Friday, June 30, 2017

തൊണ്ടിമുതലും ദ്യക്സാക്ഷിയും (Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum) (2017)

Director: Dileesh Pothan
Writers: Sajeev Pazhoor, Shyam Pushkaran
DOP: Rajeev Ravi
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Nimisha Sajayan, Alancier Lay
Language: Malayalam

The title of the film translates as ' The Stolen Good and the Witness' and it revolves around a gold chain theft that happens in a KSRTC bus where the thief promptly swallows the chain. Some people had figured out this basic plot by interpreting the poster itself and it is no big spoiler that anyway as it happens in the beginning part of the film itself.

Dileesh Pothan's debut feature Maheshinte Prathikaaram was one I watched first day first show itself having not seen the trailer and was completely blown away by it. The only thing I could go by was the title of the film which made me expecting it to be a revenge thriller kind of film. This false expectation actually made me enjoy the film more as I was continuously surprised by it even as I was dreading something bad to happen. I went on to watch it three more times at the cinemas and 2-3 times on small screen as well. It was a film marked by extreme detailing and very realistic and authentic settings and surroundings. Still some of the humour in it is a bit skit like in nature and somewhat cinematic.

We've since had Angamaly Diaries which I reckon is slightly superior to Maheshinte Prathikaaram. One way to know whether the DVD of a Malayalam film is released is by the sudden influx of film's visuals in troll pages. Maheshinte Prathikaaram was heavily used and still used these days in troll pages while Angamaly Diaries hardly created a flutter there, surprisingly enough. Come to think of it, that is testament to the difference in the nature of humour in both these films.

Coming back to this film, the only thing they did as part of promotion was the release of a very short teaser and a video song. The expectations of a thriller that I had when I watched MP was met in this film with the second half working more like a social thriller. Rajeev Ravi is the DOP of the film and the second half of the film works more like his kind of films with it being a commentary on the systematic corruption in India even though it doesn't do any good for any indulging in it at lower levels. It gets pretty intense even though there is plenty of humour being thrown in intermittently. It is a much more adult film in its treatment than MP and it is best advised to see it without any preconceived notions like the director himself has been stressing during his interviews.

When the project was initially conceived Fahadh was supposed to play the husband and Soubin Shahir the thief. When the latter dropped out Fahadh took the role of thief and Suraj came in as the husband. Casting is pretty much spot on but you do see the hangover from Action Hero Biju in Suraj's portrayal. There are many newcomers portraying various roles and many real-life policemen were also cast. Overall, it is another great one from Dileesh Pothan. It might not have the same rewatchability factor going for it as it did for MP, but the sync-sound coupled with difficult Kasargode slang will certainly ensure plenty of re-viewing. Shyam Pushkaran has been given an added credit as creative director, curiously. It might not do as well as MP at box office but in terms of quality it is not that far off.

PS: When the show ended, I realised that Alancier Lay was also among the audience. His role is also pretty much as important as Fahadh's and Suraj's as the corruption angle is explored from these three perspectives.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Bigger Splash (2016)

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: David Kajganich, Alain Page
DOP: Yorick Le Saux
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson

While vacationing on a Sicilian island with her boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts), a rock star (Tilda Swinton) receives an unexpected visit from an old flame (Ralph Fiennes) and his seductive daughter (Dakota Johnson).

Tilda plays the David Bowie like rock star who can't talk now as she is recovering from a surgery.  Her current boyfriend is sort of an unsuccessful documentary filmmaker who got hitched up with her after egged on by her ex-boyfriend, Harry, who was a producer for Rolling Stones. He has a curious relationship with his new found 'daughter' and it is only natural that she is planning to get a DNA test done for confirmation. It was Tilda's recommendation to the director that she would play a largely silent character opposite to incredibly motormouth Harry. Performance-wise all four actors are on great form and Schoenaerts has been great in every film I've seen him in. His is the character that audience can mostly relate to.

I haven't seen any of the director's other films and first thing that you notice is the very interesting camera positions and movements which makes the film very stylish in spite of its laid-back Sicilian island setting, which is quite close to Tunisia. I was reminded of Matthew McConaughey starrer 'The Paperboy' and I am not entirely sure whether it was because of the visual style or because of the 'sleaze'. Another one that you will be reminded would be 'Sexy Beast' and you will know why when you see the film. The film makes some interesting turns and character choices towards the end but since it has earned enough credits over the build-up, you go with it. There is also this minor migrants topic on the sideline which gets tied up towards the end along with some sneaky snakes trying to get into their compound. A Bigger Splash is a great and unique watch and the director wants to reunite with all four actors for his next film. I will certainly be checking out rest of the films from his filmography.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, June 17, 2017

American Honey (2016)

Director: Andrea Arnold
Writer: Andrea Arnold
DOP: Robbie Ryan
Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough

A teenage girl (Sasha Lane) with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and and young love as she crisscrosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.

It is one of those rare Hollywood/Indie films from which focuses on the poorer section of people from these developed countries. The characters that the protagonist/we meet in the film are the so-called white trash (Chavs in England) and since they are not really a bunch we could easily warm up to (casting Shia LaBeouf doesn't really help even though it is effective), it took a while for me to get into the film. It is almost three hours long and I finished it in three sittings. You do get interested in the film after the initial jitters but by the end it is a bit underwhelming. I don't know whether it is because of us Indians beings so used to seeing much poverty in and around us as well as in films from our part of the World, the ones from the West doesn't have the same effect unless done really well like 'The Wire' or 'I, Daniel Blake', for example. The characters in it are into selling magazines in the guise of charity and other cooked up stories and follow a very capitalistic model os rewards and punishments. When the girl is teamed up with Shia's character, who is like a trainer, she starts objecting to his methods of selling as she prefers honesty. I didn't really buy it and one of the main reason is that she doesn't look like a teenager, at the risk of coming off as a racist. The reason that she joined the crew was her attraction towards the trainer and there is considerable sexual tension involved between the two and the boss lady played very well by Riley Keough.

Overall it is a decent enough watch without being all that good for me. I enjoyed Andrea Arnold's only other film that I have watched, Fish Tank, much more. It is a film that ends up with a Lolita like situation with excellent central performances from Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender. It was a film that had a very cool blue tint while in American Honey it is warm reddish.

Rating: 2.5/5 

Monday, June 5, 2017

فروشنده‎ (The Salesman) (2016)

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
DOP: Hossein Jafarian
Cast: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
Language: Persian

While both participating in a production of "Death of a Salesman", a teacher's wife is assaulted in her new home, which leaves him determined to find the perpetrator over his wife's traumatized objections.

It is not made clear initially whether the assault was sexual in nature. They also don't have a detailed conversation about it. The husband decides not to report it to the Police as he doesn't want his wife to go through the ordeal of recounting it again and again  but becomes obsessed with finding the culprit. It is not clear, to him also, what he is going to do with him in case if he catches him. As he obsesses over it, cracks start appearing in their relationship as she is not very sure about his priorities.

The film got some publicity due to the 'Muslim' travel ban issued by Donald Trump and Asghar Farhadi making a public condemnation of it and declaring that he is not going to come to America for academy awards anyway. He had already won an Academy Award for 'A Separation', an excellent film. His follow up to it, Le Passe, was also great. It was almost as if the academy award for 'The Salesman' was a foregone conclusion due to the politics surrounding it. I got to say it pales in comparison with the other two Farhadi films that I mentioned above. It is by no means a bad film but is certainly very overrated. I am not familiar with 'Death of a Salesman' and can't comment on how well it fits in well with this film.

PS: The film got a quite wide theatrical distribution in India and our censors had the dubious distinction of further censoring an Iranian film.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Paterson (2016)

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
DOP: Frederick Elmes
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifiteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley

A quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest of details.

So basically Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson in the film Paterson which is set in Paterson, New Jersey. Whew! It is a week in his life beginning Monday and we see that he is living a mundane existence along with his wife of Iranian descent. He gets up every morning at around 6.10 AM, eats breakfast alone, walks to work and in between during his work he writes poetry in his secret notebook, eats lunch on bench facing a waterfall, gets back from work, picks mail, fixes mail-box, greeted by his wife as she tells him either that she will be in the cup-cake business or how she has ordered a guitar and plans to be a famous country-singer, takes their dog, Marvin, for a walk, have a beer at his usual place during their walk, gets back and sleep. Rinse...Repeat... One would think that this would make for a very boring film but it is anything but.

I was struggling to get some sleep at 4 AM and decided to go for it after a cup of coffee. Not really the best way to start a Jim Jarmusch film, or any film for that matter, but two hours just flew by and I was totally riveted by it. Am not really into poetry and is not the best person to judge the quality of the poems he is writing. I really didn't think much of it for what its worth. He is being encouraged by his wife to make a copy of it as a backup. The dog is like a third member of the family and is quite the villain as he is bored with his life in this home. Most of the film is Paterson listening to other people's words and conversations and you feel he is conflicted about whether he is actually a credible poet. There is one encounter with a little girl and as she reads a poem written by her, which is very obviously better than what he has managed so far, his insecurity is heightened and when she quips that it was interesting to meet a bus driver who knows about Emily Dickinson, it doesn't really help. His life is so mundane that the breakdown of his bus on a Friday is like 9/11 for him. But the film celebrates his incident free life without bells and whistles and is subtly funny throughout.

Water falls from the bright air
It falls like hair
Falling across a young girl’s shoulders
Water falls
Making pools in the asphalt
Dirty mirrors with clouds and buildings inside
It falls on the roof of my house
Falls on my mother and on my hair
Most people call it rain

It is a great watch with an excellent central performance from Adam Driver, who was also in Noah Baumbach's 'While we're young' as a pretend hipster. There is also this cameo appearance from the two leading kids from 'Moonrise Kingdom'. With 'Limits of Control, 'Only Lovers Left Alive' and 'Paterson', I think Jim Jarmusch is in the strongest phase of his career and he is aging like fine wine. His band 'SQURL' did the score for this film as well. One can say that there is a narrative resolution at the end of it after his meeting with the Japanese guy and I found the concluding poem to be good and kind of explains the film.

Rating: 4.5/5

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad
DOP: Dan Laustsen
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Laurence Fishburne

After returning to the criminal underworld for repaying a debt, John Wick finds that a huge bounty has been put on his life.

Film begins where the first one ended with John still recovering his dear old car. So there is this big long action set piece even before the opening credits which settles the dog and car issue from the first film. John Wick, now chapter one I guess, did a little bit of world building with the continental hotel and its rules but we were not made to go deep into it. It is those little details and great gun-fu on simple revenge story backdrop that made it a sleeper hit. Revenge aspect can't be credibly rebooted for a sequel and they have opted to explore the assassin world in detail. What brings John back from his retirement again is a very convenient plot device but we don't care. He is forced to go on a mission in Rome and everything is amped up. The film manages to continuously surprise us in a good way and has got plenty of humour to it as well. There are some spoofy  elements to it as well. There is this sequence where the villain is on the phone with Wick and he is about to explain his actions in detail and John just hangs up his phone and checks out from the Continental hotel.

John Wick: the man, the myth and the legend, is super-hero level when he does the action scenes and they get over Keanu Reeves' acting limitations by having him injury plagued and grumpy outside of these sequences. He still manages to cringe us whenever he has to deliver few lines. The action set pieces are his forte and both him and the director does a very good job in having it varied and set to some stunning backdrops. The last one in the Museum with all the reflections is supposed to be a homage to Bruce Lee's 'Enter the Dragon'.

Overall it is a great watch and as good as the first one. That said, things do get a bit preposterous in some places with it being portrayed as if a quite significant percentage of the population is in the assassin business. Which might also explain why they are quite bad at killing John Wick. They have set things up nicely for the third chapter and Laurence Fishburne storyline will be significant to it. Third one is on its way.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Free Fire (2016)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
DOP: Laurie Rose
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley

Set in Boston in 1978, meeting in an abandoned warehouse for an arms deal turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

The guys who are on the buy side is the IRA (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley etc) and the sellers consist of a South African guy (Sharlto Copley), Armie Hammer etc with Brie Larson playing the role of a middle-woman. So the country and accent differences itself quite obviously become source of much of the humor in it. People have compared it to Reservoir Dogs with both having claustrophobic settings where tempers gets frayed but unlike Reservoir Dogs, there is no back-story or flashbacks and the balance between humor and intrigue is heavily loaded in favor of the former. Free Fire was shot in sequence and they have supposedly taken great care in giving full justice to the deterioration of location due to all the firing and being true to the spatial separation between the characters. If you are pedantic enough to notice those things, I guess you will be impressed. Overall I found it to be a very good watch but you kind of loses your interest towards the end which I think was a risk that they knowingly took by not choosing to flesh out any of its characters. It will remind you of Martin McDonagh films but it is more 'Seven Psychopaths' than 'In Bruges' and the settings change to America (film was shot in Brighton mind) obviously brings down the humor quotient. You will be a little disappointed if you come into it with the high expectations of a Ben Wheatley film but it is still very good. Their next project, Freak Shift, looks very interesting.

Ben Wheatley-Amy Jump duo is not so far known for doing out and out comedies and have been very good at making films that are quite different from each other. Kill-List and A Field in England are my favorite films of theirs. Michael Smiley is a constant fixture in their films. Free-Fire is so far their most mainstream of films yet and Martin Scorsese was also on board as an executive producer. It didn't do smashingly well at box office but who cares anyway.

Rating: 3.5/5