Singin’ In The Rain – Time For Joy

Writing about cinema during a time like this seems almost wrong. With the spread of the Coronavirus, it might not the be right time to talk about this but life has to go on. And if you are among the sensible people staying at home, you might be wondering what to watch. While we have an excess of quality content, I’d like to turn your attention to a classic from decades gone by. Singin’ In The Rain is one of those films that just fills with you with joy. In many ways, it is the perfect kind of movie for these dark days.

To begin with, it has some insanely catchy songs with incredible dancing to go along with it. The story is one that seems relevant even today as we have someone trying to keep up with the changing times. How we adapt to change is an emotion that all of us can relate to. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynold and Donald O’Connor brings so much zest to their roles that their enthusiasm is contagious (pardon the usage).

This is one of the most iconic images in cinema and it comes in the middle of an equally iconic sequence. And in a way, it really captures the essence of Singin’ In The Rain. It is about finding that moment of joy that makes all the worries seem far away. A line in the titular song goes “I’m happy again” and that’s what all of us want in a time like this. I apologize for bringing this ‘review’ back to the current scenario but it is inescapable.

So, why did I write this? I myself don’t have an answer. But, I would like to implore you to give this film a chance. Will things become better by watching it? Probably not, but you will be filled with a little more happiness. Finding these brief moments of joy seems more important than ever before. That is what Singin’ In The Rain is capable of doing. Stay safe everybody and hopefully see you soon at the movies.

Until next time, bye.

Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal – Crafting A Winner

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

One of the true joys of going to the movies is watching a film with no expectations and it turns out to be great. This is exactly what has happened to me and many others with Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal. Written and directed by first-timer Desingh Periyaswamy, this is a rip-roaring ride that keeps subverting your expectations. What appears to be a standard rom-com transforms into something else. Telling you how this happens would be a disservice that will take away from your experience. First of all, I’d like to praise the director for having the conviction to not deviate from what he wanted to do. He doesn’t make any compromise for the sake of the audience.

So, what we get are characters that are amoral, realistic and best of all, entertaining. Despite a runtime that might look lengthy, the crispness in the writing keeps you hooked. A joke is never too far away and that is needed in a film like Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal. The casting is another strong point here. Having a seasoned actor like Dulquer Salmaan helps but the rest of the actors do a commendable job too. And what a revelation Gautham Menon is, pulling off the kind of swagger associated with his leading men. There is a sequence at the end of the film involving him that is sure to make you laugh.

By having the focus more on the story than the characters, the film keeps moving at an impressive pace. The first 15-20 minutes make you think that the film is a little cliched. This is perhaps intentional from the director as he wants to lull you into thinking what kind of film this is going to be. The interval block made me and many others in the theater audibly gasp. And it was heartwarming to see the kind of wild cheering that accompanied this moment. What makes Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal special is the commitment to the story. There are no shortcuts taken, no overly dramatic moments that hamper the proceedings.

Though we have a lot of technical information being thrown at us, it doesn’t feel like its too much. We go along with the ride and it proves to be thrilling and entertaining. The film works better if you have no expectations. Even if you go into it knowing how good it is supposed to be, try not to read too much about it. It is kind of ironic that I’m saying this in a review. So, go watch Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal and you will see why people are talking about this film. A brilliant debut from Desingh Periyaswamy that makes me excited to see what he comes up with next.

Until next time, bye.

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.

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.

 

Ford v Ferrari – Entertaining And Thrilling

One of the worries I had going into Ford v. Ferrari was how were they going to dramatize some pretty awesome real-life events. In hindsight, this is the kind of story that was always meant to be made into a movie. It does not need any more drama and works perfectly the way it is. And in the hands of director James Mangold, we get a film that is thrilling, entertaining and moving as well. This is more that just one man or company’s obsession to become the best. It is as Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) puts it, about those who have to do ONE thing. I had no real inkling of the actual events, so the reveals, twists and turns worked so well. I was genuinely curious to know what was going to happen next. The script by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller gives us a few of the usual elements, but it doesn’t have that familiarity.

A big reason for this is the cast of Ford v. Ferrari and when you have two of the greatest actors of this generation coming together, sparks will fly and they do here. Damon and Bale pull off a cracker of a balancing act that gives each character a proper arc where we see these men as fully realized characters. We learn about their motivation, what drives (forgive the pun) them. Both these actors bring the excellence that you have come to expect from them and it is at times exhilarating to watch them. They are ably supported by some fine work from others including Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal and Josh Lucas who has never been more punchable in his career.

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This is exactly the kind of drama that I want to see make hundreds of millions at the box office. It has everything, a couple of fabulous and famous leads, a great director but most importantly, it is a great film. I was wondering how Mangold was going to follow up his stellar work in Logan but Ford v. Ferrari shows that he’s one of our more underrated directors. And even the runtime which clocks in at more than 150 minutes doesn’t feel too much because the visuals, performances and the story earns that length.

A special mention has to be made of DP Phedon Papamichael who brings us some of the most thrilling, blood-pumping race sequences. His previous work is no indicator as to the kind of adrenaline rush he can give. But his wizardry coupled with the razor-sharp editing by Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland gives us scenes that are full of life. And that is what makes Ford v. Ferrari great. It is about hitting that fabled 7,000 RPM. It is about men fighting an impossible battle in the hopes of pulling off a miracle. As a film, Ford v. Ferrari becomes one that sets out to entertain us and it does its job beautifully. Hopefully the success of this film prompts Hollywood to give us more such films. But till that day comes, watch Ford v. Ferrari.

Until next time, bye.