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.

 

What Do We Want From Action Films?

This is the exact question that I had after watching the latest installment in the Mission Impossible franchise. The reaction to the film has been overwhelmingly positive but I have heard more than a few people react in an indifferent manner. I wondered what made them react this way. So to identify that, we need to take a look at action films in general. The first thing that any good film in this genre should have is, action. And that can come from a range of sources be it gunfire, fist-fights or even a battle of the intellect. No matter what kind of action there is, it has to be entertaining. Just to be clear, in my opinion, Fallout is easily one of the best action films to have come out in the recent past. A lot of the scenes/stunts in the film will go down in history as being among the best of all time.

The biggest problem with action films is that there are too many of them. This has made it more and more difficult for filmmakers to surprise the audience. But it must be mentioned that sometimes it does not even feel like they are trying to do anything new. We expect so many things from a film like this, that more often than not, it cannot match up to our expectations. It is like wanting an entire buffet on a plate but we do not think about the quantity of the food we take and then end up disliking the buffet itself.

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What I am about to say might sound a little crazy but hear me out. The way we watch films in general has undergone a major change. An increased amount of knowledge about the craft behind the film, makes it easier for us to nitpick. It has to be said that nitpicking is not wrong in any way. It is important to criticize but you must think about where it is coming from. A lot of the gripes that we have with action movies these days, comes from what we expect from them. We want to see big set-pieces that are beautifully choreographed, we do not want to see one-dimensional characters. We want the film and the plot to be entertaining and engaging.

It is perfectly fine to want all these things but spare a thought for those making the movie. Sometimes, there is a real possibility of overlooking one aspect while focusing on another. In the case of Fallout, seeing the incredible and not to mention insane action, I was ready to forgive any shortcomings in the other departments. But even I was surprised at how much the film was able to engage me. This is particularly commendable when its the sixth film in a franchise. So when I heard people talking about how bland the story and dialogue were, it made me wonder if this genuine criticism or are people saying it just for the sake of saying something. Maybe this is just the way I view a film and I’m not saying that this is the right way to go about it, but it is something worth pondering. More than anything, go and watch Tom Cruise run and risk his life for your entertainment. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Until next time, bye.

The Beauty Of Company

One of the best things about an Anjali Menon film is the way in which she is able to portray different relationships. This is is evident in all the films that she has written or directed. In Koode as well, we get to see a variety of people and the different relationships that they have. This is what the film focuses on and also, I feel that it comments on one of the worst feelings that a person can have: loneliness. None of us like to feel that way and it is always nice to have someone by our side. It does not matter if we haven’t spoken to them in years, all that matters is the here and now. The film also touches on the ways in which two people can drift apart not because of anyone’s choosing but as a result of circumstances. Koode is the kind of film that lingers after you have seen it. It will grow on you the more you think about it.

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For me, just getting to see three of my favorite actors share the screen was enough to make me happy. The film is written in such a way that at no point, do you feel that the emotions are being forced. Though both Nazriya and Parvarthy did really well, the film belongs to Prithviraj. He is able to bring out every emotion of Joshua with an honesty that makes us look beyond the actor playing the role. Koode is not just a film that is beautiful to see but it feels beautiful as well. You start rooting for the characters as they tug at your heartstrings but make sure to leave a smile on your face. I don’t think this film should be compared to Anjali Menon’s earlier films but should be viewed for what it is. A visual poem to soothe the soul and be an antidote to all the harshness that may be around us.

Until next time, bye.

 

A Change Of Pace

In the history of Tamil cinema, there have been many memorable female characters. Although the proportion is too little, every now and then we are greeted with something that is for lack of a better word, nice. These films show that it is possible to have women in the film and use them for something other than titillation. In that vein, I would like to talk about a female character I really like. She is not someone who immediately comes to mind when we discuss the best roles written for women. She is not someone who fights against the evils of society, yet she is strong in her own way. I am talking about Ganga from Dumm Dumm Dumm. Played by Jyothika, she is one of Tamil cinema’s more underrated women.

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So, what makes her special? There are a few things that are impressive about her. First, it is her desire to do well in life and not just marry the first person her father chooses. It also helps that her father is so supportive of her; so that’s refreshing to see as well. Even when the marriage is stopped at the beginning of the film, she doesn’t break down – she continues her journey. You may ask what is so special about this given the fact that so many millions of women do this. I feel that this is precisely what makes her special. When we talk about strong women on screen, more often than not, we have an image of a woman fighting against society. Ganga is fighting as well, but it is at a different level. It is no surprise that such a character came from the mind of Mani Ratnam, who co-wrote the script. To conclude, the character of Ganga is not revolutionary but her relatability is what makes her great. And a special mention has to be made for Jyothika who gives the character so much charm and depth, that we too end up falling in love with her.

Until next time, bye.

When Man Becomes Myth

THIS IS NOT A REVIEW

For many, the name Sanjay Dutt is associated with controversy and the excesses of the film industry. For some, he is someone who was wronged and is misunderstood by the public. Whatever your opinion may be of him, the fact is that Sanju is an amazing film, easily one of the best movies to come out this year. Making a film about such a sensationalized character is a tricky task but the script by Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi manages to show us the man behind the myth. Even if you know everything about the man, they manage to keep you engaged. I feel that is the film’s biggest achievement.

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It shows the human side of the character at each point in his life. The film is ready to show that Sanjay Dutt is someone who is flawed but by no means is he bad. But, if you have made up your mind before watching the film, there is nothing that is going to change your opinion. Some of you may even dispute the accuracy of the events shown in the film. Even if you put aside the man/myth the film is about, there is so much to admire. This includes the performances of Paresh Rawal, Manisha Koirala and especially Vicky Kaushal who continues to show why he’s one of India’s most underrated actors. A special mention must be given to the Director Of Photography Ravi Varman, who frames the bright and dark times of Sanju’s life with a painterly feel.sanju2

There are very few directors who make films the way Rajkumar Hirani does. His ability to combine good film making with a commercial sensibility is astonishing at times. Another trait of his films are the way in which sentiments and humor blend seamlessly and not one scene seems out of place. When I left the theater, I felt the same way I do after a great meal. I guess this is what happens when you get to see magic on screen. A big thank you to team Sanju for reaffirming the power of good cinema.

Until next time, bye.