Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pattathu Yaanai (2013)

Pattathu Yaanai is an action-comedy at heart where momentary spurts of action are just a relief from what would have otherwise been a full-fledged comedy. The film makes more sense when you look at it as a comedy about the exploits of a bunch of wedding caterers who run from trouble and arrive in Tiruchy- only to find more trouble. But because of the film's "mass entertainer" aspirations, it brings in utterly unnecessary characters, like the heroine or hordes of villains, who add no value to the story, besides being heavily detrimental. In spite of it, the film still manages to entertain- thanks to the one man who has been consistently delivering time and again: Santhanam.

There are just three fight scenes and the film slowly leads up to the first two with commendable control. The first fight comes right before the end of first half- at a point where you really don't mind seeing some bad guys get whooped. I feared the second half would open to a very boring and totally redundant backstory. My fears came true, but only partially. While there was indeed a backstory which was unnecessary to a large extent, it was also surprisingly involving. I was actually hooked and wanted to know what happened next. After a woman gets raped and a child gets killed, a space got opened  wide for some serious justice. This made the second fight sequence work.

Pattathu Yaanai is a dozen times more fun and interesting that Singam 2. I feel compelled to raise this comparison because a) Singam 2 did not deserve to make as much money as it has did, and b) both the films have no dearth for villains. But the difference is that the ones in this film are far more memorable than the ones in the latter. Yaanai is also exactly the kind of movie that could have easily fallen under the "masala done right" category. But the central story eventually took a step back and comedy took the centerstage. The humor now started seeping into scenes involving the villains as well. This is not a complaint, as this move actually helped the film a lot. The film understands that its strength lies in comedy and brings it to the fore. It is wise enough to not take its story too seriously and mull too long over the climax -quickly wrapping the final fight to make way for the actual ending - the one involving Santhanam.

Pattathu Yaanai is the textbook definition of unambitious filmmaking. It is a film which is happy to follow the template a zillion films have followed before. This is exactly the kind of film which makes one say, "Santhanam kaaga oru vaati paakalam." Of course Pattathu Yaanai is pushing no boundaries; but what it did with the comedy, it did good. I laughed; I really did. My question is this: if parts of a 'bad' movie are more entertaining than an entire better-written movie, do we still rate the latter higher?  

The film's weakest link is the female lead character, played by Arjun's daughter. Her arching eyebrows reach for the skies in each one of her limited range of expressions. In all fairness to her, it is a completely useless role; but that doesn't change the fact that it was very unimpressively portrayed by the newcomer. Vishal did good and showed much restraint as the reluctant hero who is happy to run away from a fight.

I have to commend Bhoopathy Pandian for what he does with the character played by Santhanam. I have not found Santhanam more funnier than this in any movie before. He actually gives a very good performance. Nandu Jagan hasn't much to do, but John Vijay and a few other actors keep the laughs coming. There was one moment where I was literally howling with laughter- tears rolling out of my eyes. I may have underestimated the film, but it is still good enough to entertain you- immaterial of your expectations. If you had told me this morning that I was going to enjoy Pattathu Yaanai as much as I did, I wouldn't have believed you. I laughed a lot more than I am willing to confess.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mariyaan (2013)

Bharat Bala's Mariyaan is about love guiding home lost, wandering souls. Starring Dhanush and Parvathy Menon in the lead roles, this love story often gives off this unshakable vibe that we have seen it all before, but it still makes an impact due to a couple of standout performances which overshadow every other aspect. 

I tried synopsizing the story here, but it came across as a really dull version of the film. In a gist, Mariyaan is about two lovers who get separated and are unsure if they will ever see the other person again. It is very easy to piece together bits from the trailer a few minutes into the movie and get an idea about where the film is heading. Comparison to Mani Ratnam's Roja is inevitable, though Mariyaan is least political. 

It wrings truly passionate love and produces concentrated romance. It's a sweeping love story that goes all out to make us root for the lovers. It takes two to tango and the romance wouldn't have worked without a strong turn from Parvathy Menon. She delivers and how. She consistently matches Dhanush's towering performance making their chemistry the film's big beating heart. 

I have never been able to buy the "I beat you because I love you" argument which abusive men are known to use as defense. I was in two minds watching Mariyaan hit Panimalar on more than one occasion. In one particular scene, the hitting would have been wrong had Mariyaan stopped with just one slap. It was because he continued hitting Pani that the scene oddly became acceptable and horrifically touching. It would have been grossly incorrect had the film not considered this act important enough to warrant some explanation. But the film does discuss this, and convinces you that this is how they are and that it is not wrong. 

In the last ten months, Tamil cinema has witnessed a tsunami of films about fisherfolks viz. Sembattai, Neer Paravai, David (just kidding) and Kadal. All these films looked nostalgically at the sea but none managed to create the effect Mariyaan has. For instance, when Dhanush gives us the 'Spielberg face' near the end and says, "Aatha!", I had this indescribable feeling. 

Bharat Bala should have tried to veer his African characters away from being caricatures who pointlessly spray bullets into air and scream at people who are sitting mere inches away from them. But the entire captivity sequence is otherwise handled with surprising finesse, while always maintaining a good amount of tension. Bala pushes his leads to dark corners where he could toy with their destinies however he wishes to. It becomes harder to tell if we have a tragedy on our hands or a happy ending. The tension stems out from our inability to predict what to expect from a rookie like Bala. 

The film is very well put together for a director's feature length debut. The structure largely suits the story but I wish it had tried something more unconventional. I wasn't a big fan of the soundtrack but Rahman's work fits the film perfectly under context. The cinematography by Marc Koninckx is another high point. Though it wasn't too bothersome, the continuity errors concerning the ever changing length of Dhanush's hair in Sudan should have been avoided. Even underwritten supporting characters, like the pervy ruffian who considers himself Panimalar's suitor, manage to make an impression.

From Manmatha Raasa to Kadal Raasa, Dhanush's career trajectory is sprinkled with many highs. In a film with way too many mass moments, he delivers an affecting portrayal of a person who goes from being a son of soil to a stranger hallucinating in a foreign land. But despite watching him suffer through hell, the sight of him killing a person at the end doesn't come across as a moment of celebration the film makes it out to be. I sort of felt sorry for the African guy. 

Pacific Rim (2013)

Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim is big, dumb and a lot of fun if you do not mind the predictability and cheesiness. Right within the first few seconds, you see a giant Kaiju monster crush the Golden Gate bridge as if it were a 9 year old's science project. What must be noted is how irreverently the film handles a scene which is legitimately a money shot in most other blockbuster movies. It makes it clear that things are about to go big, and that we better buckle up. 

The one most amazing aspect of Pacific Rim is how this is not a battle between Magnited States of America and some supernatural threat. Look at all the apocalyptic movies since the beginning of time and almost every film's story takes place within a short span. Aliens arrive in Manhattan on Monday; are vanquished by Wednesday and life soon goes back to normalcy until the sequel hits two Summers later. The problems, however spectacular they may be, vanish just as quick as they appear. Most comic book film-adaptations are known offenders. Pacific Rim's victory lies in the fact that it has created a world which feels lived in. This is the film which leapfrogs over a couple of possible prequels- where each could have been filled with stories of valour, pain and defeat - to land in the present. By creating a vivid past and picking the story up a little over a decade later, the stakes are kicked to insurmountable levels. Humanity is staring at an imminent end, and, for once, you can feel it to an extent.

I watched this film with my cousin who just might be the smartest person in my extended family. After the first few minutes where the film established the history, he turned to me and said this to my awestruck face: "Don't tell me you like it till now." I couldn't believe someone could not like that. So in the interval, he still remained unimpressed and told me his problems were mostly concerning the film's science. His argument was that he had seen the same mechanised humans concept in a zillion cartoons. True, I had a faint memory of watching something similar when I was a child, but the fact remains Pacific Rim is an original story. I still think the problem was that he was taking the film way too seriously. It's not fair to ask questions like, "Why can't they remotely control the Jaegers when they have invented technologies which let them combine two people's brains?" The only answer I can think of is that that wouldn't be half as cool as this. 

I was a huge fan of the film up until the point where Kaijus were considered to be just some giant beasts which had accidentally found a way to Earth. Them being intelligent species also made complete sense. But turning what appeared to be just an incidental work of nature into yet another massive scam came across as completely unnecessary. The creatures scheming to take over the planet, something about terraforming and dinosaurs.. that stuff just didn't bode well with me. I know we all agree that the film is intentionally being dumb here. All I ask for is why is it necessary for everything to have a reason? 

After living under constant Kaiju threat with a doomsday clock looming over, the people have learnt to come to terms with the impending disaster. While there is a lot of opportunity to milk great drama from the world, the film concentrates only on cancelling the apocalypse. Although an underground market for Kaiju byproducts in a neon-lit future Hong Kong makes sense, the entire subplot involving the scientist channelling his inner JJ Abrams ends up becoming the film's weakest link. It appears out of place and fails at delivering the comedic relief it was required to provide. The science starts getting fuzzy and we eventually find ourselves surrounded with absurd theories mentioned previously. 

I like the idea of liking Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost or Rinko Kikuchi's Mako Mori, these people with instantly legendary names. The idea of two blonde Russian pilots, three Chinese triplets, a Father-Son team.. a part of me understands how they are "cool". But the characters didn't make the impact I was hoping they would. I don't think I have to say I was let down by the Independence Day meets The Avengers climax. I probably would have loved the final act if I cared a bit more for the people inside the Jaegers. I guess I just stopped drifting.

While there's no shortage of spectacle in the film's duration, the one scene that remains most memorable involves a little girl running away from a Kaiju in the deserted ruins of Tokyo. Watching the child look at her knight in shining armor appear on the horizon is a sight to behold. Pacific Rim deserves to be watched for plucking the word 'epic' from the ubiquitous and giving it back most of its lost sheen. Pacific Rim deserves to be watched for filling one with so much awe that it becomes painful to criticize certain aspects of it. Pacific Rim is unbridled joy. 

P.S. I don't think I can ever forgive Warner Bros. for dubbing Mako Mori's Japanese lines into English.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Iceman (2013)

Richie Kuklinski's life is absolutely riveting if you read through the first few paragraphs of his wikipedia page. But Ariel Vromen's The Iceman, based on his life is, well, rather insipid. The one aspect that sets it apart from other films about contract killers is that the protagonist's family is completely unaware of his misdeeds. There could be a few more movies which match the description for all I know. Sadly this one facet is hardly critical or unique enough to warrant our attention for two hours.

On the first date with his wife-to-be, Richie tells her that he draws cartoons for Disney. He may or may not be telling the truth. We don't know yet. The enchantment on the girl's face, who is giddy with excitement, is palpable. A few weeks later, Richie is seen playing snooker with a few men. One of them disrespects his future wife, he swallows his anger and decides it's not worth it. A few minutes later, he slits the throat of that person in a dark alley. So we have a family-man slash psycho-killer on our hands. 

Richie is an awful man who will kill anyone who is not a woman or a child. Anyone. When you read about him, you get a better idea just how abominable his actions were. He admitted to killing a large number of bums in New York to perfect his skill. That's plain horrific. But the film tries to humanize him a little too much. Soon enough, his conduct oddly doesn't shock us anymore. As he goes about killing major characters, you don't feel a thing. You don't have anyone to hold on to in this tale. Richie is simply too crazy to care for and you can forget about sympathy for his family. They are either stupid or really stupid for not asking where all the money was coming from. With no one to root for, this cold story fills us up with apathy.

Shannon gets to add another role to his growing collection of deranged characters. His performances in Revolutionary Road and Take Shelter have made him a personal favorite. Yet this particular, brooding performance lacks charisma. You are neither infatuated nor repelled by him. This was still an era of the great New York crime families and the film does throw a few popular American mafia names at us. But there's nothing larger than life about it.  Richie captures your imagination when you read about how he used to freeze his victims to disguise the time of death, but the impact the film manages to make is always subdued.

The Iceman also stars Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, James Franco, David Schwimmer and Chris Evans. Despite the kind of talent this project has attracted, the film hardly does any justice to the material at hand. The film cries out loud for some glamour, for some Scorsese. I wish the late James Gandolfini had got to portray Richard Kuklinski. He would have been perfect the role. Instead we have this dull and uninspired take on the life of a truly fascinating contract killer.