with the usual way such female characters are portrayed. Bourne says less than 100 words during the whole film. I do feel that there will be another Bourne film on its way which might resolve the unresolved threads from this film. That might also change the mixed opinion that the film has generated.

PS: The social media honcho is named Arun Kaloor and I wonder whether he is supposed to be a Malayalee.

Rating: 3.5/5