Drenched In Love

Given the sheer number of love stories that we have had in cinema, it makes us wonder how a film is going to present it differently. That presentation is what makes 96 special. It shows us a love story that has moments which are universally relatable. And, this is one film that is beautiful in many ways. That includes the performances, direction, writing, cinematography and of course, the music. It makes me wonder how this film would have played out if it had a mediocre soundtrack since the work by Govind Vasantha is sheer brilliance. What makes this film stand out against others from the same ilk, is the way a lot of emotions are underplayed. This gives it a more realistic feel. Prem Kumar’s skill lies in the way he never lets anything delve into melodramatic territory. The impact of the scenes is felt on the audience and is not forced by the characters.

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Is the film without flaws? No, it does have some issues with pacing especially in the second half. Apart from that, there is nothing wrong with the film as such. The motivations and decisions of the characters may be something that you do not agree with, but that is another debate altogether. The best thing about 96 is that it made me feel a wide range of emotions. Some of them felt good while others were not as good, a little bit like love I guess. Tamil cinema over the past few years, has been giving many examples that it can tell stories of different genres in a different way and 96 is yet another step in that direction. At the end of the film, I felt happy. This is the feeling you have when you have seen good cinema. When the sun peeks out after it has rained and the world is drenched in this golden awesomeness, that is how I felt when the screen cut to black. I hope that makes sense.

Until next time, bye.

Fear Of Fitting In

Among the many movie genres, the teen movie has been in my opinion, one of the more divisive types out there. A lot of these films are not very realistic or at least, they don’t feel that way. This is where Eighth Grade is different. Instead of showing us the dark side like some films choose as a form of realism, what we see here is just how awkward life is at that stage of life. The script by debutante director Bo Burnham and the flawless performance by Elsie Fisher, ensure that the film is relatable all along. The 8th grade in particular van be very challenging as it represents a transition in our lives. You are on the fast track to your teenage years and the various challenges that come with it. It can be difficult to deal with all this and technology has added to that. Ultimately, it all comes down to our need to fit in and the film explores that emotion beautifully.

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This face in the picture above, is the one that defines the film. We see Kayla on her YouTube channel and she seems a different person but in the outside world, she’s shy, awkward and just wants to, (you guessed it) fit in. This is an emotion that is not just felt during your younger years, it can be felt no matter how old you are. The grass always feels greener on the other side. It looks like those people are having more fun than you. It feels like those people have more interesting lives than you. Honestly, that can be true or false but it is hard to be objective about that. For this, I would like to reply with a quote from an Indian film. It goes like this:

In life, there will always be something better than what we have, but there is no use in changing ourselves to get the other thing.”

Until next time, bye.

 

Believe The Hype

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS VERY MILD SPOILERS

Sometimes when a film is being praised by a lot of people, there is a tendency for us to dismiss it. This is because when we watch it, we are challenging the film to impress us and to be honest, that is the wrong way to see a film. So, when I decided to see Pariyerum Perumal I had already heard a lot about it and was excited to see it. The one thing I can say about the film is that it lived up to the hype and then some. Dealing with such a heavy subject such as caste and equality can be a tricky topic but debutante director Mari Selvaraj pulls it off with astonishing ease. The script has a maturity that one would associate with a seasoned filmmaker. By refusing to give any easy solutions, the film manages to stay away from cliches that we might get in a film like this. It is easily one of the best films of the year.

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There are many things about the film that stand out and this includes the performances and the music. Is the film flawless? That is for you to say. Kathir does an incredible job as we get to see someone who is helpless, brave, proud, vulnerable, happy, sad etc. It is tough to make acting seem natural but both Kathir and Anandhi do such a good job with their ‘love’ story and it is bound to put a smile on your face. Whether this film is going to bring about a change in society is secondary as the fact that we are talking about a social evil, is the true triumph of the film. When you see this film, you understand that a message does not have to be delivered with a sledgehammer but a glass of tea is all that it takes. That reference will be understood only by those who have seen the film. Its just my way of telling you to watch it and perhaps you too will celebrate it.

Until next time, bye.

Back To The Future

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS NO SPOILERS

There is a particular feeling that I get whenever I watch a Mani Ratnam film. I guess it could be described as contentment. But it does not stop there as it goes on to spark this discussion within myself and with others. I want to talk about the various aspects of the film and that for me is the hallmark of a film by the master. As for Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, there is a lot to talk about. It ranges from the technical details to the scenes that made it and some that should have made it. But one thing was clear to me seeing the film, this is Mani Ratnam reinventing himself. Even a filmmaker as famed as himself is not above criticism and there were a few aspects that I did not like about his previous film. To see him go in a more commercial vein, feels exhilarating. This is his way of showing that he can make a film that is more crowd pleasing and yet have his own flourishes in them.

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As for the film, this is one of the more intriguing films that Mani Sir has made since the turn of the millennium. I read a review that said the film would have worked better if it had been made in two parts and I’m inclined to agree with that line of thought. These characters are fascinating from the outset, so it would have been nice to explore them a little more. It is to the credit of the screenplay that we are left wanting more. The film manages to feel like both a throwback to the Nayagan and Thalapthi days but it feels fresh. If this is the direction that Mani Ratnam is going to go in, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

PS: It is genuinely heartening to see this crimson sky turn into box-office gold.

Until next time, bye.

Sense And Sensibility

Harmony Korine is one director who is always able to provoke divisive opinions about his films. You either love him or you hate him. While I had heard a lot about him, I had not seen any of his films until I got to see Spring Breakers. In an interview before the release of the film, Korine said that he wanted to create a sensory experience and put the audience right in the middle of a spring break. This is where he succeeds big-time as we get to see all the sights and sounds that make it one of the craziest times of the year. So, the only question that needs to be asked is whether the film makes sense? The answer to that depends on what your definition of sense is. Korine’s script is linear is one sense but the way it is shown is more fragmented.

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If you are a person that wants their films to be linear, this is not the film for you. Then what would be the reason for someone to see this film? At the very least, what you will learn is whether you like these kind of films. From a technical point of view, the most impressive aspects would be the cinematography and the music. Both these departments succeed to such an extent that you feel part of the world that the characters inhabit. And if that was the filmmaker’s intention, then the film does qualify as a triumph. So is that all that is required to make the film enjoyable? I felt that it was a good but weird experience. I may never become a fanboy of Harmony Korine but I can appreciate what he is trying to say with this film. In the end, Spring Breakers is the kind of film that will enhance your palette with regards to cinema and maybe even refine it a little more.

Until next time, bye.

Dear Academy, For Your Consideration

Being the scariest film of the year, Hereditary has a lot to live up to. This makes the success of it even greater. To watch the film is to understand why horror films have remained so popular over the ages. While other genres have had their popularity go up and down, horror has remained a staple for a very long time. Hereditary is proof of the genre’s ability to produce genuinely scary moments wrapped inside an emotional story. Other films may go for the jump scare to induce fear but here, all you need to do is look closely at the frame to be spooked. A lot has already been said about the film but I would like to focus on one of the biggest reasons for the success of Hereditary as a film and as an experience. I’ll give you a hint, its The Sixth Sense.

 

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One of the problems I have with horror films is that the performances seem too over the top. I’m not able to buy the emotion that these people are trying to sell. This film has a lot of moments that may feel that way but there is a key difference. The emotions are allowed to build, so whenever they come bursting out, it feels justified. It didn’t hit me when I first saw the movie but the more I thought about it, I realised that this was an insanely (no pun intended) good performance from Toni Collette. We get to see what is happening to her and understand why she behaves the way she does. Though it is very likely that her work will be ignored during the awards seasons, the Academy must consider her as a candidate. It is difficult to express the emotional horror a person is going through but she is able to do it in such a way that leaves an impact. A particular highlight is the dinner scene with her husband and her son. The sadness and rage come together in a startling way that is truly terrifying and touching, much like the rest of the film.

Until next time, bye.

 

When Words Don’t Matter

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

There are many things to admire about the 2003 film, Lost In Translation. The film won its director, Sofia Coppola an Oscar for its screenplay, that is an indicator of how good the film is. It has an amazing performance from Bill Murray in one of his most sombre roles. Ably supported by Scarlett Johansson, the film manages to rise above the usual romantic comedy and it becomes something that is enduring. This is quite unlike the romance that we usually see on screen. What I want to talk about today is the final scene of the film. It has become famous for how it leaves these two characters. It is also notable that the moment I’m referring to was improvised by Murray. A moment that is not suited for people who want everything to have closure. However, it is perfect in my opinion and I would like to explain why.

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Just before they part ways, Bob (Murray) and Charlotte (Johansson) meet to share one last moment. Then comes the shot where Bob whispers something into Charlotte’s ear. Now, if you belong to the group of people that wants to know what was said, I don’t agree with you. The very fact that we don’t know what is being said, gives the scene so much more power. It allows us to interpret it in so many ways. Perhaps it was something silly or maybe it was something profound. Either way, we are left with an absolutely memorable moment. We tend to believe that words are what matter but at times, it is just the act of being around each other that gives us happiness. These two people could go anywhere from here. I feel the reason that the film ends on this note is because, not every story needs an end.

Until next time, bye.

Love In The Time Of Adolescence

Moonrise Kingdom, from the idiosyncratic mind of Wes Anderson is a story about two kids; a girl and a boy who falls for each other and decides to make a run for it in idyllic New England. This is a very quirky movie with a lot of subtle humor. I have been a long-time admirer of Anderson ever since I saw his second film, Rushmore. It was, and still remains one of my favorite movies. Perhaps the greatest compliment that Kingdom gets is that, it never veers off into childish territory. It is to the director’s credit that he maintains a firm grip on the narrative and makes sure that the film is coherent and enjoyable.

The two protagonists played by Jared Gilman (Sam) and Kara Hayward (Suzy) have acted with maturity beyond their years. What’s particularly impressive is the childlike quality that they imbibe into their characters without making them seem annoying. The film is also elevated by the outstanding support cast that comprises of stalwarts and Anderson regulars such as; Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. There are also some really enjoyable cameos from Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton. Willis really shows what a great actor he can be, behind the usual image that is associated with him. It is one performance that I didn’t see coming. The tenderness in his character makes you feel for him.

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The remarkable feature of the film, as in any Wes Anderson film is the attention to detail that is prominent in every frame. From the beautifully crafted camps to the fictional books that Suzy carries, the visuals are brimming with color and imagination. The film begins with a 12-year old girl packing and getting ready to run from her house and from her family whom she despises. Simultaneously, a 12-year old boy attending a ‘Khaki Scout’ camp leaves a note for the scout master (Norton) that he is quitting the scouts. Both these runaways meet in the forest nearby and decide to set up camp. From there on, the film goes on to describe the trials of the lovers as well as showing a failing marriage in Suzy’s family.

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A wonderful side-story involves Willis’ character as we see the loneliness in his life and his yearning for company. None of the roles in the film seem one-dimensional. The writing done by Anderson himself along with Roman Coppola makes sure that all the actors get to display varied emotions of their characters. Another aspect of Kingdom that I personally loved was the delightful innocence that is shown in the love story between Sam and Suzy. The story moves at a pace that is not too fast which enriches the entire experience. The locations shown in Kingdom are incredibly beautiful; they resemble a bueatifully crafted postcard. The different hues of New England shown by the DOP Robert Yeoman, showcases the landscape of the region in all its might.

The reason I love the films of Wes Anderson is because; the humor that is prevalent in his movies, are not laugh-out-loud but have a subtlety to them. A special mention has to be made about the wittiness of the dialogues that Anderson and his collaborators, always come up with. It is quite heartening to see a director who is so unique, stay true to his style, after all these years. All in all, Moonrise Kingdom is a wonderful watch that has something for everyone.

Until next time, bye.

A Great Film?

Have you ever had this feeling while watching a movie, thinking that it is good, but it could have been so much better. That is exactly how I felt when I was done with Hostiles. It has all the hallmarks of a great Western. We have a fascinating protagonist, absolutely gorgeous camera work and some thrilling moments filled with action. While reading up on the movie, I was surprised to see how little the movie was marketed. This is a little strange when you have a genre that has always been popular and also, a star who has immense critical and commercial appeal.

In a film like this, what matters is the way in which the story is handled. Here, I believe more emphasis was placed on the characters. This is fine if you were making a shorter film but given the length of Hostiles a little bit of urgency would have surely helped. In some ways, these are the moments where you feel frustrated with a film. Yes, it is nice being with these people and getting to know them but sometimes, you gotta move on. You can sense the potential of it being a classic but it doesn’t reach that level.

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The above image is one of the many instances where Christian Bale shines with his acting ability. Bale is someone who has incredible range with his emotions and he shows a different side to it here. I saw some similarities between his work in this film and The Dark Knight trilogy. The brooding, dealing with grief are all there, except in this case, it is much more restrained. So, the moments where he does let his emotions out makes it mean something.

This could become a film which becomes better with age as many films do. That is the way with certain films because, we become less critical of older films. One thing that director Scott Cooper should be lauded for is commenting on the effect that war and violence has on people. The fact that this is done within the realm of a Western, where glorification of violence is a common occurrence, is even more appreciable. We can sense the horrors that these people have seen and that makes us care for them. So in the end, you have great characters but a film that falls just a little short of greatness.

Until next time, bye.

 

A Troubled Man

WARNING: NO SPOILERS

When you see First Reformed there are a few things that will grab your attention immediately. That includes the performances, the cinematography etc. as these are the things that we see. But where the film really succeeds is in what it does not show. That would include the motivation and feelings of the characters. I was completely engrossed by this film from start to finish but I’m not quite sure of how to word my love for it.

This is a good thing as it means that the film made me think. And that is what a lot of First Reformed is about. It makes you ponder about a lot of things. We can sense the world around Ethan Hawke’s Reverend, disintegrating due to a lot of factors. As the film goes on, this becomes more and more apparent to us and we understand why he is behaving this way. There are a lot of layers that are not visible on the surface as it requires the viewer to dig deeper.

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More than anything, this film is proof, of the power present in the words and scenes that come from the mind of Paul Schrader. The film’s power lies in how understated it is. It is not flashy at all, even when dealing with heavy themes. A large part of the credit goes to the performance of Ethan Hawke who adds another milestone to his already amazing career. As a man questioning his faith and morality, it is wonderful to see him struggle to keep his calm. I just have to make this tiny observation about the way Hawke acts. His way of delivering dialogue makes every word mean something.

Normally, you would expect a character like this to have that one moment where they burst and let all their emotions out. First Reformed subverts our expectations in an interesting way. And when the emotions bubbling inside, do come out, it feels like a nasty uppercut to the viewer. And since you didn’t expect it to be this way, it becomes even more powerful. When the film does talk about a particular theme, it is not in your face but it is subtle in its expression. This allows the viewer to interpret it in their own way. And what makes the film even better is the ending, it is a left hook and it’s a knockout.

Until next time, bye.