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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May 25, 2010

The Great Gatsby

Now I want to read The Great Gatsby, the movie tells me it has the makings of a great literary work - the bleeding handsome hero, the young narrator, the heartless leading lady and an era of magic and possibilities - the roaring twenties.

Robert Redford is a manifestation of Hollywood hero by the book. Unbearably handsome with a face that can emote, I realize Brad Pitt is the Robert Redford our age, or he is the best shot of this generation for the post of the quintessential American hero, but he is still not Redford. I have seen two Mia Farrow movies in a row never having seen a movie of hers before this. She is good, playing two distinctly different characters in the two movies. The other movie is Rosemary's baby.

The Great Gatsby was a movie I didn't expect to like and was surprised when I did. I was also surprised to see Sam Waterson in a film, as opposed to Law and Order. An interesting movie for a student of history and the growth of America, of course there is story thrown in. Well that's me, for you the story could be of two lovers separated by circumstances, time, culture and all that usually works against uniting lovers. I wind off with a quote from the original novel by F.Scott Fitzegerald,

"Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 3

May 24, 2010

Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's baby is stylishly creepy, quite unlike low budget teen horror flicks or shaggy zombie movies. No wonder it is a cult classic and a quintessential late-sixties film.

After never having seen a Mia Farrow movie other than those with Woody Allen, it was quite a revelation to see a younger Farrow, chic and vulnerable as a newly married twenty something in New York. I almost saw two Mia Farrow movies back to back - this and her as Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, very different characters inhabiting different eras - thus be able to witness her acting eloquence.

Roman Polanski  who wanted his first movie to be a ski film was cajoled by Paramount to do this first and Rosemary's Baby did turn out to be worth it. The ski film by the way was Downhill Racer. There is a lot of interesting trivia associated with Rosemary's Baby, some of them scary if you could really believe in the connections that writers make like this one from IMDb,
"Directed by Roman Polanski, whose pregnant wife actress Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969 by Charles Manson and his followers, who titled their death spree "Helter Skelter" after the 1968 song by The Beatles, one of whose members, John Lennon, would one day live (and in 1980 be murdered) in the Manhattan apartment building called The Dakota - where Rosemary's Baby had been filmed."
Adapted from a novel by Ira Levin it is supposedly a very faithful translation of the novel in to visual media, a result also stemmed from the fact that as his first Hollywood film Polanski was unaware of the fact that he could improvise the novel.

May 16, 2010

Vellathooval

Looks an early eighties movies with half-baked actors of the noughties. Not to pass the blame to two young actors in the main roles - Nitya Menon and Ranjith Menon, they were passable.

For two and half we were trapped in an eighties masala movie. We almost thought it was an I.V.Sasi movie of that time, then we look at the credits and realize it is indeed made by I.V.Sasi, but about thirty years past his prime. Not much of a story except it relies on brat of a girl(Nitya Menon) to carry it forward. Seema is good as the tortured mother of the brat. Lalu Alex in his current incarnation as a lovable rascal Dad figure which he has a copyright on these days, Vijayaraghavan is a no-good drunkard who can be trusted on to provide occasional bad-guy effects when the movie meanders to meaninglessness. The rest of the cast is forgettable.

Yeah almost forgot about it, there is a white feather(hence the title) which floats into the scenes at inopportune moments, probably meant to save the name of the movie, but it looks like photoshop gone bad.

May 15, 2010

Salt of the Earth

It is the only black-listed American film ever. Produced by the people who were black-listed by the McCarthy era administration and whose names featured in 'Hollywood 50'(50 creative talents in Hollywood who were rumored to be communists and studios wanted nothing to do with them.)
Some of these 50 people started searching for good stories to be made into film thru' their independent production company when a strike by Local 890 of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union against the New Jersey Zinc Company in Bayard, New Mexico caught their attention. Salt of the Earth was born.

Shot on location with almost all non-actors, except for two, the film also addressed the growing concern of illegal immigration from south of the border, from Mexico. Although most of the real workers, most of them Chicano who were in the film where as much American as the 'anglos' or whites in the film, it is film that foresaw a lot of ground-breaking issues of American culture and politics like immigration, race and union issues.


To me it looked like a picture from my home state of Kerala, India. A state well-known for its communist leanings and hot-blooded workers who'd take up any cause to stage a march or a demonstration at the drop of a hat. Salt of the earth shows us that when it comes to the workers, the ones at the rock-bottom of social pyramid, issues are pretty much the same - whether it is in the US of the 1950s or India of 1970s. 

May 14, 2010

The Lost Horizon

Shangri-La is a popular name for Chinese, Indian and Tibetan restaurants all across the world. Although we all know that the name has more to do than just being a gastronomical experience.

James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon is where the fictional utopia, Shangri-la came to life. Nestled deep in the Himalayas this exotic ideal world is hard to reach, but a British foreign service man, Robert Conway reaches there when his plane crashes in the Himalayas.

In 1937 Frank Capra adopted the novel into a film. The film's story differs from the novel in very important aspects, although if you just see the film it has all the details preserved to transfer the crux of the story to the viewer. It is a technically superior movie for something that was produced more than 75 years ago. Although the Himalayan scenes involving the plane, especially the one where the plane lands in the middle of a huge field, filled with marauding villagers looks authentic, Shangri-La itsel is set in a dated(!920s) landscape framing the wide vistas of early 20th century architecture.

The current print of the film is missing some scenes which are redone by voice-overs with still pictures. It is an interesting film to watch for those interested in older films and film history and maybe it has a story idea which is ripe for remake sometime in the future considering its metaphysical message and oriental setting (we lives in the times of crounching tiger and kung-fu panda.)



May 13, 2010

Take Care of My Cat

I love watching contemporary movies from different parts of the world. Many 'foreign' films that make it big in the western world are usually about themes that are done to dust already or about subjects that western audience can empathize with safely ensconced in their living room couches. In this context films about slums of the third world - like havelas of Rio or chawls of Mumbai and films about Japanese mobsters come to mind.

Sometimes some not-so-significant yet interesting movie will slip through the ranks of local film scene of a country and make it over to the West. Take Care of My Cat is one such film.

A coming of age film, centered around five new high-school grads, all girls living in South Korea. This 2001 film is the debut feature of Jeong Jae-eun. It is a peep into the world of modern Korean youth, from different strata of society trying to cope with their first brush with real life. An interesting film from the perspective of social scientist with a flair for movies.


May 10, 2010

The Band's Visit

An Egyptian police band is stranded in an Israeli village. The different members of the band is put up at different homes by village people - it is the story of that one night and the interactions between these strangers.

I got the movie to learn about Israel, what does a village in Israel looks like and who are these so called villagers. I have a better idea about Egyptians, which the movie didn't change. Israeli villages look like suburbs of a desert town, not a village in the conventional sense - when you think of villages in say Iran or Pakistan or somewhere else in Asia.

You will enjoy the movie if you are prone to watching art-house movies.

May 4, 2010

Neelathamara vs Neelathamara

Lal Jose is emerging as an undeniable promise from the wreck that goes by the name of Malayalam cinema. Neelathamara, probably the first remake ever made in Malayalam movie history lives to prove it. It is 'the' consummate Malayalam movie I've ever seen and I've seen some movies including the1979 original which was actress Ambika's debut vehicle.

Considering the kind of flicks preferred by Malluwood audience these days it comes as a surprise that movies such as Neelathamara can be made, but what's more it also became a success at the box-office! If only more film-makers will create such blue lotuses, they seem to be as rare as blue moons these days in Malayalam film industry.

Neelathamara, I read, was a dream project of Lal Jose. Here's a link to Lal Jose's own blog where the film-maker has noted down bits of creative process which went into the making of themovie.  The story is real simple, penned by M.T.Vasudevan Nair, one of the stalwarts of Malayalam literature, the script was adapted to fit the nuances of modern times although it is a period piece and the events take place in a pre-eighties period.

It has been a long time since a good female oriented film hit Kerala's screens, this movie puts an end to that drought. There is the maid servant, the mother, the newly-wed bride and the son - all these characters inhabit a flash-back which forms the core material.The movie begins in the present where all or some of these characters have matured / aged in life and are looking back at a past that was.

The flashback portion is the adaptation M.T and Lal Jose has interjected to make the movie fit for consumption for a newer audience. There is a character of a grand-daughter added, maybe to give some more depth to the story, to visualize the passage of time perhaps. It is also a nice touch that it is a grand-daughter, not a grand-son. After all, the story is all about women.

The 1979 version starring Ambika, Ravi Kumar and Sathar and directed by Yousef Ali Kacheri definitely lacked on the 'dream-project' front. M.T's story's being made into films was an everyday occurrence back then. The Eighties, characterized by movies with long takes, sparse dialogs and earthy characters was just a year away. Neelathamara(1979) was a typical sensible Malayalam movie of the age like Peruvazhiyambalam or Thakara, nothing much to write home about because movies like it was the norm in those days.

If you compare the new version and the original, although I do think it is a crime to compare because they were  products of different eras and different circumstances, you realize that except for the story and the characters the two movies are a world apart. So I'll just limit my comparison to the characters / actors.

Archana Jose Kavi plays the main role, played by Ambika, cannot tell who is better. Archana could've used less kajal, because kajal was not something a rural girl, esp. a maid servant puts on every day, it was a part of her make-up which she reserved for special occasions like while going to the temple festival. Kailash, the new hero vs Ravi Kumar. Kailash is such a natural, less filmy and the new script makes the character less of a feudal scion and more of a mischievous rich kid fooling around. Thank God Ravi Kumar is not acting. Sathar vs Suresh Nair, the script has toned down the villainy of this character, today's character is more suave and matter of fact-ly which suits Suresh Nair's acting.

The mother Sreedevi Unni(2010) vs Kozhikode Santha Devi(1979), Santha Devi was/is a veteran actress who has excelled in mother roles whereas Sreedevi Unni doesn't have much in the experience column to write home about, still she holds the fort just fine. The one character that I thought was better in the old movie, not because of acting per se, but because of the director's choice in casting was that of Ammini. Reema Kallingal was good as Ammini in the new version, but somehow the older Ammini felt more like a real character. Samvruta Sunil, is getting better as an actress with every new film of hers that I see. She is not usually the main character, but she is morphing into a kind of character actress, some one the director feels okay to entrust strong characters with. She plays the new bride in the 2010 Neelathamara.

In the seventies, Kerala was coming out of a feudal set up. The under class of society still felt exposed, was wronged often and more importantly mobile phones were not rampant. Cut to 2010, there is not a clear-cut section of society which  can be branded as underclass anymore, it has been replaced by the emerging middle class, sporting mobile phones. The playing field is more level than it was thirty years ago. That explains the flash back element added by the writer and director. The maid servant is now placed in a better rung of society, the down-trodden hapless girl is not there any more. She is looking back from a comfortable present to a forgettable folly of the past.

The mood of the film(the new one) is therefore less stifling, the characters are less villainous, the emphasis is more on perfecting the locale, the camera(the camera work is brilliant, hats off to Vijay Ulaganath), the costume and the casting. A near-perfect Malayalam film after a long time. May the tribe of Lal Jose and directors like him prosper.

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