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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Humor and mockery, there is a fine line between these two and in
history of any form of art where humor is an objective for the artist,
there has been occasions where the artist failed to make the dichotomy
between humor and mockery quite distinct. The line often becomes
blurred for many; and therein lie the beauty and novelty of one artist
who manages to provide pure humor though the subject of his work
appears to take the form mockery. Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael
displays that rare talent of humor in his film The Brand New Testament.
The Brand New Testament's begins with the premise that God does exist and he lives in Brussels; with his docile wife, the Goddess, and rebellious daughter, Ea. God is tactless towards his wife and abusive towards his daughter. While he is not being those towards his family, he makes up laws on his computer, laws for worldly human. One example of those laws is 'Your phone will always ring when you are immersed in bathtub.' I think one gets the essence of the film now.
So, when Ea reaches a breaking point, after getting beaten by her father, she decides to leave her father's house after consultation with her brother Jesus Christ, who she affectionately calls JC (Yes you are reading it right). JC tells hers to find her own apostles and write a new testament. So, Ea leaves to find her apostles, but not before she gains access to her father's computer and sends everyone in the world, their day of death; and then she locked the computer so her father could not access it again. All this happens at the beginning of the first act.
By now, after reading this, one can comprehend the absurdity of the story of the film. But, what one cannot comprehend is how, with each scene, this film takes 'funny' and storytelling to another level. Ea's search of six apostles unravels the unique stories of six persons who are fighting a battle of their own now they know the day of their death. Each story, of each apostle, would resonate with us, beneath the veil of humor. That is the virtue of being a good satire and The Brand New Testament is excellent at it.
Van Dormael, who co-wrote the script with Thomas Gunzig, wields a deft direction. The dialogues are witty and hilarious at the same time. There are moments where one would hysterically burst into fits of laughter and there are moments where a melancholic chuckle would appear on one's face. Never for a moment does any oddity or any absurd scene, which you see in the film, would seem out of place or ludicrous. There is a poetic flow in the humor of the film.
The entire cast, plays their oddball characters superbly. Each character in this film is unique and forms pieces of the brilliant jigsaw display, that is this film; and all the actors rises to the occasion to portray theirs. Benoit Poelvoorde should be mentioned for wickedly mischievous and despicable portrayal of God. It his performance that makes us loathe his character and thus laugh out loud when he gets in trouble. Pil Groyne, who plays 10 years old Ea, was memorable too; and not to forget David Murgia's charming yet hilarious cameo as Jesus Christ.
The film is full of virtues, and among the glittering virtues, cinematography would take an essential spot. The film is beautifully shot. Christophe Beaucarne's camera-work deserves every praise there is not give. Choice of background score and music is also commendable.
The Brand New Testament is a film that will be etched in your memory while bringing a smile, whenever you think about it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lenny Abrahamson's Room is poignant. Room is evocative. Room is
devastatingly beautiful. There is a magic in creating a world in a
child's perspective. To capture and display the innocence, the purity,
the sheer amount of confusing vastness of the world is no mean feat.
Writer Emma Donoghue, who is also the writer of the book that the film
is based upon, and director Lenny Abrahamson manage to do just that.
The film starts with the pair of mother and son, Joy and Jack, played by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay living their lives while scrapping for resources yet finding solace in each other's company, in a room. That is right. In a single room (which later revealed to be a garden shed with a skylight as the only source of sun). The reason behind this ordeal revealed to be that Joy had been abducted by person referred only as 'Old Nick'. Old Nick kept Joy and Jack, who is his biological son, sans any means of communication with the outside world and had them live a life devoid of any hope to go back to the world.
Without revealing much about what happens next in the film, it can be said that what follows is one of the heart-wrenching and heart-warming story about love, innocence and those little joys of the world that we often overlook. There is a slight tonal shift in the second half as the tension of escape and sweetness of the love between mother and son gets replaced with Joy facing the reality of the world. But the change is in coherence with the story and that helped in underlining the difficulty both protagonists, especially Joy, is facing in their new world. Even without reading the book, I must say that the screenplay immensely helped in establishing the dichotomy of the emotions that the protagonists went through. Lenny Abrahamson's direction complemented that aforementioned dichotomy. The first act was shot quite meticulously in the closed room, thus providing a sense of foreboding and an urge for escape.
Although bolstered by a good support cast the film largely centers around the mother, played by Brie Larson and the son, played by Jacob Tremblay. Brie Larson, whose hitherto best performance perhaps had been in the largely underrated 2013 film Short Term 12, churned out a superlative and breathtaking performance as the mother. The role was a delight for an actor of her capability and she made the character her own. Restrained and gritty while being captive in the room and yet lovingly playing with her son; Vulnerable and fragile, being captive of her own thoughts and insecurities, while trying to get her son attuned to the big world; Brie Larson shines throughout her role.
But, the film would not have been so pure, so emotional, so magical without the brilliant performance of Jacob Tremblay, as the 5 year old. It is one of the finest performances from a child I have ever seen. The fear of the task her mother asked, then the taste of freedom, then again the intimidation of the vast world that had hitherto been unknown to him. We feel everything through the wondrous performance of Jacob Tremblay and he genuinely smiled in the film when seeing a 'real' dog for the first time, it becomes difficult to hold tears back.
At this point, it would not be fair if Stephen Rennick's score is not mentioned. The music, with the appropriate usage, bolstered the scenes and helped the film in taking the audience for the ride.
Room is a film that would provide its audiences a perspective that we often ignore; and for this very reason it is a film that should not be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Masaan in its English translation means crematorium, but the film, in
its wider release, is named Fly Away Solo. This dichotomy of tone
between the translations can be seen throughout the film and that is
where Neeraj Ghaywan scored in his brilliant debut feature. The film is
uplifting but heartbreaking, reflecting on both sorrow and hope and
thus transcends to something that can be as refreshing as the morning
In Masaan, the story, set in Banaras, is woven around two primary protagonists, Deepak(Vicky Kaushal) and Devi(Richa Chadda). One of them faces tragedy early in the film, and the other one sees its devastating form later. But, predictably, and here 'predictably' should not be taken in a negative way, both of their lives converge; one finding closure through struggle and another solace amidst loneliness.
Masaan is not plot-driven, but character-driven; the like we see in Iranian and Romanian new wave films. It is not much of a story-telling than portrayal of life on screen. Life and the elements that control it; namely society, religion, family, love and death. This is where Masaan triumphs. It is hard yet poignant, heartbreaking and yet poetic; because life is all of those.
Masaan dwindles on life and death like its name. Death is a prominent figure in the story and And it is not only two protagonists' eyes we see life at Banaras through; we see it through the eyes of Vidyadhar Pathak too. A guilt-ridden and simpleton father struggling to protect his daughter, Devi. Pathak's attempt to diminish the distance between him and his daughter is one of the key points of this film.
Writer Varun Grover and Director Neeraj Ghaywan deserves all the accolades and plaudits they received in the film festival circuits. Masaan creates a flurry of small yet memorable characters in form of Jhonta, a boy working as apprentice in Pathak's shop, Sadhya Ji, Devi's colleague in Railway office and the antagonist Police Inspector Mishra. All of them were necessary elements that framed the picturesque story in Masaan.
Vicky Kaushal and Richa Chadda led the performances by churning out superlative display. Kaushal's portrayal was simple and charming while being in love and effortlessly devastating in front of death. Chadda was subdued but strong, much like her character. However, it was veteran actor Sanjai Mishra who shone as Pathak. His nuances while Pathak was trying to remain strong in trying times were impeccable and bound to bring a tear or two when he broke down. Special mention for Pankaj Tripathi who played Sadhya Ji.
Masaan is one of those films where everything clicks. If you praise writing, direction and performances of actors, you cannot simply leave the cinematography and music of the film. "Tu Kisi Rail Si " and "Man Kasturi R " would definitely strike a chord of melancholy in viewers.
Masaan is a beautiful of piece of lives in a world you definitely would not want to miss from experiencing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Vishal Bharadwaj's adaptation of Shakespeare's titular play 'Hamlet' is
dark, gritty and thoroughly meticulous in craft. There is always a
beauty about snow white backdrop that provides the canvas to draw human
fallacies in red. 'Haider', set in the backdrop of Kashmir proves to be
violently beautiful. But it's not the violence, or the prominent
vengeance of 'Hamlet'; nor the socio-political dogma that creating a
ripple of controversy was faced by the people during the 95 Kashmir
Conflicts, that was the driving force of Haider. It was the awry and
eerie love and relationship between the mother-son duo of Ghazala and
The primary characters of the story, and their relationship did not deviate much from Hamlet in the film. But, just like his previous films on Shakespeare's works, Bharadwaj triumphs, more prominently in this film, in the craft of blending the tragedy of the play with the emotional aspect of the story. Thus, the film becomes very unique and Bharadwaj's own in that perspective. The preparation and hard work of the director reflects in the film's narrative.
Much like Hamlet, Haider arrives in a discontent Kashmir to find that his family has been torn apart by the war that is brewing between the Militants and government. Amidst that, people are disappearing, seemingly at random. To Haider's grief, he finds that his father is one of the missing persons and to his shock he finds out the proximity of the relationship between his mother and uncle, Khurram.
Viewers could almost sense the amount of threads Bharadwaj was spinning in the film. Whether it was Haider's search for the truth, the controversial torment of the common people in Kashmir, or Haider's search for his father that continues to reek of betrayal and thus spawn vengeance in his heart; Haider's love for his fiancée or the palpable love between Haider and Ghajala, which to me is crowning glory of this tale of vengeance all of these threads creates the web where our titular protagonist is at the heart of. And herein lies the mastery of Vishal Bharadwaj that not for once one could feel him losing the grasp in the story, such is the screenplay.
A film like this deserves the acting brilliance it had in the cast. First of all, Shahid Kapoor, hitherto mostly playing romantic characters (with the slight exception of Kaminey, another Vishal Bharadwaj film), was nothing less than magnifique in his portrayal of the central character. The soliloquy of his in the midst of the street would and should go down as one of the finest acting display in Bollywood. Kay Kay Menon, as the antagonist Khurram, does his work deftly. But, perhaps, being an ardent Kay Kay fan, it just seemed a tad bit overtly dramatic from his part in some occasions. In smaller roles, Irrfan Khan (as the enigmatic Roohdar) and Narendra Jha (as Haider's father Hilal) do more than than their limited screen time allowed. Shraddha Kapoor does not disappoint either.
But, the film was provided another dimension by the performance of one woman. Perhaps it was symbolic that the story had powerful men falling into destruction through the love of one woman, the femme fatale in its truest sense. A character like Ghajala needed acting of highest order, and Tabu, just like the woman she portrayed, put her male acting colleagues a league behind her in this film.
The film is backed up adeptly by Vishal Bharadwaj's own compositions -Songs 'Aaj ke Naam' and 'Jhelum' provides a bleak yet soulful tune, and not every day one can see the visual portrayal of songs like 'Bismil' and 'So Jao'. Superlative cinematography of Pankaj Kumar does not go amiss either.
Haider is a mammoth sized achievement in contemporary Hindi cinema, basking in the glory of its display; and it needs to be watched.
Incendies belongs to that rare breed of films that induce a tumultuous
surge of emotions in its spectators while engaging them through the
narrative. Jerry Seinfeld once said in his show Seinfeld, to add to the
humor of that show undoubtedly, that Leo Tolstoy wanted to name his
novel 'War: What Is It Good For' instead of "War and Peace". Maybe that
rhetorical question of a book title would have been an apt tagline for
what was portrayed in this film.
What sets Dennis Villeneuve's 'Incendies' apart from other films with post-war trauma as their underlying theme, is the spectrum of human relationship he constructed on the screen. The film starts with twin brother and sister, Jeanne and Simon, receiving their recently deceased mother, Nawal's funeral wishes; wishes that need to be fulfilled, before the children can proceed with the burial. In two different letters, the twins were asked to locate their father and half-brother, who we would later find was called Nihad. With initial reluctance and refusal from her foreboding brother, Jeanne finally set upon the journey that would uncover the truth through several different realisations, taking the audience with it.
In Incendies, Villeneuve never loses the grip that he gets to hold from the very first few minutes. The narrative had the mother and daughter tracing the same path in a Middle-Eastern country, only with different perspectives and scenarios. The civil war, that was shown here to have its inflictions on the protagonists, can be compared with the Lebanese Civil War. The places that had horrific memories for the mother are visited by the daughter. Thus, blending the two timelines in the narrative, a sense of déjà vu is channeled in the film. At one point, viewers along with Jeanne would be forced to ponder whether being oblivious to the truth was a blessing or not.
If the screenplay is the heart of the film, then the oxygen was provided by the cast to keep it pumping. Lubina Azabal's Nawal Marwan is tremendous feat in acting. It was important for her performance to be in accordance with the story, with she being the protagonist in this tempestuous journey of a film. Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as Jeanne, was not far behind either. Apart from these stand-out performances, the film is bolstered with performances from the rest of the cast akin to that of a neo-realist film.
Incendies is as intense and brutal as one can get. Nothing hits harder than the truth that comes out of nowhere and you do not want to hear. Incendies is quite an achievement at that. It becomes incessantly difficult to revisit the first scene where Nihad, a child, would leave you with self-judgment and introspection. Radiohead's "You and Whose Army" adds to the cause.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jeff Nichols' Mud is a modern day fairy tale. Keeping the essence of
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, he wove a coming-of-age story so
gratifying that it will leave a smile on your face when the credits
roll. A wonderful piece of character study that we do not see very
Set in the background of Mississippi banks and the city De Witt, Arkansas, we see two teenage boys(Ellis and Neckbone), adventurously, as boys of that age often do, set out for an island in the middle of Mississippi river; with the aim of taking ownership of a boat that one the two boys had previously found out. Upon arrival, they found that the boat, as they had hoped, is not completely unoccupied. A man, who called himself 'Mud', had taken shelter in that boat. With turn of events, the boys befriended Mud.
As it would turn out later, Mud was a fugitive on the run. This is where the film treads in the water of 'love'. Here we see variants of love from the eyes of our protagonist, Ellis. His own, his parents' and Mud's. Driven by the force, Ellis decided to help Mud in his goal and went out of his way to do so. Ellis is probably one of the cleanest characters you'd come across in the cinematic world.
Underneath the surface of love, there is a strong undercurrent of raw masculinity. A masculine trust that brews by the heat of the relationship between the boys and Mud. Maybe to reflect this, Nichols decided to have the women and girls in the film quite shallow in nature. There is a moment where Juniper, the woman of Mud's life, threw the question whether Mud would really do anything for love; and subsequently we see him risking his life twice; for Ellis. There lies the brilliance of the film and Jeff Nichols. Maybe, the particular colour of love that we wanted to see through Ellis' eyes wasn't there. But, there was love. In a different colour.
Speaking of brilliance, the cast, especially the leads, produces standout performances in their own rights. Tye Sheridan and Matthew McConaughey were exceptional in their performances, together and separately. This especially stands out in the aforementioned scene. Sheridan, especially, was brilliant in the scene of confronting Mud, etching the multitude of emotions the character was going through. Jacob Lofland as Neckbone was a faithful sidekick like his character. The support cast, including the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Ray McKinnon and Michael Shannon did their parts well.
This was a story to be shot beautifully and beautifully it was shot, thanks to Adam Stone. The river and life on its banks were beautiful. Similar effort was found from David Wingo in the background score department. All in all, this is a film that is ought to be seen. For the sake of masculine love it portrays.
P.S. Anti-venom can be taken more than one time without it being fatal. Just saying.
Narrative that follows the 'whodunnit' approach often relies on the
climactic twist. Herein lies the craftsmanship of the filmmaker to keep
you on the edge even if there is nothing but a simple conversation is
going on the screen. You can feel the Hitchcockian bomb is there
somewhere. David Fincher showed us how to hold the suspense throughout
the film in his early works. Dennis Villeneuve here pretty much did a
similarly splendid job.
Two families see their worlds go upside down, when their two very young daughters go missing, presumably abducted. When the adept detective has to let the primary suspect go, due to lack of evidences, the father of one child takes it to himself to find the daughters. Sounds familiar? Yes, the premise is quite similar to that of a Mystic River or a Zodiac.
But, the defining feature of this film would be that, every now and then it justifies its title and asks you question about who the real prisoner is. For it is us who put ourselves in the most impregnable prisons. As we see the father, Keller (Hugh Jackman) shredding his values one by one; the obsession, the pain are felt by the audience.
Like mentioned earlier, it is one thing to build a premise that promises suspense; and, I am going a bit Jerry Seinfeld way here, it is a different thing altogether to 'hold' the suspense throughout the film. Credit goes to Aaron Guzikowski for the always-engaging and compelling script. Villeneuve hardly mismatches the pace of the story or loses the grip in the screenplay. Some might disagree, but I think the plot is divided in two sub-plots. One that follows the premise where the detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, relentlessly pursues the kidnapper. The other is where Keller is the protagonist; that always makes us wonder how far people can go for the love of family.
When you get a cast like the one this film has, you get the chance to explore various ranges of emotion and actually get to build characters, which is not very regular in typical thriller films. The support cast was stellar with the likes of Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davies, the astonishingly refrained Melissa Leo and Paul Dano, who not surprisingly revels in his almost-silent, reserved character. Each one of them showing their acting prowess in turns. But, it is the leads that will sweep off your feet with their performances. Both Jackman and Gyllenhaal give knock-out performances as theirs were the more layered characters in the film.
The final punch of the film comes from Johann Johannsson's haunting compositions and Roger Deakins' masterful work. Just sets up the grim mood of the film. Deakins' craftsmanship's best moment would be at the end, where he creates magic on screen with the city lights.
Often come films that are terrible yet has its cast performing extra-
ordinarily. The rare ones are where the film is superbly directed with
a fine story, but let down by the cast. Madras Café is an example of
the latter ones.
This espionage thriller is set in Sri Lanka during the 80s and 90s, while the country was torn in Civil War. The ethnic clash claimed number of innocent lives. The-Assassination-of-Rajiv-Gandhi-inspired incident served as the central point, around which the story is spun. When the conflict reached its zenith though rebel group of Tamil ethnicity, LTF (based on LTTE), India decided to intervene and send a peace force. This is where, our protagonist, Vikram Singh was sent to the war zone to ensure the operation of Peace Force does not fall through.
Based on this promising premise, the story moves in considerably apt pace, weaving more threads, that culminated the cloth of the grand conspiracy. The screenplay deviated from the traditional three-act structure of storytelling; and it suited the narrative. The credit goes to director Shoojit Sircar for his relentless grasp on the film. There was barely a moment when the intensity of the film falters or the tone gets shifted. The documentary-style depiction of war casualties helped the cause of the film.
The two lieutenants for 'captain' Sircar would be Kamaljeet Negi and Shantanu Moitra. Negi's cinematography is remarkable, making some of the frames look like work of art. Moitra's background score set up the tone of the proceedings that were happening on the screen. For a Bollywood film, there is a scarcity of songs (read unnecessary songs), but when there is a song, it just drives home the point of the film.
On the negative side, as mentioned earlier, the cast was a letdown. That is why, it seemed, director had to compromise with the character development. Granted, an espionage political thriller does not require much of a character study. But, when your protagonist undergoes plenty of different scenarios, it should yield at least one or two not-so- similar emotions. Perhaps, John Abraham's acting prowess forced Sircar to make his lead character a one-dimensional one. Also, the out-of-sync conversations between Nargis Fakhri (a British Journalist) and Abraham often were cringe-worthy. Having Fakhri delivering all lines in English hardly improved what she could have delivered in Hindi. The support cast, barring a decent Siddharth Basu, did not support either.
It is a well-directed, well-shot film with a very good story. Just the same cannot be said about the acting of the cast. Notwithstanding that, this is an indication that Bollywood is slowly moving towards maturity and quality after a long time. Good political thrillers are hard to come by in our industry, and this one definitely worth a watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alina and Voichita had grown up together in an orphanage. They had
found solace and comfort in each other's presence before both of them
took different paths in their life. The film opens with Alina returning
to home with the hope of reuniting with her childhood friend and
starting a new life only to find Voichita leading a completely new life
in a monastery with nothing but God at heart.
What follows is one riveting on-screen journey that dwells on faith, love, theism, atheism and over all, human emotions that goes unfathomably deep. Director Cristian Mungiu's remarkable work to depict the tumults of emotions of both the lead characters would be etched on the mind of audiences. The story largely revolves around how Voichita trying to get Alina a new life like hers in the monastery and Alina repeatedly and determinedly trying to undermine the value of god to get Voichita to love her with horrific consequences for her and the people residing at the monastery.
Many things are left to be inferred and left to individual interpretations, like it should be. The complicated relation between the lead characters is one of them. The love between them was still intact but faith divided them. The film also depicts the repercussions of faith and religion at its extreme. The screenplay of the film is excellent as it stresses to address the daily routine lifestyle at the monastery and how unbridled faith affects the rationale and morality of the people living there. Subject like this needed to be handled expertly and boy it was. So many subtle sub-plots like Alina's brother's pangs, the relationship between the priest of the monastery and the nuns are only examples of the palette of emotions that were drawn on screen.
It's largely a women-centric film. So, it asks a lot from the performances of the two ladies, portraying central characters. Cristina Flutur (Alina) and Cosmina Stratan (Voichita) both of them gave stellar performances that helped the film to consolidate the theme. The support cast, mostly comprised of female characters, was deft in their performances too. The only significant male character, 'The priest', played by the dependable Valeriu Andriutu, perhaps acted as the anchor of all the activities between all the female characters.
Another aspect that demands exceptional praises is the cinematography. The remote country sides of Romania looked magnificent on screen. Sometimes, I wondered whether it was possible to pause and stare at those beautiful shots. Some of the intense scenes in the films were that intense because the way it was shown. Overall, it is a film that would leave its viewers, atheists and theists alike, in a profound state of preoccupation.
P.S. I have noticed that sometimes the intensity of a film gets magnified when they use no background score at all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was dilly-dallying for quite a long time in watching this iconic John
Hughes film of the eighties. I should not have done that. It's not like
we haven't seen this kind of coming of age films, but still this movie
is one of the best in that category mainly due to the character
development that we hardly see in coming of age teen dramas.
The movie starts with a fine Saturday, when five high school students were forced to be in the school as detention. The first impression when I watched the first 10-15 minutes, I thought this could be the '12 Angry Men' of High School movies, at least thematically. It didn't disappoint me and that's saying a lot. Really, a lot.
These five kids are quite different from each other, and they were proud of it. But as they began to talk amongst themselves(of course conflict arose at first) slowly, predictably but pleasantly they began to open up; and then we could very well relate to the characters. Each of those kids may be from a different background, from a different class of society, but there is that feeling of hard done-by that is common between all of them. That is where John Hughes was efficacious with this film.
The characters are wisely chosen too. A brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal; the movie was able to do what it was intended to do because of these polarising characters. The performances of the actors in these characters are also one of the primary reasons of the success of the movie. The young actors, members of the core group of the 'Brat Pack' of the eighties did exceptionally well in depicting the varying range of emotions in their characters. Judd Nelson, especially, as the outcast tough-guy John Bender, managed to sway between being cool and also emotionally vulnerable deftly.
All in all, this movie may not be a classic in terms of technical aspects but it has the heart in it that one cannot help but feel a whooping sensation when John Bender punches the air in that iconic end scene. The excitation of freedom, one may call it.
P.S. Eightees' music was really cool.
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