Raincoat – Lost Love

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS

If you have read O. Henry’s “The Gift Of The Magi”, you will have an idea of how Raincoat is going to turn out. For those who don’t, it will be interesting to see the turns this story takes. Rituparno Ghosh is able to weave visual magic from this premise and gives us one of the more understated romances in Bollywood. Ajay Devgn and Aishwarya Rai play these characters in the past and the present with a real tenderness and almost a sense of innocence. I kept wondering why this film did not do well at the box-office. Could it be because of the pace of the film or the general feel of Raincoat? Whatever the reason may be, the real success of the film lies in the performance of  Aishwarya Rai. She’s at times heartbreaking and heartwarming.

The scenes where she’s trying to hide her actual life from Devgn finds her delving deep into her repertoire of emotions and coming up trumps. Ghosh seems to be more interested in reactions than actual actions. His camera focuses on actors responding to what’s happening around them. At times, Raincoat feels like a play and this is evident in the way certain dialogues are delivered. But all of this adds up to a story on lost love, broken dreams and the yearning for a better life. Though the film is set in Calcutta, we do not get to see famous locations from the city. But through the descriptive dialogue, we get a sense of the place Neeru (Aishwarya Rai) lives in. This adds to the magic of the film’s visual language.

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This is one of the defining images from the film for me. The candle lights up her face and we can see just how weary she has become. In the beginning of the film, Mannu (Devgn) tells her that he wants to see her in the light but she is hesitant. Perhaps she is ashamed of what she’s become and especially as this the life she used to reject Mannu with in the first place. All these are emotions one would expect to come bubbling over but Ghosh isn’t interested in doing that. By focusing more on the pauses between the emotions, Raincoat is able to tell us so much about these people.

You and I might not react the way these people do but that is precisely what makes Mannu and Neeru unique. Even after so many years, they still feel like children who are keeping secrets for and from each other. Devgn is brilliant at handling Neeru like a baby especially once he realizes that things are not quite the way they seem. His little smiles here and there fill the screen with a tinge of sadness yet there is a sense of hope that remains. Above all, Raincoat is proof of how logic can go out of the window when it involves someone we love/loved. Would these people like to be together? Definitely. But like Neeru says, if God wanted us to be together we would have been married already. Sometimes that’s the way life is, us reacting to what happens. It won’t always be as tender as Raincoat but sometimes magic can happen like it did here.

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.

 

Asuran – Fight or Flight

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS

Whenever Vetrimaaran and Dhanush get together, it always promises to be an exciting film. This is the case with Asuran as well and the combo once again deliver the goods. Taking a celebrated novel and converting it into a film is no easy task but Vetrimaaran has changed it without losing the soul of the novel. I’ve not read the novel but from what I can gather, that story is more ‘stream of consciousness’ but here the happenings are far more cinematic. It is incredible to see the way a commercial film can be tweaked into something meaningful.

With Asuran, Aadukalam and Polladhavan, Vetrimaaran has shown that he can take the constructs of a commerical film and make it his own. We get the romantic songs, the big fights, the flashback after the interval etc. And last but not least, the transformation that the audience goes nuts over but the way we get there is what sets this film apart. Take the interval fight scene for example, Dhanush being the star he is, we all expect him to fight back at some point. But it is his incredible performance that makes us believe that this man is seemingly no Asuran (Demon). For the most part he appears meek and unwilling to engage in any bloodshed. But as we get to know these people, we realize that violence runs in their blood. And we also know that at some point they are going to kill someone accompanied with some gorgeous cinematography by Velraj.

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Aside from being about the family, Asuran talks a lot about politics without getting political. They talk about the importance of land when dealing with the richer people and we get to see how this being grabbed from them. It is perhaps a good move by Vetrimaaran to not stray too far away from the commercial aspect of this film. But this is no fan service, there are no scenes being included just because some people might want them. It is all about getting into this man’s (Sivasamy) family and why they’re here and what they’re going to do.

Another strong point of Asuran is the casting that sees a fantastic Manju Warrier as the wife. She seethes with anger, weeps in pain and looks longingly for a strand of hope. But her acting will be no surprise to those who have seen her work in Malayalam cinema. A special mention has to be given for GV Prakash and his wonderful music. Whether it is the songs or the blood pumping theme, his work is outstanding. Perhaps the biggest takeaway you should have from the film is the one dialogue about the importance of education. It comes as a sobering realization that this is where these people have been forced to go. Stripped of their land and money, they are still finding ways to fight their oppressors. Asuran works on two fronts: one as a well made arty commercial film. The other is as a commentary on the class difference that still feels relevant today. Regardless of where you stand on this divide, Asuran is another fantastic film from one of the most exciting director/actor duos working today.

Until next time, bye.