Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2012: Documentaries

I have seen more documentaries in 2012 than I have all my life. The thing about docs is that they have a 100 percent record of working on me. I have never not liked a documentary. I had problems with 'Winnebago Man', but it is still a film worth watching. The subject matter is usually so compelling that I don't bother about the film-making chops involved. Oh wait. I couldn't sit through Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. But still.

I decided to watch all the documentaries which made the Academy longlist and then a few more important ones which weren't shown any love. I will try to write a bit about each film; for now I'll simply list them all in the order of liking.

  1. Searching for Sugar Man
  2. West of Memphis
  3. This is Not a Film
  4. The Imposter
  5. Queen of Versailles
  6. The Invisible War
  7. 5 Broken Cameras
  8. Supermen of Malegaon
  9. Side by Side
  10. Bad 25
  11. Bully
  12. Shut Up and Play the Hits
  1. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
  2. Detropia
  3. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
  4. Marley
  5. Room 237
  6. The Gatekeepers
  7. Stories We Tell
  8. How to Survive a Plague
  9. The Waiting Room
  10. Chasing Ice
  11. Ethel
  12. The House I Live In
  13. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  14. Samsara
  15. Love, Marilyn
  16. Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
  17. Brooklyn Castle
SUGGESTED BY @auteurmark
  1. Conteurs D'Images
  2. The Island President
  3. Indie Game: The Movie
  4. The Swell Season
  5. Girl Model
  6. Craiglist Joe

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Amour (2012)

Amour didn't move me as I expected it to. It was oddly involving on a cerebral level, but left the heart untouched. Its abstractness often compelled me to interpret the happenings in various ways. A film which is spot on in its observations, it filled me with emptiness.

Amour is probably one of the better romantic tragedies of our times. There's something very romantic about wanting to grow old with someone, but there's nothing romantic about it, really. The harsh, gray reality is filled with a painstaking wait for the inevitable. Thinking about it now, it reminds you how even the love stories with happy endings have a bleaker footnote lying just outside focus. 

These two have spent half a century together. It appears as if their relationship has reached a place where they know the other person just as well as they know their own self. Georges doesn't take a beat to confess he too would probably die out of fright if burglars broke into their apartment in the middle of the night. But then on another instance, Anne asks Georges if he isn't worried about spoiling his image in her eyes at this age. You see that they still have stories to tell each other; they still have so much to talk about. 

The cruelest part of being in love is falling out of love. Soon after Anne is incapacitated, the focus shifts to her; almost as if Georges has suddenly become a supporting character in the life story of Anne. Nobody asks him how he's doing anymore. And here's where Riva slowly begins to steal Trintignant's thunder. It's the performances that make this film as good as it is. 

Some people complain about the smell of old people. Well, do you think old people like the smell of old people? Human dignity and pride takes a hit. It is hard to come to the realization that they are slowly growing incapable of doing the most basic things. It's like life truly has come a full circle and they are ending up where they started. 

We love our babies unconditionally. There are these stray moments when we lose a grip on ourselves or are pushed just a little too far. I once deliberately hurt my baby nephew and that's one of the worst things I have ever done. I thought about it on the bus today and I think about it a lot of times. I cannot take back what I did.

I haven't seen many old couples up close. Coming to the next closest real-life example I can try and relate the film's observations about with, I have to choose my parents. I think Hope Springs is a more timely movie to compare their life to, but their relationship is in a far better place. They are totally in love and anyone can tell. I have this cynical belief that most arranged marriages are full of compromises. But even after being together for 28 years, my Mom still cries when we go to send off Dad at the airport. He gets choked when Mom returns back to Chennai. I think this distance is what keeping it so vibrant. I look at them and I just want them to be together. I secretly hope that when the time is right, they will pass away together. I can take it but I do not want either of them to grieve the passing of the other. I should stop rambling already. 

Isabelle Huppert. As she talks about her dwindling financial situation, is she basically asking her parents to do what old people do and die the fuck already? The final scene with her inheriting (!) the house, a house with so much character and history, is very unsettling. 

Amour is brutally real in its storytelling and often kept me appreciating all the little things. Yet in the end, I wasn't washed over by a sense of loss. Like the story young Georges tells his childhood friend, one day, just the thought of Amour will rip my heart out. But today is not that day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Samar (2013)

Sakthi (Vishal) is a forest ranger's son who appears to love the wilderness more than he loves his girlfriend Roopa (Sunaina). When he is unable to tell her hip size correctly, she breaks up with him and goes off to live in Bangkok along with her family. After a couple of months of nursing his broken heart, he gets a letter from Roopa. She suddenly wants him back in her life and sends along a plane ticket. He meets one Maya (Trisha) on his plane and they quickly become friends. Soon after landing, things take an unexpected turn when Sakthi is mistaken for someone else. A tale of suspense follows. 

I'm pissed that so many Indian writers steal plots from foreign films and make such shoddy remakes from it. When the only good thing about their film is a plot idea that is not even their own to begin with, what are we supposed to appreciate? Samar's central plot is certainly good. It could have been a very good movie in able hands, but what I saw today was far from it. 

In India, we tend to give too much importance to the twist. It's all about the damn twist. I am not ashamed to have not outguessed a twist in a poorly made film like Samar. With some films which offer the audience no space for participation, it becomes impossible to tell. We cannot help it if the director suddenly pulls a rabbit out of his rear end. It can be said that a good movie is lurking somewhere deep inside Samar. It is surrounded by layers of unnecessary bits. Revenge makes sense, but what's with this defeating-them-at-their-own-game thing? 

Manoj Bajpai and J.D.Chakravarthy are the films antagonists. They come across as maddeningly irritating buffoons with a very limited vocabulary, mostly consisting of words 'game', 'god' and 'partner'. Their crazy actions instantly make them someone you wouldn't want to mess with, but it becomes hard to take them seriously every time they open their mouth to say something. Like a fellow reviewer noted, they are a comedy-piece like Narain in Mugamoodi

In the realm of unintentional hilarity, Samar offers dollops of fun. In one scene where JD and Bajpai find themselves marooned in the middle of nowhere, Trisha appears out of thin air. As JD runs towards her with the intention of killing her, he is hit by an unknown force. Turns out Vishal was hiding behind Trisha the whole time. Dei! In another scene, Trisha manages to chip in that age old "Eating Pongal on Diwali" blade joke which somehow surfaces during this time of the year.  Also, every shot of Sriman walking around in a suit will warrant laughter. In a house where Trisha stays with Vishal, there are hidden cameras everywhere, including the bathroom. It will remind you of a certain video Trisha is known for and makes you wonder if it is some sort of a karmic joke.

On my way home, I wondered what the film's title Samar meant. Immediately it struck me that it is formed by simply using the first syllable from the names of the three main characters: Sa from Sakthi, Ma from Maya and R for Roopa. Sounds lame, right? I know. But if there's a better explanation about the title's meaning, I am all ears. 

You never feel the protagonist's helplessness and only wait for things to wrap up. It is not as intelligent as it pretends to be. It spends too long explaining things which are only too obvious to anyone with half a brain. The music is downright awful and the performances are very mediocre. Samar is a one trick pony and a wasted opportunity. Samar is sumaar. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya (2013)

There are films which simply manage to keep the tone light enough and walk away with the Comedy tag. But very rarely do we see a laugh out loud film which works invariably on all kinds of audience. Let me say it out loud: Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya is a howlarious laugh riot. 

The structure is reminiscent of many older films like Devadaiyai Kanden, Boys or Bhagyaraj's Indru Poi Nalai Vaa, which has even been credited. But it fills them with immensely funny, original sequences which open up as a neat plot. It has a dull beginning but quickly gets so much better. I didn't even mind the predictability, given how plain funny the movie was. When pathetic plot-less films like Oru Kal Oru Kannadi can become such huge hits, KLTA should easily manage to do better. 

The film works better with a new actor playing the pretty boy. A star like Arya or Jiiva portraying the character of Shiva would have stolen all the attention and made KK and Power mere sidekicks, which they are not. Even Power's colorful family is a value addition to the story. And this is why casting is one of film's many strong points. It uses a wide range of comedic actors in roles tailor-made for them. 

On the girl's side of family, we have VTV Ganesh as a classical music singer with a history to explain his hoarse voice, Kovai Sarala as her aunt and Devadarshini as their Brahmin neighbor with a penchant for gossip. In the role of her Father, an impeccably cast Shiva Shankar who, of course, plays a dance master. The girl herself, played by Vishaka, won me over. She looks pretty sexy and acts well enough. Dull Divya has certainly become Dhool Divya. 

It is really heartening to see how Santhanam has grown in the industry. Starting with a television show which is now regarded as a cult classic, his journey on the big screen has been very steady. Even big star vehicles are depending on him to bring in the crowd. I am not sure how much of a creative control Santhanam had over this project and I also don't want to take any credit away from the film's writer, but I saw his touches even in the lines delivered by other characters. There's a lot of self-parody that works very well. 

There's this brilliant scene where Power Star goes to learn dance from his master. It is his first day but he is surrounded by fans cheering him on as he makes his every move. And that's exactly what's happening in reality. We haven't seen Power Star in a proper movie before and we know him only from his public appearances. There's this undeniable Comedy-Piece quality to him that's got him so many fans. This is more or less his debut of sorts. Yet the crowd at my screening erupted the first time he showed up and subsequently on his every appearance. I was surprised, shocked even, to see such symbolism in a Tamil comedy.

Without objectifying women or resorting to any pedestrian antics, KLTA offers a surprisingly clean entertainer; one to be enjoyed with family and friends. I don't usually bother about this, but Alex Pandian left a bad taste in my mouth. The music is fun and there are very few songs. It looked noticeably well shot and producer Santhanam has left no stone unturned. Go watch it! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Impossible (2012)

The Impossible is a fictionalized account of a family trapped in a foreign land midst one of the deadliest natural disasters in history. The Bennetts appear to be a largely functional family who are flying out to spend the last week of 2004 in Thailand. The film opens with a very ominous tone, constantly suggesting an impending catastrophe. Be it the turbulence on the flight or the prominent presence of a Joseph Conrad novel or the Jaws-style angle, looking on at the idyllic resort from a buoy sitting deep in the sea, the signs are everywhere. It gives all the vibes of a disaster movie and even delivers on that count with the spectacularly staged Tsunami sequence. Only, what follows is a knock-out emotional punch, while rarely overstepping and entering the schmaltzy terrain. 

Post Tsunami, the film concentrates on the survival of Naomi Watts' Maria and her son Lucas (Tom Holland), completely leaving the fate of the rest of the family hanging in balance. Continuing the grim mood it began with, the film made my insides queasy with some horrific visuals. It never ignored a chance to make us flinch by dwelling on Maria's wounds. When we finally do get to see Henry, the reveal, which clearly appears to have been constructed to elicit a surprise, fails to leave the desired effect, as we consume it just as any other piece of information. Soon after his arrival, the film slipped into a family drama territory.

It's a film with a big, beating heart. It tugs at your heartstrings at every given opportunity and often succeeds. Unlike Hotel Rwanda, which had me bawling on the floor as the chorus part of Million Voices started playing, I was relatively restrained here. I still found myself wiping a tear or two at no less than 5 occasions; that's a remarkable feat. 

The Impossible carefully chooses to offer a small sense of victory in the face of a mammoth loss. Like Schindler's List, there's nothing much to celebrate when you look at the bigger picture. There's a bit of manipulation in this regard, and I didn't find myself caring for most of the other people out in search for their families. But one particular scene worked brilliantly, coming at a point when the movie had basically come to screeching halt, as young Lucas went around asking names of missing family members to the survivors. It's moments like these that makes movies reaffirm your faith in humanity. 

If this film was not based on true incidents, I surely would have scoffed at the ludicrous coincidences in the story. But since the film so visibly wears its defense around its neck with a title such as that, I will rest my case right here. 

The entire Tsunami sequence was done really well. I had little idea how very fatal the debris could turn in the circumstance. Recreating the scenes we all witnessed on our television, the visual effects worked incredibly. In the end, as if attempting to provide the audience with enough bang for their buck, the film re-uses its money shot, this time to little effect. 

Though the film only attempts to focus on this one family's true story of survival, it essentially ignores the fate of the countless natives. Even when it turns its attention to others, the others are always white people. There's something about this bias that's very, very disturbing.