The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

US Presidential hopefuls take RVs, Che went on a motorcycle. The point is you need to go on a road trip to become a successful leader of the people

Ee Adutha Kalathu (Recently)

Strange and familiar make an appearance together for the first time in Malayalam cinema and the pair is a hit

Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl

Four feisty ladies, upbeat music and a handsome conman. Anushka gets Ranveer. Bollywood gets Parineeti

Das Boot (The Boat)

Best WWII film ever, in fact the best war film ever. In true German fashion, restraint is applied by shooting the entire movie inside a U-boat

Neelathamara (Blue Lotus)

Blue lotus shares the same stature of blue moon in Malayalam, so do good remakes. This one bucks the trend.

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Aug 11, 2017

Book Review: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Comedy Central must have really done its research and as a member of its audience I thank them for introducing us to Trevor Noah. To get a comedian all the way from South Africa, an unknown face to most of the American public, as the presenter of a headlining show is a gamble they took. I hope it will pan out for the both Noah and the network. With two years under his belt The Daily Show hosted by Trevor Noah is slowly inching up in the ratings chart and holding it steady after an initial slow year.

Reading his memoir, Born a Crime, I am all for team Noah and want him to be successful. The man has come a long way from his humble South African beginnings. The book was an eye-opening introduction to what is like to grow up straddled on the race fence in South Africa during apartheid (albeit it was in its final descent.)

As a child of a forbidden union, a secret child who needed to be kept invisible and then later on as a young man who defied categorization and racial profiles, Noah's a staggeringly mind-blowing journey. From the teen hustler churning out copied CDs in the slums of Soweto to the interesting new face chosen to replaced the legendary Jon Stewart, it almost seems like an impossible hop.

Noah dedicates his memoir to his mother, "For my mother. My first fan. Thank you for making me a man." An extraordinary woman in an extraordinary time, she chose to have Noah because she wanted a child, her child, who will have everything she didn't have. She did not have Noah to consummate her marriage. For there was none between her - a South African Xhosa woman and his Swiss-German father who was twenty years her senior. In a way, Trevor Noah and the way she brought him up was her raising the middle finger against apartheid and boy, I am sure he has made her proud!

Born a crime is a powerful account of coming of age in a historically important time and place, lived through and written by one of the astute commentators on society and culture of our times. Definitely worth a read.

Aug 8, 2017

Naam Shabana

Best thing about Naam Shabana is its perfect casting of Shabana. Bollywood is discovering the girl in their own backyard who had to travel south first to prove her talent. Manoj Bajpai is all gravitas, as we expect him to be. Akshay Kumar in his super man cameo is an elusive and slithery master spy and Prithviraj is exploring the negative role niche further in Bollywood (or digging himself into a deeper hole, you decide.) 

Women in combat sports is a happening theme Indian movies (Bollywood and regional) for the last few years, thanks to the medals Indian women have been bringing home from all the international sports meets. Naam Shabana takes Shabana's combat sports talents and shakes it up with a revenge drama stirs it into an international spy thriller. I am glad it is a girl bashing up the bad guys, but not really glad that often times our evasive male master spy has to extract her out in the end.

I watched this movie as a Tapasee Pannu vehicle, a Bollywood movie helmed by a female actor and didn't try to dissect the script or the direction (Shivam Nair.) Had to fast forward most of the last scenes and while doing so caught a glimpse of Anupam Kher in what looked like a baldness cure job gone bad - no idea what he was doing with computers, didn't look like he should be anywhere near one.


Jul 26, 2017

Take Off

Fiction is often created exploring the far-fetched what-ifs of life. But sometimes life outsmarts fiction, the improbable happens to the everyday human. You, me or our neighbor next door becomes the new story without any intention of being so. Most times these otherwise inconceivable events are not usually pleasant in nature. It stretches the limits of human spirit and makes heroes out of average Joe or Jane. Some of these form the material of 'based on a true event' movies. TakeOff is one such movie.

Based on a real-life rescue mission of Malayali nurses trapped in the war zone of Iraq and taken captive by ISIS in 2014, TakeOff takes it material from their harrowing few days in captivity and a coordinated diplomatic rescue mission that procured their release. The engagement of the audience with the subject is brought by focusing on the life of one of the nurses, called Sameera, inspired from the character of one of the real-life nurses involved and played in the movie by Parvathi Thiruvoth.

The treatment, development and execution of Sameera's character - an independent working woman from a Muslim family, who becomes a divorcee and later marries her coworker, has been done commendably. Shot in actual locations, this is a laudable effort by the movie makers to convey authenticity of the situation, hopefully this will be a trend others will follow.

Also worth noting is the moderation exercised in tugging the heart strings of the audience through a melodramatic script which the original story had immense 'potential' for. The script, direction and acting have worked together to create as faithful an interpretation as possible, except for one part at the end (involving Kunchako's character.) But who does not like a happy ending and you have to considerate to a producer who put in the money and effort to let the crew shoot in real locations. So in the light of ensuring the producer's return on the investment, I, the clueless but haughty reviewer, approve this slight of script.

Parvathy Thiruvoth is a force to reckon in the Malayalam movie industry today.  Kunchako Boban and Fahad Fazil are grounded and mature in their supportive roles and so is Asif Ali, who also gets to put in a few minutes. Great job, director Mahesh Narayan and team Take-Off.

Jul 11, 2017

1971 : Beyond Borders (...and beyond comprehension)

Film makers make films they are passionate about. If a director can create a larger than life character as a flag bearer of this passion and rope in a super star to play it, it will be easier to find a producer sympathetic enough to bet his/her money on this 'passion project.' 1971: Beyond Borders is  the latest installment of Major Ravi's exploration of his primary passion : Indian military and his secondary passion - Lt.Col Mohanlal.

Major Ravi's moral bulletin of all humans being bros, not defined by borders and political, religious or racial interests is a commendable message to propagate through the medium of cinema. As a member of not-his-target audience my grouse is the cliche-laden story, the script that could have benefited from having a script writer, the casual and incorrect use of conversational English and the overwhelming presence of our 'complete' actor Mohanlal.

And what were black people doing as rebels in Georgia? This is one of the former states of the USSR, the nation on the Black Sea coast in Europe that I am talking about. Did Abkazians export troops from Africa to fight their civil war? Anyway who cares about real facts when Mohanlal is about to set the history right for Georgians, Pakistanis, Indians especially Malayalis.

I set out on watching 1971 : Beyond Borders knowing very well that the workings of Major Ravi's brain will be beyond my comprehension and I should not even more for a second nurse the hope that I will like this movie. Nor did I entertain the false illusion that this film while time traveling back to the seventies will give us back the Mohanlal of the eighties. Sad to say, I was not proven wrong in any of these aspects.

Jul 3, 2017

Angamaly Diaries

Ambitious - with 86 new faces, this unconventional movie rocks to the lyrics of Damn It Feels Good to be Gangsta (Geto Boys) whenever I rewind it in my mind. Not that it lacks an offbeat sound track - by Prashant Pillai, it's just that 'thug life' feel it gives.

Another thing it reminds me of is the kinetics and aesthetics of the City of God, not the Malayalam movie, but the Brazilian Cidade de Dues (portguese) by Fernando Meirelles. The spry camera action through Angamaly's narrow crowded streets is reminiscent of the dynamic hand-held scenes through Rio's favelas. Both movies make a feast out the urban grime, grittiness, gutsiness and desperation

Chemban Vinod Jose rises as a writing talent in this movie directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery known for his whimsical creations (ref-Amen.) In the middle of 'team' (gang) rivalries, pig killings, pork recipes in action flavoring the heat and throes of life in Angamlay (a small town near Kochi, Kerala) there is a handsome hero, Pepe (Antony Verghese) and his bevy of girl friends to keep things interesting.


Jun 21, 2017

Raees

Raees is Shah Rukh Khan time traveling to the eighties with aviator style frames (his character has a vision problem), shirts with shoulder epaulettes and several colorful rotary phones at his disposal. Director Rahul Dholakia’s DeLorean-esque powers place Shah Rukh in a coastal town in Gujarat, which is looking for a savior, although the town does not know that yet.

Before we jump into the movie, some trivia action first. Skip on to the next paragraph, if you are not into such 'trivial' stuff. Gujarat, the home state of the current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi is a realm of contradictions. It has the longest coastline (990 miles) of any Indian state but not many people are into seafood. They prefer thin flat-breads of varying thinness ending with 'la' or 'li' to dead fish any day. It is a state known for its tough Hindu identity politics but also has a sizeable Muslim population; both communities are known for their entrepreneurial spirit. It is also a ‘dry’ state, the sale and consumption of alcohol is banned 24/365, but it remains one of the biggest markets for illicit liquor in India, with special features including home delivery.

Raees Aslam, the main character played by Shah Rukh is a Muslim bootlegger/ multi-talented entrepreneur(all Gujaratis are entrepreneurs of some sort, but not all entrepreneurs are Gujaratis) who insists that he would not mix religion with business and holds true to his word for most of the story. The film is all about Raees-the man aka Shah Rukh Khan. So if you are not into Shah Rukh, beat it. Or better still, hang around, Shah Rukh does give many opportunities in this film for you to trash him with his signature mannerisms  peek-booing into his performance not very infrequently.

Then there is the inimitable Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the honest cop Majmudar who has a weakness for all things in writing. The beautiful Pakistani actress Mahira Khan stars as Shah Rukh's lady love.  Maybe it's make up, maybe it's Mahira (I suspect it is make-up on both sides), while Shah Rukh manages to look younger, Mahira succeeds in looking older thereby bridging their couple of decades worth of age gap in real life rather skillfully. 

The ubiquitous Indian drink - chai (tea), in shot-glass sized cups makes numerous appearances not only as a drink, but as strategic props and pointers to help the chai-drinking bootleggers and co. keep one step ahead in the game of whoever is chasing them at the moment - be it the cops or other really wicked bootleggers. When liquor flows like water it is chai you crave for - is the moral of the story.

Raees is pure Bollywood masala in a realistic setting. The streets of Bhuj where the movie is shot adds an indisputable made in Gujarat seal. Music and songs which can make or  break a Bollywood blockbuster is just the right mix tape, with different music directors or bands composing each song, that DJ ordered for making Raees a success. All in all I'd consider Raees a well-aged Bollywood moonshine.

Jun 5, 2017

Hell Or High Water

West Texas is the romanticized West of twenty first century Hollywood still populated by outlaws, sheriffs and thousands of cows. The edgy element of romance is provided by skeletal still art of derricks dotting the desert-scape, populated by dirt-poor ranchers, slick oilmen and occasionally, in saunters Jeff Bridges in a cowboy hat.

In Hell or High Water, West Texas is played by Eastern New Mexico. Same difference, the same earth under the same sun on either side of an invisible human-drawn administrative line, apparently invisible lines have no effect on geographies.

In addition to the strangely addictive West Texas-Jeff Bridges combo, Hell or High Water has a great cast and a subtly kick-ass script by Hollywood’s true Texan writer – Taylor Sheridan. Directed by David Mackenzie, the movie is about two brothers taking revenge on a financial institution, to put it indirectly staying clear of spoilers.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster work the dynamics of an endearing brothers-in-arms duo, one a happy go lucky ex-con and the other a reserved and protective father. The brothers are balanced on the other side of the law by two Texas rangers – wise-cracking Jeff Bridges and a half Comanche-half Mexican ranger played by Gil Birmingham. There is an interesting tension between these two law men characters  colored with sarcasm and racial jokes yet their banter (mainly one-sided by Bridge's character) has the looking out for each other, brother-from-another-mother quality.

The camera panning the desolate expanse of the desert towns and the story chasing the brothers through the lone star state's western outposts  captures the hopelessness, isolation and rapidly creeping poverty of the region. If you like neo-Westerns (there might or might not be cowboys, by Western I just mean they are shot in the American south west) check out Serpico, True Grit or Nocturnal Animals, the desert is a prominent player in all these remarkable movies.

May 23, 2017

Oru Mexican Aparatha

Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina  - thunders the rousing line in the song Kalipp, katta kalipp, as it tries to capture the pulse of young revolutionary Kerala in the movie, 'Oru Mexican Aparatha' (A Mexican Eternity/Infinity/Continuity anything but Enormity.) For a red-blooded Malayali who has not traveled much outside this tiny sliver of a state in southern India called Kerala, these Latin American countries are closer to his/her heart than say the capital of India, New Delhi. So was Russia at the some point, before glasnost and perestroika and finally Putin signed off on Russia's fall from grace in Malayalis' eye - but that's another story for another time.


2017 is painting the screens red for Malayalam cinema. The confluence of progressive young film makers and a communist-Marxist leadership back in power at the state has created a fertile time and space for left of the center films and all that amor for Latin America. In addition to Mexican Aparatha, there is CIA (Comrade in America) and Sakhavu, each showcasing a leading young actor in a left-leaning role and their posters literally painting Kerala red.


It's after a long time I have seen a movie with campus politics as its central theme. The election fever in a college campus and the political rivalry of Kerala's two main political parties - the so called right (Congress party's youth wing - KSU) and the Communist Marxist party's youth wing - SFI, is palpable in the film. The characters are real, make-up minimal, flags plentiful and songs rebellious and upbeat in this movie which is a tribute to the most politically conscientious audience in all of India.



The script is not the strongest, but I think the lack of knock-out dialogs make it more real and accessible. The first-time director Tom Ematty is probably exploring a scene and a place he is familiar with. Maharaja's College - a premier educational institution in central Kerala (Ernakulam / Cochin) has produced a lot of notable people - from Mammootty, Dileep and Aashiq Abu to Balachandran Chullikkad and Changampuzha. Maharaja's College and the men's hostel where they keep it real with charcoal graffiti and body building competitions in underwear form the backdrop for the story of a band of friends with SFY (~ SFI) affinity- portrayed by Tovino Thomas, Neeraj Madhav, Manu, Vishnu Govind and others. Their rival camp of KSQ (~KSU) has director-turned- actor Roopesh Pithambaran and Kalabhavan Shajon leading the pack.


The film takes place in two distinct time periods in Kerala's political history. The flashback part of it is played out in the watershed era of the seventies with the Emergency and its baggage of persecutions, rendered in the movie by a few bad wigs and a couple of songs. This was the era which gave rise to the biggest political warriors in Kerala's campuses like Simon Britto and Suresh Kurup. In the movie we have the martyr Kunjaniyan, representing this fire brand youth brigade. Most of the rest of the story supposedly takes place in the present time which confuses me a bit because, where are the cell phones? In the light of this glaring absence I can only assume that the movie takes place in the late nineties or early 2000s?


A minor episode of campus crush featuring Tovino and Gayathri Suresh is thrown in to add some color and songs. The story is an accurate sketch of the reality in Kerala's co-ed colleges where female political representation is usually confined to a sidelined Vice Chairman or an Arts Club secretary position. In the grand scheme of the things, this film belongs squarely to its male characters - Tovino and Neeraj Madhav, the heroes, who are counter-balanced by the amazingly astute anti-hero, Roopesh.  Tovino's might be the face that will sell the movie but the director has made believable actors out of Roopesh Pithambaran, Neeraj Madhav, Vishnu Govind and Manu.

I started to watch Oru Mexican Aparatha to while away a mindless hour or two. But the film captured my attention thrusting two handsome and charismatic heroes right-at-ya, right in the opening scenes,  Tovino Thomas and Che Guvera. Together they attained enlightenment in Mexico, fled the weapons-wielding bourgeoisie  and embraced the red becoming martyrs for the cause of downtrodden. Ask anyone who has roots in the land of chekavars (reference to a Neeraj Madhav dialog in this movie), this is a sure-fire way to gain our support. You placed your bets on the right story and the right people, Anoop Kannan.

May 15, 2017

Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbole

Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbole is a watchable movie starring Kerala's own, 'complete actor' - Mohanlal. For the discerning Malayali film viewer, post 1990s , watchable is a loaded term when it appears in the same sentence as Mohanlal. It is an anomaly, a singularity eliciting an anemic ray of hope that there is still room for improvement for Mohanlal, which he and his fans might not agree.



If Munthirivallikal is watchable despite Mohanlal or because of Mohanlal, depending on which camp you are in, a lot of that credit goes to its script writer M.Sindhuraj and director Jibu Jacob and in part to Anoop Menon. Never been a big Anoop Menon fan, but I loved the way he played the character of a ladies' man in the age of social media and cell phones - Venukuttan.


For me the problem with  Mohanlal movies - the ones after the 90s, is that the entire cast, script writers and directors genuflect before the presence of Mohanlal that they forget why they are there in the first place. It's not Mohanlal's fault that peoples jaws hit the ground in his god like presence. This movie is not free of such fawning over but there is an element of comedy and touches of reality which keep us entertained and hooked.


Mid-life crisis, life's regular crises and cries form the story line of this movie. It addresses the mid-way monotony and boredom of long term relationships.*SPOILER ALERT* In the movie, Mohanlal being the super human he is, succeeds in rekindling life into his vapid marriage with a little help from a red sari. While he is at it he also pulls of a rescue effort, extricating our next generation from teenage love, deemed sub-par compared to the love one might experience with one's life partner chosen through an arranged marriage.


...and thus the movie - Munthirivalllikal Thalirkkumbole (When Grapevines Bloom) ends with Mohnalal quoting Song of Solomon 7:12, a tribute to Padmarajan's masterpiece, Namukku Paarkkaan Munthirithoppukal (Vineyards for us to dwell in) which might have inspired its title and the choice of its main actor.





May 8, 2017

Blade Runner

Blade Runner dropped into my thoughts the other day in the form of Harrison Ford. I was trying to come up with the names of old Malayalam movies I wanted to watch and couldn’t remember even one. Then for some reason Harrison Ford popped up in my mind. Ford is not a particular favorite of mine. It is a mystery to me how he got himself into the two biggest movie franchises of all time – Star Wars and Indian Jones. Definitely it was not his looks or his animal charm. Some people are just plain lucky.

I might not have watched this Ridley Scott film earlier just because Ford played the main character. Anyway, without many choices last Saturday night, I paired a glass of Cabernet with Blade Runner and some cheese.It was an interesting combo. The casting of Rutger Hauer as the antagonist took away some of my hardship of watching a Ford movie. The rest of the cast was perfect, if you can excuse the 80s hair that seemed to have survived three and half decades of sculpted perfection.

Of all things a movie enthusiast might notice in a cult classic movie the first thing that struck me in Blade Runner's futuristic landscape of 2019 were the neon hoardings of the companies that no longer exist. Pan Am, Atari, RCA - all switched off their lights in 20th century. Later I learnt about the Blader Runner curse

Another observation is the absence of children. I will have to read Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", the sci-fi novel which served as the inspiration to this movie, to see if the introduction of robots nullified humanity's primary task - to procreate and propagate the species.

Watching this 1982 movie in 2017, two years away from the AI-rich dark future the movie is depicting, I am glad reality is considerably slower in pace than science fiction, and hopefully a lot less sinister. Blade Runner's dark and slick set design is quite a marvel. I read that the set design inspiration came from all over - from the Pope's sleeping quarters in Vatican to Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House. In real life 2017 flying cars are still in conceptual stages but Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are ramping up on the efforts. After all cars are only slightly bigger drones and drones are ubiquitous now. 2019 is still two years away to fatten up those drones.

Blade Runner is a movie to watch if you are interested in good old fashioned sci-fi. But then again if you were, you must have already watched it. Blade Runner or rather Philip K Dick's story had anticipated and provided material for lots of movies and TV series that came afterward. The most recent ones of the AI strain I can think are West World (world apart, but a perfect conceptual match) and some episodes of Black Mirror.

May 7, 2017

Ezra (Malayalam) & Dora (Tamil)

It has been a week of paranormal movies for me. I watched Malayalam movie Ezra followed by Tamil's contribution to the week - Dora. First let's see how Ezra fared.

Ezra is a well-put together movie. Is it a great horror film? It is not a horror film; it is a ghost story, you earth bound being. It did not work for me as a horror movie at all because horror means I am looking for something that would bring on the chills like The Shining or The Silence of the Lambs or The Vanishing.

I could easily watch Ezra in the dead of the night without any one around. Even with the menacingly dark shapes of trees moving outside the window it miserably failed to create even a flinch in my ghost film meter needle. Movies with paranormal perpetrators do not make much of an impression on me, so that is not a huge minus. I could even predict who the ghost was trying to take a shot at. *SPOILER* Even ghosts cannot resist the handsome and intelligent Prithviraj, just like us girls. You cannot blame the ghost for choosing wisely 😉

For a first time director, directing experienced actors like Prithviraj is a commendable achievement. Good job, Jay K. Now do not ask the question whether Prithviraj swapped seats with the director anytime during the shooting of this film. When Prithviraj is acting in a new director’s movie I have a feeling that he gets possessed by the director persona quite often – ghost flick or not.

Prithviraj has controlled and contained himself, maturing further as an actor. I can see he had nursed a secret wish to play a 'nukular' scientist and he got to do it in this film. Soon as he donned the 'nukular' outfit it was obvious who would be irresistible (more irresistible than usual I mean) to the paranormal (and normal folks.) Priya Anand - good to see the Fukrey actress after a long time, although she has nothing much to do as a stand-in temp.

The Jewish backstory is the real hidden gem in this whole movie. Don’t go looking for other gems, there aren’t any. Beautifully filmed with great cast and production design it is almost like a self-contained short film within the main movie.

My general impression about Ezra is it is an effort in the right direction to introduce exotic spirits to Malayalis who are all round ‘spiritual’ people. But there is nothing really scary in there. If you want a real scary movie I just remembered a better one from our next door neighbors from not too long ago - Yavarum Nalam or 13B.

May 5, 2017

Devasuram

As I grow older, I have a newfound respect for I.V.Sasi – a prolific Malayalam movie director. I had dismissed his movies as having too much ‘masala’ (spice), or from a western context, my take was his creations were mostly pulp fiction movies. However, Malayali audience had none of my misgivings and had made many of I.V.Sasi films super hits over the years.

I watched Devasuram recently, an I.V.Sasi movie from 1993 starring Mohanlal and Revathi. Written by Ranjith and based on a real life person (Mullasserry Rajagopal), the protagonist of the movie Mangalassery Neelakantan (played by Mohanlal) has a permanent place in the pantheon of iconic Malayalm movie characters.

This hugely successful film has a melodramatic story tied down in place by its strong willed lead characters – Mohanlal as the feudal scion Neelakantan, Revathy as the danseuse Bhanumathi and Napoleon as the villain Mundakkal Shekharan. The restraint in the script and direction in filming a story that had plenty of opportunities to go overboard is appreciated by my older wiser eyes.

Devasuram created a new re-usable role for Mohanlal, that of an authoritative feudal/local boss-man who leaps down from a jeep in signature sandals and flicks his mundu up with one feet and saves the day knocking the living daylights out of the bad dudes. He reprised this role in his later movies like Aaram Thampuran, Ravanaprabhu (sequel of Devasuram), Narasimham and Naran. From the witty, unemployed, happy go lucky young man or the flamboyant don characters he played in his twenties Devasuram graduated him in to the hard-ass protector and leader roles of his thirties, which he continues playing even now, well past the expiry date.

Interesting things I learnt after Devasuram:

Varikkassery Mana, Ottappalam: Shown as Mangalassery tharavadu in Devasuram became a favorite location for Malayalam movie’s after Devasuram was filmed there
Napolean aka Kumaresan Duraiswamy: The villain is this movie is a multi-faceted personality. He is an actor, an MLA, MP, a minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet, an IT company founder and CEO.

May 3, 2017

Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal

I write movie reviews for a couple of reasons. One is to keep my writing from becoming rusty. I write nothing much these days – no poems, no journals or blogs, only occasional hashtag sentences without spaces. All part of being one with the times. Alternatively, I could use the oft-resorted excuse of people with multiple progeny – busy as a bee about to go extinct.

The other reason for keeping this movie log is to keep track of the movies I watch and to capture my reaction and recollection of those movies. Unlike many film fiends that I know, who can belt out dialogs or keep track and explain back to me all the multi-linear narratives in Memento several years after they had seen the film, I tend to forget the details of a movie soon as I turn off the TV and put down the remote.

One night this week, between the evening rush, dinner and getting into bed rituals I watched a Malayalam movie I must have watched as a child, but have absolutely no recollection of. I can blame the passage of time, a quarter of a century or more, for my memory loss. Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal is often mentioned as one of the milestone Malayalam movies from the eighties. Directed by Fazil, it had beautiful songs and a leading pair who were pure eye candy at the time – Mammootty and Suhasini.

The story, as I rewatch it now, is pure Mills & Boons or Malayala Manorama – pick your poison. I wonder whether we (Malayali audience) were so melodramatic in the eighties that we could consume this movie without batting an eye. Not just that, we even made Fazil’s script and movie a big hit. Considering Puli Murugan’s success last year, we have not grown any wiser, only worse.

One thing I notice now about Fazil’s female characters is in most of his movies one of his pivotal female characters will die. This death becomes the undoing of all his other female characters who are then relegated to the sidelines and most often require a compassionate knight to see them through choppy waters. The box office success of Fazil movies were directly tied to the ability of his movies to work the tear glands of his female audience (in Malayalam  - sthree janangale aake motham kanneer aniyikkunna katha)

The female lead in Manivathoor, played by Suhasini leads a sheltered life that involves driving a Fiat (she is the default chauffer for all the male members of her progressive family) and idling around idyllic Ooty locales singing top 10 songs. She has absolutely no ambition other than making kanji (rice porridge) for her physician Dad and brother at dinner and chauffeuring them around, despite an early upbringing in the ultra-modern but morally corrupt London town.

It would be fair to say that a film with a female lead with such an uninspiring prosaic outlook is not going to get good grades from me and Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal gets a meh in my books. On to other forgotten(by me) eighties Malayalam movies on YouTube.

May 1, 2017

Titli

Titli is shot on the other side of New Delhi. It is the outer core of New Delhi's National Capital Territory and the dusty satellite cities of Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Noida where virulent skyscrapers and their support network of slums spring up on an everyday basis. Lutyen’s Delhi of wide vistas and imperialistic stone buildings could be another planet for the three brothers in this movie, who eke out a living in one of the many oppressive slums in this urban border zone.

Titli is not a story of geographies as my talk so far might have led you to believe. It is a story of people, people who follow unconventional means to make money and want to escape the claustrophobia of familial and economic dysfunction and move on to expansive landscapes with brighter possibilities.

Titli is the pet name of the youngest of the three brothers. A silent bystander in the beginning who then takes the story by the horns and turns into something of a coming of age movie for millennial youth from the lower strata of India’s urban society.

The movie extracts strong and memorable performances from its main cast that includes Shashank Arora as Titli, Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Shivani Raghuvanshi and the director Kanu Behl’s own father, theater actor-director Lalit Behl. As expected with the story, direction and the choice of actors one can predict that Titli is a festival circuit movie. It ended up bagging awards in different categories at several international film festivals, the most notable being the Camera d’Or nomination at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

It is an interesting movie to watch for a serious film viewer.

Apr 18, 2017

Moonlight

Oscars so white –  the street name for 2016 Oscars stuck even if it was hosted by one of the best black comedians ever – Chris Rock. To wash off the guilt of 2016, in 2017 the Academy tried to redeem itself by rewriting its liberal spiel of embrace-all and promote-all and re-branded its diversity image with a few shades of black. These shades of black came in the form of Moonlight and Hidden Figures.

The winner of 2017 Best Picture Oscar Moonlight is a deeply personal story and a semi-autobiographical film from writer Tarrel McCraney. For the first time in the history of Oscars, a Best Picture Oscar went to a movie without a single white actor. Man, the Academy must have felt really really bad about last year. If black people knew about the Academy’s depth of remorse, we would have had a few more new directors and actors from the African American community.

Moonlight - a movie that was in incubation for a decade was adopted from McCraney's play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” Both director Barry Jenkins and Tarrel McCraney comes from the same Liberty City neighborhood where the young protagonist grow up in. The camera, the screen play and the tight editing works with stellar performers to deliver a  celluloid poem that keeps it real in the gritty urban landscape. This is the ultimate outsider movie, told bloody raw.

I think it also belongs to new (?) genre of movies sprouting up in Hollywood - 21st century American Realism. We have some socially aware film makers turning their cameras and keyboards on to the wrecked backdrop of  middle America, sliding determinedly into poverty, rage and hopelessness. The other recent film that comes to mind belonging to the genre is American Honey, released in the U.S almost at the same time as Moonlight.

As viewers we need all kinds of films - the ones that makes us laugh, the ones that make us cry, the ones that make us deepen our understanding about human condition, Moonlight belongs to the last category.

Apr 17, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The answer is - inside J.K.Rowling's head. She is an incredible story teller and writer, but I have heard that she is an even more astute business woman. With her Harry Potter series spawning a world wide franchise the lady had to be good with her marbles, otherwise like J.R.R.Tolkien - the other similar genius, the corporations would have reaped in all the benefits (read billions) while she still scrimped to pay her taxes. Good for her, she is what she is.


Watched this movie with the kiddos. With their ages progressing to double digits (or almost) and their combined ages sitting squarely in the late teens I decided it's the right time to introduce them into the world of grown-up movies made out of children's books. They have a lot of experience watching adult comedy spouting from the mouths of their favorite animation film characters. This movie might be rather tame compared to that.


International travelers with strange looking/smelling luggage, which is practically every traveler at the port of entry of a country different from their own, will be able to empathize easily with the fantastic beasts' care taker and the protagonist of the movie - Newt Scamander.  That name itself is an interesting word play. I almost want to say Newt Salamander. Salamander is a lizard and newt is type of salamander. So the name is like lizard squared, whatever.

Back to Scamander, he arrives in New York city in the early 1920s and adds to the mayhem magnet that is New York (with or without wizards and lizards) a suitcase full of fantastic creatures. He has helpers of the no-maj(humans) and the wizard kind and powerful enemies. And the movie on a whole has better pace than some of the early Harry Potter movies (not the first one.) Good for kids who are interested in becoming paleontologists, zoo-keepers, wizards or bakers and watchable for adults of the no-maj kind.

Apr 11, 2017

Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck was born into this role. He did not need to put any extra effort to get into the persona of the out-of-luck down-in-the-dump New England janitor he plays in Manchester by the Sea. Well, it is a good role to be born into, for it won him the best actor Oscar this year. Matt Damon, you almost got your elusive best actor Oscar on this, if only you had dates.

Somehow, I am not feeling Affleck’s tragedy. Can’t get those tears to come even after watching those life-killing losses being inflicted on his character. Maybe because the film cuts in and out of past and present without much warning. Just as you are about to empathize with his wretched life you are yanked away into a different time period. Stylistically the random cuts should not stand in the way of my understanding and empathy for the main character’s depression and despair. 

Or could it be because the original tragedy and the relationships snuffed out by it, which led to this bluesy state of affairs was not given a lot of screen time? Was it because the director, Kenneth Lonergan (who appears in a cameo) didn't want the movie to end up being another tear-jerker but rather a long and drawn out character study of masculine depression?

Hmm… yes maybe that's why I cannot empathize, it is a very masculine movie. I am using the term masculine here as the other gender for feminine.All the main characters are male in a tale about a man dealing with depression the way the men would. Blue-grey New England winter provides the right grim backdrop against which this almost-European movie made by Amazon in Hollywood languidly unravels. 

The only time I could almost figure out the depths of Affleck's loss and his subsequent moodiness (which is 99% of the film) is when Michelle Williams (who plays Affleck's wife and then his ex) breaks down explaining her side of the tragedy. The trouble is actually with me, I am just not man enough to understand this movie.

Apr 10, 2017

Running Shaadi

Tapasee Pannu's star is in the ascendent in Bollywood. The 'North Indian kudi who acts in S.Indian films' is probably an address she is now moving away from. Pink, Running Shaadi, Naam Shabana presents a list of strong female oriented characters that has come the way of Tapasee. Of the three Running Shaadi is the least serious of her roles. Loved the rest of the cast too - Amit Sadh, Arsh Bajwa, Brijendra Kala, everyone fits in with the story.

Playing a wild child to Amit Sadh's more grounded male character, Running Shaadi is the story of friends growing up in small town Northern India. In the land of arranged marriages they start a business of arranging elopements via an online website, which is the title of the movie.

First time director Amit Roy, a cinematographer turned director has delivered an enjoyable little package. And thankfully we have less of the most over-used element in Bollywood, although the entire premise of the film essentially centers around it - the Bollywood shaadi. Have to give it to the director Roy and the writer Navjot Gulati for not falling into the trap of delivering another over-the-top Punjabi wedding masala.

Nov 15, 2016

The River or Le Fleuve

The River meandered in and met me on one of my many internet jaunts. Never knew of this movie's existence before a search for 'a movie to calm your mind' brought it up in on the inter-webs.

This Jean Renoir film from 1951 is one of the most accurate and realistic depictions of India from a Western perspective. There is even a question that one of the characters - new to the subcontinent asks a long time settler from the West, that whether he would see any person climbing on the rope and vanish into nothingness and the settler answers in the negative. Even today that is the kind of India the West has come to believe exists, but nothing could be farther than reality, even in 1951.


It is a coming of a age movie with real blood and bone characters. As someone brought up in India in the latter half of twentieth century who has never seen any Caucasians living as residents of the country, it was interesting and informative to see how the whites (not just the ruling class of British citizens) co-existed with the locals and how common it was in pre-independent India.


The story is set in Bengal in an area which falls in the present day Bangladesh. The Indians in the story celebrate Hindu festivals of Diwali and Holi. The director Jean Renoir shows the landscape of India in vibrant colors, but none which feels synthetic like a Bollywood movie or the caricature of India portrayed in the Temple of Doom or many other Hollywood movies fully or partially based in India. Like the director, the writer of the story, Rumer Golden deserves credit for having the guns to stick to reality.

Feb 21, 2015

Breaking Bad & True Detectives

I have never been big on watching any TV series after the initial high of having 24 hour television wore off in my teens. Buniyaad was a Doordarshan (India's national channel, only channel till the late eighties when cable TV was unknown in India) series we watched, as a family when we were kids - a generational story about a family displaced to Delhi by partition.

After that when cable TV took India by storm, we watched Bold and the Beautiful and Santa Barbara - those were my high school years. Then the romance with TV was over. I watched movies on TV but when the entire population was falling head over heels with over-the-top Indian soaps and later after moving to US except for intermittent HGTV and Food TV episodes network TV failed to catch my fancy.

That was till Breaking Bad happened. What a show! What a ride it had been with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. Today if anyone asks me where I want to move if given a choice, I would say New Mexico. That is the effect that TV series had on me. Incredible story line, strong, better than life characters, tight plots, didn't think any series in the past or the future could better it.

Recently I binge watched Season I of HBO's True Detective. It is a murdery mystery - cop drama, so if done well it has the potential to keep you hooked. But this was not just done well, it was brilliant. Screenplay, dialog, landscape (Louisiana coast) and the two lead character of police detectives Hart and Cohle played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McCounnoughey. I wish they were real people.

Breaking Bad and True Detective and series like those ( I wish there were more) when they are finished leave a gaping sad hole in your psyche. The sadness from the fact these are not real people, there is no Jesse Pinkman and Walter White in New Mexico. The inevitable letdown of coming to terms with the fact you will never watch the high-strung camaraderie and metaphysical punch line dialogs uttered by Cohle to Hart. For the few hours we were watching we forgot these were all actors, the story is not real.

Oct 15, 2013

Honeybee Its Trippin'


Youth does not always acknowledge or realize how being young looks good on them and how invigorating it is for the world to watch them shimmer, shine and rise. Honeybee…it’s Trippin’ as the title says is indeed a tripping ride through the kingdom of youth. 

Jean Paul Lal’s directorial debut is aimed straight at the box-office bull's eye. There will be talk about quality and content but with a song like ‘Neeyo’ capturing exploitative grace in slow motion with lithe young bodies tumbling over lyrical gun shots, I am sold. On screen I see that time and space in life where indiscernible love, gut-load of guns, inquisitive suitors, possessive brothers, platonic boy-friends, weirdly funny Kochi slang and NDEs in ocean are all justified – in the cauldron of boiling youth.

A generation ago, Lal.Jr’s Dad who was known as plain ‘Lal’ back then, now he is Lal.Sr, made his first movie with his friend and directorial partner Siddique. It was a movie that became a trend setter, beating out a new path – Ramji Rao Speaking showed us in 1989 that you can be young and hopeless yet emerge victorious on the other side whistling one of its chart topper songs. 

Almost a quarter century later (whoa, has it been that long!) HoneyBee  tries to find the same vein in new generation under the guise of kindling a love story to life. I could have done without the love story, but then there goes the plot, right? In fact Bhavana and Asif Ali – the leads are the ones who have the least juicy roles in the movie. The film belongs to its second benchers – Sreenath Bhasi, Baburaj, Balu, Vijay Babu and the beautifully handsome junkies. Fight sequences and chases on foot with its effective melding of slow motion and background music tells me Junior does know some tricks of the trade. It will be interesting to watch where he goes from here.


 Song: Neeyo

Apr 11, 2013

Petrified Forest

Humphrey Bogart looks uncharacteristically handsome in the movie that changed the course of his career from a failing actor to a super star. His voice delivery still sounds like metal grating on metal in slow motion, was it considered cool in those days to drawl like that ? Bogart signature deadpan drawl contrasts effectively against Leslie Howard's impassioned character of a washed-up writer vagabond and the half-French desert rose played by Bette Davis. As a lover of history, anthropology, culture and as a curious onlooker of societal evolution, I love to watch old black and white Hollywood movies - what once was, why it was and why it never will be, all explained in a nice two hour package.

Apr 3, 2013

Drive

A film created with an Instagram filter called That Seventies filter. A burnished LA flickers in the background as Ryan Gosling, everybody's ideal boy friend and Hollywood's answer to an exemplery human being, goes about on four wheels as a lone ranger dispensing justice on behalf of people he cares about.

True to director Nicolas Winding Refn's non-American roots the movie goes easy on smart talk, one-liners or any talk for that matter. The hero barely speaks unlike Tarantino's team but it is a movie worth watching nevertheless. Cinematography, sound track and script cut a new path in the Hollywood territory of defined by gangsters, mobsters, violence, gore,molls, fast cars and bags full of green bucks.

Mar 28, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Holden Caulfield simplified and brought into the nineties.

I was a little disappointed to learn that Logan Lerman is unlike the nerdy Charlie he portrayed, as a viewer I had invested so much into liking Charlie. I read the book first. Maybe because the writer himself was the director of the movie (Stephen Chbosky) there is nothing amiss in the movie that was in the book.

Mar 19, 2013

Movies about afterlife, reincarnation and what lies beyond death

 In their own separate ways, all these movies deal with death or after life or questions what lies or could lie beyond the cessation of our physical being. I have watched all the 10 in the list, but have written reviews for only six.

Below are the six from me....

21 grams: Probably the one movie in the list that actually doesn't deal with after life directly Its only connection is the mysterious 21 grams.

Source Code: If we could right a code to sustain our yearning for life.

Happy Accidents: Love and time travel, life or afterlife you decide.

The Lovely Bones: Looking down from a heaven above - life lost, lives being lived, the play goes on.

Five People You Meet in Heaven: This review is of the book, but the movie also has the same name and can make you teary eyed the way only a Mitch Albom creation can.

Ditto(Donggam): Kind of like the Lake House(in the list below), Korean with younger actors.

and the five from IMDb

Flatliners: I was bowled over by the doctors experimenting with dying when I saw it twenty years ago. 

Sixth Sense - M. Night Shyamalan had arrived and you began to see dead people.

Abres Los Ojos or Vanilla Sky - Illusion and reality, life and death.

What Dreams May Come - The one film that directly deals with afterlife and shows you what it might be like.

Lake House - Communicating across time beating the life-death cycle at its own game.

and the three I want to watch.

Wristcutters : A Love Story

The Dark

Enter the void




Feb 16, 2013

Watch Hulu's Critireon Collection for Free

...for the next two days, that is Hulu's Presidents' Day weekend gift. Hulu says its Criterion Collection is comprised of over 800 films from the masters of movies.  If you subscribe to Hulu Plus you can watch the collection commercial free but for the weekend deal has commercials. Feb 16-Feb 17 2013, you can catch the masters like Kurasawa, Truffat, Bergman, Polanski, Chaplin, Fellini, Wenders for free. Missing in the Criterion Collection are Latin American and Middle-Eastern, Indian film makers. But can't really complain abut free stuff.

Feb 11, 2013

Amitabh Bachchan in The Great Gatsby

Amitabh Bachchan does a peek-in-peek-out role in Baz Luhrmann's yet to be released 2013 version of The Great Gatsby. In the trailer you can watch him at 1:09 -1:18.

In Bachchan's own words, " My role is hardly of a minute. Baz Luhrmann was touring India on a motorcycle couple of years ago..going all over the country. He dropped in at my office with a friend who did some painting work for me. We just had a casual conversation and he left. A year-and-half ago he called me and said he has a small role for me, which he felt was not worthy for me. He asked if I would do it and I readily agreed. I did it as a gesture. It is not remunerative...I have not charged anything...just a gesture." He essays the role of the gangster Meyer Wolfshiem who I don't remember seeing the first Gatsby(1974), directed by Jack Clayton and starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

Luhrmann's Gatsby has the ultimate period hero of all times - Leonardo DiCaprio with Carey Mulligan and Tobey McGuire. It is interesting to see Indian actors in non-Indian roles in Bollywood.

Sep 28, 2012

The Road

The road is hopeless, long and grim
But they’ve to go on, his boy and him
To South and sun on some ocean’s rim
To South and sun on some ocean’s rim

That is the whole of The Road or my pseudo Frost-ian take on it. Cormac McCarthy won’t spare you like the pithy Mr.Frost. When I read the novel some years ago its apocalyptic vision haunted me for days. It also made me feel blessed, for what we human beings have today – the gift of life on the most beautiful planet in the Solar System and the entire known universe. The Road is very different from McCarthy's previous book that was also turned into a movie which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2007 - No Country for Old Men.

It’s been a long time since I read the novel, The Road. As usual I’ve forgotten most of its details except its pervasive air of doom and grey and its final flicker of hope. I think the movie has captured most, if not all of the core story and the portentous mood of the novel.

If you can appropriately capture the vision of a ghastly, leaden, blown open Earth and make the right casting decision for the roles of father and son, you’ve the movie in your pocket. Director John Hillcoat finds a perfect actor pair in Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee and along with cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and script writer Joe Penhall he creates a masterful visual poem of  life after the death of Earth.

If you want a little gloom and doom with your pizza and beer this Saturday night (now, isn’t that a perfect combo), check out The Road.

Sep 27, 2012

Mayamohini

Mayamohini is all about Dileep. If you like the actor, who goes by the honorary title of "Janapriya Nayakan" (vaguely translated by me as darling hero of the crowds), this is one movie you cannot miss and you probably have already watched it. When Dileep revealed his 'Chanthupottu' act in Chanthupottu in 2005, it was established that no other actor in current Malayalam cinema can do a transgender role with the natural ease and daring of Dileep, that too without being ridiculed for the loss of masculinity. Kerala State film award committee overlooked his ground breaking performance in favor of Mohanlal’s exaggerated portrayal of an Alzheimer’s patient that year.

Since Chanthupottu was a tough act to follow, I didn’t think a story/movie would come along with the same hilarious-to-the-boot appeal anytime soon. Mayamohini was a pleasant surprise. Not only does Dileep shine in an entertaining transgender role, he (with the help of script writers Udayakrishna and Sibi K Thomas) also presents the character without causing any deja vus of the 2005 film.

In addition to Dileep, Mayamohini sees the transfiguration of Babulal, the brawny "ex-villain actor" into a full-blown comedy talent. Biju Menon, one of the other actors in a main role is also seen experimenting with comedy, progressing upwards from his slightly humorous role in the film, Ordinary. There are two female leads in the movie Lakshmi Rai and Mythili, but their roles are negligible.

Dissecting a movie into first half and second half is not a technique I enjoy, but this is one movie that begs for it. Sorry director Jose Thomas, you have given us a good entertainer, thanks to fantastic acting by the lead actor, but I regret to say the second half sucked. Same thing happened with Chanthoputtu too. As long as we get to keep Dileep in his transgender role, it is a laugh riot. But movie makers in order to give a proper ending and to reaffirm the status of hero as a man, make a 180 degree turn in the second half and in the end we have the same formulaic pot boiler with an annoying climax with stunts, car chases and villains galore.

That said, I’ll watch and re-watch it just to ruminate over Dileep’s wonderful performance as Mayamohini unlike many commenters and reviewers who are lamenting over the vulgarity, crassness and cheapness of the movie. Chill, people, relax and get into the zone, the Dileep zone that is, after all this is the first Malayalam movie with a gay kiss scene (don't take your family lest homosexuality is contagious from screen to audience), a bold move for a product of a hypocritical and conservative society such as Kerala.

Sep 26, 2012

Diamond Necklace

Joy Alukkas got a 2 hour ad, Malayalis got a box office hit of the highest quality and Lal Jose and his team proved that they can give us good films more than once in a blue lotus (Mal: neelathamara.)

Diamond Necklace has us smack down in center of Keralites ‘sankalpa rashtram’ (means ideal nation, source: Gandhinagar 2nd Street) - Dubai and it doesn’t stop there, it takes us to the most coveted address in this emirate mecca – Burj Khalifa. There are cool cars and hot chicks, that’s the way Dr.Arun(Fahad Fazil), the hero of our movie, rolls. He’s into all that, while practicing oncology for sourcing his cash flow. Somehow the money stops rolling, while Dr.Arun continues to roll downhill, demonstrating a classic example of Newton’s first law and inertia of motion.


Dr.Arun is a ladies man, but he is not portrayed as ‘despo’ as Saif Ali Khan is in the first scenes of a recent Bollywood movie, Cocktail. In fact he is equally devoted to curvaceous four wheelers as he is to lithe two legged human females, no partiality there. He must have had a colorful history, but we meet the hero while he is working his charms and non-native language skills on a beautiful nurse from our neighboring state, Tamilnadu. That goes on for a while before his credit cards max out and he has to resort to extreme measures (read marriage) to save his future.



You cannot make a movie about Dr.Arun without a a bevy of belles, thus we have Gautami Nair, Samvruta Sunil and Anushree Nair crossing paths with our leading man. Dr.Arun has a support network outside his girl friends and colleagues, a group of hard working blue collar Malayalis led by Sreenivasan. The story is believable and  all the different angles are explored to the right extent. I couldn’t find any lose ends hanging or the captivating cinematography hid all the unwanted threads from my view.

The casting is perfect and all the actors have contributed their due share in making this movie a success. Fahad Fazil’s name has become synonymous as the thinking (wo)man’s actor. Anushree Nair, winner of the reality contest Vivel Big Break gets her big break and uses it to the hilt as one the three female protagonists.

The film has captured the changing ethos of Malayali society where the financial elite are going for diamonds over gold, for gold is so yesterday. If you don’t believe me, watch the segment where Joy Alukka pops in to affirm the value and the resale ability of a Joy Alukkas diamond necklace. But I am willing to overlook the diamonds in a movie named Diamond Necklace because it is all about people, really. 

For people who just can't get enough of Diamond Necklace, try these links...
  1. Lal Jose's own blog has a series of posts on the movie.
  2. If you really want to buy a diamond necklace, but don't want to pay for it, visit Alibaba in China (where else will you find Alibaba?)
  3. Or else satiate your diamond craving by buying a Diamond Necklace DVD from these places if you live in the United States. 
 

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