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Salinui chueok (2003)
It's been a while since I wrote a movie review, but so blown away was I by this masterpiece of moody suspense that I had to pen down something. I have seen only two Korean movies in my life so far and both have been among my favorites this one and Oldboy. If that's not a sign to watch a few more of Korean cinema, I don't know what is.
At its heart, the story is based on a real life incident in the 1980's in a small province in South Korea. A couple of women are found murdered - their corpses mutilated and their faces gagged with their underwear. It's a brutal crimes, the kinds of which has probably not been witnessed before in this sleepy town and the bumbling local detectives prove themselves hardly adept at apprehending the perpetrator. Crimes scenes are muddied over, evidence mishandles and suspects brought in on a whim to be tortured or otherwise brutally interrogated by the two cops put in charge. A third detective, who comes from Seoul, is assigned to help them and his evident disdain for the local cops' methods and his reasoning of this being in fact the work of a serial killer puts him initially on the wrong foot. However, when a third murder in similarly creepy circumstances is uncovered, the serial killer theory appears validated.
That may seem like another cop movie on serial killers and their hunt, but it is anything but. The story is taken as merely a canvas to paint a wide tapestry of human emotion and character which focuses more on the internal demons which haunts each of these characters. The cinematography and music perfectly captures this mood slow burning, understated, grime tinted and devastatingly effective. This is not a neatly wrapped up ready to order thriller. This is a movie where the cinematic techniques and writing are at their most superlative. The ending can be considered open ended, unsettling and maybe unsatisfying for some, but bear in mind this was based on a true story, and this was never meant to be just about the case. A more popular movie which it brings to mind is David Fincher's underrated but very good movie, Zodiac, in terms of its similarities of theme and approach, but I would say this is still miles ahead of that little gem. This is brilliance painted on the canvas of our movie screen. One of the rare 10's I'm giving.
One of the best Indian sports movies probably...
A finely crafted, nuanced tale of a cricket obsessed youth in a cricket obsessed nation with some beautiful cinematography of the lush landscapes of a village in Kerala. The sense of nostalgia this may evoke in those who have lived in similar setting is enough to recommend this movie. But, on the other hand, this is also a carefully plotted coming of age tale of youthful desires, the slow progress of adulthood and reality and opportunities lost as well as eventual redemption. There are no real villains here apart from the gradually encroaching tentacles of time, but this is an example of the recent breed of Malayalam Cinema's new age creators at their best. Nivin Pauly is an actor who never really convinced me till now, but this year he seems to be coming into his own with some delightful turns. Add in some fabulous supporting actors and great technical aspects, and we have a real winner here. And, as with all great sports movies, you can be totally immersed in this even if cricket is not your cup of tea.
Honey Bee (2013)
It's definitely trippin'!
Honeybee is like one of those delectably enjoyable sweets which linger slowly onto your taste buds and remains there. I have to admit, I was prepared to dislike this film or pass it off as one of those very average meaningless flicks which get a great run at the ticket windows purely based on the majority audience's tendency to promote mediocre fare in the name of entertainment.
Full of meaning it may not be, but genuinely fun and endearing it surely is. But a word of warning to older viewers or those who don't like much cuss words and alcohol/drugs in their movies stay away. I'm not a fan of promoting intoxicants in the movies, but this was done very naturally here and you do tend to believe that there are plenty of groups of friends like that shown in the movie. However, I do think it takes a younger audience to appreciate it more fully.
The basic storyline is nothing much. A group of friends live and party together in some part of the city and they seem to be involved in organizing dance shows or performances. This aspect is not focused on much in the movie. Two of this group is Seb (Asif Ali) and Angel (Bhavana) who are a bit closer to each other. However, all is fine till the days up to Angel's wedding, when she confronts Seb and asks whether the love bug ever bit him. Though he answers in the negative then, later in a state of drunken stupor he realizes the folly of letting her go and hatches a plan with the rest of the gang to kidnap her from her home the night before her wedding. What happens next after they wake up the next morning and Angel's fearsome brothers (led by Lal) decide to hunt them down forms the rest of the story.
What works here big time is the camaraderie and chemistry between the friends. Of particular mention should be the antics of Baburaj and Sreenath Bhasi who prove to be the life and soul of the film and provide genuine hilarity. Both have been growing from strength to strength in the last couple of years, though ironically both are at different ends of their careers. Asif Ali and Bhavana are fine, but I can't shake off the funny feeling that both are pretty lucky actors who have made by in their careers with some pretty average abilities and the luck to be associated with some good filmmakers and supporting actors. Maybe they will prove me wrong yet, but this is not the movie for that. Lal (the director's father) appears as the head of the gang of fearsome brothers and is amply supported by Suresh Krishna and the others.
All in all, a genuinely fun watch with some original comedy rather than the recycled muck the superstars and old time filmmakers keep dishing out but like I said, may not be suited for all families.
Mumbai Police (2013)
A police procedural with a difference - Engaging and bold
Mumbai Police is a revelation. I cannot proclaim it to be the best thriller I have seen, but it has to be applauded for what it tries to accomplish. Roshan Andrews has gone a notch above the standard genre fare we have come to expect in Indian thrillers and gave us something which will, in turns, haunt and genuinely surprise. This is in no small part to the accomplished writing duo of Bobby-Sanjay and the brilliant Prithviraj.
ACP Anthony Moses (Prithvi) is just about to solve a crime and report it to his boss, Farhan (Rehman), when he is caught in a bad accident which leaves him without any memory of his past. Farhan tries to help him jog his memory and get the name of the culprit, but Anthony has no clue to his past or to his impending future. However, his reflexes and training from his previous life are still in tact and he realizes he would need to use these to piece both his life and the case together again. The crime is of a very personal nature to both the officers, as it involves the murder of their colleague and close friend, ACP Aryan John Jacob (Jayasurya) while he was receiving a gallantry award. Together, the trio had been known as the 'Mumbai Police' owing to their earlier presence in the Mumbai police department. As Anthony re-pieces together the jigsaw, he realizes everything is not as it would seem and the seemingly bizarre directions and conflicts the investigation takes as opposed to the initial attempts in the case alienates his team and further confuses his already addled mind. All this ultimately leads up to a climax which can only be termed as amazingly bold and genuinely shocking in its denouement.
Apart from the climactic reveal, the movie also must take plaudits for its mostly different approach to the standard police thriller. There are hardly any bombastic dialogs and mustache twirling here. The investigating officer is not exactly the epitome of all vices, as he himself realizes in the course of his second life. The introduction of alternative sexuality into Malayalam commercial cinema has to be hailed as a landmark in this generally conservative segment of viewers. Background music is pretty apt and gripping for the most part and there are no songs to break the flow.
The supporting characters all do a great job. Jayasurya, Rehman, Aparna Nair and Riyaz Khan (in a cameo) are all commendable. There is also a surprisingly strong performance from the veteran, Kunjan, as one of the officers on the team. However, this is Prithviraj's show all the way. He has done tougher roles than this and will probably have bigger hits. But the conviction of a mainstream actor of his stature to take up a role which pushes the envelope in terms of what is 'acceptable' for commercial leading men in Indian cinema has to be thoroughly appreciated. I have been a fan of this guy for a while now, and he keeps giving reasons why, despite all the unfounded criticism against him, he will always be relevant. Take a bow, Prithvi, Roshan and Bobby-Sanjay, for hopefully bringing in a much needed wind of change in this industry.
Intriguing and intense character study
Akam is an intriguing addition to the recently burgeoning stable of new age Malayalam cinema. While the movie has its flaws, it is still an engrossingly made film relying mainly on mood and pathos to take things forward.
At its core, it is about a young and confident architect, Srini, who seems to be reaching a good place in his life with great career prospects, an opportunity in the US waiting for him and a loving girlfriend. However, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. The accident which ensues leaves him almost hideously disfigured on one part of his face and a limp in his leg. But more telling is the impact it has on his personal life and confidence. His girlfriend, Tara, leaves him out of her own confusion on how to deal with the startling turn of events. The self pity and pathos Srini delves into is the fulcrum on which the movie is made. He meets a mysterious lady, Ragini, one day and they quickly become close. Despite his disfigurement, she seems to have no problems loving him and they end up getting married. However, Srini's boss and friend, CK, believes she is bad news and allegorically compares her to a yakshi, sucking human blood and flesh. Slowly, Srini descends into a state of confusion and self loathing and starts to literally believe what his friend suggested. The rest of the film deals with his response to Ragini in the light of this perceived revelation and the effect this has on certain other people around him.
I haven't read the original novel on which this is based, so I can't say if the ambiguity in the character of Ragini is intended or if this was a feature lost in translation to the big screen. While it starts off in a intriguingly moody and spooky manner, later on this same sense of mood serves as a dampener as the story seems to virtually halt at a point. Whether Ragini is, in fact, what Srini thinks her to be or not doesn't seem to be an important question in the director's or storywriter's mind as this is left as open ended as possible for the viewer. It is here that the movie falters in the second half, going the way of so many art house fare in seemingly mistaking vagueness for profundity. Ultimately, the movie does not achieve the aim of either being a spooky horror flick or an intense character study (though it does better in the latter, primarily because of Fahadh Faasil's performance).
However, for those of you who like to dabble in the unconventional, this is definitely worth a watch. The performances are mostly amazing, led by the dependably awesome Fahadh Faasil as Srini. The depressive intensity, self hate and doubt are captured perfectly by this poster boy of new gen Malayalam fare. The ladies both do a great job, as Tara and Ragini. With a bit more fleshing out, Ragini could have been a great character. One of the best things about the film is the perfect cinematography which elevates this piece to an entirely different level. The bustle of the metro, the claustrophobic interiors of plush apartments and musky old cinema halls, and the green of the open countryside are captured exquisitely on screen. The minimal background score serves very well on this kind of film too.
While this is not one of my favorites and has its fair share of shortcomings, Shalini Usha Nair is definitely someone to watch out for and I definitely would be waiting for a second effort from this team.
An ambiguous visual masterpiece
Kutty Srank is shrouded in enigma, much like its primary protagonist. I first caught this film in a small cinema in Thrissur soon after its release back in 2009. While I found it to be an interesting work of art, I was left confused on what the actual intentions of the movie was.
Is it a treatise on the many masks a man is forced to wear to adapt to his changing surroundings? Is it about the enduring effects of love on the human psyche? Or about the strength of the female form and the nature of the bonds she can have with a man?
The movie kept playing at the back of my subconscious for a few years, before I finally decided to re visit it. Once I started it, I was caught in the spell it weaved on me. Lush, lingering and beautifully shot, this is a film which has to be soaked in its moments and one which the viewer should allow to subtly and evocatively make its mark on him/her.
Essentially, it is about a dead sailor who washes up on the shore and the different women who recollect him from their perspectives to the local police. Perspective is probably the key word here. Each of the women seem to recollect a different man from the one the other remembers.
First up is Revamma, a quietly powerful performance by the dependable Padmapriya. The daughter of a rich and influential man, she had lost her innocence at a young age, because of the cruelty she seemed to have witnessed her father inflict on others. The blood which splatters on her face keeps coming back to her and she left home a long time ago to Ceylon. Now she is coming back and her father has big plans for her. Kutty Srank is his trusted helper, and he trusts his master to the point of blind devotion. When he goes to receive her, she has come with a young Buddhist monk in tow. Fearful of what her father might say, her uncle and aunt force Srank to keep it a secret from him and hide the young man in a dilapidated home. Srank feels the guilt at what he perceives to be his betrayal when Revamma abandons a party her father had held for her. He manhandles the young priest but is stopped by Revamma who tells him that she plans to run away and become a monk with him. The story unfolds in Srank being betrayed in turn by his master and in him helping Revamma escape.
The second story is my favorite of the three. Pemanna is portrayed beautifully by Kamalinee Mukherjee with an underlying sense of allure and seduction. She has always been an actress who, at least in Malayalam, wants to do only strong roles that offer her scope for performance, and she doesn't disappoint here. After helping Revamma escape, it appears they end up somewhere close to Cochin, where he gets involved with a local drama troupe headed by Pemanna's brother Loni. For the lead role, he chooses Srank, which upsets one of the regular actors, Joppan. Pemanna is entranced by her co-lead in the drama and very subtly tries to seduce him. There is a scene here which is probably the first nude scene I have seen in Malayalam, but it is so aesthetically shot that you can only marvel in the mood as Srank walks in on Pemanna in her state of undress. The jealousy in Joppan forces him to try and turn the public opinion against Srank by confiding and colluding with the local priest (Siddique) to defame him. The priest sees Srank as an affront and adversary to the control he holds over the local citizens using the fear of God, as Srank is skeptical of it all. The tale ends up in one deceit after another with more than one death involved. The acting in this piece is exceptional, but I have to give special mention to Suresh Krishna as Loni. Sadly typecast in commercial mallu fare, here he finally gets a role where he can display his range and comes up with an exceptional performance.
The final part of the recollections come from a mute woman who is adamant that the dead man is not Srank, and who should know better, as she claims to have been married to the man and is carrying his child. Considered a curse and harbinger of misfortune by the local village she belongs to, she met him when he was actually coming to finish her off, as his boss Unnithan (Saikumar) feels she is the reason for his family's misfortune. On seeing her pitiful condition and her fear, Srank could not bring himself to do it and instead becomes her protector and friend. The progress of their relationship to one of love is captured by Unnithan's daughter in law, who seems to be caught in a cage of her own in the household and finds in Kali and Srank an outlet for her suppressed desires, as she writes about them.
The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. Kerala on its own is a enthralling beautiful place and it becomes a sight to behold when framed through a creative lens. The acting is almost flawless for the most part, though I don't think Mammooty is the only one who deserves credit here. In fact, I would say it's the powerful supporting characters I took away the most from the movie.
But at the end of the day, if you ask me what it was all about and what was the point, I may still not be able to give a concrete answer. However, maybe that's not the point. Like all great works of art, Kutty Srank is an experience to be savored in the moments. Just like life.
Chaappa Kurish (2011)
A Brilliant Effort...
I haven't written a review here for some time now, but the critical reception to what I feel is one of the best movies to come out of the Malayalam film industry in recent times moved me to pen down my thoughts.
Critics seem to have not been very favorable to this work of art, which is quite beguiling. The desperate desire for change which most lovers of Malayalam cinema have been holding onto since Malayalam films took a turn for the worse at the turn of the century seems to be finally arriving, and while a few fine efforts are getting appreciated (eg. Salt 'n Pepper), this one doesn't seem to be. I can only assume it is because of the lack of commercial elements, which I guess something like a Traffic (while it is a good film, I get a feeling it was so appreciated because of the commercialized aspects of it) did well.
The movie explores the lives of two individuals living on two socially opposite edges of a metro. While Fahd Fazil plays a sophisticated, rich and young corporate honcho who is also an inveterate flirt, Vineeth Sreenivasan plays the role of Ansari, a sweeper in a supermarket. Arjun and Ansari would normally have never had to interact with each other, as both live lives of vastly different circumstances. Arjun has the arrogant, confident outlook of someone who has probably made achieving things (professional and personal) a habit. He does not notice most of the grime surrounding him in the city and has no problems sleeping with his secretary, Sonia (Ramya Nambeesan), while at the same time planning his wedding with Ann (Roma). Ansari, on the other hand, is someone who has always been timid and used to being beaten down by life.
Arjun, on a spur of the moment decision, records a lovemaking session he has with Sonia on his phone camera. When Sonia finds out about his impending marriage with Ann, they have an altercation in a café, which leads to Arjun losing his phone. As fate would have it, Ansari picks it up. From then on in, the story becomes a cat and mouse game as Arjun tries to get back the phone from Ansari, worried as he is that the clip he recorded will end up on some website. Ansari, on the other hand, experiencing having power over someone for the first time in his life, plays around with Arjun getting him to do things Ansari could not. The game ends in a gritty, raw and thrilling denouement with one of the best fight sequences picturised in Malayalam.
Fahd Fazil is brilliant and carries the movie. A perfect role for him, he exudes the uber cool handsomeness and arrogance needed for this kind of role and I sure hope he continues doing stuff like this in the future. Vineeth Srinivasan provides an able foil as the down on his luck Ansari. Remya Nambeesan was a revelation. It was so refreshing to see a leading lady in Malayalam who is not your coy, village belle kinds and who doesn't mind expressing herself on screen. Nivedita as Ansari's colleague and burgeoning love interest is also nice. The music by Rex Vijayan is quite interesting and different from the usual fare seen mostly.
While good movies like Salt 'n Pepper are getting the critical and commercial appreciation they deserve, I hope this one also does not fall under the radar and gets the recognition it deserves.
Kerala Cafe (2009)
A Wonderful Experience...
I finished watching Ranjith's experiment, Kerala Café the other day. Ten different short stories by ten different directors combined to form a single movie. The experiment has been done, of course, in other languages, including in Bollywood (Dus Kahaniyaan). However, in the barren wasteland of creativity that Malayalam cinema has become since the turn of the century, Ranjith is one maker who keeps trying to revolutionize the industry, almost as a one man army out to repair the damage.
The movie has various stories from 10 directors, some established and some new. The opening is a story of NRI angst and memories, in a story fittingly called Nostalgia. Though this is not among the best, it does in a way capture NRI attitudes with respect to Kerala, and Dileep does well portraying a character with shades of gray.
After this, we see Prithviraj in all his effortless dashing best, talking about Jesus, Frankenstein and Mangalassery Neelakantan and about his 'bitch'. As only he can do these days, he pulls it off, in what turns out to be a touching story of a gathering of people from different walks of life, who bear common witness to a tragedy which affected them all. Called 'Island Express', this stars Jayasurya and Rahman as well and is one of my favorites from the collection.
The next was a story on adultery by Shaji Kailas with Suresh Gopi. It's a relief to know that Shaji hasn't totally lost it. Another decent effort to add to. After that is Uday Ananthan's Mrityunjayam, which has Fahd Fazil in a new avatar as compared to his last outing a few years back in his dad's venture. A horror movie, it does manage to send a chill or two down your spine, but still not one of the best here. Despite that, Fahd definitely does look much more assured now.
The next story is Anjali Menon's Happy Journey. This one beautifully captures the mind of a middle class Keralite male(Jagathy) who, on a night journey in a bus, tries to get flirty and touchy with a young co passenger next to him. What follows is a brilliant game of oneupmanship between them, which keeps the viewer guessing. I do hope that Anjali's Manjadikuru gets a release in Kerala. If this short feature is anything to go by, her full length movie must be great. After this, there are a couple of nice efforts including one on the effects of recession (brilliantly acted by Siddique and Shweta Menon) and another by Shyamprasad. Good to know he can do the light hearted ventures too.
However, one of the best here is Anwar Rasheed's Bridge. A brilliantly metaphorical and hauntingly sad tale about a son who tries to lose his mother, much the same way as a dad tries to lose the stray cat his son had brought home. The story talks of themes of helplessness, desolation and love and is beautifully acted (mainly Salim Kumar). Amazingly, this is done by Anwar Rasheed, the same guy who did those mindless potboilers with Mammooty and Mohanlal before this. I sure hope he continues on this path rather than go back to those.
PuramKazhchakal, starring Sreenivasan and Mammooty, is the last one, and another fine one. Sreenivasan is a traveler on a bus thinking of his past, when suddenly a man in a hurry gets on the bus. Throughout the journey he pesters the driver and gets ridiculed also, while trying to get the bus to move fast. The ending of this is touching and speaks a lot of how we may not realize why someone does what he does. Mamooty is shorn of all his star power here and does brilliantly.
Seeing these 10 minute stories, I couldn't help wondering
If these guys can do so well with short stories, why the heck can't they start replicating this onto their longer counterparts?
I Loved this Show....
I just finished watching another episode of Ghostwriter. For the uninitiated, Ghostwriter was a popular kids show during the 90's which involved a gang of kids in NY and their invisible ghost friend, who they couldn't see, but who could make words out of letters. With the help of this ghost buddy, they went around NYC solving various mysteries. The episodes were always in 4 or 5 part mysteries, and I used to love them. I remember in Saudi, as a kid, i would want to wear pens around my neck just like they used to. Got a couple of my friends to do the same too.
Anyways, the funny thing was, i just realized how much i still like the show, 10-15 years after i first saw it. Now when i revisit it, i realize the show was not only entertaining, but also dealt with a lot of issues which a lot of adults would do good to take note of. It celebrates the power of togetherness and friendship, as well as showing glorious examples of steadfast loyalty to the ones you love, passion and determination, as well as an aversion to violence in any form. I remember the show was probably one of the first ones i saw where the kids who made up the gang where all of different ethnicities. There was Jamal, the African American, Tina the Chinese American, Alex and Gaby, the Hispanics as well as Lenni, the true blue American. Yet, without ever getting preachy, it managed to make us care for these kids and put across the point that with tolerance, understanding and friendship, the differences don't really matter. Another thing i liked about it was the importance given to writing. It genuinely encouraged kids to take up writing more.
The poignant thing is though, all the kids who played a part of this have now all gone to the 'Where are they now' list. I looked up their limited profiles available on IMDb, and it looks like hardly any of them went onto any more acting assignments. Though they all seemed to have graduated from university. That was surprising for me, considering they all seemed to have the natural flair for the screen. Especially the unmentioned leader Sheldon Turnipseed (Jamal) and Blaze Berdahl (Lenni), who seemed to have it in them to carry it off on the big screen.
Gawd, I really wanted to like this movie. After hearing so much about it for weeks on end, I was waiting so that I could catch it in its best version, namely in IMAX 3-D. Well, finally I did get a chance over the new years weekend with my friends in Mumbai. If this is what the best version had to offer, I can imagine how much I may have disliked it in normal 2-D.
First of all, I do like good big budget actioners, which also have fresh characters and credibility of plot. The Dark Knight or the recent Star Trek are recent movies which I really liked. However, I have never been able to enjoy or like a movie which just has exorbitant special effects and no screenplay, dialog or character development. This is probably why I actually managed to sleep through some time of the mayhem that was the second half of the first Transformers movie, and didn't bother to watch the second one. However, I did expect James Cameron to not just make a showpiece of a movie. One of my all time favorites, T2 was done by him. You never felt in that movie that he was compromising on script, characters, dialogs or intensity for effects. I even liked Titanic quite a bit. But this one was plain disappointing. Credit has to be given where due. The idea and beauty of Pandora, and the basic premise was amazingly interesting. But the screenplay left a lot to be desired. Some of the lines uttered by Sully's and Neytiri's Na'vi characters are so cheesy and clichéd that you feel even the most run of the mill romantic comedies do it better. On top of that, the various scenes look like they had been picked up from a collection of good movies over the years (like the brilliant LOTR trilogy). And what in the world was all that sudden spirituality thrown in at the end? It just did not fit in credibly with the story till then.
But I guess these days, most of these movies do well. Which would explain why Transformers 2 and Avatar are among the biggest hits of the year, and Avatar will probably challenge Titanic for all time Box Office earnings. And why something beautiful and complex like Watchmen was probably not watched by half as many people as who saw Avatar. Sad though. I never thought I'll be disappointed with Cameron.