A Comedy With Real People

I like films of all genres, whether it is sci-fi or a musical, it does not matter as long as the film engages me. One of my more preferred kind of films would be the indie comedy. A lot of these films are characterized by their low budgets, improvisational feel and relatable characters. It takes skill to make any kind of film but for this kind, you need to be careful when scripting, because you are showing the audience people they might know and relate to. This requires that the situations be grounded and the film to have a certain amount of drama as well. Let’s face it, none of us lead lives that is free of drama. All of this is just my way of saying that Support The Girls does this, which makes the film enjoyable and affecting, to me at least. This is the not the kind of film that will draw big numbers at the box-office but hopefully, it will have a small following.

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Regina Hall is undoubtedly the standout actor in the film. She makes us root for her and at the end, we are left hoping that she pulls through all that she’s going through. She is ably supported by the other Girls who give the characters life as it doesn’t really feel like they are acting. The true triumph of the film is that it deals with a lot of heavy topics but never loses sight of the humor. This is due to the controlled writing by director Andrew Bujalski. What amazes me is the fact that a story that is only about America is made in such a way that it feels so relatable to a viewer far far away. In a way, films are more proof of the fact that we are more alike than we think. So, I would like to end this by saying that it is okay if you didn’t catch the film in theaters (I didn’t either), you can still Support The Girls.

Until next time, bye.

A Magnum Opus

It is well known that director Vetrimaaran has wanted to say this story for a long time. So, the movie does come with a lot of expectations and it is safe to say that it has exceeded what it had promised. We have seen a lot of gangster films in Tamil cinema but what makes Vada Chennai special, is the authenticity of the setting and the focus on plot and characters. Where we might traditionally get a protagonist who will get many ‘mass’ scenes, what we see is that he is just another cog in the wheel. This helps elevate the film and makes it resonate with the audience. Vetrimaaran shows how good a director and writer he is with the way weaves together the various arcs of the film. Though we know how the story is going to take place, the impact of those moments is never lessened. A major reason for that is the incredible background music of Santhosh Narayanan. It is a shame that we didn’t get full versions of his songs as they were top notch as well.

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As far as the actors are concerned, we have come to expect excellence from Dhanush, Andrea and Aishwarya Rajesh among others. But the real surprise is director Ameer who plays a crucial role. Not only does he get arguably the most crowd-pleasing scene in the film, I was taken aback by how well he had inhabited his role. Until we get see the whole story of Vada Chennai it is a little hard to make up our minds but the bar has been set very high. If the second and third part manage to match up to the intensity and intrigue of the first, we will have a trilogy for the ages. Tamil cinema has been having an amazing past couple of months so the only thing I have to say to the filmmakers and the crew is thank you.

Until next time, bye.

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.

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.

 

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 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.