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.

Moothon – A Better Life

Moothon is dictated by two revelations that take the film forward. I am not going to tell what they are but it was quite stunning to see them. And one of them is something that you don’t get to really see a lot of in Indian cinema. Geethu Mohandas in her second film shows more control of her craft and that she’s not afraid to tackle some harsh truths. Though Moothon is set in a specific area, the feelings are universal. It is a film about those that leave the island in search of a better life. It is also about those people that stay on the island because they feel that they know better.

Presenting two sides of the same coin can be a bit tricky and it shows in Moothon‘s runtime. There are no scenes that feel out of place but you start to feel that we could have done with a little more exploration of each world. A particular highlight of Moothon is the camera work by Rajeev Ravi. He takes us through the grime of Mumbai’s gullys in such a thrilling fashion. I couldn’t help but wonder how they managed to get certain shots in such crowded areas. This is contrasted with the serene beauty of Lakshadweep and the difference jolts the viewer. It is this dichotomy that defines the film. Mohandas must be applauded for refusing to pull any punches. She gets down and dirty with the seedy part of Mumbai and is unafraid to show us the harsh realities of this life.

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Moothon has a number of interesting characters that get their moment to shine but it is Nivin Pauly’s Bhai that steals the show. The actor does things we’ve never seen him do. It is quite startling to see the way he plays the two shades of this man. One of his best acting moments comes in the second half when he looks at the mirror. The way this scene is staged is quite brilliant. We get to see emotions that we don’t usually see from our leading men. It is breathtaking and at the same time refreshing. The cast is rounded off with some memorable performances from Sobhita Dhulipala, Roshan Matthew and Shashank Arora.

The real surprise of Moothon is the performance of little Sanjana Dipu who goes in search of the titular brother. The young actor’s combination of innocence and confusion is a fantastic contrast to the world weariness of the others. This counterpoint of Moothon makes the emotional reveals feel so much more devastating. Nivin has to be appreciated for taking on a role that required a lot of guts. We haven’t many mainstream heroes do this in a long long time. This is a performance that has to be and will be talked about for years to come. Moothon is a tale of what life is and what life can be. Too often we are caught in between both much like the people that Geetu Mohandas creates.

Until next time, bye.

 

Nayak – Deconstructing A Hero

The opening scene of Satyajit Ray’s Nayak does not show the titular hero’s face for some time. We only get to hear the voice of Bengali cinema’s Mahanayak, Uttam Kumar. Perhaps this is Ray’s nod to the power of matinee idols. We do not even have to see them to know who they are. From there, what follows is a glorious deconstruction of an actor and more specifically one that is very famous. My favorite part of Nayak is that Ray never lets Arindam, our hero, lash out at people. Uttam Kumar’s incredible performance seems to have stemmed from a very personal space. Its almost as if he is experiencing the very emotions that Arindam is going through. The beauty in his acting can be seen when he moves from one emotion to another mid-sentence.

Nayak is the story of a man struggling with the decision that he has taken in moving to the movie world. This can be seen in the famed dream sequence. There are many skeleton hands around him but the only real hand is that of his mentor Shankarda. His refusal to help Arindam from drowning in the mountain of money is symbolic of his thoughts on what Arindam has decided to do. Perhaps more than anything else, it is the fact that Shankarda never approved of his choices is what haunts Arindam the most. And it is interesting to see the way Uttam Kumar plays this particular emotion. He is realizing it as we get to know it as well. There is an element of disappointment and then a resigned look at what he has become now. He does not make it seem earth-shattering. This would have been the direction in which others would have gone but not Ray.

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Ray is famous for writing great roles for women and that holds true here as well. From the unwilling Molly to Aditi (Sharmila Tagore) the journalist who gets the hero to open up, Nayak is filled with real people. There is a point that Aditi makes saying there is not much reality in Bengali cinema. It is almost a tongue-in-cheek comment on how realistic Ray’s films tend to be. The whole film and even her role is written in a gentle manner. There is no malice in what she’s trying to do. To her, this is just an opportunity to write about a famous actor. But gradually she realizes that this man is opening up because he trusts her. All of this makes her actions at the end of Nayak feel justified.

The final scene of Nayak feels particularly poignant in that we can see what Arindam wants and what he has. When Aditi walks away from the station, Arindam looks at her with a rueful look. Is this him longing for her, or is it him longing for a normal life? My guess is that despite the attention, garlands and all the trappings of fame, he would like to have a ‘normal’ life. The joy of Nayak lies in the way Ray is able to blur fiction and reality all while making use of one of Indian cinema’s biggest matinee idols. Uttam Kumar gets to take on us on a gentle emotional roller-coaster while still maintaining a level of dignity that is aspirational. He makes us feel with him and feel for him. And at the end, when Aditi tears up the papers she had used to record what our Nayak said, we feel a sense of relief. That is the power of an actor and Ray manages to bring out that in a realistic and touching manner.

Until next time, bye.

 

 

 

 

Dolemite Is My Name – Eddie’s Back

When you make a inspirational biopic, it can be difficult to make the proceedings feel interesting. We have seen so many of the beats that we’ve become used to them. But Dolemite Is My Name benefits from its unique setting that lets it become an interesting and entertaining film. Taking on the real-life story of Rudy Ray Moore, it is able to bring out a heartfelt, funny look at the other side of Hollywood. As Dolemite himself says, more than money this is about connecting with people. As per his words, he wants to give something to the brothers and sisters that they like. This is beautifully shown in the scene where Dolemite and his friends go to a theater to see Billy Wilder’s The Front Page. They don’t see anything funny but the predominantly white audience finds it hilarious.

And therein lies the crux of Dolemite Is My Name. It doesn’t have to be work that is super successful and make you millions. It is about giving your people something to connect with and laugh at. At the center of the film is the fantastic performance by Dolemite himself Eddie Murphy. He does what we know he can do and is amazing at pulling off the wackier moments as well as the more somber ones. Many described this as a comeback for Eddie and if he’s going to do films like this, then it is a welcome move. He is supported by a wonderful cast that includes standout performances from Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. If anything, I hope that Dolemite Is My Name sparks interest in the Blaxploitation genre again.

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Dolemite stands for not giving up when others tell you what you can’t do. The way this is presented is different, the setting makes it fun and informative to people who might not know much about these kind of films. And it is also proof that Eddie in a R-rated film is a different actor. He is released from the shackles of keeping things PG. His personality really comes out in the way he delivers his lines. This is what made people fall in love with his stand-up in the first place.

It would have been interesting nice to see how Dolemite Is My Name would have been received with a theatrical release. But with a platform like Netflix, Dolemite might be able to do what he always wanted. He will be able to connect with people. One aspect of the film I really liked was that Eddie and the script don’t let Dolemite become too self-serious. A good example of this would be the sex scene that is shot for the first Dolemite film. Though it is supposed to be tender, he realizes that it is better off if it is made funny. The story work because it is about a man who succeeded by making himself the butt of jokes. In his own way, Dolemite is an inspiration to look up to. And to quote the man himself:

“Dolemite is my name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is my game!” There’s no better way to describe him and the film.

Until next time, bye.

 

Kaithi – A Thrill Ride

The feeling you have when the first half of Kaithi ends is one of wonder. I sat in the theater amazed at how well this film was constructed and executed. I had the same feeling at the end of the film. Writing a good story is one part but bringing it onto the screen is another matter altogether. This is where director Lokesh Kanagaraj shines as he is able to bring all the different elements and characters in an organic manner. Despite being in the framework of a commercial film, Kaithi never loses sight of its story. And that is perhaps the biggest compliment I can give this film. Lokesh who made his debut with the equally amazing Maanagaram shows that he is a director to be excited about.

You can sense his cinematic strengths when he is staging his action scenes or the way he throws in comedy every now and then. It is visible in how tightly packed the story is and for that, we are ready to overlook a couple of the more obvious commercial elements. And with Kaithi you are getting a film without a female lead or songs. This is quite unusual for Indian cinema in general and it is refreshing to see Lokesh employ this. He also realizes the star power of the actor he has in Karthi. This pays off wonderfully when we get a goosebumps inducing ‘mass’ moment involving a Gatling gun.

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The background score by Sam CS does its job without feeling overpowering. If there are technical areas that shine in Kaithi, it is the camera and editing handled by Sathyan Sooryan and Philomin Raj respectively. The former does an incredible job of showing the different landscapes our hero goes through. Whether it is a quarry or a forest, all of them are shown in the dark but you never lose sight of the people in the frame. The editing keeps track of multiple locations and characters but makes sure that the film is riveting.

Kaithi works on multiple levels. It is a film with pulsating action scenes yet it has a strong emotional undercurrent. It works as an odd couple film where a criminal and a policeman come together. And finally, it works as a testament to the fact that if you trust the script, magic can happen. You really need to congratulate Karthi and Lokesh for doing this. One aspect about the writing that impressed me was the way the ‘bad guys’ were written. From the outset it looks they are one-dimensional but they are made interesting. Other characters such as the constable and civilians in the police station get their own moment to shine. A film like Kaithi is a showcase for what Tamil cinema can be. Thrilling, touching and more than anything else entertaining.

Until next time, bye.

Sonchiriya – The Law Of Nature

The first thought I had while watching Sonchiriya is that I should have seen this in the theaters.  From director Abhishek Chaubey who gave us the excellent Udta Punjab we get another gritty realistic tale on bandits, in the heartland of India. Aesthetically what really struck me was the fact that this film looked and felt like a western. It has many moments that you would find in a western. A fine example of this is the Mexican standoff that takes place when Sushant Singh Rajput’s character splits from his gang. These moments are framed brilliantly by Anuj Rakesh Dhawan. The ravines of Chambal are shown in all their glory. We get a sense of how these bandits use their surroundings, sometimes it is an advantage but other times it causes their downfall.

One of Chahubey’s strengths is the way he writes his dialogues. The characters feel like they are talking on their own and not like they are reading from a piece of paper. The other reason this works is because of the incredible cast. When you have heavyweights like Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey and Ashutosh Rana, it can be difficult to keep up with them. But Sushant and Bhumi Pednekar pull of amazing performances that match up to the rest. Bhumi has less action than the men but her actions make her among the strongest characters in Sonchiriya.

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Despite how grim the circumstances are, Sonchiriya throws in some humor every now and then and it works. The moment where a bandit on the run wonders if he’ll get to eat mutton in jail is one such instance. If there’s one takeaway from the film, it is that all of us will fall prey to the law of nature. It doesn’t matter which level of society we are in, nature comes for us all. Sonchiriya works on multiple levels. It works as an action film about bandits with some spectacularly choreographed shootouts. It works as a commentary on the class difference that existed then and exist now as well. And it works as a commentary on the way men and women are perceived. One of my favorite lines is when Phuliya, the leader of another gang tells Bhumi’s character:

“Men created all these castes to separate themselves but women have only one caste. We are all below them (men).”

I’m paraphrasing a little bit but I think I’ve captured the spirit of what she said. When I heard this, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I am amazed at the fact that writers Chaubey and Sudip Sharma were able to come up with this much depth. Sonchiriya had everything to succeed commercially, a successful director, a killer cast and most importantly, it was an incredible film. But it didn’t do too well at the box office and that is disappointing. But more than anything, I am happy with the fact that such a film exists. Sonchiriya is a rare film, in that it is a slow-burn thriller that sometimes becomes a race against the clock. With a subject like this, it would have been easy to go down the Mad Max: Fury Road way but the approach here works much better. The characters take some time to reflect on what has happened. Even the minor characters are given their own motivations and feel like real people. I can keep talking about Sonchiriya but I think I’ve said all that I wanted to say. To you, all I would like to say is, watch it and be amazed at what Indian cinema is capable of.

Until next time, bye.

 

El Camino – A Breaking Bad Review

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Going back to something perfect can be tricky especially when it is as revered as Breaking Bad. But what Vince Gilligan has done with El Camino is quite smart here. He probably expects the audience to want a lot to happen. And it would have been too easy for him to bring back all our favorite cast members and it would have ended up as a chaotic film. Gilligan doesn’t do that, instead he focuses on one man alone, Jesse Pinkman. The film feels more like an extended episode of the show and that works well in my opinion. Other people might be expecting something a little more cinematic but that isn’t really going to work in the Breaking Bad universe.

I was personally happy see to Todd who might just the scariest villain on Breaking Bad. And it was a nice touch to show how his relationship with Jesse was during the latter’s time in captivity. El Camino also has a real whistle worthy momentwhen Jesse kills the guy from Kandy Welding Co. The scene where they show up at Todd’s house and the one in their warehouse are two of the best stretches of El Camino. Gilligan has structured this to feel more like an epilogue than anything that might push the show forward. But regardless of what happens in El Camino I’d like to really these people to return to this world.

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The last we saw of Jesse was at the end of ‘Felina’ where he escaped from his captors and drove into the night screaming like a maniac. It has been little more than 6 years to the day that the finale aired and we have been dying to see what happened to Jesse. Well, we get the answer and the way we arrive there is a throwback to the intricate plotting we know Gilligan can come up with. El Camino shows how difficult life still is for Jesse even if he has escaped from a hellish situation. And to see him at the end, driving away to his new life in Alaska filled my heart with joy. Even at the end of ‘Felina’ he was probably more relieved than anything to get away. But here, he knows that things are going to be different and after seeing him suffer for so long, it was nice to see him get a happy ending. At least, this is as happy as he’s going to be given the situation he finds himself in.

One of the best aspects of Breaking Bad has been it’s dialogue and cinematography and that is at its best here. The movie written by Gilligan himself has all the trademarks of what you would expect from the creator of the show. Marshall Adams who handles the camera gets to show off even more gorgeous scenery in America. I’m probably clutching at straws here but there is a parallel that I found. The shot of Jesse and Todd alone in the desert can be mirrored with the one of Jesse and Ed in the Alaskan wilderness. It shows how far he’s come, for a new life. Jesse gets the break he wants and perhaps this is a new lease of life for TV shows as well. Maybe we can get to see more such movies or extended episodes that help bring closure to a show. For now, I want to thank Vince Gilligan for deciding to revisit this world with El Camino. I’d also like to thank Aaron Paul for living the role of Jesse. A man who has plumbed the depths of hell and has risen not like a phoenix but just enough to get him out of the dirt.

Until next time, bye.

 

 

Revisiting Justice League

What more can be said about a film that has been discussed to death? Well, I finally gave in and saw it again and here are my thoughts. A lot of what I have to say is something that you probably would have already heard of but give me a chance. First let’s begin with the facts, Justice League was one of the widely anticipated superhero films purely because we were getting to see our favorite characters on screen. Now, by the time the film came out, the numerous production issues dampened the excitement by quite a margin. I’d like to talk about the film itself and not about what happened behind the scenes.

The first thing that should have been changed in my opinion is the release date. It came far too early in the DCEU. Wonder Woman came out and that did really well so DC and Warner Bros. would have probably felt that they could ride on the success of that film. But the problem is that DC didn’t take enough time to flesh out their characters. Yes, we know who Aquaman and Flash are, but we have not seen them as separate entities. I don’t know if this can be classified as poor planning but it does feel that way. This is one area where Marvel have shown the way with the meticulous planning of their universe. Now, the problem with that is the films can feel a little formulaic but at least a connection gets established.

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DC films and their planning feels a little more chaotic and that does add to the excitement because you don’t know what kind of film you will be getting. They can come out with something underwhelming like Suicide Squad and also pull off something as incredible as Joker. Things seem to be looking up now with the smashing success of Aquaman and Joker with a slate of promising films in development. But the sting of Justice League‘s loss will continue to sting DC for a long time. Talking about the tone of the film and the Snyder/Whedon problem is redundant at this point. In hindsight they probably would have gone with a more consistent tone but the film just feels a little meh.

And with any film that gets picked apart this much you come to realize that there is a middle road to be found. Is the film as bad as some people say? Not at all. This is a mostly fun experience that does feel a little too long. This is in spite of it being less than 2 hours. Planning would have been very handy here. If you had taken the time to set up all these characters, you could have immediately gotten into the conflict of Justice League. Instead we get a film that is both establishing plot points, characters and trying to move the story forward. Warner Bros. were asking too much of Justice League, wanting it to be too many things. In a way, it is a good thing that this kind of loss happened and it will serve as a lesson for the future. Hopefully the next time we see these characters together, the experience is as awesome as we imagined it would be. I might not have added anything new to the debate but this is something I needed to say.

Until next time, bye.

Good Time – Brotherhood

THIS FILM IS AVAILABLE ON HOTSTAR

If you are among the people that think that Robert Pattinson cannot act, this is the film that will change your mind.  From the minds of the Safdie Brothers comes Good Time and it is one hell of a crazy trip. It takes so many twists and turns that you cannot help but appreciate the way the story has been plotted. The film is chaos from the moment it starts and the way the events unfold is so organic. Nothing feels out of place and everything plausible.

It is heartening to see a crime film that pays so much attention to action and reaction. Many times you will see a script that has forgotten one key element or even worse, there are actions that don’t have consequences. Good Time is not like that, it focuses on what these characters do and what they get in return. My favorite part of Good Time is the humor that comes from the most unexpected of places. There’s a scene where Pattinson is getting intimate with a younger girl. The way it is constructed is so ingenious and funny, I burst out laughing and I hope you will too.

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What makes Good Time special is the way it subverts our expectations. Getting into the specifics of this is going to rob you of the experience, so I will refrain from doing that. You expect B to happen after A but the Safdie Brothers aren’t interested in doing that. They want to give you something new and they deliver on that almost every single time. And all this craziness is anchored by Pattinson who is remarkable. His need to protect his brother, his want for money and the desperation that ensues are all captured immaculately by the actor.

You will be convinced that this man is ‘Connie’ and with each scene, memories of his Twilight years will start fading away. Another aspect of Good Time that makes it a cracking watch is the cinematography and editing. We are shown some grimy areas of New York but thanks to the work of Sean Price Williams they look gorgeous. The editing done by Ronald Bronstein & Benny Safdie gives the film a frenetic feel. Despite this, we never feel like we are out of the loop. There isn’t much wrong that I could find with Good Time but it might be an acquired taste for some. Not everyone is going to laugh at some of the dark humor here. But, if Good Time is to be seen, it is for the captivating central performance from R Pat. And if you give it a chance, you might end up having a good time (no pun intended).

Until next time, bye.

Personal Shopper – Seeking The Unknown

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS

This film is available on Netflix

Personal Shopper is bit of a strange film. I’m not able to classify it and perhaps that is what director Olivier Assayas wants. A lot of the film is about wanting to be someone else but it is also about seeking closure. Now, the second part is about the death of a loved one and the mashup of these two elements makes this a unique film. Assayas is able to bring both these elements together and weave them seamlessly.

The best part of Personal Shopper is Kristen Stewart who gives a remarkably nuanced performance. One of the best stretches of the film is just her texting with an unknown number. This part is proof of how good an actor she is. The camera is on her for a long time but we don’t feel bored for a second. This is due to the way she internalizes the conflict she’s facing. None of us would really like to engage in a text conversation with an unknown entity. So, it is wonderful to see the way her expression evolves from curiosity, frustration, fear and eventually leads to a connection.

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If there was one gripe I had with Personal Shopper, it was that I was not as engaged as I thought I would be. With the initial encounter with the spirit, I thought we would be focusing more on atmospheric terror but Assayas decides to take a different route. And just about when you start thinking that the spirit is a MacGuffin, he brings it back. A lot of your feelings toward this film will depend on your opinion of Kristen Stewart. Now, I can just look at her talking and be captivated so I’m probably a bit biased here.

But when Personal Shopper focuses on the element of closure, that’s when it hits the strongest. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult things anyone has to go through. As someone who lost a family member quite recently, I could really connect with what Kristen Stewart was feeling. Though this is not a film that everyone might like, it is worth watching just for Stewart’s amazing performance.

Until next time, bye.