Monday, October 31, 2016

Traffic (2000)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Stephen Gaghan, Simon Moore
DOP: Peter Andrews (Steven Soderbergh)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Benicio del Toro, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Erika Christensen

An intertwined drama about the United States' War on Drugs, seen through the eyes of a once conservative judge, now newly appointed drug Czar, his crack-addicted daughter, two DEA agents, a jailed- drug kingpin's wife, and a Mexican cop who begins to question his boss' motives.

There are three main storylines in three different geographical locations and the threy are differentiated for the audience by three different colour tones adopted by Steven Soderbergh, who himself handled the camera for the film. I had seen this film many years ago and was hugely impressed by it. I went in for rewatch with some premonition as every War on Drugs films/TV series suffer from post 'The Wire' syndrome as you tend to compare everything with this gold standard. Wire had 60 hours to develope its world and story while Soderbergh gets only less than three hours. Considering that, Traffic matches its ambition and still stands the test of time. Then again, you cannot really compare the two as Traffic is from a white perspective while Wire from a black.

The huge ensemble cast does a terrific job and Benicio del Toro got his Oscar for best supporting actor for this Spanish speaking role. Soderbergh also won the academy award for best director. Film is an adaptation of Channel Four Brirish drama 'Traffik'. Soderbergh cited 'All the President's Men' as an inspiration for the film and I also got reminded of Michael Mann's 'The Insider'. Multiple storyline were quite in vogue during those times and Soderbergh's effort is among the best if you consider it as a genre onto itself.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Scent of a Woman (1992)

Director: Martin Brest
Writer: Bo Goldman
DOP: Donald E.Thorin
Cast: Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell, Philip Seymour Hoffman 

A prep school student needing money agree to 'babysit' a blind colonel, over the Thanksgiving weekend,  but the job is not at all what he anticipated.

Scent of a Woman was the film where academy made amends for their past mistakes and gave Al Pacino his first and only Oscar. He is my favourite English language actor of all time and should've already won it for either Godfather or Dog Day Afternoon. His career can be classed into two phases- the initial one characterised by quite subtle performances in films like Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon & Godfather and the latter 'Hoohah' years characterised by films like Scarface, Scent of a Woman, Devil's Advocate etc. This division is also quite chronological with the dividing line being his serious illness in the late 70s. He did quite roll back the years for 'The Insider' and 'Donnie Brasco' and gave a mix of the two eras in 'Heat'.

The only other film that I've seen of Martin Brest is the excellent 'Midnight Run' which is a comedy road film featuring Robert De Niro. Both these films are ultimately feel good ones where everything is tied off too well at the end. Midnight Run is the better one in my opinion and how much you like SOAW would depend on how well you take to Pacino's performance. It is not among my favourite performances of his but I still like the film on the whole. Hoo-ha... Philip Seymour Hoffman once again steals everyone's thunder.

My favourite Pacino performances goes something like this:

1. Dog Day Afternoon
2. Godfather
3. Insider
4. Donnie Brasco
5. Heat

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Director: Anthony Minghella
Writers: Patricia Highsmith, Anthony Minghella
DOP: John Seale
Cast: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman

In the late 1950s New-York, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a young underachiever is sent to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, a rich spoiled millionaire playboy. But when the errand fails, Ripley takes extreme measures.

Talented Mr. Ripley was the follow-up film from Minghella to 'The English Patient', which won numerous academy awards. That one was a typical Oscar bait film that you like watching it for the first time but have no intention to revisit it ever again. While this one is the exact opposite, with a truly dark story which won't make it a favourite during the awards season and tremendous performances from all concerned. Matt Damon is a favourite of mine more because of the films that he is involved with than because of superlative acting turns. He is someone who has played too many Matt Damonish roles and you've trouble seeing him as the character that he is playing. Ripley is an exception to that and it is in my opinion his best performance.

The errand that he is assigned for by the millionaire father is as part of a misunderstanding and there is the obvious class difference between Ripley and those he acquaints with on his trip.
Ripley is good at impersonating others, forging signatures and lying comfortably. He begins to long for the lifestyles of his rich new friends. There is also some homosexual undertones to the whole deal.

The greatest thing about the film is that he gets away with (physically not mentally) which is in stark contrast to the usual 'Crime doesn't pay motif' from Hollywood. We also want him to get away with it. Overall, it is a great watch and works as a psychological thriller. The film is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel with the same name and it was also earlier adapted as the film 'Purple Noon'. I do like to check out Alàin Delon's performance as Ripley.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, October 9, 2016

കവി ഉദ്ദേശിച്ചത് (Kavi Udeshichathu) (2016)

Director: Thomas, Liju Thomas
Writers:  Thomas, Martin Duro
Cinematographer: Shahnad Nalla
Cast: Asif Ali, Narein, Biju Menon, Anju Kurien 
Language: Malayalam

Film is set in a village in Iritty (Wayanad-Kannur border area) which is crazy about volleyball. Asif Ali's and Narein's characters are enemies from their schooldays and both of them have a crush on each other's sisters. Film revolves around a bet that they make on the result of a volleyball tournament for which each of them field a team.

It is from the makers of short film 'Ramaniyechiyude Naamathil' which went viral on social media and garnered several awards. It stood out due to its production quality and paved their way for getting this film made which is also an in-house production from Asif Ali. The big question was whether they will be able to make the transition from short films to feature length. The short that they did had a decent idea executed very well. The big question mark over here was the quality of the script.
The beginning of the film was quite average and it started pulling off its humour only after the introduction of their respective love interests. Many of the comedies in the middle portion worked well before the film reached its highly predictable and longer than necessary climax portion. Biju Menon's character was introduced only in the second half and I found his role and the writing around it very underwhelming. It is the other side characters that shine well in the film as a whole.

Overall, it is a watchable film with a disappointing beginning and end. It is kind of caught between its clichés surrounding its setting and somewhat fresh kind of comedies. They could have done away with some of the unnecessary songs and shortened the hugely predictable climax. They have also reused the idea from the short film which should be interesting for those who haven't already watched it.

PS: The title of the film is a colloquial expression which roughly translates as 'Dafaq did you mean'. You can ask the same to the makers regarding the choice of this title as well.

Rating: 2/5