Saturday, July 23, 2016

Kabali - the best message to Rajni fans

When Pa. Ranjith got the opportunity to make the next Rajnikanth film, the industry as well as fans were baffled, and rightly so. How could a director who has made just two movies get to make a Rajni movie? Post the release of Kabali, the fans are divided on the outcome. Disappointment seems the more dominant emotion among fans and non-fans alike. But there is enough reason to believe this movie was just what Rajni needed now to take his career forward, and Rajni was the most perfect choice for this script. It was high time Rajnikanth stopped playing young roles, and there was no better way to break away from the trend than Kabali. The movie gives glimpses of both the yesteryear Rajni and the current superstar but struggles to mix the ingredients well and find the right balance.

The first half mainly builds the plot(around gangster Kabali's life after his release from prison after 20+ years). The community is at his heart and he tries to do good things for them. The scenes where he interacts with juvenile delinquent Tamil kids in a support foundation speak volumes both script-wise and for Rajni the actor. That scene is commonly criticised as a draggy scene, but I felt that was one of the highlights of the film, the way the conversations happen in a casual manner with no importance given to heroism. This scene also helps build the back story which is the crux of Ranjith's plot. The symbolism of wearing suits as a form of protest against the upper classes is established really beautifully. The way Kabali's personal life is woven into the story is also impressive (for the most part). Radhika Apte in the few scenes she appears just nails the role. So much that you wish she had more screen time. Dhansika as the fearless daughter too fits the bill perfectly and breathes a whiff of fresh air when it comes to depiction of heroines in Tamil movies, but at some places her acting and voice-over disappoints, especially at the end of the first half when the revelation ("Appaaaaa") is made. The film abounds with such scenes where one wonders why the editing has been badly done. Of the remaining cast, Attakathi Dinesh shines in his comic role as Kabali's loyalist. Kishore as usual is a class actor in his role as Veera. The main villain John Lee was a big let-down. No complaints about Santhosh Narayanan though. He was the second star of the movie. Brilliant BGM. I just wish "Vaanam paarthen" had a full song dedicated for it like "Maya Nadhi". There are many scenes from the movie that warrant a second or a third viewing, but overall the impact of the movie is "Meh". I can't blame Ranjith for it though. He is just another upcoming director who got too big a responsibility too soon. Let's cut him some slack. One can't expect the CEO of some new year-old startup to quit and go on to head Google.

In a way, Kabali's biggest message is to Rajni fans itself. As a Rajni fan myself, my thoughts at the end of the first half and during the second half conveyed the harsh reality of the Rajni superstardom in Tamil Nadu/India. I really liked the first half which had lesser entertainment value, but built up the core message really well - the plight of the Dalits in Malaysia. The overall response in the theatre though seemed bad. The second half had more thriller-type and entertainment value scenes, which were the typical-Rajni-kicks-villain's-ass and revenge-themed. There was lesser scope for the crux of the movie. I found myself cheering for the Rajni movie rather than the movie itself. I wanted the film to succeed. Here is where I could identify with the dilemma of a person such as Ranjith to make a Rajni film. The scope was there for this film to be really up there as one of the best Rajni movies after he became a super star, but somehow the narration messed it up. That's why I say this movie is a message to Rajni fans. Don't pressurize directors to sell their soul for your superhero. There is more to a Rajni movie than just his style and entertainment value. Relish the character actor in him. Relish his portrayal of subdued emotions. Enjoy the casual conversations he may have as a normal man. Blush along with him when he still achieves romantic sparks at this age. Above all let him do such movies and break away from the formulaic tripe we have become used to.

Friday, January 22, 2016

2016 Oscar season movies review

Inside Out - My favorite movie of the year. Oh my, nobody can imagine like Pixar. Probably the best animation film made for adults, competing with Studio Ghibli. The concept of giving a shape to different emotions and how they interact within your mind has been implemented to perfection. Worth a second watch and a third, just to appreciate the various nuances in the story-telling. In a way, if you appreciate the way emotions work, the message of the movie can in fact help everyone react to real life situations in a better way.

Spotlight - A real life story on a sensitive subject of a religious scandal. Well-executed and keeps you engrossed all through. Investigative journalism movies such as "All the president's men", "Frost/Nixon" have a special sort of charm. And this movie too doesn't fail in that regard.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Absolutely loved everything about this film, from the visuals, the direction, the acting, and best of all the background music. The shot of the masked guitarist ripping music amidst a wall of speakers on a mean machine moving through the desert - one of the most legendary scenes in cinema. Pretty disappointed that the composer, Junkie XL didn't get the recognition due for his score on this movie. Hans Zimmer has called the score "absolutely phenomenal and mind-blowingly brilliant." That's god-level.

Ex Machina - One of the best Artificial Intelligence-themed movies for sure, tying for honors with last year's Her. Though the concepts presented are not new, the way the philosophical themes of AI are discussed, this is a movie that makes you think hard for the most part while watching and after as well. The interactions between Ava(the humanoid robot) and Caleb(the Turing tester) are beautifully executed. Alicia Vikander as Ava and Oscar Isaac as the scientist are both splendid in the film.

Room - A story of a young woman and her child held captive in a room, and how they deal through the situation. Powerful emotionally, to say the least. Jacob Tremblay as Jack has provided a performance that is highly deserving of Best Actor in a supporting role. But unfortunately the Oscars don't recognize performances by child actors. High time they started a category for this, as so many performances go unrewarded every year. Though Brie Larson has done justice to her role, there is nothing exceptional about her acting. But I believe she should be the favorite for this year's top acting honor.

The Revenant  - Movie-making at its finest. Inarritu stuns with this raw movie on themes of survival and betrayal. Though di Caprio has done a great job as the lead actor in the film, it is Tom Hardy's performance as Fitzgerald that steals the show. Emmanuel Lubezki has great chances for a record third consecutive cinematography win.

The Big Short - An adaptation of Michael Lewis's novel on the 2008 housing crisis and the collapse of big financial institutions. The style is slick, the way the director Adam Mckay has simplified a complex subject for the average film-goer is appreciable. A movie I enjoyed for the humor more than the story or the brilliant star cast, Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling being the best of the lot.

Steve Jobs - A great character study of Steve Jobs, delving into his personal life more than the professional. Though it largely portrays him in a negative light, I wouldn't call it completely negative. It was realistic and Michael Fassbender packs a punch by becoming Jobs himself. Though it was a little disappointing to not have enough coverage of the charisma of Jobs in the product launch events, I guess it was a conscious choice, as we have all those videos in the public domain itself.

Carol - A poignant tale of an intimate relationship between two women, but the only thing I enjoyed in the film was how much Rooney Mara resembles Audrey Hepburn in the film. Breathtaking likeliness, and perhaps deliberately so. Cate Blanchett is her usual self, but not a performance worth an Oscar. Rooney Mara has a better chance.

The Martian - Realistic science fiction, probably loyal to the book. But due to this, the movie isn't really an enjoyable watch. Though not a drag, the plot is just about good to carry through. Effectively tells the story of the potential consequences of an astronaut stranded in Mars, and provided he is a smart zoologist, how he manages to survive. The science of the movie is probably debatable, but that is beyond my comprehension.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Endhiran

At a theatre in Paris, French nationals who’ve just finished watching some movie are walking out of the earlier show and stare incomprehensibly at the Indian (predominantly Tamil) crowds thronging impatiently to enter the cinema hall. They walk away with an amused smile or a bewildered look at the raucous scenes. If only they knew a little about the man behind all this mania, they wouldn’t be surprised. Rajni Rajni everywhere!

Endhiran was pre-declared a superhit even before the release, going by the trailer. So expectations naturally were high, and the crowd ever-so exuberant. The title credits rolled with Pudhiya Manidha in the background, and the movie took no time whatsoever in introducing “Chitti” - the robot, the soul of the movie. The brilliance of the animation effects used in the movie was evident from the very beginning. A humanoid robot that can walk, talk and do the shtyles like “The Superstar”. Absolute treat to the eyes. The dialogues in the first half were quite humorous and the robot’s timely line delivery in all the scenes was impeccable. Rajni’s control over comedy was enough to carry forward the film for quite some time. The story developed quite neatly throughout the first half and had you accept the fact that Shankar has thought through the details and conceived the ideas very well. Even the “villain” Danny Denzongpa didn’t appear too out of place. In fact some of his actions seemed justifiable and logical in the beginning. Of course there are some places in the movie where you have to accept this is a Superstar movie and considering it’s a Rajni robot, it doesn’t give a hoot to Asimov’s laws(which is clarified by Thalaivar also).

Aishwarya Rai, still looking quite a doll for her age has played whatever minimal role she has with perfection. Some of the dance steps will bowl you over. The crowd was whistling as vigorously for Ash as it was for Rajni, in some of the songs. That shows some performance, indeed. Or maybe guys never change.

I’d not give too much detail about the second half – consider it enough to say that a Rajni fan would delight in the indulgence in “Rajni”isms. Alex Pandiyanesque style in the 2nd half, combined with the laughter is just brilliant. One can find other references too to movies like Ejaman, Padayappa, maybe even Netrikan. Those detractors who said Rajni doesn’t act any more would be silenced.

Technology is the second biggest plus to this movie after Rajni. Animatronics on par with the Hollywood biggies is indeed an achievement to be proud about for Shankar and the Indian film industry itself. The stunts by Yuen Woo Ping(who's also worked on The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, etc) are amazing, especially the train scene. The visual effects at the end, made at Stan Winston Studios are so mindboggling you will be wowed continuously. Many of Rajni’s movies used to have a snake featured(was rumoured to be for luck). In this movie, the giant snake made up of Rajni robots is quite a spectacle to watch.

A.R.Rahman’s songs have already topped the charts, but visually “Irumbile oru” and “Arima Arima” are the best. The BGM was a tad disappointing though, especially the “2.0 2.0” thing. What were they thinking, seriously! Art direction by Sabu Cyril is splendid, needless to say, as always in Shankar movies. Cinematography by R.Ratnavelu is impressive, though not award-material.

Finally, to sum up, the movie is a very different Shankar movie and also a unique Rajni film as you will find out once you watch it. Credit should be given to both the director and Thalaivar for experimenting and pulling it off rather quite well. The message about the war between man and machine, though clich├ęd, is new to the Indian film industry and has been rendered effectively. Overall, a thorough entertainer, this one!! Just hope Rajni has more in store in the future. Can’t even imagine the void in cinema once he quits.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Inception - A flick with a kick!

So much hype for an English movie has never been generated ever before, what with an initial 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and near 9.6 IMDB rating. Christopher Nolan's Inception seemed to be a deja vu of The Dark Knight(which too had reached No.1 within days of its release). So much hype that when the movie released in Lucknow, and in English, I couldn't resist booking tickets and go to the first show I could go to, despite having an exam the next day. Who cares! Christopher Nolan, and I had to watch this movie before other opinions would come out. The movie was an experience that reminded me instantaneously of The Matrix, which I saw 11 years ago. Friends with blank expressions looking at each other during the movie. It was evident after the first 10 minutes that Nolan is going to take you through a big conundrum of a movie, and make sure you watch it again. This is Nolan's biggest box-office strategy(to confuse viewers to such an extent that they don't mind paying once more to watch the movie again).

Complex concept, brilliant imagination, an "open to your interpretation" climax - all hallmarks of a Nolan film. Inception is mindblowing on two levels(I don't mean the levels in the movie) - conceptualization and post-movie impact. Such movies are hard to come by, those that make you want to keep discussing about the movie and finding out new possibilities every time you discuss it. By not making it all clear to the viewer, Nolan lets your mind flow freely, trying to find answers to those unexplained questions or supposedly loose ends. If you are someone who dreams a lot and remembers stuff you dreamed about, this movie is definitely bound to be one of your favorites ever. After the movie, I really have got started on lucid dreaming and reading up on it. There's a lot of psychology and dream-lingo in the movie, but if you take some effort to understand all of it, you'll realise that he's done justice and portrayed the concepts quite well. Even the action sequences go in tandem with the screenplay, rather than being used just for the Wow factor. However, some sequences do get repetitive and feel unwarranted, which could have been improved upon. The screenplay is too pacy perhaps and more time could have been spent on a little character development, as you never ever feel attached to any character all along the movie. It might seem like nitpicking, but hey it's Nolan - we expect the best from him.

Hans Zimmer's score is also undoubtedly one of the high points of the movie, blending well with the screenplay and never seeming odd. A very high likelihood of winning the Oscar unless he comes up with
something better. Cinematography by Wally Pfister(a Nolan regular), and set direction also deserve special mention, as apparently very few computer effects were used for the hotel hallway fight scene, and the special effects were made using a complex set of revolving rings and electric motors and what not. Cast-wise, DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, needless to say is the star of the cast He's at the height of his career, having acted in some of the best movies of late.

Having said all this, Inception's themes are quite similar to those in The Matrix, Dreamscape, A nightmare on Elm Street, etc and the visual imagery(especially the Penrose stairway) used in the movie was inspired by M.C.Escher. Though heavily overlapping with such previous creations, the originality of Inception lies in the screenplay that Nolan has constructed around lucid dreaming. Yet, I can't help but compare it specifically to The Matrix, which dealt with a similarly complex concept about reality and had multiple interpretations made by Internet users even during the pre-IMDB and pre-Facebook era. Nolan himself has admitted being inspired by The Matrix school of thought, but it might be far-fetched to say that the inception of Inception may not have happened if not for The Matrix. However in my opinion, The Matrix as a movie experience was better than Inception. This is not to take away any of the brilliance of Inception, but I guess I'm more of a hardcore Matrix fan.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

How in the world can you manage to make adults cry over toys? - Only Pixar can tell! Toy Story 3 - a sequel that so convincingly makes the original fade in comparison. How often do you see that in movies? IMDB no.7 within a week of release. Brilliant movie with 3D animation that looks so real, and a climax that is so heart-warming, even if you were not much of a toy-loving kid. The essence of innocence and childlike nature(that my Hindi teacher once said everybody should have even after growing up) is so beautifully conveyed in the film.

Plot-wise, you need not have watched the previous films in order to watch this film. The character development is good within this film itself, but if you have seen the earlier films, you'll certainly connect more with Woody, Buzz, Mr.Potatohead, Rex, Slinky and the likes. I personally saw Toy Story after Toy Story 3 and wished I could have seen it earlier. The fans of the series(who saw the first film as a kid, and are now in their twenties) would be the happiest of the lot. No one would have expected this movie would meet the expectations created by the hype. But it has exceeded the expectations by miles. The action element is like in most of the Pixar movies - abandonment, capture, rescue operations, etc. But the sequences are really creative this time around too  - Usually sequels lose out on this aspect, but not here. Some specific scenes that had me in splits - the one where Woody skids on a roll of toilet paper, the one where factory-mode Buzz calls Jessie a temptress.

The emotions evoked through the last segment of the movie are the most important selling point for the movie, but the build-up to the climax is no less by any means. When the story and animation is this good, you don't need the garb of 3D to pull audiences to theatres, as conveyed in this interview. Stuff matters, and that is where Pixar rules the animation world! Keep rocking!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Quick Gun Murugun - Go watchhit I say!!

A Channel V cult character, developed into a Hollywood-length Bollywood movie. Not many think it would become a box office hit. It may not, really. But it sure is to become a cult classic. The humour is not the typical Bollywood masala humor one is so bugged of these days. It is a genre totally new to Indian cinema, I say. An Indo-"western" spoof that has stood the test.

Though the USP of the movie is its Hinglish dialogues spoken in Tamil and Telugu, which were amazing throughout the movie, I was even more majorly impressed by the creativity in introducing humor into the scenes. Wild PJs(mokkai in Tamil), Hollywood movie spoofs, Monty Python style wacky writings in the background, the effective use of background tracks(esp the "Good Bad Ugly" ones and echoes), flying and reloading bullits. What not!

The plot is not all that bad too, for a superhero movie(spoof). Rajendra Prasad has certainly justified his selection for the role. Great expressions and style. Family sentiment is also used effectively(when QG shouts Anna, his body language was so MGR). It was already humorous, but those who know he is imitating MGR would laugh harder at that. And the locket bit(with Lola kutty) is also quite well made. Nasser as Rice Plate Reddy, Rambha as Mango Doll(perfect candidate for the love-lady of a superhero spoof) and Raju Sundaram as Rowdy MBA are the major supporting characters that rock the screen. The MBA soundtrack was awesome(gonna make it my ringtone).

Music and Lyrics (hyphen) wow, I say. Sagar Desai and Raghu Dixit(Murugan Superstar). Lyrics by Ankur Tiwari and Shellee. Surely Cult level. "Idli appam sambhar khaao... Quick Gun murugan ke gun gao, yeh hai rebel without a caaauu, Mind it Mind it!"... He he. Of course, the movie may not appeal to many others. So don't come bashing my review if you didn't. Our senses of humor don't match then, that's all. And I don't mind it, I say(Exclamation marke) :-D

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Firaaq

Ignoring political undertones of Firaaq having been released in India at this time, just ahead of the elections, one must bow to Nandita Das for making a directorial debut with this gem of a movie. Firaaq is a honest tale of the lives of Muslims in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots in 2004. It is a tale of brutal reality, conveyed more through emotions than through actions. Infact, there is just one act of violence that is shown in the movie. And that is enough to make the viewer ponder about how somebody could harbour such hatred(that too based on communal grounds) in oneself. There have been many movies that have dealt with the brutality of religious riots in India - Bombay, Black Friday, why even Slumdog Millionaire. But all these movies had to employ many scenes of action and violence to convey the effect. They just made us wonder why such things happen. How Firaaq differs is by delving into the psyche of the victims and capturing the element of fear in a very poignant manner such as not achieved in those movies, even by the legend himself, Mani Ratnam.

There are six stories narrated in the movie, and some of the tracks are interlinked. Every character in the movie is affected by the riots in a certain way, though not in the same way. An upper-class hindu-muslim couple, a Hindu fanatic who was part of the rioting group and his wife who feels guilty for being a helpless bystander, a revered Muslim musician who inspires fellowmen through his songs, another lower-class couple who lose their house in the riots, a group of Muslim friends who seek revenge, and a poor little kid who has witnessed a lot of gore in the riots and survived it. Through the different characters, Nandita has showcased what goes on in a victim's mind - anxiety, fear, helplessness, anger, the urge to rebel, the desire for retribution. The movie also succeeds in making you wonder what the hell goes on in the perpetrator's mind. The success of a good psychological movie is in posing difficult questions, not in answering them. Because there is no definite answer to some questions. That is where Firaaq shines. Even though all the tracks reach a kind of closure, the climax would seem kind of abrupt. One might feel disappointed, but after a little insight you would realise there couldn't have been a better climax.

Acting is terrific, no doubt as most of the actors are/were originally great theatre artists. Mohammed Samad as the kid and Deepti Naval as the housewife of the fanatic shine out particularly. Naseeruddin Shah plays his role to perfection. It was great to see Paresh Rawal in a serious character, for a change. He has funny lines too in the movie. Shahana Goswami is a refreshingly talented actress. A wonderful ensemble cast, overall.

Ravi K Chandran is the cinematographer and he has infused a lovely visual look in the movie. In certain scenes, the streets of Gujarat seem to convey the grim nature of the period even though there is no action on the streets. Credit also has to go to the art director Gautam Sen. Music is by not-at-all-popular people Rajat Dholakia and Piyush Kanojia, but the background score is certainly effective. But one wishes A.R.Rahman was a part of this project.

Overall, a must-watch for all Indians who need to get a grip on reality instead of condemning a whole community as crime-perpetrators and terrorists. I'm glad an Indian actress has come up with an original movie as good as this. The standard of Bollywood seems to be improving, with a lot of offbeat directors creating successful movies. Let's hope the trend continues.