Little Women – Recreating A Classic

I went into this movie not knowing much about the book and not being familiar with the previous adaptations of it. This worked for the better as I was able to fully enjoy everything as I was seeing it for the first time. So much so, I came to realize that the book takes a linear route whereas the movie skips back and forth. Greta Gerwig’s second directorial venture Little Women is a beautifully made film that pays tribute to its source material but with her stamp on it. The cutting between different years adds some detailing as to why these people are the way they are and that fleshes them out even more.

One of the strengths of the film is the casting. Be it Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh or even Timothee Chalamet, they feel like they are a part of this world. A pleasant surprise was French actor Louis Garrel who in a smaller part manages to leave quite an impression. If there’s anything that could have been changed in the screenplay of Little Women, it is that the cutting between eras could have been reduced a little. But apart from that, this is a brilliantly written and acted film with a gorgeous score from Alexandre Desplat to boot.

What makes Little Women even more remarkable is how relevant the themes are. Agency for women, economic freedom, the choice of marriage are all topics that still hold importance. And the journey we take with these characters is one of joy, pain and hope. The best performance comes from Ronan who deservedly got an Oscar nomination. She internalizes all that is Jo March so much that we start identifying with her. Her monologue towards the end of Little Women carries the emotional equivalent of a gut punch. She is supported by wonderful dialogue from Gerwig that transcends the era the film is set in and makes it timeless.

To talk about Little Women without mentioning the cinematography of Yorick Le Saux would be a mistake. His frames carry that immaculate beauty we have come to associate with period films. There is this shot of a palace in France that made me pop out of my seat, it was that beautiful. I look at Little Women as a triumph for Greta Gerwig who is already one of my favorite directors. The way she uses the camera, dialogue and blocking to tell a story makes it look she has been doing this for years. She took a story that had already been told, turned into something that was hers, made it relevant and into an engrossing film.

Until next time, bye.

Oscars 2020 – Who’s Gonna Win?

It doesn’t matter what your opinion of the Academy awards may be, we all like to make our predictions. Whether we get them right is another matter. So, here are mine for this year:

Best Picture – 1917

Best Director – Bong Joon-ho

Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix

Best Actress – Renee Zellweger

Best Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt

Best Supporting Actress – Laura Dern

Best Original Screenplay – Marriage Story

Best Adapted Screenplay – The Irishman

Best Animated Feature Film – Klaus

Best International Feature Film – Parasite

Best Documentary Feature – Honeyland

Best Documentary Short Subject – Life Overtakes Me

Best Live Action Short Film – A Sister

Best Animated Short Film – Hair Love

Best Original Score – Joker

Best Original Song – Toy Story 4

Best Sound Editing – 1917

Best Sound Mixing – 1917

Best Production Design – Parasite

Best Cinematography – 1917

Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Bombshell

Best Costume Design – Little Women

Best Film Editing – Ford v Ferrari

Best Visual Effects – Avengers: Endgame

What are your picks?

Until next time, bye.

15 Great Movie Friendships Of 2019

NOTE: This list only has films that I have seen in 2019. Apologies if a particular film isn’t on this list.

Instead of writing a review, I thought of doing something a little different this time. So, today I’d like to celebrate friendship and showcase some of the best from the year gone by. The following list is in chronological order. Let’s begin

Billi & Nai Nai – The Farewell

Lulu Wang’s touching portrayal of a family dealing with illness finds its soul in these two.

Jimmie & Montgomery – The Last Black Man In San Francisco

A story about identity finds itself held together with two different kinds of people who nonetheless care for each other.

Michael & Andy – Paddleton

This low-key film shows us that true friendships sometimes means just being there for the other person.

The Brothers – Kumbalangi Nights

They might be at each other’s throats but when the time comes, they’ll have the other person’s back.

MC Sher & Murad – Gully Boy

There is a strong case for having Moeen and Murad here but MC Sher’s guidance and friendship is what transforms Murad into Gully Boy.

Zak & Tyler – The Peanut Butter Falcon

This is simply one of the sweetest friendships I’ve seen in a long time, it is the definition of feel-good.

Amy & Molly – Booksmart

A hilarious coming-of-age film that beautifully showcases the bond between these two and gives us memorable moments to boot.

The Bean Bag Boys – Good Boys

This is pretty much Superbad for a new generation but the adventures these three get to, is going to be the among the funniest you have seen in a long time.

Rick & Cliff – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood…

Rick Dalton’s career may be going up and down but he’ll always Cliff Booth by his side.

Ephraim & Thomas – The Lighthouse

Through the film, they move away from being friends but for a brief period, they are the merriest of buddies and that is a joy to behold.

Carroll & Ken – Ford v. Ferrari

The two men push each other to reach greater heights giving us some exhilarating and touching moments.

Losers Gang – Chhichhore

The losers teach us a valuable lesson that life is not just about winning, there is more to it.

Destiny & Ramona – Hustlers

From being a mentor to a friend, these two go through the whole roller-coaster of emotions and take us along for the ride.

Frank & Jimmy – The Irishman

This has to be the most unexpectedly touching friendship from last year as we see these men grow from strangers to BFFs.

Schofield & Blake – 1917

When it comes to friendship we do certain things even if they do not make sense, we just do them because we care.

Until next time, bye.

Psycho – Looking For Answers

Mysskin is one of my favorite directors working in Tamil cinema today. There are very few like him who take the time to meticulously stage a scene. What the writer/director does with Psycho is show flashes of brilliance mixed with moments of indifference. The latter part was my reaction to the events unfolding. But still, his staging, use of lights is as vivid as ever. Without telling you too much about the plot, there are many interesting elements that needed to be explored more. The fact that they aren’t is a little surprising given Mysskin’s mastery over these aspects.

So what is Psycho about? Well, it is about a serial killer, it is about a blind man looking for his love. The way Mysskin interweaves these two story lines is impressive but it does not keep you hooked enough. Psycho begins to feel a little lengthy by the time we are in the second half. I have nothing against long films but a film with a central idea like this, needs to have an injection of pace. I felt that some of the revelations could have been shown much earlier. But the way we get to those revelations is a delight in themselves.

The performances across the board are what we have come to expect from the director’s world. If you are a fan of Mysskin, you will like it. Otherwise, there is a chance that it feels a little jarring. The actor playing the titular character is really menacing but is sure to break your heart in one scene. This kind of range is commendable and kudos to him for pulling it off. One of the most impressive aspects of Psycho is the production design and in particular the killer’s lair. There is a scene set in this area which involves Christian imagery and fire. That’s all I will tell you but it is one of the most unsettling sequences I’ve seen in a film for a long time. This is the power that someone like Mysskin has. He can shake you to your core but it doesn’t happen often enough here.

I kept wondering how Psycho would have shaped up without the central love story. It drives the story forward but somehow I felt that it ended up slowing down the overall flow of the film. In the hands of another director, this would have been a film of how the blind protagonist overcomes challenges. Mysskin is more interested in the psychological aspect of humans. This is also evident in the way the Nithya Menen character is written. There is a real sense of bitterness but somewhere there is a sliver of hope hidden. Perhaps this is what he’s trying to say about the film’s Psycho as well. The motivation behind the killer’s actions are convincing and that makes you empathetic but not really sympathetic. This level of feeling is not really present in the love story as it feels quite generic. Psycho is the director Mysskin showing off his brilliance but the writer Mysskin is not able to complement him enough. It is interesting, intriguing but the feeling I had at the end of it was that it could have been better.

Until next time, bye.

Sillu Karupatti – Sweet Joys Of Life

There are some movies where you are waiting for it to end. There are some where you do not want it to end. Sillu Karupatti falls in the second category as it is one of those sweet, feel-good films that stay with you for a long time. It is about 4 love stories that show people of different ages and how they connect with each other. What writer and director Halitha Shameem does is make sure that each story doesn’t overstay its welcome. Even when you feel the film might be getting into slightly more dramatic territory, we have a lighter moment around the corner.

A film like this does not really need music to work but Pradeep Kumar’s gentle tunes elevate the impact of the love stories. More often than not, we are left with a smile on our faces. What is most impressive is the level of maturity that is on display with the writing. It is also evident in the dialogues that are more realistic than what we normally see in our love stories. We can relate to any of the stories and that is the real beauty of Sillu Karupatti.

Director Halitha’s understanding of the dynamics between people makes every story feel personal yet universal. We know that we are seeing these characters but somewhere it reminds us of our own love lives. Sillu Karupatti is also the kind of film that can be enjoyed part by part. You could select one story and be taken back to that age. I am genuinely not able to come up with any criticism about the film. Does this mean that it is without flaws? I don’t know, it is just that we look past any flaw that might be there. Isn’t that how love works?

Another reason for the film’s lingering impact is the performances across the board. Whether it is the child actors or the more senior performers, there is a lived-in quality to their work. It feels like they are playing their characters and not just being themselves. This is most prominently visible in the performance by Samuthirakani. Sillu Karupatti is about connecting with others and is summed up by beautifully by a text in the trailer. Here is the rough translation of it:

“The best intoxication is that of words. Who hasn’t gotten high on it?”

It sounds more impressive in Tamil but you get the gist. This is precisely what Sillu Karupatti wants to be about. And to our sheer delight it aces this part of it’s objective. Halitha Shameem has come up with a concoction that is sweet, touching, relatable and most importantly, that makes you smile. Its an absolute joy when you walk into a film without any expectations and come away feeling satisfied. That is how you will feel at the end of Sillu Karupatti.

Until next time, bye.

1917 – An Astonishing Achievement

You are going to be hearing a lot of things about 1917 and one of them will certainly be about the technical wizardry. This is with good reason as a major part of the film’s triumph is due to the sheer magic behind the making. But what makes 1917 truly great is the personal conflict that drives the story forward. The soldiers that undertake the mission take it on for brotherhood and friendship. In the grand scheme of the war, this might not mean anything but for these two men it means everything.

There are moments in the film that will make your jaw drop regardless of which screen you watch it on. But that being said, the impact is so much more on a bigger screen. Films like 1917 show you how magical a theatrical experience can be. It is a testament to the power that the medium possesses. We feel like we have been dropped in the trenches with these soldiers. Every bullet that is fired feels like it’s whizzing past us. And of course, none of this would have been possible without the brilliance of legendary DP Roger Deakins and his team of camera operators. What they have done is not just an astonishing achievement technically but physically as well. They probably would have ended up running the equivalent of a marathon during filming.

But despite the technical marvel that 1917 is, it still needs convincing performances to hit home. This is where George MacKay’s extraordinary work helps the film enormously. For most of the film, the camera travels with him. He is our guide into this hellish landscape from which there seems to be no escape. He goes through enormous challenges that makes us feel and root for him. What really comes through is the sheer torment that builds up and is visible on his face as the film goes on. Shell shock is not an easy emotion to display. There has to be an emptiness mixed with terror and MacKay brings that out quite beautifully.

This review wouldn’t be complete without talking about the man directing all the mayhem. Sam Mendes is someone who has excelled at the bombastic action films and quieter dramas as well. 1917 is not a film where you expect this to converge but it does and that makes the film a more enriching experience. It is in the quieter moments that Mendes lets his characters and the audience take a breath. These moments add more weight to the journey that we see our protagonist undertake. War is not just about valor and bravery, it is also about the cost of everything for people. Cities are torn down, people are destroyed, spirits are decimated but through all that, our protagonist must soldier on. And thankfully for us, Deakins and his team are there to capture it in breathtaking fashion.

Until next time, bye.

Marriage Story – Moving and Masterful

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

Noah Baumbach is a name that makes me want to watch a film. One of his best qualities is the way he makes his characters speak. This is on full display in Marriage Story as you get to see a real splinter deepening between a couple. What is remarkable about this film is that he’s taken this structure and not take sides. We get to see both the husband and wife make their case for what they feel. This makes the impact hit you with a lot more force. You might be thinking that you’ll have to take a side but even at the end, there is that ambiguous feeling in us. These are just two people who care for each other but don’t have to be together.

For Marriage Story to succeed, a lot of it depends on the quality of acting from the leads. And this is perhaps the single biggest achievement of the film. We get two incredible, heartbreaking and real performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. I wouldn’t be surprised if people paused the film if it got too much to handle. I know I did this. You almost feel that its better to watch it on a streaming service than a theater from which there would be no escape. The emotional hits keep coming and at no point do they feel forced. And the beauty of doing this is that you understand where these people are coming from. Their motivations, feelings and actions feel organic and this is quite hard to achieve but Baumbach aces this part of the film.

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You can see traces of your own relationship, your parent’s relationship or those around you in these two people. Another good move by Baumbach is that he doesn’t use the emotional impact on the child to manipulate us. Even there, the element of realism present in the child makes us feel so much. The amazing thing about both Driver and Johansson is that they convince you in both the showy moments as well as the more somber ones. These are two actors who are completely in sync with the characters that they play to such an extent that we forget the actors and focus on the characters.

Marriage Story works as a way of telling us that it is possible to love someone but you don’t always have to like them. The cast is rounded off with some solid turns from Ray Liotta, Alan Alda and best of all, Laura Dern. She gets a monologue that is so riddled with truth, it becomes uncomfortable after a point. It is this kind of writing that makes Marriage Story so convincing. We may look at it and wonder why we should feel for these people but Baumbach makes us feel, ache and yearn for all sorts of things. At the end, your not left in a weepy mess but you feel the sense that this is life. As Russell Bufalino from The Irishman might say, “It is what it is.” Baumbach takes a real situation from his life and makes it our own by making us privy to these problems. It is hard to deal with personal material but he does it with real aplomb. And perhaps that is the biggest triumph of Marriage Story.

Until next time, bye.

Knives Out – Wickedly Fun

When you are constructing a whodunit, the trick is to surprise the audience. Since we have seen so many variations of this kind of story, we try to be one step ahead of the filmmaker. So, when someone actually does play a fast one on us, the feeling is strangely satisfying. This is exactly how I felt at the end of Knives Out as I sat back and was happy at what Rian Johnson had managed to accomplish.

In many ways, this is the kind of film that I would like to see being made every year. Get an all-star cast, give them meaty parts and back that up with some ingenious writing. It probably won’t happen but imagine if it did. Knives Out is incredible because it keeps surprising us with its reveals. We expect the story to go one way and it goes the other way. Or, it goes one way and digs deeper than we ever thought it would. This is the perfect situation for a murder mystery film. Everyone is at the top of their game here be it the sleuthing Benoit Blanc played by Daniel Craig or the nurse Marta played by Ana de Armas. The casting works perfectly because we have seen and loved these people in other parts but they feel like their characters here.

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Films of this ilk don’t get the kind of appreciation they do but they should, because they are incredibly hard to pull off. Tying every knot together and not leaving any loose ends is so hard but Johnson manages that in Knives Out. The cinematography by Steve Yedlin adds some gloss to this story that renders it timeless in a way. The problem for me in writing this ‘review’ is that its difficult to analyze the film. I did try and all I could come up with was praise for what Johnson has achieved. In a way, this film made me feel the same way that Andhadhun did.

If you are able to find some flaw in this film, then good for you. Is it a perfect film? Well, when you get a wickedly fun experience like the one Knives Out gives you, perfection doesn’t matter. It works on many level. It works as a mystery first and foremost, and there is an impressive amount of social commentary thrown in as well. I would love to see a double bill of Knives Out and Parasite. Now, that would be perfect. To sum up, go and watch this and try to do so without knowing anything about it. It is easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in a theater this year.

Until next time, bye.

 

The Irishman – Crafting An Epic

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Before I get into how I feel about The Irishman I’d just like to say that it is kind of a miracle that this film actually got made. Thanks to Netflix for picking it up and letting Marty create the magic that he always does. So, let’s get back to the film at hand. The Irishman is different from a film like GoodFellas particularly in it’s pacing. While the 1990 film was more about the speed at which the mob goes, this is more of a methodical approach. The result is that we get to see all elements of the mob, the government and most importantly the men.

This is more to do with how these men deal with what what they’ve done. The most obvious example of this is Frank Sheeran (Robert de Niro) and the final shot says so much about him. It ends up being a little heartbreaking to see a man at the brink. The Irishman is backed up by what you expect from a film that has this much firepower. From the performances that frequently feel sublime and the direction that knows when to reveal and when to hold back. A special mention has to be made about Rodrigo Prieto’s camera that captures all the chaos with such elegance that it feels intoxicating.

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And of course, you can’t talk about The Irishman without the heavyweights that are involved. De Niro, Pacino and Pesci all pull off their best work in years and they’re not really playing to type here. Pesci’s Russell is in many ways the anti Tommy from GoodFellas. You don’t expect him to be this way but it is a revelation to see him introspect so much while being a complete badass. De Niro does explode every now and then but by the end of the film, there is almost a sense of guilt and regret in his mind. Pacino on the other hand gets the most showy part of the film and is in incredible form. When you have so many people operating at their peak, the results are going to be magical.

These three are supported by some fine turns including Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano and Anna Paquin who in a nearly wordless performance says so much about Frank the man. The Irishman is more than just a story about the mob. It is about betraying friends, losing family and all the while looking to survive. The jobs these men do takes a lot out of them and it is visible both physically and literally. Using digital effects to show the age of these men will feel a little distracting to begin with. But due to the power of talent on display, you will soon forget that and be invested in the story. I’d never thought I would get to see a somber mob film from Marty but I’m so happy that he’s entered that zone. More than anything else, The Irishman is proof that there are very few directors who can stage a scene as well as Scorsese does. From all of us, thank you for The Irishman. Keep making more movies and bringing such amazing talents together. Also, thank you Netflix.

Until next time, bye.

 

Arjun Reddy to Adithya Varma – What’s In The Story?!

By Mahima Nandakumar
It is not the first time that a South Indian film is getting remade into other languages, especially if the film has achieved an unprecedented success with a debutant filmmaker and a (then) non-star hero. The crowd that rushed into theaters to watch ‘Arjun Reddy’ despite it being certified with an ‘A’ can easily green-light some prominent proposals for remakes. The first ‘second version’ was from the director Sandeep Reddy Vanga himself, this year’s blockbuster, ‘Kabir Singh’. We will also be witnessing a superstar’s son debuting with the same subject as ‘Aditya Varma’. Now this wouldn’t be a big surprise because, as mentioned before, it’s not the first time this is happening but what’s surprising is that neither of the first two have had a quiet release; the bigger the scale of the movie, the bigger the controversy and still, we are getting a third edition of Arjun Reddy! Don’t worry, this isn’t another roast-review of these films but we are here to look at what makes this particular story so appealing among the masses, the question here is not ‘whether the movie is morally right or wrong’ but ‘whatever it is, why is it so compelling?’.
Every story’s hero and villain are decided by it’s narrative, it depends on whose side of the story the filmmaker is presenting in front of the audience. Arjun’s life, from the time we see it, boils down to one relationship – his relationship with Preeti. The makers have used every technique to make the romance look as passionate as possible, the music and the performances have helped tremendously, and this passion has managed to make the audience Arjun’s ally. It creates empathy towards the character. There are a few more characteristics that make Arjun Reddy desirable like his unapologetic personality, his unwillingness to change himself for the society, he is shown as caring and to his credit, he is sincere about his concept of love. And it is not the technical aspects we connect to but it is with the emotions, no emotion more than pain attracts us. Once the movie has shown how deeply Arjun loved Preeti, his pain becomes the viewer’s too. One thing to note here is how this is Arjun’s and Arjun’s story alone, maybe if we were shown parallels or other characters’ point of view or how they are affected by his behavior, we may have totally different results. Like aptly titled, it is Arjun Reddy and not Arjun-Preeti, the girl’s side of this world is not even promised in the first place. That is a brilliant decision while making this movie because the filmmaker can only get away with his viewers being on Arjun’s side. Basically the narrative is structured for you to like Arjun.
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Thrillers and horror movies never go out of fashion because that is the only place where we are ready to put ourselves in a dangerous situation without being physically present there; those extreme moments of fright can give us a thrill we won’t experience in real life. Something similar to this is true with our movie of discussion too. Arjun Reddy is on extremes if every emotion and everything he does. To a normal person, it is almost impossible to lead a life as his and that makes watching him do these things exciting. When he acts like the rebel he is, it is the reflection of what many of us want to be but can never be. When movies present it’s audience with situations that are ‘uniquely familiar’ it pulls crowd, the premise might be familiar that can provide a bit of comfort and still is uniquely presented. Love it or not, one can’t ignore the fact that this screenplay had some never seen before moments in it. Also it overturned expectations with a happy ending. Traveling in the shoes of Arjun Reddy, even after all that suffering, ends up being a satisfying experience.
A well written love story will work any day, now whether you fall on the side where Arjun/Kabir is called a glorified misogynist or on the side where he is hailed as a great lover is your problem. But the box-office numbers and the upcoming remakes show that the movies have worked pretty well. Vijay Deverakonda’s rise to stardom is another evidence to the movie’s success. Yet, by the end of the day, it is about the story; no matter what the hero’s behavior or the lack of heroine’s point of view says, but if the emotions make it’s way to the hearts – the movie works. Cinema definitely has a responsibility towards the society and every conversation movies trigger are important but it is also important to remember that it’s just a movie. It takes a lot of thinking to arrive on a conclusion whether the movie(s) sends the right message or not and that may defer with each perspective but we have tried to narrow down some elements that can be attributed to why this story managed to create the impact it did and that’s not endorsing the content but analysing it. Aditya Varma hits the screen this Friday, we can watch if the magic happens again or not, if another star takes birth from the same soil or not and of course, if the controversies follow or not!