Theevandi : Far From The Madding Crowd.

That there was something endearing about the visuals of Theevandi was evident right from the time the first song streamed it’s way into the hearts of Malayalis across the globe. If you were away from Kerala, the song made you want to hop on the next ride home. It presented before us a place that we wanted to go back to, away from the maddening swipes left, right, up and down our lives are. A place you were not quite sure if it existed for real anymore but desperately wanted to believe it did. Of late more than one film maker has used this as a tool to rope in the audience in the southern most tip of the country who feeds on anything nostalgic with fervor. It started with Maheshinte Prathikaram if I’m not wrong. Felt its tugs again when the song of Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum debuted and then to some extent in Godha. In Theevandi director Fellini TP and writer Vini Viswa Lal have done their  best to ensure that this element of nostalgia flows unhindered throughout the movie.

Theevandi chronicles the lives in a rustic smalltown and the characters are a cross section of the people we would find in a place like that in any part of Kerala. The film focuses on the problems faced by a chain smoking slacker whose habits ultimately end up having even political ramifications in the sleepy laidback countryside where the stroy unfolds. Opening to an incident which lays a sort of mystical foundation for the significance of smoking in the life of the character played by Tovino, the movie is part family drama,part love story and part political satire of sorts. There’s no magical realism  here, in fact Mario Vargas Llosa whose book is seen to be held by a character in a passing scene was never exactly an exponent of the literary style though it could be an indicator to the inclinatons of the individuals at the helm. The film takes it’s sweet time to tell the story and there are more than a few laughs once the film gets going. Every actor has delivered in perfectly cast roles. Tovino, Suraaj and Surabhi prove their mettle again. Samyukhta Menon has made a decent breakthrough though it remains to be seen if she is going to stick around or move to the more lucrative industries next door. Most notably Sudheesh has finally shed the tag of the eternal boy next door of Malayalam Cinema that he held close for almost three decades here and makes a mark too.

When it comes to humor in Malayalam Cinema, the bar was set more than a bit high by the likes of Sreenivasan, Sathyan Anthikad, Siddique-Lal and Priyadharshan. In fact these stalwarts themselves have never come close to the standards they set from the mid 80’s to the late 90’s in their more recent works. So it’s hardly surprising if the new crop of filmmakers and actors have fallen short often in their attempts to make Malayalis laugh their hearts out. Sequels to the most loved classics were attempted by desperate wannabes and the results are unforgiveable, at least in my book. Theevandi may not be perfect but it is indeed a functional homage to the golden era of humor. Tovino, who has won hearts with compelling and diverse performances is on a roll with movies like Mayanadhi, Maradona and now Theevandi striking a chord with the audience.

 

 

 

Stree : Raj & DK Gets It Right Again, So Does Rajkumar Rao.

If you have followed the work of writer-director duo Raj and DK in Bollywood in the recent past you obviously do not need to look for more reasons to spend your hard earned money on their latest offering, Stree. They have stuck to just production and writing this time around but their brand of humor and quirky filmmaking is more than intact here. Unlike most Indian filmmakers who try to emulate Hollywood genre films the duo have always tried to put a delicious Bollywood spin to the most western of themes. They did it to the zombie genre with Go Gone Goa, gave us the slick spy action-comedy A Gentleman and now they have decided to give horror a most desi of twists. In Stree they have ventured into Anurag Kashyap territory, the North Indian hinterland, only gleefully.

Stree manages to make you laugh and scare you in equal measures successfully and that is no mean task, in fact its the most difficult thing to do cinematically. The movie is based on an urban legend, a ridiculously true one as the makers proclaim in writing on screen early on. Lending his creative energy in abundance to the brilliant writing is Raj Kumar Rao who has literally stretched every acting muscle in his body to the limit. His performance in the climactic showdown with the titular demon is worthy of an Oscar I’d say. Giving him ample support are Shradha Kapoor, Aparshakthi Khurrana,Pankaj Tripathi and Abhishek Banjerjee. Atul Shrivastava who plays father to Rajkumar’s character makes his mark too. Stree is one of those movies where you the viewer, at some point stops being just a viewer and becomes a part of the events that unfold on the screen. You are not watching a movie anymore, you are in fact hanging out with the characters and you love it so much so that you end up not wanting the movie to end.

Amar Kaushik has graduated from assistant to independent director with flying colors. Raj and DK have  helped him deliver a slick yet intelligent debut film here. Strewn liberally across the are hilariously bold digs at the political situation in the country. They’re so subtle that you might actually miss it if you’re not listening intently. Some you might miss because it’s almost hidden in plain sight. One such joke that runs throughout movie is  about motorcycles that run out of petrol constantly because people just can’t afford to fill up their tanks like they used to do. There’s one about how some people think peacocks reproduce. Another deadpan line asks you not to be a blind believer. That brings me to the fact that seeing and hearing is believing and believe me this is one movie which proves that despite Netflix and it’s clones watching movies in a packed house where people laugh out loud at the same jokes and jumps at the same scares is an experience in its own. You end up taking sides when you are watching sports. Cinema on the other hand brings people together like no other form of entertainment. Stree is that kind of cinema.

 

Ghoul S01 | Netflix : Z meets The Exorcist In A Familiar Landscape.

Ghoul lured me in with it’s trailer. Hot on the heels of Sacred Games, here was an Indian Original that looked interesting and featured a prominent cast member from that other rage of the season Anurag Kashyap – Vikramaditya Motwane production too. Though the series speaks Hindi it is set in a more or less unnamed land – except for a brief historical reference by one of the characters-  and looks nothing like anything that we have come across on Indian screens, the fact that Sacred Games had set the bars high notwithstanding. Adding to the intrigue off-screen is the presence of a non-Hindi speaking writer-director, Patrick Graham at the helm. Maybe that explains the kind of tone and mood that’s alien to shows and films from our part of the world. Ghoul is pitched as a superatural horror series and it is scary, but not because of the horror element.

Costa Gavras’s Z  is as political a movie could get and The Exorcist set the mould in which every other horror movie since has been made. Ghoul has elements of both the classics and their genres in a delicious mix. It presents a dystopia which is not about a dusty, windy, rundown future or a world where machines have taken over, neither is it one where humans have moved to Mars, rather Ghoul leads us into a very real place where the government has taken control of lives and any voice of criticsim and dissent is in danger of being clamped down ferociously. Patrick Graham was researching torture in modern warfare when he hit up on the idea he claims. Now, that must give you an idea. Ghoul even reminded me of The Silence Of The Lambs not necessarily because it had a female officer walking down a dark corridor with prisoners in cells on either side. Radhika Apte seems to be doing at home what Priyanka Chopra is trying away. Manav Kaul transforms into an army officer who’s eons apart from other characters he has recently portrated with ease.One actor to watch out for.

Anurag Kashyap’s first two films never saw the daylight thanks to run-ins with the regulatory authorities, namely CBFC and it later turned into a regular excercise for almost all his productions. So when a giant like Netflix streamed its way onto Indian screens with the kind of creative liberties it bestowed upon talented individuals with whom they joined hands like Kashyap, who has been working the system from within for decades us as an audience were definitely the ones to benefit most. If Kashyap flexed his muscles with Sacred Games, he has gone for the sucker punch with Ghoul. It’s not the demon that’s the scariest in this miniseries, it’s the people in it and the system they represent that leaves you disturbed. If you thought Sacred Games was perfectly timed, Ghoul would leave Rahul Dravid drooling. The release eerily coincided with the crackdown on activists across the country . Kashyap and Co have almost done a Nostradamus I’d say.

The Equalizer 2 : The Equalizer With New Bad Guys.

Denzel Washington is a favorite. So when he took on the Russian Mafia with DIY tools at the local home improvement retailer in the first Equalizer movie, I enjoyed it. He remains a favorite and that’s the sole reason why I didn’t mind watching him do it all over again in The Equalizer 2. Having said that, I’m not too sure I’d look forward to a third Equalizer movie unless  Antoine Fuqua comes up with maybe an Equalizer origin story, with Denzel Washington of course. You don’t go to a Denzel movie necessarily to watch him go all Jason Statham on his opponents, you already have Statham doing that. You just want to see him do another John Q, another Training Day, another Remember The Titans. There was even a movie where he chased a bad guy lying paralysed in a hospital bed. But I guess it’s that era cinematically where every actor either joins the MCU or finds a franchise of his own.

The Equalizer of 2014 banked on an element of surprise where you as a viewer was curious to see Denzel in an out and out action role which involved more physicality than what he displayed even in his frequent collaborations with Tony Scott. Here in the sequel Antoine Fuqua uses the same tropes as he did in the first. The only major difference being his change of career as an online ride for hire who does’nt hesitate to beat the hell out of his riders for a better rating. If McCall was helping a co-worker in the first, it’s the troubled neighbor kid who is in bad company that he helps out this time. He is still reading but not as much as he used to. There’s more of incoherent globetrotting vigilantism but, which could take a toll your reading habits, there. You expect each of these encounters to turn into the main narrative but they end up as minor amusements mostly. When McCall finally gets going it’s for the sake of his former colleague who was introduced in the first film. Pedro Pascal who made a name for himself in Game of Thrones and Narcos is a notable addition to the cast.The climax of the film is set in a coastal town hit by a hurricane which probably is supposed to hold a mirror to the truth that climate change is but it mostly served to remind me of Hurricane Heist.

Between The Magnificent Seven remake and Equalizer 2 Denzel Washington did two movies that are more “Denzel Washington” than the ones he has done in the recent past. Fences was directed by Denzel himself and was a success commercially and critically, Roman J. Israel Esq not so much. Movies like The Equalizer might be necessary to keep Denzel the star in the reckoning but as a viewer from the other side of the globe it’s his acting chops rather than his Karate chops that I’d pay my money for. Nevertheless the man doesn’t disappoint in any of his avatars.

The Meg : Statham vs Huge Shark .

When Jason Statham jumps off a boat after a friend who is being pulled into the depths of the ocean by a giant prehistoric shark, another character screams not in fear but in excitement, almost echoing the emotions of any average viewer out looking for some plain old fun on a lazy weekend at the local IMAX screen. Yes, when it’s about a giant shark you have to have a giant enough screen too. If it’s in 3D, all the more better. But this is no Jaws mind you, The Meg is more Deep Blue Sea than any other shark film from our collective memory as viewers. It’s exactly how a monster film would look like if AI was asked to make one, without the discriminatory algorithms of course. People are at risk of being eaten by the shark irrespective of barriers like gender and race. Still if you do have to watch it, do that at a cinema with the best screening facilities.

There’s absolutely nothing novel about the plot simply because with such film formats you as a maker either choose between jaw dropping CGI or a moving storyline and there are no prizes for guessing what’s on sale here or you could ask Marvel to make a shark movie. Rich investor, good scientist, reluctant hero, jump scares, the movie has it all and more. It’s basically Jurassic Park set in the sea only this shark isn’t cloned. Within the limitations of the genre, The Meg tries earnestly to deliver a fun 113 minutes for the audience and much banks on the broad shoulders of Statham and his on screen persona as the tough guy with a sense of humor.The makers have tried every trick in the monster  movie handbook to keep the proceedings on screen interesting. They do get most of it right unless of course you’re at the movies with National Geographic or Science journals on your mind. Not much on screen time is wasted here. The shark doesn’t wait around much and is quick to attack and kill. Statham and his co stars too are quick with the acts of saving lives, the mandatory self sacrifices and the dumb moves which are integral to the genre.

Two of the last surviving  action heroes of our times who aren’t part of the Marvel or DC Universes , Statham and Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock have had curiously similar cinematic turns recently I’d say. Rock recently took on a giant Gorilla ,a giant crocodile and a giant wolf in Rampage. Then he saved his family from a fire in a Hong Kong skyscraper in the eponymous film. Here Statham battles a giant shark to save his Chinese friends and a whole crowded Chinese beach towards the end. Trump wouldn’t be too pleased I think but then he isn’t the one funding the films. Or he could simply ask Marvel to take a pause and let the likes of Rock and Statham to do what they do best, save the day that is, but exclusively in the USA.

 

 

Vishwaroopam 2 : A Legend, A Career Switch and Some Leftover Footage.

Kamal Hassan went silent with Pushpak back in 1987. Aamir Khan turned a hearthrob only an year later with Qayamat se Qayamat Tak in 1988. Aamir’s Dil, another regular 90’s Bollywood fare was released an year after Kamal awed us with Apoorva Sahordangal. Aamir was doing Raja Hindustani and still hadn’t earned the perfectionist tag when Kamal hit the screens with Indian and Avvai Shanmughi. His ambitions then just got too big not just for Tamil, but for the Indian film industry as a whole. Marudhanayagam unfortunately was reduced to an YouTube clip. Marmayogi never took off. Vishwaroopam too hit troubled waters with Selvaraghavan leaving , leaving Kamal to take over the reins.

Vishwaroopam 2 starts rolling with an ad for Kamal Hassan’s newly incubated political party and the rhetoric on display resonates conveniently with the central theme of the film in more ways than one. The  actual movie then starts off almost like the next episode of a TV show would from where the first movie ended five years back replete with a recap which also doubles up as the titles. The proceedings then on are too dull for a spy thriller here and when Kamal refers emotionally to an officer played by a nondescript  foreign actor slain by the bad guys in the first installment, you as audience can hardly connect. The jokes are dead even before they’re spoken. Waheeda Rahman is the notable new addition to the cast and Kamal again withdraws into the background when the yesteryear leading lady performs. The movie mostly works like a sleeping pill with occasional jolts of hyperactivity which are when the action sequences happen. You see bad guys looking out of airplane windows like kids on board their first flight. Shekar Kapur gets to relive his Digjam moments,walk around in suits that is. Andreah and Pooja Kumar do their bit nonchalantly. Anant Mahadevan is not quite sure if he’s a bad guy or a good guy. Then there is the hurried climax because even Kamal Hassan himself could’nt take it anymore I felt.

Though marred by manufactured controversy the first Vishwaroopam  was more or less a good watch where Kamal the star actually gave space to the story being told. But then he did that in Hey Ram too. He actually tried to say something relevant and sensible with the Afgan leg of the movie. In Vishwaroopam 2 there’s nothing left to say. Yeah, there’s a twist but you don’t really care after five years. The man’s vision and ideas are too radical for the Indian commercial film format one can’t but help feel. Still he thrives in that space with hits and misfires in equal measure. He went bersek with Aalavandhan and then turned social commentator in Virumandi. His Dashavatharam was underrated I feel so was Anbe Sivam, two works at the extreme ends of the cinematic spectrum.  Anbe Sivam infact held a mirror to his political leanings. Vishawroopam 2 was never meant to be  but when you have enough footage leftover from your first movie to almost make a second one, why let it go down the drain, especially when it might help as an overlong commerical to take the cause of your political aspirations forward.

Mission Impossible – Fallout : Tom Cruise Falls Out, Gets Knocked Down, But He Gets Up Again. And Again. And Again.

Wake up in Belfast. Lose Plutonium in Berlin. Get grilled in Rammstein. Do a HALO jump in Paris. Crash a party, literally. Kill a bad guy. Catch up with an old flame. Ride a motorcylcle fast. Kidnap an old foe. Cool your heels in London. Chase a bad guy on rooftops. Fly to Kashmir. Chase a helicopter in another helicopter. Hang from a cliff. Defuse a couple of bombs. Save the world. Brood and have nightmares when you are not doing any of the above. In an alternate cinematic universe, it would take a bunch of superheroes in capes and latex to do all that in a single movie. Doctor Strange couldn’t get around like that. It’s impossible you’d say but that’s precisely why Ethan Hunt, aka Tom Cruise exists. James Bond ain’t got shit on him. Sorry, no not even Daniel Craig. Tom Cruise pushes the limit like only he can in the sixth Mission Impossible film and he takes us on a ride again. He says it’s impossible but you know it’s not but you still let him do that to you, tell you it’s impossible for the sixth time I mean. This is where I stop bickering, and ask you to go, sit back and enjoy the action.

Tom Cruise teams up with Christopher McQuarrie again and you can see why he trusts the writer-director. If you want to know what I am talking about watch the first Jack Reacher movie and then the second, the difference shows. McQuarrie knows his action movies. He is the John McTiernan of our times, I’d say. In the follow up to his fifth MI film, Mcquarrie starts from where he left off in Rogue Nation but reaches back even farther from the series for whatever drama he can manage to squeeze in between the brilliant action sequences. In this movie Tom Cruise does a bit of everything he has done in the past MI films, call it homage. The bike stunts are reminiscent of the John Woo MI, so were the cliff hanging scenes.Rogue Nation had a great bike chase too. Jumping out of planes are almost a regular fixture in all the MI films I guess. The car chase in the vintage BMW reminded me of Ronin for some reason, which is touted as the best car chase movie since Bullit. The movie takes a leaf out of the Marvel handbook and tries a hand at self depreceating humor just so the MI series props doesn’t get too old on the viewers. There’s more than one reference to men in rubber masks and the bad guys teases Hunt time and again with the MI disclaimer , “should you choose to accept it” . Cruise on the other hand has a new line, “I’ll figure it out.”

In addition to Cruise, Ving Rhames is the longest surviving actor of the series and is joined by Simon Pegg again as the ever loyal tech-support team to Hunt’s stunts. Alec Baldwin has turned believer from his Rogue Nation days in Fallout and has handed the responsibility of giving a hard time to Hunt on behalf of the very system he works for, over to Angela Basset. That’s where Henry Cavill comes in. Hammer he is you’d agree to Cruise’s scalpel as Basset puts it, considering the stuff he gets to break. Rebecca Ferguson reprises her role as the MI6 agent. Jeremy Renner had date clashes. Michelle Monaghan returns again as mostly memories and a bit more. The movie hints that when choosing life partners, people should look within their own professions, just for practical purposes entirely, like a day where you have to defuse bombs and strangle people too. All of these does not matter really because all you are going to remember are the action sequences. They are special because Tom Cruise has taken the pain to deliver them himself. The helicopter chase and the rooftop jump are my top picks but I loved the car and bike chases too. This might not be the greatest action movie ever but it’s indeed one of the best ones in the series though for some reason the first one remains my favorite or is it the second.Or the fifth maybe? Yes, I can’t make up my mind. How about you?