Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela (2017)

[**** stars / *****] 

What would one do if they belonged to a dysfunctional family and discovered that the mother had cancer? How about absolute panic, confusion and chaos? 

I booked tickets for Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela (An Intermission in the Land of Crabs) on a sibling recommendation. Director, co-writer Althaf Salim and co-writer George Kora adapt Chandramathi's novel of the same name to the big screen. 

My sibling insisted that it is best not to know anything about the movie before the viewing. It was a great suggestion for when the movie unfolded on the 70mm screen, I was happily taken aback. 

Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela is a little gem of a Malayalam movie, an unlikely, surprising comedy on how a family copes when the mother undergoes cancer treatment. Cancer is fast becoming a common disease in India now. In such a dire state of affairs, the feathery, tickling treatment is both inspiring and courageous.

Nivin Pauly, Shanti Krishna, Lal and the ensemble cast put in excellent performances. The only sore thumb is the contrived romantic track, otherwise, Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela is easily among the best movies to make light of fighting a grim disease.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Pariyerum Perumal BA.BL (2018)

[**** stars / *****] 
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
- Bob Dylan, Blowin' in the Wind

In largely dusty rural Tamil Nadu, steaming with caste tensions, atrocities, and killings, a young man, Pariyerum Perumal (Kathir) is out hunting with his beloved dog Karuppi. Perumal belongs to a community considered inferior by the "higher castes." 

Perumal is to join the local law college in a few days. He engages in small talk with other hunters of the community and they all begin walking back to their homes after a bath in a small pool. Some "higher caste" men stroll over. They watch the retreating group with hostility and there is some talk of teaching the group a lesson. Then Perumal notices that Karuppi is not around...

Pariyerum Perumal BA.BL has political undertones, and may even seem emotionally deviant, but this is a movie of heft, grit, reason and sincerity. 

The film works for its dark, effortless insight into the deplorable state that human beings can go down to. Perumal is a torch-bearer, a quiet revolution of change.    

There are many disturbing moments in the movie, there is also wisdom. 

When the last shot of the two tea glasses placed side by side fades away, I was in awe and admiration for this relentless, cinematic drama, written and directed with a straight-lined conviction by Mari Selvaraj. 

Don't miss Pariyerum Perumal BA.BL for its superb screenplay, purpose, top-rate performances, music and admirable honesty. Not pure, unadulterated cinema, but undoubtedly cinema nevertheless. 

Pariyerum Perumal BA.BL stands outs among the best regional (South Indian) movies I have viewed so far this year. 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

RX 100 (2018)

[*** stars / *****] 

In the village of Godavari, a village don's right hand, Shiva (Kartikeya Gummakonda), falls intensely for the rival don's feisty daughter Indhu (Payal Rajput). The bitter rivalry causes the two to separate. 

Three years pass and Shiva, now a bearded, desperate lover, waits restlessly like a mad man for Indhu to return... 

RX 100 has a usual, linear formula-ridden romantic storytelling pattern in its first hour. 

Somewhere from its 55th minute, the telling branches away from the usual to make it a deviant tale of lust, love, obsession and tragedy. 

The underplayed cuts of the beloved Yahama RX 100 motorbike are nicely layered to this 'different' love story. 

There are risque bits too, especially in Indhu's wooing of Shiva, but the main tale thankfully takes centre-stage in RX 100.   

Lately, Telugu films are finally melding art and a faint faraway whiff of something remotely cinema into their otherwise hero worshiping, flesh-baring, navel-fondling narrative.

RX 100 does have some body objectifying scenes too, thankfully it doesn't mar the narrative.   

Arjun Reddy (2017) was among the first noticeable films to stand out last year, followed by Rangasthalam (2018). 

RX 100 stands out in parts as a cautionary tale on casual sex, unconditional love and sexual complexity. 

If you still fall for Payal Rajput as I did, you only have yourself to blame. 

Though a tad long, RX 100 is a good watch, a sturdy, well-made commercial entertainer. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Imaikkaa Nodigal (2018)

[*** stars / *****] 

Random people in Bengaluru are kidnapped and brutally killed by a serial killer (Anurag Kashyap). The killer claims to be Rudra, the same serial killer allegedly shot dead by CBI officer Anjali (Nayantara), some years ago. 

A genius hacker who leaves no traces of his whereabouts, Rudra taunts Anjali to stop the killings. Meanwhile, Anjali's brother Arjun (Atharvaa) is still recovering from a breakup with Krithika (Raashi Khanna). Unknown to Anjali, Arjun and Krithika,  Rudra has devilish plans for the three.    

Imaikkaa Nodigal has a plot with convincing twists and a show-stealing performance by Anurag Kashyap (voice dubbed by Tamil director Magizh Thirumeni). Nayantara is good, Atharvaa and Raashi Khanna play their supporting acts sportingly. The mercurial Vijay Sethupathi is damn good in a short cameo.   

The makers are guilty of abandoning logic and believability at times, as many Tamil mainstream movies do so often. Songs mar the pace, add no layers to the story. 

The razor-sharp editing and the lead performances ensure that Imaikkaa Nodigal (Blinkless Seconds) holds together as an emotionally exploitative mass audience targeted crime thriller. 

If Imaikkaa Nodigal is worth a one-time watch, the bearably sane and not too obvious storytelling and screenplay by director R. Ajay Gnanamuthu is a factor too. 

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Mulk (2018)

[**** stars / *****] 

What is it to be a Muslim in India today? What is the definition of terrorism? 

Mulk director and writer Anubhav Sinha deftly depicts the prejudice, the hate, the sheer blindness and mob-mentality towards people of a particular religion with great sensitivity, balance and a compassionate heart. 

Mulk is the most important film in Hindi cinema this year. 

In the age of murderous mob lynchings, the beef ban and social media-instigated killings, Mulk touched me in its deep honesty. 

Mulk is already our Movie Marathon Bollywood/Hindi Film of the Year 2018.   

A quietly content Varanasi Muslim joint family is shattered when a young family member commits a terrorist act. The entire family is harassed and elderly members arrested, leading to tragic events. The Hindu daughter-in-law of the house stands up to defend the family in court. 

No emotion is overtly dramatized or stretched. Everything is conveyed in a matter-of-fact manner, but for some minutes of lip-synced songs.   

Taapsee Pannu is especially impressive as Aarti Mohammed. She is turning out to be the actress of the year. 

Rishi Kapoor as the family elder Murad Ali Mohammed emits strength and a rooted wise, outspoken outlook. Ashutosh Rana as the prosecution lawyer is good too. 

Manoj Pahwa as Murad's younger brother Bilaal Ali Mohammed affected me the most. His helplessness, glass-like vulnerability and ice-thin fragility are deeply touching. 

The second half is not about, "Here is another court scene." 

There are things said with great clarity and feeling here. I left the theater speechless and stunned. The bigger picture, the larger purpose, most of us fail to see that far. 

I would like to repeat: Mulk is the most important film in Indian cinema this year. 

In these repressive times, Mulk is a solitary bright torch aflame in a sea of darkness. 

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

[**** stars / *****] 

Afterthoughts rush through my mind tunnel after catching up with Mission: Impossible – Fallout on the big screen. 

That there are three kinds of people in the world. 

One with pot bellies like us, watching the latest MI movie with wide open eyes, the second kind who are into fitness, and the third of which there is only one on the planet, a 56-year-old man called Tom Cruise. 

Why does the MI franchise still work, 22 years since the first film came out? Tom Cruise and his "I will do it myself" stunts. Cruise fills his role with an old-world action hero passion. Watch him running, this is not an ageing man, this is a man beating himself to the finish line.   

Breathless, Exciting Action! 
Mission: Impossible – Fallout would have been a dull affair, but for Cruise hopping off buildings (breathtaking), a swift, impressive escape on a motorbike (scintillating), the stunning skydive sequence (aha!) and a nervy helicopter ride finale (superb!).

But it is the punch-pounding, gritty bathroom fight - Cruise, Henry Cavill vs Liang Yang that is among the film's most seat-gripping moments. 

The action feels real and dangerous. No special effects, please! At least not until the culminating cliff sequence.  

The rest of it, though not always convincing, is clever. 

It's like they put the best of previous MI movie plots into a mixer... and still managed to come up with decent stuff. The face mask element (a much-repeated MI plot element) is given a nice sharp twist here. Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson are all good. 

But without Tom Cruise, there is no MI.

P.S: Inspired by Cruise, I am doing my own stunts from now on too. The first one is called, "Jumping out of bed and landing on the floor, at the first sound of the alarm clock." 

Do not try this at home. 

Wish me luck!     

Friday, 18 May 2018

Deadpool 2 (2018)

[** stars / *****] 

A man lands his crotch on another man's face. Four parachuting heroes meet gruesome deaths. A man grabs another superhero's steel butt. Arms are ripped off, a body is torn to half, bullet holes, beheadings, explosions and every other bloody mess.   

Full of adult humor, numerous movie & pop culture references (you could miss many), bloody slashing violence, irreverent monologuing and superficial comic book plot, Deadpool 2 is mature audience fun while it lasts, a potato wafer-thin plot and without any takeaways. 

There is some pump when a wife dies and a superhero blows himself to bits, but the rest of it is at best bumpy and uneven. 

All things CGI are thrown at us, there is merciless brutal humor, and somehow Deadpool 2  stays afloat despite all the smash, nonsense, and sexual references. 

Deadpool 2 is still strictly for a diehard Marvel movie franchise fan. That soap bubble comic book plots don't make great cinema is proved right again. 

Not that the filmmakers are attempting to make a classic here. Marvel has gone for light entertainment and profited, art be damned! They are still counting up the Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther collections.    

For an adult superhero action comedy movie, Deadpool 2 has some great laughs, thanks to the performances of Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool/Wade Wilson), Josh Brolin (Cable), Zazie Beetz (Domino), T.J.Miller (Jack Hammer/Weasel) and Karan Soni (Dopinder!). 

The "film laughing at itself" tone also props up the movie. When the plot winks at itself too many times, it does get tiresome though.  

You may also see why we may not want to watch comic book movies all the time. For me, watching Deadpool 2 was like eating popcorn. You just like that familiar crunchiness and think no more. 

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

What Marvel Studios has got right in a decade-long procession of adapting their comic book heroes, starting with Ironman (2008) is the enjoyable replication of comic book fun, superb visual effect assisted action sequences,  crackling superhero team chemistry, and oodles of irrelevancy. 

Avengers: Infinity War has a simple good vs evil premise with mega epic possibilities. 

The gigantic purple-colored Thanos is searching for the six powerful infinity stones. Once he converges them all into his specially made gauntlet, he only has to snap his fingers and half the universe will cease to exist! Attempting to stop him are The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and many rebel superheroes. 

Wanted: Tighter story
Packing in over two-dozen superheroes from all previous Marvel movies does not hinder the movie. There is crackling chemistry among all the characters, many funny one-liners that work smoothly with the impressive, well-detailed action sequences and VFX. 

Ending doesn't add up
The multiple threads of Avengers: Infinity War required a stronger, tighter story. 

The gigantic scale required convincing subplots, clearly missing here. That is why the shocker of a grim ending doesn't add up to the otherwise lively, funny, feather-light ambiance. 

Fear Not! There's always a sequel... 
Die-hard Marvel fans will find it hard to get over the mind-crumbing, heart-sinking ending. But do not be grim, there is always a sequel lurking around the corner.  

Avengers: Infinity War does set up a challenging premise for an "explain-it-all-off" sequel. As the post-credits sequence hints, Captain Marvel and possibly other new superheroes will soon make heroic grand entries. 

Despite the 160-min running time, Avengers: Infinity War is largely entertaining watch for superhero movie fans. Comic book fans should feel elevated. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A Quiet Place (2018)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

By 2020, most humans will be killed and eaten up by blind, extraterrestrial creatures with extremely sensitive hearing abilities to loud noises. With impenetrable armors, these creatures are literally indestructible. 

A couple and their three children survive in a countryside home in utter silence while stepping out at times for supplies. The film begins with one such food-seeking expedition and keeps us riveted all through the wisely concise 95-minute running time. 

A Quiet Place cleverly uses silence to impose prolonged tension on the audience, making this a fairly intelligent horror flick. 

Director John Krasinski, also starring as the husband is effective in keeping it simple yet tight, cutting out the loopholes from the concept. 

Krasinski's cast choices are great too, featuring his wife Emily Blunt as the wife, Noah Jupe as the younger son. A brilliant choice is Millicent Simmonds (who is actually deaf) who plays the deaf daughter withholding a biting guilt within.     

But for some release from breath-stopping tension in parts, A Quiet Place is a refreshingly original horror flick with a very convincing end. Totally worth catching on the big screen. 

P.S: You may actually hear a lot of people munching popcorn and slurping soft drinks in the theatre because of the dialogue-less hush.  

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Black Panther (2018)

[*** stars / *****] 

Distinct from all preceding MCU movies, Black Panther rocks because of its never-seen-before African setting, the accent fun, the lovely all-black lead cast, and thankfully not going for a "wanna end the world" villain. We have seen too much of that.  

The human emotions plumbed in the story makes the plot very relatable.A king brother ends up killing his sibling that leads to consequences in the next generation is a sturdy family entanglement tale. 

There are some great jokes, the overall tone is engaging, the action sequences could have been faster and fiercer. Wakanda, the myth of an advanced country hiding behind Africa's impoverished exterior makes for great optimism. Wakanda as a city doesn't get explored as much though. 

The grounded tone and performances add to the texture. Chadwick Boseman suits the righteous title character, while Micheal B Jordan is a perfect foil as the villain. Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia, Dania Gunra as Okoye are brilliant and pitch-perfect, adding to the film's unique vibrant quality.Winston Duke is a hoot as a rival tribesman, Martin Freeman plays an American agent with usual efficiency.

Though the film doesn't go for character depth, we get a breezy run through, making for consistently engaging viewing. 

Black Panther has a rare quite charm that comic book movies seldom have. 

That is why, despite lacking anything irresistibly impressive, Black Panther works at many levels to make it a satisfying watch. 

Friday, 30 March 2018

Argo (2012)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

Iran, 1979 - a time of repression and hostility, certainly not a time to be featured on tourism brochures. 

CIA agent Tony Mendez finds himself in Iran posing as a Hollywood film producer, in order to save six stranded US Embassy employees. Argo, the sci-fi film he is 'producing' exists only on paper. 

Time is running out and Mendez must act fast to gain the confidence of the six people, already shattered by their self-imposed 70-day seclusion at the Canadian ambassador's house.

Partial Depiction? 
The denizens of Iran come off a little less hostile than the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.The depiction of the country is harrowing and fits into US paranoia. How much of it is true is but a matter of cinematic liberty and political flavor. 

Just like his tight 2010 heist movie The Town, Ben Affleck directs with detachment and control, even as he plays the possible saviour.

Political Backing? 
Why did Argo won the Best Picture Oscar at the 2013 Academy Awards and why did first lady Michelle Obama announce it from The White House makes a prominent appendix to the movie's streaming afterlife. In a way, Argo ended up as a potential mob instigator for gathering support against the Iranian government.

Political shadows aside, Argo is a well made Hollywood thriller based on true events and in a treatment that amplifies the tense situation cleverly. Worth watching, not a classic but a cut above the rest.

If you want an insider's view into the Iran of 1979 and beyond, the wonderful graphic novel memoir Persepolis and to a trimmed extent - its movie adaptation, provide some genuine insights. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Social Network (2010)

[**** stars / *****] 

Filled with characters going blah-blah-blah, The Social Network could have been a bore of a movie. 

After all, this is about the real and alleged founders of Facebook, the global social networking phenomenon, of people who mostly sat at their desks and typed code. 

The great outdoors - sunshine, rain and a rowing race make fleeting appearances. In fact, the film has most characters seated, most of the time. 

Instead, thanks to the genius of a screenplay adaptation by Aaron Sorkin of the Ben Mezrich book - The Accidental Billionaires, and David Fincher's (Seven, Fight Club) serene, matter-of-fact vision  of the proceedings, we get a gem of a picture - contemporary, one of the wittiest and funniest films ever, a tongue-in-cheek perception into the world of the so-called nerds.

No other movie has keyed into the detained borders of the computer and Internet world with such delicious bite. Go for it!

Monday, 19 March 2018

Groundhog Day (1993)

[****1/2 stars/ *****] 

Imagine retiring to bed tonight and waking up the next morning to the same day, yet again! 

You get through this duplicated day in rising alarm, go to sleep and ... the horror! It is today again!

Disbelief turns to disillusion. 

As another Feb 2 follows another Feb 2, you go wicked, rob a bank, seduce women, eat like a pig, drink like a fish, drive a car off a cliff, get killed, but unfailing wake up to a Feb 2 morning. 

Every day is a new day? 
Groundhog Day makes an ingenious, comic and heartwarming fun life lesson of this preposterous, out-of-the-box idea. 

Bill Murray, plays the hapless celebrity TV weatherman experiencing this endless cycle like he was born to do it. 

Murray has built an acting reputation for playing bored, irked and resigned from life characters.Groundhog Day showcases that reputation. 

The lovely ‎Andie MacDowell makes for a charming, intelligent heroine. 

"Groundhog Day" has since become a popular cultural term to imply routine, boredom, repetition, and stagnancy. 

Why does that sound eerily true and familiar? 

Friday, 16 March 2018

Hugo (2011)

[*** stars / *****] 

No f*** word, no murders, no gangsters, no outrageous anger, no catharsis, no greed, no blood spouting, no gun-wielding violence in a Martin Scorsese film! Yes, you read that f****** right! 
In 1931, twelve-year-old Hugo (Asa Butterfield) anonymously maintains clocks at a Railway Station in France. Orphaned and taken over by his now missing drunkard uncle, Hugo spends his time snooping at the people around him from his hidden residence inside the station. These include the tough station master (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his intimidating dog, an elderly couple, and an old man (Ben Kingsley) manning the toy store.

Hugo (2011) originally released in 3D, is a heart-warming adaptation of Brian Selznick's fiction book The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Relatable Factor
Scorsese did suggest in an interview that Hugo's isolated life reminded him of his own childhood as an asthmatic kid who was forced to stay indoors. Another intimate connection was Scorsese's then 12-year-old daughter. The director's own passion for restoring rare, prized cinema seems to be a deciding factor too. After all Hugo celebrates the origin of film making, the magic of going to the movies and honors Georges Méliès, the amazingly creative, special effects pioneer

Asa Butterfield is particularly haunting and charming as Hugo, as is Chloë Grace Moretz as Hugo's friend Isabella. Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Christopher Lee and Sacha Baron Cohen shine in their parts too. 

Hugo is a big bulge of a surprise from Scorsese, charming, beautiful, poetic and exquisitely cinematic. In retrospect, for adult viewers, the film's final act may seem predictable. But for a children's film, it's a great watch, a potential masterpiece. 

Friday, 9 March 2018

Lamhe (1991)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

Viren (Anil Kapoor), a young man visiting his ancestral home in Rajasthan, India falls for Pallavi (Sridevi), a gorgeous neighbor next door. Alas, the woman is in love with another man. Heartbroken, Viren organizes the couple's marriage and abruptly leaves for London. 

A few months later, the married couple dies in an accident leaving behind an infant daughter, Pooja. The daughter is raised by Viren's nanny in India. Years pass and Pooja grows up to be a cheerful, lively teenager (Sridevi again), a startling physical replica of her mother. Over the years, Pooja develops a fiery, undying love for the now middle-aged, elusive Viren. 

Lamhe is quite simply Yash Chopra's best romantic drama. It sensitively portrays the dynamics and layered complexities of love like few Hindi films do. 

Unconventional, timeless, against the norm, rebellious, deeply engaging and compelling, Lamhe is a remarkable work of cinema and justifies Yash Chopra's reputation as a fine, nuanced director. 

Sridevi towers and sparkles in her mother-daughter double turn. Lamhe is among the few great films that matches up to Sridevi's incredible talent. 

Anil Kapoor is at his best, chirpy and lovelorn as the young man, effectively toned down as an older businessman, Anupam Kher is a genius mad streak as Viren's friend Prem, while Waheeda Rehman adds dignity and poise as the ever-caring dai-ma

For those who love Hindi romantic dramas, skillful direction, great locales, with a dose of gorgeous film song picturizations and an incredible timeless story, Lamhe, but for some minor flaws, is fabulous viewing.    

Friday, 19 January 2018

Mukkabaaz (2018)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

Mukkabaaz is easily Anurag Kashyap's most accessible mass audience social satire. 

No abuses, no harrowing violence, less brutality, a less tragic ending. Happily, for us cinema-seekers, it is never a compromised film. 

A low caste boxer, UP's "Mike Tyson" Shravan Kumar (Vineet Kumar Singh) is bullied to not competing in any major district bouts by his high caste employer Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill). Shravan revolts and pays the price for following his passion and falling for Mishra's niece Suniana (Zoya Hussian). Shravan is supported by a low caste coach Sanjay Kumar (Ravi Kishan), but it is a dark road ahead. 

The love story is pitched for popular appeal, Kashyap builds on the premise to masterfully reveal India's languishing sports administration and doomed sportspersons.  

Unconventional as Always 
Never forceful, always relevant, Mukkabaaz touches more than a nerve with raw humor, gritty drama, and an almost heartbreaking end. 

Kashyap revels in reflecting contemporary truths, nobody tells it as straight as he does. Be it the caste system, corruption, murderous gau rakshaks ('cow protectors'), a passionate boxer's harrowing life, he lands the right punches, almost every time. 

Inspired, Courageous Acting 
A huge applause for Vineet Singh's earnest boxer portrayal, Zoya Hussain's turn as a spirited mute girl and a terrific, understated Ravi Kishan as the coach. 

Jimmy Shergill ends up as a one-note villain because the writers give him little to work on. The hint that his angst arouses from an unfulfilled sporting ambition is not convincing enough.   

Editing Please 
Excess use of the film's soundtrack in scenes where silence would have worked better mitigates the intended impact. A trimmer film would have hit a lot harder. 

But apart from these niggles, Mukkabaaz is very watchable for its story, screenplay, and damn good, heartfelt, stark real performances.

Mukkabaaz is worth the punches and more at the cinemas this week.