Saturday, December 23, 2017

മായാനദി (Maayanadhi) (2017)

Director: Aashiq Abu
Writers: Syam Pushkaran, Dileesh Nair, Amal Neerad (Story)
DOP: Jayesh Mohan
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Aishwarya Lekshmi
Language: Malayalam

Mathews (Tovino Thomas) is involved with the Tamil underworld and he kills a Police Officer inadvertently while making an escape from a hotel in Kodaikanal. He flees to Kochi where he is trying to hook up back with his girlfriend from college days, Aparna (Aishwarya), a struggling actor. Tamil Nadu Police has not backed down on his case and there is a sense of doom throughout the film which adds to the whole atmosphere, which also reminded me of Wong Kar Wai films. Post-metro Kochi is indeed a beauty and it has never been this magnificent on screen. Here it certainly can compete with the Hong Kong as captured by Christopher Doyle. Driving under the pillars of Kochi metro does  remind me kindly of that famous sequence from Tarkovsky's Solaris.

Aashiq Abu is someone who has been talking a lot of the right stuff but it has never translated that well into his films. His idea of feminism so far can be summed up as the equivalent of the dick-cutting  Tessa from 22FK, which is a film everyone overrates. Except for Gangster, all his other films (haven't seen Daddy Cool) have been watchable stuff without any of them threatening to be more than just good. He has had far better success as a producer. With Maayanadhi, he has finally arrived as a filmmaker. What I found to be extremely atmospheric can be a bit slow on the pacing side for some. It is paced like a foreign film and the extremely natural sounding scripting is also similar vein (so far removed from the Eda-Poda talk from the Niram times). The politics of the film comes just right without feeling any bit tacked on. They even managed to insert 'OMKV' so seamlessly into it.

It is largely a film in which both the leads are on equal footing and both male and female gaze are employed, which is such a refreshing change. Aishwarya Lekshmi, who didn't have much to do in her debut feature, is a revelation in this role and the chemistry between the two is just spot on. Film doesn't take the easy way out at the end even though it does open up the option of it to do in a convincing manner (Stoker like). There is a significant sequence in Tamil towards the end without any subtitles and I just don't understand why they make the assumption that every Malayalee understands Tamil. I just about managed to figure out enough to knowwhat was going on. It is indeed sad that they chose to release it during the festive season where it may well get washed out. Please do catch it at the best screen possible near you because it is technically so sound and sumptuously shot.

Rating: 4.75/5

ആട് 2 (Aadu 2) (2017)

Director: Midhun Manuel Thomas
Writer: Midhun Manuel Thomas
DOP: Vishnu Narayanan
Cast: Jayasuriya, Vinayakan, Sunny Wayne, Saiju Kurup
Language: Malayalam

Aadu 2 is the much awaited sequel to 2015 commercial flop, but torrent superhit, Aadu Oru Bheekarajeeviyanu. It has such a cult following that they relented to the demands of a sequel to give us, fans of Shaji Pappan, a chance to make history right. The plethora of sequels that came out in the last decade or so in Malayalam have been with the pure intent of cashing in on the original's popularity and have been mostly duds. When the song came out of Aadu 2, I feared the worst but it turned out to be misplaced. Film works well without reaching the heights of first one and is a laugh riot throughout.

Most of the characters and their awesome BGM intros are retained in the film with addition of few other characters. Film is largely focused on Shaji Pappan, DUDE and their respective gangs. A recurring feature in the first one was the hero to zero transformation of all of its characters after their mass introductions and that is something they cannot rely entirely on this time round. So the nature of jokes is slightly different with it being much more straight forward. That should help its box office but there was more charm to the first one which kept on getting better and better on rewatches. There was also this languidly enjoyable pacing for the first one while for this one, you feel too many things are being crammed. I guess the difference is the episodic nature of first one while there is more jumping to and fro between the various characters in the sequel. Midhun had once cited that this episodic nature might have been putting off the audience.

Another major difference is the nature of main villains. First one really didn't have any while there are some in this one and it didn't work that well for me along with the mass climax fight scene, which the audience lapped up anyway. At two and half hours, it is around 20 minutes longer than it should be and they could've easily shaved off that god-awful item song from it. All said, it is still a very good watch with some great clean comedy. It helps that the people who are watching it already have seen Aadu and know what is coming. Limited release of just 100 screens is adding to the atmosphere with heavy rush everywhere. I did miss many dialogues due to the hysteria and didn't hear any of the Shaji Pappan intro BGM due to crowd noise. Will certainly be catching it again.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, December 18, 2017

Green Room (2015)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
DOP: Sean Porter
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart

A punk rock band is forced to fight for survival after witnessing a murder at a Neo-Nazi skinhead bar, which is quite secluded. They're trapped in the Green Room with a bunch of skinheads headed by their leader, Darcy played by Patrick Stewart, waiting outside to deal with them.

What prolongs the situation is that Darcy does not want any more people becoming aware of the murder and they initially try to lure the band out of the Green Room. Saulnier had called it the third film in his 'Inept protagonist' trilogy or 'Clusterfuck trilogy'. I have seen the second one, pretty well received 'Blue Ruin', which I found to be pretty good but little overrated. Not sure if I will find it better if I re-watch it now. The ineptness of the band members in dealing with the situation comes out well and that is quite realistic. Compared to them, the neo-nazis are pretty regimented and tactical. They're not portrayed as super smart super villains. Horror films are so associated with the supernatural these days that it was quite refreshing to see one that is purely situational. I didn't think of it much as a horror film while watching it but it is definitely aimed as a deliberate effort to subvert the genre clichés. There is even one instance where they think out loud that they should split up.

This is the second film I've seen recently where the protagonist/s are making dumb decisions one after the other. But Connie from Good Times gave us the impression that he is quite smart by making those decisions super quick with full conviction. In Green Room, we're aware that the decisions are dumb even as they make them. Overall, it is a very good watch if you can stomach the gore.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, December 10, 2017

mother! (2017)

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Darren Aronofsky
DOP: Matthew Libatique
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

He (Javier Bardem), the poet, of the relationship, is considerably older than the would-be mother (Jennifer Lawrence). Even before the guests arrive we know that he is facing a writer's block and she is kind of insecure about her place in the relationship. They are renovating the place after it burned down years ago supposedly during his childhood. First half of the film plays up  this aspect of the relationship and since I finished the film in two sittings there seemed to be a big tonal shift during the second half where it goes full into biblical metaphors. I am not explaining it since the enjoyment element of the film is piecing together who is who and what is what. Even if one has only a cursory knowledge of Bible, it shouldn't be that difficult. This is another way to do it as his previous film, Noah, was shouting about it with its title itself.

Overall, I liked it a lot and is probably his best film till date. I have liked all his films, even Noah, but don't feel any compulsion to see them again as all of them are a bit difficult to watch, to say the least. I have grown to hate Jennifer Lawrence over the years and it is only appropriate that she is an irritating character in this. Camera is quite unrelenting as it  spends large parts of the film either over her shoulders or taking close-ups of her face and it is a very good performance from her. You will feel that Aronofsky is hammering your head with a sledgehammer with all the metaphors but I did enjoy it. It is also like an ode to Polanski's filmography as you will be reminded of films like Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and even Carnage. One of the posters  is also an homage to Rosemary's Baby. One film of Aronofsky's  that I would like to revisit is 'The Fountain' as I have seen only the Indian TV version of it.

Rating: 4.25/5

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Logan Lucky (2017)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Rebecca Blunt (Probably Soderbergh)
DOP: Peter Andrews (Definitely Soderbergh)
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough

Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina. They have to get out and in their explosive expert, Joe BANG (Daniel Craig), from a jail and his two younger brothers, who knows them twitters, are their digital experts.

It is the slower non-glitzy version of Ocean's 11 with seemingly non-experts working on the heist. Channing Tatum's character, a divorced father, is a failed quarterback while his brother, played by Adam Driver, is a veteran who lost his hand in Iraq. Films characters are from West Virginia and even though it is a comedy it treads a fine line and don't end up being too much of a caricature. There is this whole subtext of American symbols that we hate, like NASCAR, beauty pageants, showy patriotism with love for the forces, being put on a not too judgemental way just like the way characters are also portrayed. Balance is just correct as subtext pretty much stays as subtext without overwhelming what is a very fun film.

So glad to see Steven Soderbergh back working as a director after his retirement announcement a few years back in the above speech, which is a very good listen on the state of the cinema. His main gripe was with the studio controlled distribution model and with Logan Lucky, he did independent distribution. It was a successful effort grossing 45 million on 29 million budget. To get such an ensemble cast on this budget in itself is an achievement and Hillary Swank is also there as the investigating officer who joins pretty late in the film. Daniel Craig was slightly off-putting in the trailer but he is alright in the film.

Soderbergh, besides handling the camera, also edits his films and is someone who works very fast, apparently. The plan for the heist is put up by Channing Tatum as a 10 point notice for Adam Driver with the tenth being a minor spoiler. Soderbergh stayed on the notice long enough for me to get to the ninth point. Wonderful editing, I must say. The father-daughter relationship in the film also worked pretty well, surprisingly enough, and the John Denver Country Roads pageant rendition as well. The initial slow pacing of the film is an Ocean's subversion and it does pickup pace considerably towards the end and you just don't want it to end, which is always great. This is also the way we perceive the Logan boys, a bit slow initially but quite smart by the end.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, November 24, 2017

Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest) (2016)

Director: Oriol Paulo
Writer: Oriol Paulo
DOP: Xavi Jimenez
Cast: Mario Casas, Ana Wagener, Jose Coranado
Language: Spanish

While the clock is ticking, with the aid of a witness preparation expert, a successful entrepreneur accused of murder has less than three hours to come up with an impregnable defence.

It is a whodunnit film with an unreliable narrator. The initial parts of the film where the story or crime begins are quite well set up and the film is quite playful with the expositions and has a deliberate filmy feel (reference to Femme Fatale and all that). The protagonist has too many things to hide and a lot to lose and so he is circumspect regarding the extend to which he should reveal to the lawyer. This puts the onus on the latter to challenge him and peel the layers one by one for the audience. But it started losing me by the second half as it became just too convoluted to be possible. I don't like films where every small detail matters in terms of serving the plot. That is too on the nose for me and a little too convenient.

Overall, it is a decent enough one-time watch as long as you don't think too much about it after it finishes. Style wise it is quite sleek and the performances are a bit too theatrical. John Abraham has supposedly bought the rights for its remake and I can see why.

Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Last Boy Scout (1991)

Director: Tony Scott
Writers: Shane Black, Greg Hicks
DOP: Ward Russell
Cast: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Taylor Negrons

An LAPD detective's protected female witness is murdered, prompting him and her boyfriend to investigate the crime that leads to a corrupt politician and a crooked football team owner.

The film had a lot riding on it on the back of Bruce Willis' success with the Die Hard films and Shane Black's script being at that point of time the most expensive one to be bought. It apparently had lot of production difficulties with Tony Scott clashing with Bruce Willis and Joel Silver, the producer. The script also underwent a lot of rewrites and you do feel that while watching the film. It begins quite well establishing the extremely cynical character played by Bruce Willis. He ends up reluctantly teaming up with the banned quarterback character played by Damon Wayans. It is another one of those odd couple films with lots of over the top action and violence filmed in the 90s style. The script that is quite clever in the first half of the film turns quite shit with blatant expositions and tonal shifts by the end. It didn't do well at the box office and that put an end to the sequel idea that they had planned for it at the end of the film.

Overall it begins as a fun watch which becomes quite ridiculous, in a bad way, as the film progresses. Bruce Willis has plenty of funny lines and some cringe-inducing ones as well. Early 90s had plenty of experiments going on with the ways films looked and edits were done. Some of them, like Natural Born Killers, haven't aged well at all. But I did like the look of this film.

Rating: 2.5/5

The Grifters (1990)

Director: Stephen Frears
Writers: Jim Thompson (novel), Donald E. Westlake
DOP: Oliver Stapleton
Cast: Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Benning

A small-time conman has torn loyalties between his estranged mother and new girlfriend-- both of whom are high-stakes grifters with their own angles to play.

I decided on watching the film after doing a simple Google search of neo-noir films and the name of the director seemed familiar (Philomena, High Fidelity). It turned out to be an adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel whose another novel was recently adapted as 'Killer Inside Me' which is a favorite of mine. The film has a very play like feel to it and the color tone and settings reminded me of Robert Altman's 'The Player'. It doesn't do any spoon-feeding at the beginning and it takes a while for you to figure out what their game plan is. John Cusack's character is playing short cons, while his girlfriend is in it for the long game. His mother is doing it professionally by massaging the odds for a menacing bookmaker. Both the mother and the girlfriend are stylistically similar in appearance which suggests the Oedipal nature of the relationships that becomes quite apparent towards the end.

There are many films featuring con-men but they tend to be always about a big con that they are trying to pull. This one is a bit different and is more of a character study. Both the leading ladies got Oscar nominations for the film and they do outshine John Cusack. It is a very good watch even though it takes a bit of time to get going.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Big Sick (2017)

Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
DOP: Brian Burgoyne
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano

Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gardner fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contract a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family's expectations, and his true feelings.

The story is based on Kumail's real life and his wife had co-written the story with him for the film. I had read about it (a Vanity Fair article I think) prior to watching the film and so the plot progression was already spoiled for me. That, coupled with me watching this film in an Insomniac mood ensured that it was underwhelming experience for me. There are just too many cliches and I felt it was too dumbed down, especially the cultural aspects. It doesn't help that Anupam Kher is an annoying little prick of a man due to his shitty politics which I can't just get past. One good thing about the film is that they don't take the 'stand-up comedian as protagonist' license to pad it up with funny stuff. He is in the struggling phase of his career and that is quite well portrayed. 

Film's best bits are when the girl is in a coma in the hospital. The lead up to the breakup was not that convincing for me. Film was acquired by Amazon after it got premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It did quite well at box office and garnered overwhelmingly positive critical response as well. That doesn't really mean anything for a film like this and Slumdog Millionaire is a case in point.

Rating: 2.75/5

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Thing (1982)

Director: John Carpenter
Writers: Bill Lancaster, John W. Campbell Jr.
DOP: Dean Cundey
Cast: Kurt Russell, A. Wilford Brimley, Keith David

A crew in Antarctica finds a neighbouring camp destroyed and its crew dead. Whatever killed them is nowhere to be found, unless it is hidden in plain sight.

'Thing' in the thing is a parasitic alien being that can assimilate into its victim and thus form an imitation. Once the crew figures it out, what follows is paranoia as they are not sure who among them is an alien victim. The situation was an inspiration for Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and there is an even more direct connection to the Hateful Eight as well. Ennio Morricone's unused work from 'The Thing' was largely used in the latter and 'Beastiality' also made an appearance in it.

Alien being was created using practical effects which was not quite as good as Ridley Scott's Alien. There was also this very badly executed computer exposition scene where the probability of infection and time taken to infect the whole of earth is spelled out. I was feeling that the film had not aged well during the initial parts of the film but it was misplaced as it improved vastly once it began focusing on the paranoia aspect. The production quality towards the end with the night sequences in snow is really great with flares and all that. The dog in the beginning is one creepy fucker.

It had released two weeks after ET along with Blade Runner. It bombed both critically and commercially as the gory unfriendly alien in grim settings turned the audience off. It has since been hailed rightly as a masterpiece. I actually enjoyed it much more than Alien and it should be more interesting on rewatch as well.

Rating: 4.25/5

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Nice Guys (2016)

Director: Shane Black
Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
DOP: Philippe Rousselot
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice

It is the 1970s Los Angeles where a mismatched pair of private eyes are investigating a missing girl and the mysterious death of a porn star. One of the private eyes (Russell Crowe) is not officially a one and the other (Ryan Gosling) is a bit dim and has to contend with his daughter as well (Angourie Rice).

Shane Black made his name at a very young age as the writer of Buddy Cop film 'Lethal Weapon'. I haven't seen any of his subsequent films credited solely as a writer He took a break from cinema in the mid 90s and came back as a director with the excellent yet underrated 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'. The Nice Guys was written before KKBB and he has called this one as a spiritual cousin to it. I, in fact liked this one even more than KKBB probably because of the simple reason that the lead pair of actors are much more likable for me in this instance. Never been a big fan of Robert Downey Junior. Shane Black, as Video Essayist The Nerdwriter points out, is very good at using violence on screen with consequential effects. One of the most hilarious things about this film is that the bystanders do get hit quite disproportionately. It is billed as a mystery comedy and the mystery part of it is in the Big Lebowski mould where it is quite hard to make sense of it and that is not really the point anyway. You do raise your eyebrows when the daughter character doesn't want anyone killed in a couple of instances but one suspects that was also an in-joke and them poking fun at the genre cliches. Things do get quite ridiculous towards the end in a self aware manner and you have Ryan Gosling's character quipping that he is invincible giving us a nod to the plot armor he has. There are so many quotable lines and it is definitely worth revisiting.

The banter between Ryan and Russell is excellent and Angourie Rice amply supports and sometimes even steals the show. It is one of those films which greatly exceeds your expectations.They do set it up for a sequel but the disappointing box office numbers suggest that it might not be forthcoming.

Fuck Marvel!!

Fuck DC!!

Fuck Disney!!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was also another one that bombed at the box office. Apparently they are planning a TV series titled 'The Nice Girls'.

Rating: 4.25/5

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Good Time (2017)

Directors: Ben Safdie, Josh Safdie
Writers: Josh Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
DOP: Sean Price Williams
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie, Buddy Duress, Jennifer Jason Leigh

After a heist goes awry, a bank robber spends a night trying to free his mentally ill brother from being sent to Riker's Island prison.

Think ‘Enter the Void + Collateral + True Romance’ with quite an unlikable protagonist- you will get a general idea about the film. Robert Pattinson continues his great post-Twilight form in picking good roles in good films and he plays the elder brother Connie whose USP is that he thinks and acts very quickly even though they are not the smartest decisions on hindsight. He is out after a spending some time in jail (Good Time is a jail related reference) and decides to rescue his brother from the psychiatric sessions that he is getting under the wings of their grandmother. The opening scene which is a psychological evaluation of his younger brother Nick, played by one of the director brothers, is riveting to watch. Connie thinks the best thing for his brother to do is to assist him in a small-time bank robbery operation and things don't go as planned, obviously. We then have Connie trying to con some money of his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to raise bail-bond and then trying to rescue his brother directly. He meets a few interesting characters along the way and things just don't go as 'not' planned.

Camera movements are initially very documentary style and later on the film is largely neon-lit. ‘Oneohtrix Point Never’ handles the music and the closing credits was a collaboration with Iggy Pop. Music is a big driving force in the movie as it ratchets up tension when necessary. Film might not be up everyone's alley as the directors make no effort in making the protagonist likable. I enjoyed it thoroughly and it defies your expectations as there is variation in pacing throughout the film. It is usual in films to have unlikable villain sort of characters who are quite smart and calculating. So it was very refreshing to see someone who is not all that smart but his quick decisions fools us into believing that he is.

Rating: 4.25/5

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sexy Durga (2017)

Director: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
Writer: No screenplay
DOP: Prathap Joseph
Cast: Rajshri Deshpande, Kannan Nayar, Sujeesh KS, Baiju Netto
Language: Malayalam

Two smalltime gangsters pick up a couple on the run, leading to a long, claustrophobic road trip in Malayalam cinema's perennial vehicle villain, an Omni van.

The lady in the couple is a North Indian who doesn't speak or understand Malayalam. This language barrier gives a license to the gangsters to say whatever they want. The film had no screenplay and I suspect the instruction from the director was to be really lewd. Film was made in the context of increasing reportage of gruesome rape cases from India. Still, Kerala is not a place that you normally associate with it. So my default expectation was that nothing terrible would happen. The language that they use is very crude and I'm pretty sure that subtitles wouldn't have conveyed the tone quite correctly in the festivals that they showed it and won many awards. They would've perceived it as an extremely dark film while I found plenty of humour in it, albeit being pretty dark and cringy.

Kerala is a place whose streets go to sleep pretty early and film can be seen as a portrayal of how behaviour changes with it. Night belongs to the nanny state police, moral policing dickwads and other people who you normally associate with it. For the couple alone at night the first two are a threat and it is only natural that they ended up with the third kind, repeatedly so in a surreal fashion. One solution is to change the law so that shops can operate any time of the day. That will help to bring more people to the night streets and thereby make it safer. Apparently, the gulf streets are very vibrant during the Ramadan month.

Film is pretty ambiguous and surreal towards the end and I found it to be a great watch. The screening that I went to was its Kerala premiere which was organized to protest against its exclusion from IFFK competitive section. This week also saw it being excluded from IFFI by the I&B ministry after getting selected by the jury. The main storyline of the film is juxtaposed with scenes of male Bhakts enduring 'Ichi the Killer' kind of body horrors in worship of Goddess Durga. Director is kind of contrasting, in a non-subtle way, the day and night behaviour of a typical Indian male.

Rating: 4.25/5

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Columbus (2017)

Director: Kogonada
Writer: Kogonada
DOP: Elisha Christian
Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, John Cho, Parker Posey

A Korean man finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, where his architect father is in a coma. There he meets an arch-nerd who is postponing her graduation to stay with her mother, a recovering addict.

The town, Columbus, does not look like America at all, not that I've been to US of A. It is filled with buildings and structures that are architecturally unique. Architecture is something that is glaringly neglected in a places like Kerala, where it is the private sector that is driving the growth. The lowest tender bidding format for  government building contracts doesn't really encourage architectural originality to come from there. You feel such a difference when you contrast a growing city like Kochi with the old school buildings from Trivandrum city centre with the latter having more of an identity.

Coming back to the film, it is just visually gorgeous and the theme justifies it being so. The Korean guy does not have much of a relationship with his dad and is kind of waiting for him to die so that he can go back to Korea and his routine. The girl, in sharp contrast, is overly protective of her mother and is behaving more like a parent than a child. She has a difficult 'Good Will Hunting' like decision to make, without her being portrayed as a genius. It is a very well acted film and a stunning debut for the director, who is known as a video essayist and a critic. Architecture can really make a town or city wonderful but us in India never gets a chance to experience it unless you go to places like Fort Kochi, Pondicherry etc which are just small islands in the larger scheme of things.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Wind River (2017)

Director: Taylor Sheridan
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
DOP: Ben Richardson
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen

A veteran tracker/hunter with the Fish and Wildlife Service helps to investigate the murder of a young native American woman, and uses the case as a means of seeking redemption for an earlier act is irresponsibility which led to a tragedy.

Film is set in the Wind River Indian reservation, Wyoming. Taylor Sheridan had called Sicario, Hell or High Water and this as a thematic trilogy. The Indian connection is strongest in this one, with both the characters and subtext. He wrote the first two and with this one he dons the cap of director as well. The writer part sadly dominates the film, first half especially, as the grim characters are mouthing very unnatural and literary dialogues. I took a break midway and the second half seemed much better as it got into the set piece sequence with a Sicario like convoy routine.

The film has unique settings and side characters with the cowboys Vs Indians subtext which makes it a very interesting watch. It could've turned out better maybe with Taylor trusting someone else to direct it. Our gateway to the story is an American cowboy (Jeremy Renner) who was married to a native American and makes his living in the Indian territory. It is a lesser film than Sicario and HoHW but still a pretty good watch overall.

Rating: 3.25/5

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hell or High Water (2016)

Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
DOP: Giles Nuttgens
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pines, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham

Two brothers are hitting the branches of a particular bank for low sums of desk money and an about to be retired cop (Jeff Bridges) is investigating it with another half Indian cop (Gils Birmingham). Film is set in West Texas (actually shot in New Mexico) and it is another one of those post subprime crisis films, which can now be classed as a genre. The towns are small and there are signs of foreclosures everywhere.

We are introduced to the robbers with contrasting characters (Chris Pine & Ben Foster) straight away and their motivation for the crime is revealed only little by little. It gives almost equal billing for both sets of characters who are in the opposite sides of law. We don't want any of them to get hurt even though it is inevitable. The cop played by Jeff Bridges is always racially insulting his partner in an endearing manner. There is one conversation that they have regarding people getting dispossessed over the course of history, in reference to the colonisation of America at the expense of native Indians. The slate has been wiped clean since then and the right wing in United States sees no irony when they indulge in a nativist brand of politics. Something like that is going on with the character played by Chris Pine. He knows that he is over 40 and not going to achieve anything in life. The only thing he wants is that his sons to not grow in poverty, which he equates to a disease that is passed on from one generation to the next. All wealth is kind of predicated on some crime but he has a very clever plan to make it legitimate for his sons.

Actor turned Screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, has called it a thematic trilogy with Sicario and Wind River being the other two. I haven't seen the latter, which he himself directed, yet. David Mackenzie is known for his films like Starred Up and Perfect Sense, both of which are very good. Hell or High Water is an excellent watch with great performances from all concerned. It is also gorgeous with some stunning visuals of the vast desert like cowboy country. All the set-pieces carry a lot of tension from the get-go and the film has a very satisfying ending.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Ghost Story (2017)

Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
DOP: Andrew Droz Palermo
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

The film follows the ghost of a recently deceased musician who remains in the house shared with his wife.

More apt title of the film would be 'A Ghost's Story' as it is told from the perspective of the ghost. Why did nobody think about doing that. To be fair there is a Malayalam film called Aayushkaalam, which is a remake of some foreign film, that is somewhat like this but not solely from the Ghost's perspective. We initially think the film is dealing with wife's grief but later realises that it is about the grief of the ghost as she gets over it and moves on, emotionally as well as physically. House is later occupied by a Mexican single mom and her kids, some young partying folks etc before it is torn down for a skyscraper. Ghost finally decides to end his 'life' and enters a time-warp.

It is not really a horror film but some of the scenes work really well on that regard. There is one scene where a character kind of explain the film which was not necessary. One can also interpret the last part of the film as the search for resolution by the audience for a film which ends on an ambiguous note. It is really a cool film even though it kind of ends with a very often used plot device. If you're into relationships and all that, it can be a very affecting film.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected) (2017)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer: Noah Baumbach
DOP: Robbie Ryan
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller

The adult children of Harold Meyerowitz reunite in New-York for their father's career retrospective.

It is not a solo show but a group display of works by artists from the university where Harold taught. We learn over the course of the film that all the grown-up characters in it are dealing with disappointments in terms of how their career turned out. Harold had gone through several marriages and have three kids from different marriages. While he carries the air of an accomplished artist, especially when dealing with his family, he is himself jealous of his more successful friends in the New-York scene. Adam Sandler's Danny is a stay at home father, a successful one unlike his father, but he is now divorced and struggling. Ben Stiller plays Matthew, a successful personal wealth manager and his father's favourite kid, and he is himself disappointed that him not being an artist diminishes his standing in the family. Harold is now married to Maureen (Emma Thompson), an alcoholic. The retrospective and father's health issues brings all the kids together and the film largely deals with that situation, after having two chapters leading up to it to establish the characters.

The earlier dialogues from the film will sound very exposition like and you later realize that it is justifiable because of Harold's many marriages and physical and emotional distance between the characters. It is a typical Noah Baumbach film and should be a great watch if you are a fan of his like I am. It has a very different look from previous films of his and it is no surprise that it is his first collaboration with Robbie Ryan.  It is also his third film with Ben Stiller and got to say it is a very Ben Stiller role for him. Good to see Adam Sandler doing something worthy so soon after Punch Drunk Love.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, October 13, 2017

കാറ്റ് (Kattu) (2017)

Director: Arun Kumar Aravind
Writer: Ananth Padmanabhan, Padmarajan
DOP: Prasanth Raveendran
Cast: Murali Gopy, Asif Ali, Shebin Benson
Language: Malayalam

Film revolves around a few people who are in the business of making fireworks and is set in late 70s and early 80s period. The only way we get a sense of the time is through the various films that they mention during the film and it is indeed the Jayan era. The settings look much older but that was a time when villages did exist in Kerala. Murali Gopi plays the role of Chellappan who is sort of a village playboy. Asif Ali is a naive and shy simpleton who is taken under his wings by Chellappan. Film is a depiction of their life and rivalries.

Arun Kumar Aravind was someone who made a very solid debut with 'Eee Adutha Kalathu', which was a very well done multiple storyline film on a meagre budget. He went on to produce the excellent adult comedy with brains 'Vedivazhipadu' and got his biggest hit as a director with the political film 'Left, Right, Left', which I think everyone overrates. That was later followed up by a Fahadh Faasil- Murali Gopy starrer film which was a disaster commercially as well as critically. Murali Gopy is a constant in all these films. Kattu is based on a short story from Padmarajan (Name is related to Queen Bee) and is penned by his son. When the trailer of the film came out everyone pointed out similarity between Thakara and the character played by Asif Ali. After watching the film I don't think the comparison holds.

Unlike the very cheap looking Eee Adutha Kalathu, Kattu is technically great and sumptuous to look at. Malayalam films are getting better and better on these things. With a running time of more than 150 minutes, one wishes they put as much care in storytelling and get a tight cut without much flab. God knows why the directors still feel the need to have one or two songs which don't move the story forward. Caste is the center of topic during the opening scene which is set in a Tamil Nadu village. But that is not explored further. Murali Gopy has finally confirmed which side of the fence he sits with Tiyaan and it is the 'Sophisticated Hindutva' side. That doesn't get much play in this film but if you do a subtle reading of it, it is basically a Christian character playing divide and rule over the Hindu and Muslim characters. How British of them!

The first half of the film is the shorter of the two and goes along quite smoothly. Second half is a bit dragged out and it becomes quite predictable. Still several characters are etched out pretty well even though all of them are male. It is paced deliberately in a leisurely manner. It is basically a character and lifestyle study and one of the better ones from Malayalam among the ones that are set in period. It is a genre which is very hard to get right within the budgetary constraints of Malayalam cinema and Kattu, despite its flaws, is a worthy effort.

Rating: 2.75/5

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Solo (2017)

Director: Bejoy Nambiar
Writer: Bejoy Nambiar, Dhanya Suresh
DOP: Girish Gangadharan, Madhu Neelakandan, Sejal Shah
Cast: Dulquer Salman, Sai Dhansika, Neha Sharma, Anson Paul
Language: Malayalam, Tamil

Solo is an anthology film of four shorts all directed by Bejoy Nambiar and all staring Dulquer Salman. Four of the characters he plays are named after four names of Lord Shiva and each story starts off with a very cool graphic portrait of Shiva representing four of the five elements- water, air, fire and earth.  All four stories span over four years and thus incorporating the fifth element- time.

'Kerala Cafe', which came during the early part of Malayalam new wave, was an anthology film which earned rave reviews but wasn't a success at the box office. 'Anju Sundarikal' was another one that came out and both these had different directors doing each of the shorts. They've not been a success at box office and like most anthologies, some of the stories work very well and some are a miss. Since each shorts are smaller in length, it can tide over the ones which don't work. Each shorts in Solo are in excess of forty minutes and that puts a great amount of risk if any of the stories don't work out for its audience.

Coming to the individual stories, I thought the first two were quite alright without being impressive (Shekhar, Trilok) while the third one (Shiva) surprisingly enough was the crappiest while it had the best teaser and background score. At this point,I was quite underwhelmed by the whole experience but the last one, Rudra, redeemed it for me as it doesn't take itself too seriously unlike the other three. A common thread running through each story are the minor twists. First two are very guessable as enough hints are given while the third short is so bad that I wasn't even bothering about it. The last one had the most audacious one which has garnered such a backlash from audience to the point that the makers have tweaked it to remove the twist altogether. Glad that I saw it first day itself before the sissy bunch had its say. It is not like something like that have never been tried before in Malayalam cinema. Jaagratha comes to mind.

I'm not well-versed with the tenets of Hindu religion to catch nuances that could be possibly there. The four stories are about love, revenge, death and fuck knows what, in that order. As far as I know, Shiva was the local God here before the Aryans came here with their Vedic shindig. There was this Vishnu Vs Shiva conflict among the followers before Shiva was also coopted to the Vedic story. Anyway, the film had a very savarna Brahmanic slant to things when you consider the three weddings in it and also the fight scene. Don't know if it is a conscious decision from the director or to do with the fact that he is sort of an outsider to Malayalam despite being a Malayalee.

Overall it is a decent enough watch with the expected level of technical excellence and solid background score. First weekend collection should be enough for it to break even and that is quite something for such an experimental undertaking.

Rating: 3/5 (On the basis of original Rudra climax)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

American Made (2017)

Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Gary Spinelli
DOP: Cesar Charlone
Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

A pilot ends up working for the CIA initially as an aerial recon photographer and later as a delivery boy of weapons. He also gets mixed up in the drug business also as a deliverer using his planes for the Medellin cartel. It is a biographical adaptation of the adventures of Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot.

Film can be seen as a companion piece to Jeremy Renner starrer 'Kill the Messenger', where he played the role of a journalist who discovers that CIA is involved in a drug racket to fund the contra rebels in Nicaragua. It was a more serious film while Doug Liman goes for comedy in this one and it works very well. His last outing with Tom Cruise was 'Edge of Tomorrow' which mixed action with humour and had its lead in a  self-deprecating role. A sequel is expected to be announced with the same team.

Barry Seal was around 40 when the events shown in the film starts and they could have had Tom Cruise in an aged appearance. He looks really weird with all the plastics, just like Mammooty is these days. Domhnall Gleeson, who was great in Ex-Machina, gets a meaty role. Apart from him and Barry's wife, the only other interesting characters we meet are the brief appearances by the cartel members including Pablo Escobar. Tom Cruise is still able to carry the film through in a slightly 'Wolf of Wall Street' manner, but without breaking the fourth wall blatantly. It is a good watch overall.

Doug Liman had a brilliant start to his career with films like Swingers, Go and culminating with Bourne Identity. Then he went a bit shit with the likes of Mr & Mrs Smith. He is now back in form and his next one, Chaos Walking, looks very interesting with the likes of Charlie Kaufman involved.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, September 30, 2017

തരംഗം (Tharangam: The Curious Case of Kallan Pavithran) (2017)

Director: Dominic Arun
Writers: Dominic Arun, Anil Narayanan
DOP: Deepak D Menon
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Balu Varghese, Neha Iyer, Santhy Balachandran
Language: Malayalam

Tovino and Balu Varghese plays the role of two traffic cops who gets suspended after their goof up in an unofficial operation. Tovino is living in with his girlfriend and is a slacker selfish kind of person who is in debt. They now take up another private detective operation which gets them into all sorts of situations meeting some 'interesting' characters.

The debut director's short film, which was in black and white, was heavily stylised and one would expect something similar. Especially so, when you see the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, Robert Rodriguez, Guy Ritchie thanked among many others, in a list too long to read during opening credits. Surprisingly enough, it is the style that the film lacks and you just end up with a comedy of errors kind of storyline. Films of Edgar Wright and Guy Ritchie are characterized by their editing flourishes and very interesting transitions and we got something similar in Double Barrel, which bombed heavily at the box office. Maybe that experience have scarred all aspiring filmmakers from trying something as audacious style wise. Not to say that Tharangam is devoid of any as there are a few interesting things thrown around but not nearly enough for the genre that it is going for. It has enough laughs to be interesting enough for a kind audience. It is the sort of film that normal Malayalee audience won't have enough patience in a theatre watch but might enjoy when they try it on small screen with lowered expectations. Other films that could be compared with are Kili Poyi and Neram. Kili Poyi was attempted in the early days of new-gen wave and deserved appreciation then. We've come a long way since then and experimental films have kind of become the norm now.

Performance wise it is a good one overall and the combination of Tovino-Balu-Santhy works very well. But there is a one-noteness in Tovino's performance as he seems to be always on the edge. His character situation is such but some variation and subtlety could be brought. First half of the film goes on a fair clip but things get quite strained in the second half. Film ends with a very chaotic (not in a good way) kind of ending which was a characteristic of late 80s Priyadarshan films, another director that was thanked during the opening credits. Overall it is a compromise film between Priyadarshan and Guy Ritchie inspirations and ends up neither here nor there.

PS: Rock n Rolla train track chase scene idea is replicated here.

Rating: 2.75/5

Sunday, September 24, 2017

പറവ (Parava) (2017)

Director: Soubin Shahir
Writers: Muneer Ali, Soubin Shahir
DOP: Littil Swayamp
Cast: Amal Shah, Govind Pai, Shane Nigam, Dulquer Salman
Language: Mattanchery Malayalam

Soubin Shahir is making his directorial debut with this tale of Dove raising kids from Mattanchery. They have a dove flying competition in mind in which the objective is to get the birds to fly for the longest time before they get back to the terrace where they are reared. Over the course of the film we're introduced to three generations of male characters with the other two being one of the kids' elder brother and their gang of friends and rivals and the third being the generation of their fathers who all have now settled down earning bread for their families.

The film is at its best when we are following the story of the kids which is captured in all its raw magnificence. Obvious comparison would be with Guppy which was slightly less feel-good in its portrayal and also had a much more credible and subtle conflict between the generations. Soubin manages to give an authentic feel to everything and it apparently took very long to shoot the film probably because of all the dove scenes. There is even a dove sex scene which was missed by the sanskaari censors. They were probably expecting mating using tears. We're induced to the story of elder brother and their gang towards the interval point and we get Dulquer Salman in Charlie MK II role.

Malayalam films quite often portray Muslim characters in a very cartoonish manner and there were these obnoxious scenes from Charlie and Ustad Hotel where little girls are shown in full black burqas as if it is a cute phenomenon. Parava does its Muslim characters full justice by showing their vulnerabilities instead of extreme piousness. There is one 'blink it you miss scene' where a somewhat insignificant character from film is feeling visibly proud when he sees Hashim Amla getting a century on TV. Detailing is quite in vogue in Malayalam cinema ever since Maheshinte Prathikaaram.

Parava is around 150 minutes long and am usually sceptical when films go that long. But you never feel any lag whole way through it. Still you are left with feeling that they didn't properly mesh it together and some of the scenes don't make much sense. Kids are introduced to the villains in a very convenient manner and that acts as a segue to the flashback scenes. Dulquer Salman can only be introduced with him hitting a six in the last over. But what follows make fuck all sense because he is seen getting himself deliberately run out to give strike to Shane Nigam, who apparently is the star batsman. Even some of the climax scenes make not much sense as the kids go from heartbreak to elation and then again to heartbreak for no obvious reason. I wish they had given even more prominence to the kids storyline and leave us giving only hints about the other storyline involving Dulquer Salman and Shane Nigam. Overall, Parava is a good watch with great technical excellence and casting choices but could have been even better with some prudent editing and writing choices.

Rating: 3.25/5

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Raw (2016)

Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
DOP: Ruben Impens
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Laurent Lucas
Language: French

When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.

Both of her parents had studied in the same vet school and her elder sister is currently studying there. She is considered as a potentially brilliant student and like all 'studious' ones is somewhat an outsider. She is forced to eat rabbit's liver in its raw form during one of the hazing rituals and surprisingly enough, she digs it, even though she got an allergic reaction to it at first. A scissor related accident causes one of her sister's fingers to come off and she ends up eating it. Now, she is like a dog that tasted human flesh and can't help herself from having more. She then proceeds to learn that her sister had also undergone the same transformation in the college and it runs in the family.

This is the third film related to food habits that I've seen recently with Okja and The Bad Batch being the other two. It is basically a coming of age story with some sibling relationship as something which eats each other metaphor thrown in, in a literal manner. It is extremely visceral and stylishly shot with great use of pop music. We see the film from the point of view of the cannibal who turns into so with the trigger being the hazing related rituals. It is such a taboo subject in our society and it is rare to have a film that takes 'in their shoes' take on it. Even in Amirpour's 'The Bad Batch' it was approached as big bad 'they'. The ending of the film is necessary though it creates a few logical loopholes.

Body-horror is a sub-genre that is synonymous with the name David Cronnenberg. Even the ones that claim to belong to this genre these days concentrate more on horror/psychological aspects of it rather than treat them as a drama of sorts. Raw can certainly be categorised as a body-horror film in the Cronnenberg mould. It is a very good watch if you can stomach it, no pun intended. It did cause some faintings when it was screened at Toronto film festival. I do have to say that many of the cringy parts of it are the kind you watch half laughingly. It is titled as 'Grave' for its original France release.

Rating: 3.75/5

Monday, September 4, 2017

It Comes at Night (2017)

Director: Trey Edwards Shults
Writer: Trey Edwards Shults
DOP: Drew Daniels
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.

The film is very light on exposition and it takes a good half an hour or so for us the audience to figure out what exactly is going on. The protagonists themselves don't exactly know what really happened and how many people might have survived. Their house is secluded and in the woods and film begins with them deciding to kill the grandfather who is infected. Trust is always an issue. The film really got some hype due to its poster, trailer and the rave reviews it generated from the critics. The audience had a mixed reaction to it because its marketing was quite misleading as it is in fact a psychological thriller orather than horror. The sequences that they used in the trailer were largely from the nightmares that the teenager is having and the director does not hide that they are so in the film. He intentionally opens up different possibilities and none of them are resolved. It ends up as another one of those 'What fucked up things humans are capable of doing when they are desperate' films and my reaction to it was 'meh'. It is well made and all that but I really don't get all the hype. I hadn't even seen the trailer or posters to be actually misled by it. Had to be said though that the initial scenes do build up tension really well.

One film I was reminded of was the excellent 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' even though the premise is very different. Maybe it is the secluded cabin in the woods kind of settings. Joel Edgerton was excellent in 'Black Mass' and he is the same in 'It Comes at Night', a title which don't need to be changed for its porn remake. In fact the entire cast is great.  When the new family comes in there is a power dynamics at play between the two family heads and the hormonal teenager is also affected by the young wife. Like all things in the film, the director does not expand further on it. He supposedly stated that he wanted the audience to be as confused as the protagonists are and that can work really well on many occasions. Great performances, aspect ratio gimmicks and all that aside, but it didn't do it for me here. Checkout Xavier Dolan's 'Mommy' for some great use of aspect ratio as a storytelling device.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Adam Joan (2017)

Director: Jinu V. Abraham
Writer: Jinu V. Abhraham
DOP: Jithu Damodhar
Cast: Prithviraj, Bhavana, Narein
Language: Malayalam

The film is centred around a Malayalee family settled in Scotland and the kidnapping of a child and associated murder that happens. There is some visible strains in the relationship between the family members which adds to the intrigue regarding the motive of the kidnapping.

The film's teaser raised eyebrows because of its exquisite Scottish settings and technical excellence. After watching the film I can conclude that there isn't much in the film apart from that. Like almost all recent films from Prithviraj, apart from Ezra, it is close to three hours long and it seems that he is smitten by the word 'epic'. When you make films that are nearly three hours long one should ensure that there are enough things in it to sustain audience's interest. This film sadly manages to lose its audience after the motive is revealed sometime after the interval point. Ezra was one film that you can appreciate purely for its technical excellence and novel Jewish settings even though it touches many of the clichés from horror genre in a self-aware manner. One thing going for it was the comparatively short running time which don't give you too much time to think. The Jewish baggage from that film is carried over to this making you wonder about the fate of 'Lucifer', which is slated to be 'officially' Prithviraj's directorial debut. He should really be hiring a good editor. Another thing is that one shouldn't reveal/explain too much about these kind of mysterious shit because audience will then start applying logic to things. The ambiguous nature of Mohanlal's character from Koothara was what made it work really well for me and I do hope Lucifer is in that vein.

It is certainly good to see such kind of technical excellence in Malayalam cinema and looks like the budget was put to good use. Maybe that also made them reluctant to cut things on the editing floor. Prithviraj is in his usual 'epic drama' mode of acting with perfect lines and calculated delivery. It seems that he is too invested on the technical side of things to be mindful of the repetitive nature of his performances these days. Adam Joan ends up as a very well-packaged turd of a film.

PS: They should really approach Scottish Tourism to see if they can get some subsidy.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, September 1, 2017

ഞണ്ടുകളുടെ നാട്ടിൽ ഒരിടവേള (Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela) (2017)

Director: Althaf Salim
Writers: Althaf Salim, George Kora
DOP: Mukesh Muraleedharan
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Shanthi Krishna, Lal
Language: Malayalam

Kurien (Nivin Pauly) is in England and his rich Christain family (NRI moneyed) is in Kochi. His mother suspects that she has breast cancer and asks Kurien to come back without telling him the reason why. He thinks they have arranged a marriage for him and happily returns. First half of film largely deals with their parents having trouble telling the kids the big bad news. How they face it in their own quirky ways is the second half.

Film can be classed in the genre of 'Cancer Comedy' which has been there in Hollywood for sometime with '50/50' being one of the finest in the genre. In Malayalam, the usual norm is to have tear-jerkers when it comes to dealing with life-threatening illnesses. So it is refreshing to see a film dealing with the disease in a comedic fashion and doing so quite blatantly. I was quite put-off by its posters and teasers since everything looked too polish. The film does not go too far in that regard in terms of its settings mostly as their house has an old school mosaic flooring, which is a sign of poshness from early 90s. Polishness is there though in terms of interactions between the characters since no-one ever gets angry in the film. One can forgive them for that because it anyway wears its feel-good factor on its sleeves. It is better anyway to not add too many complexities and fail.

Many had commented that Nivin had put on some weight when the teasers came for the film. They address that in the film in a self-aware manner making you doubt whether it was intentional. Humour in the film works really well for most parts and Nivin is back in his safe-zone after two misses in the form of 'Action Hero Biju' and 'Sakhavu' preceeding it. Another film I was reminded of was 'Anuraga Karikkinvellam' and one reason for that is the way the camera is handled. The way the relationships between the family members are shown was better in AKV but this one does not have any glaring weak portions to turn a certain section of audience off. Looks like a certain blockbuster for Nivin, who is also the producer of the film.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (1988)

Director: George Sluizer
Writers: George Sluizer, Tim Krabbé
DOP: Toni Kuhn
Cast: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege
Language: Dutch, French

Rex and Saskia, a young Dutch couple in love, are on vacation in France. They stop at a busy service station and Saskia is abducted. After three years and no sign of Saskia, Rex begins recieving letters from the abductor.

The film is told from the perspective of both the victim (Rex) and the abductor, who is a self-confessed sociopath. Unlike the usual portrayal in serial killer films, Raymond (abductor) is a middle class chemistry teacher leading a normal life with his family. He is not super-intelligent but a perfectionist of sorts. You see him constantly practising and refining his methods and even practises some moves on his daughter. He is surprised to see new missing posters put up by Rex three years after the incident and decides to confront him and exploit his curiosity. We learn from their interactions that Raymond's antics are not serial in nature but a one-off abduction. He had once saved a young girl from dying and feels that he can kill one for that heroic act.

One of the striking things about the film is its editing as it is pretty much revealed early on itself who the abductor is. Both of their stories are interspersed and the suspense is regarding the fate of the victim. The last act of the film is pretty terrifying and Stanley Kubrick had called it one of the most terrifying films he has ever seen. What makes it effective is the randomness of selection and you will put yourself in place of the victim. Raymond is claustrophobic and he has something similar in sort for his victim. One film I was reminded of was Michael Haneke's Funny Games which was like a sick spoof of the horror genre. Vanishing does break several genre conventions and has plenty of uneasy light-hearted moments.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Night Moves (1975)

Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: Alan Sharp
DOP: Bruce Surtees
Cast: Gene Hackman, Susan Clark, Jennifer Warren, Melanie Griffith

Harry Moseby is a private detective who is called in to trace the whereabouts of the step-daughter of an ageing actress whose media mogul husband is her only source of work.

The neo-noir films from the 70s are characterised by vulnerable detectives unlike the more cleverer and macho ones from the 40s. Chinatown is the most famous one from 70s even though I hold Robert Altman's 'The Long Goodbye' as the best. Night Moves is another one in similar vein with Gene Hackman's Moseby being a good detective but always being a bit late and one-step behind the crimes that happen in the film. He laments that things just fell into place for him rather than him working out things cleverly. Can't really fault him though because at the end of it you realize that the plot is too convoluted with too many convenient coincidences. That didn't really dilute the quality of film as it is more focused on the characters rather than the plot.

Moseby is also facing some difficulties in his marriage with his wife being unhappy about the nature of his work. At the beginning of the film, she and her gay friend invites him to watch Eric Rohmer's 'My night at Maud's' and he declines it by stating that watching Rohmer films is like watching paint dry. Later that night he discovers that his wife is having an affair. When he travels to Florida, as part of the case, a similar opportunity like in Maud's is presented to him. Despite the convoluted nature of the plot, it is a great watch with great performances. It also has got a unique visual sense with the grainy LA Florida colour tone. The film's title comes from the Knight Moves in chess but spelled differently. In psychiatric terms Knight's Move thinking is referred to something like Schizophrenia.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Swimmer (1968)

Directors: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack
Writers: Eleanor Perry, John Cheever
DOP: David L. Quaid
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule

Neddy Merrill (Burt Lancaster) has been away for most of the summer. He reappears at a friend's pool. As they talk, someone notices that there are pols spanning the entire valley. He decides to jog from one pool to another to swim across the whole valley and to reach his home. As he stops in each of the pools, his interactions with the pool owners tells his life story for us.

The place where we see him first dive into is quite far from his home and down in the valley. The familiarity and the fondness displayed by his hosts is a bit misleading as we know later that farther he is from his home, the less they know about him. As he gets closer and closer to his home, the nature of interactions he has with the hosts turn more and more hostile as we learn more things about his life. He seems to be oblivious about his past and paints a rosy picture while his hosts starts confronting him with things. After a lot of struggle and pain, when he finally reaches his home, what we find out is not a twist for us, the audience, but is for him.

The film is an adaptation of John Cheever's short story with the same name which was published in The New Yorker magazine. You do feel that the translation from paper to screen is not entirely convincing and the film had its own production difficulties. Frank Perry was fired after the first cut was screened and Sydney Pollack was hired to salvage the project. He re-shot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule's character with whom the swimmer had an affair. It is a very good and different watch but is not the classic one would expect. There is a French and  Eric Rohmer vibe to it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thrissivaperoor Kliptham (ത്രിശ്ശിവപേരൂർ ക്ലിപ്തം) (2017)

Director: Ratheish Kumar
Writer: P S Rafeeque
DOP: Swaroop Philip
Cast: Asif Ali, Chemban Vinodh, Baburaj, Aparna Balamurali
Language: Malayalam

The film revolves around two groups of friends from Thrissur who are carrying a grudge from their schooldays and Asif Ali plays an outsider character who gets involved with the group led by Chemban Vinodh.

It is another one of those films from Thrissur with the highly recognizable slang of theirs. It begins with an introduction to the place and states the fact that it is a place full of rounds and you can't leave there without doing a full round. One of my life's ambition is to get to Ernakulam route when traveling from Calicut route without having to go to Mannuthy. Signboards are such that you will get confused and will end up in Mannuthy, which is in Palakkad route.

This is a film that I ended up watching purely based on the strength of its trailer and poster design.  It suggested a level of technical quality which it delivers. The casting of younger actors as school version of its characters looked quite solid in terms of how similar they looked. The film is largely in the skit mode of comedy which are all individually quite well done. But the weak point of the film is the flimsy way in which they are connected. It does take pot shots at moral policing in the Kerala society but not in a consistent manner. The whole serious plotline involving Aparna Balamurali's character could have been entirely avoided as it jarred with the exaggerated humour from rest of the film. One feels like the director threw it in to have the mandatory social message thingy. The ending of the film is shambolic where he throws in the mandatory twist as well. Overall it has a good first half, underwhelming second and an exasperating ending. One-time watch.

Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Midnight Special (2016)

Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
DOP: Adam Stone
Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child's special powers.

It is not really a good idea to read the above synopsis as the best bits of the film is when there is a lot of mystery about what exactly is going on. This is sustained quite till the last act of the film and some might rile about the ending which can elicit some 'Is that it?' kind of reaction. Things are not resolved and I didn't have any problem with that. One can draw some parallels between the reactions that Jesus would have got from the Bible story and truth to be told it is a very unconvincing story. Son of God came down to Earth, did some magic stuff, got some followers, died, and went back to heaven. The religion which got spawned out of it added some fillers like 'He died for our sins' which makes fuck all sense to me since there is supposed to be a second coming where people will be judged again and stuff. The point is that if you read the new testament (not that I have), things are quite unresolved and this film is also like that. Jeff Nichols might have been intentionally going for that.

It is a very good watch overall with a great cast. Good to see Michael Shannon in a slightly less intense role than usual. Special effects in the film are quite well done and the some of the architecture at the end is quite stunning. 'Take Shelter' is Jeff Nichols best film so far. 'Mud' was one of the earlier films from the so called 'McConaissance' and I would rank Midnight Special slightly above that.That is a reminder for me to re-watch 'Killer Joe'.

Rating: 3.5/5  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater
DOP: Shane F. Kelly
Cast: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Zoey Deutch

In 1980, a group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood. It takes over the course of 3-4 days leading up to the opening of college year with a group of freshmen joining their seniors from the baseball team as they occupy an independent apartment instead of the usual central dorms.

The film is considered to be a spiritual sequel to Linklater's breakout film 'Dazed & Confused' which was set on the last day of high-school in 1976. He had this story in mind back then itself but got financing to make it only now, possibly on the back of the success of Boyhood. Boyhood also ends with a guy getting into the college and that also is sort of a continuity coming to this film. Linklater's characters are generally very talky and the subject of much of the talk can be existential. This is something that you don't expect in a film with baseball jocks as its characters. I was slightly put off by it initially as it all seemed a bit too scripted and had turned it off after about 20 minutes a month back. Gave it a try yesterday and the film was indeed pretty great. Things that put me off like the philosophic nature of some of the conversations and what seemed to be the presence of token black guy in the group could be argued against by the fact that Linklater was himself a baseball player for his college team and the protagonist character is a version of him. It is conceivable that he indeed had these sort of conversations with his team mates and he might have had only one black teammate.

There is not much of a plot to speak of, which should never be a complaint when you are watching Linklater films, and there is not even a character arc or coming of age aspect to it. They are just moving from one party to another and in between we see them playing all sorts of games which most of them take very competitively. Some of them are at the same time very self-aware and not. You have one of the characters looking at normal students and commenting that they will go on to have a very average life with regular jobs while they all will have very interesting lives to look forward to as if all of them are going to make it as baseball players. It is a meandering watch and enjoyably so. It is always a good when you don't want the film to end. Performances are all good and the soundtrack is great.  It is a must watch for Linklater fans.

Rating: 4/5

The Warriors (1979)

Director: Walter Hill
Writers: Sol Yurick, David Shaber, Walter Hill
DOP: Andrew Laszlo
Cast: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright

In the near future, a charismatic leader summons the street gangs of New York City in a bid to to take it over. When he is killed, The Warriors, one of the gangs, are falsely blamed and now must fight their way home while every other gang is hunting them down.

The film came at a time when crimes and gang related violence were a problem in NYC. There is this narrative that the city solved it using the broken windows policing method and the counter-narrative to it is that the reduction was correlated to the legalization of abortion whose effect came 'teenage' and some more years down the lane. Walter Hill's adaptation of Sol Yurick's 1965 novel with the same name drew the ire of the critics when it came out mainly because it was neutral about the gangs it depicted. There was also some violence during the first days of its screening as many gang members were turning up to watch the film. Things would naturally take a violent turn when they spot their rivals during the screening.

Like 'The Driver', the story is very simple and it has a very stripped down quality to it. It has a very video game feel to it as well and it is no surprise that it has spawned video games since its release after achieving the cult status. I was pleasantly surprised to see the comic book transitions used in the film and it turns out Walter Hill couldn't include it during the theatrical run as there was no time during post-production. It was included in the Director's Cut which came out in 2005. It is very stylish in its choreography and the lady RJ reminded me of Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction. The stunts do look a bit comical now though. It is a great watch overall without being as good as the driver.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mississippi Grind (2015)

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Writers: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
DOP: Andrij Parekh
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller

Down on his luck and facing financial hardship, Gerry (Mendelsohn) teams up with younger charismatic poker player, Curtis (Reynolds), in an attempt to change his luck. The two set off on a road trip through the south with visions of winning back what's been lost.

The film is from the makers of Ryan Gosling's breakout film 'Half Nelson', for which he got an Oscar nomination, and the tone of this film is also similar. The addiction in the film is related to gambling instead of drugs. It is not the glitzy kind of casinos that they visit as they are fairly low-key and the people they meet are everyday Americans. Stylistically the film is very 70s and Bendelsohn does remind one of Dustin Hoffman from those days in terms of both appearance and performance. The tone of the film is closer to 'The Gambler' (1974) rather than 'The Rounders', in which Matt Damon did another one of his reluctant genius kind of roles. The film mostly progresses as Gerry's story but the mysterious nature of Curtis character is also peeled away over the course of the film. The question of whether Gerry is chasing money or trying to get his addiction fix is the prime motif and the film ends leaving it hanging. We really will for it to end well for him but the you feel he is gonna squander it anyway subsequently.

The film was made on a very low budget which is keeping with its aesthetics. It is a very good watch with good performances all round. It is supposed to be a loose remake of Robert Altman's 'California Split' which I haven't seen. That reminds me of 'Nashville' which has been there on my to watch list for a long time.

Rating: 3.25/5