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5/10
Molecule Review: Vijay Superum Pournamiyum (5 Stars)
19 February 2019
Vijay Superum Pournamiyum (ENG: Vijay Super and Pournami), much like its Malayalam title, is a slightly weird film that tackles the unspoken love between people in the modern age. Writer-director Jis Joy narrates the story of independent aspiring entrepreneur Pournami (Aishwarya Lekshmi) and failed Engineer-turned chef Vijay (Asif Ali) as they begin their journey together first as potential partners and then as business partners. While the latter part is a mopey emotional take on the subject, I was fascinated by what Joy had to present in the first half. There a bride-meeting ceremony turns into a believable setting of comedy (thanks for ample help from Renji Panicker and Devan) which is possibly the only fresh thing to come out of Vijay Superum Pournamiyum, which depends on its characters' philosophical ideologies to make a point or two about relationships, entrepreneurship, and unity. Special nod to Siddique for pulling off a character that will stay with you longer than the film will. TN.
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4/10
One-Line Review: Thattum Purath Achuthan (4 Stars)
18 February 2019
Lal Jose's feel-good comedy Thattum Purath Achuthan (ENG: Achuthan in the Attic) definitely has some feel-good moments as his lead star (Kunchacko Boban) takes on the role of the messenger/helper of God in this breezy story that should be enjoyed for its elements of magical realism albeit with a pinch of salt because of its ordinary, cliched shades. TN.
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7/10
One-Line Review: Kumbalangi Nights (7 Stars)
18 February 2019
Madhu Narayanan's Kumbalangi Nights is a visual treat about relationships (basically about what makes a home a home) carved masterfully using an eclectic mix of soothing, romantic music; outstanding cast performance; and overall perceptible storytelling that will tug at your heartstrings to a point where you will be unable to emote any feeling other than joy and which will come out of your body through occasional smiles (and chuckles) even as you marvel at this subtle piece of art that just falls short of being called a masterpiece because of its formulaic approach and the use of some ordinary Malayalam new-wave elements. TN.
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Gully Boy (2019)
6/10
Little India Directory Review: Gully Boy (6 Stars)
15 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Gully Boy (Street Boy) is full of energy. So full of energy that I couldn't take my eyes off the screen for nearly 3 hours as this blend of hip hop music and dramatic performances put me in a state of daze. Unfortunately, when I was finally out of that daze, the humdrum, polished rags-to-riches story stared me at the face, making me feign the gloomy air of a rapper that he assumes when he realizes he just got owned by his opponent in a street rap battle.

Hard-nosed Ranveer Singh plays the central character of Murad - dreamer, boyfriend of aspiring surgeon and rough-and-tough human being Safeena (Alia Bhatt), Engineering student, and a member of an extended family where the guardian and sole breadwinner (Vijay Raaz) has just recently married for the second time. In that order. Although, if it was for Safeena to decide, she would change that order and maybe even murder a woman or two. But since the screenplay is written for the masses by Akhtar and co-writer Reema Kagti, with substantial support from dialogue writer of the year Vijay Maurya, Gully Boy flows like a rap song. The poetry is very good and "hard" considering the rhythm by an ensemble of musicians including Divine and Raezy (Mumbai-based rappers on whose story the film is based), Raghu Dixit, and Mickey McCleary makes the viewers get out of their seats and dance like Murad does sometime during the slow-paced second half of the film.

At first glance, the short slices of scenes made me believe that I was watching the trailer of Gully Boy. And then the screenplay started to bring long shots into the mix and made me laugh my stomach off. As I have noted earlier, writer Maurya vomits knowledge and experience of street language into the screenplay, not only surprising you at the rawness of the sequences that it complements but also amusing you to a level that you fall in love with the characters. Although I am not a fan of Murad or his ambitions, I was blown away by newcomer Siddhant Chaturvedi and his introductory character of MC Sher. It almost felt like I was watching a real-life street rapper spread wisdom about hip hop and the real world among his peers. And whenever he spoke - which is akin to how he raps - it felt like I was experiencing an experience that I had never experienced in Hindi cinema. Sure, films about street urchins - down and out - but dreaming big and humming "apna time aayega" ("our time will come"), have been presented before, but not with so much energy and finesse. A good look at the scenes involving the slums of Mumbai and their people will enthrall you like only a few films have in the history of Hindi cinema.

If the music comes in first in this race (with "Apna Time Aayega" sung by Ranveer Singh and Divine taking the pie by at least eight miles from the second track Doori also by Singh), then the cast performance definitely gets the silver medal. Both Singh and Bhatt are phenomenal in what they do, especially enacting the appearance and behaviour of the poor. The latter just hits the roof with her enactment of Safeena, a ferocious true bred and highbrow, independent woman in mad love with the man of her life. Even if the film's energy as a whole gets compared with Singh's and the latter wins, there is much more to relish about the rest of the cast. Performances by everyone, notably including Vijay Raaz, Chaturvedi, Vijay Varma, Kalki Koechlin, and Amruta Subhash are a treat to watch. It won't be surprising if you wonder if these actors were made for the roles that they portray so effectively, uplifting the understanding of the social issues that I mentioned earlier.

Yet there is a pungent, uncomfortable element about Gully Boy that prevents you from calling it extraordinary. The story of a guy stricken with poverty trying to make it big in the millennium city is as common as a piece of garbage lying around in the same city. How perseverance and patience gets you ahead is another point that Akhtar brings into the fore, all the more making me question the point of such a film. Of course, the musicians have done a splendid work writing the songs and producing them, but I am not seeing any special reason or a special factor that would differentiate Gully Boy from an ordinary biopic about a person who tries to make it big in life. And that is what restrains me from singing any more praises of Gully Boy and avoiding the peak-end rule. Because those final 10 minutes are manically fantastic. But I will definitely say this: the music will uplift your mood like no other film has in a long, long time. And if that's your cue, then Gully Boy should be in front of your eyes this weekend.

Director Zoya Akhtar somehow always manages to make even the most humdrum of stories into ravishing pieces of art. Gully Boy is no different even if you look at it from the perspective of a person who hopes to see social issues being addressed through cinema. For it also marvelously hints at issues such as social status and inequality and wealth and even (Islamic) polygamy to an extent. The excellent camera work by Jay Oza will make you want to watch it for the second time on the big screen despite of this review. And that is the kind of movies that Akhtar makes, only to find them being watched and rewatched by cinephiles years from now.

Gully Boy gets everything right and pumps up your mood regardless of what position you are in in your own life, but just thinking about it a few hours after you have seen it will make you realize that it just falls short of becoming something that can be dubbed as extraordinary. TN.

Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).
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3/10
Little India Directory Review: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (3 Stars)
2 February 2019
Everyone who's watched the trailer for Shelly Chopra Dhar's directorial debut, titled Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (ENG: Felt Like This When I Saw a Girl...) for namesake and for punning purposes, can predict what it is all about without any additional information. And that in itself should be a red flag for anyone who's interested in exploring the whole recipe, a bland little story masqueraded as a pithy taboo-breaker.

In the comedy drama, Anil Kapoor's goofy character is busy casual-fighting with his mother in the kitchen, trying to live his dream of becoming a chef, an activity that she is against of him doing both privately and publicly. This, in turn, has given him less or no time to focus on the upbringing of his daughter Sweety (Sonam Kapoor), who grows into a beautiful (and independent?) woman with her own set of principles and likes. Trouble ensues when her brother (Abhishek Duhan) finds out that Sweety is seeing someone outside of their own religion, sending the whole family's domestic foundation in a tizzy. Rajkummar Rao enters as a theater playwright, along with a bunch of supporting characters, to bolster this conflict into a mesmerizing mess that climaxes so prematurely the whole thing destroys the legacy of the original song by R D Burman from the 1994 classic 1942 - A Love Story. But I will still give some brownie points to Dhar and her team for re-imagining the meaning of the song and forcibly neutralizing it.

Apart from wondering throughout the film what happened to Sweety's dear mother, I was painfully smitten by the tepid screenplay written by Gazal Dhaliwal. It is a damp celebration of cliched plot points attached together to create an effect that would have been novel in the previous century. It highlights the amateurish construction of the film by Dhar who uses all the tricks in the book to hide the incoming twist till the intermission. And when the twist unfolds in the most uncinematic way possible, Dhar does not let her film admit its ordinary shades, and keeps on going to reach the final destination: the sermon. All attempts at standing out as a groundbreaking plot falls flat because of the ending which looks like the lead paragraph of that workplace handbook you often see these days that talks about neutrality, diversity, and inclusiveness.

I am also not fascinated by Sonam's performance which she evidently follows-up from her Khoobsurat (2014) days albeit with a lot of gloom here, perhaps because she is characterized like an actress from the 1980s. Does not suit in a film that aspires to be progressive and forward-thinking. And add to that the thoughtless and insensitive references in the dialogues (mainly those performed by Brijendra Kala), the film has enough evidence to show that it is a single-cause gimmick. Nonetheless, some of these funny dialogues are what makes Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga at least bearable, further thanks to Anil and his co-actors Seema Pahwa and Kala. There are no two words other than "not mindshattering" to describe Juhi Chawla's comeback performance as this overacting singleton trying and failing to impress everyone around her. Rajkummar Rao looks out of place here, but he still manages to impress with enough screen space slightly more than what is given to Regina Cassandra for her blink-and-you-miss role.

The songs are the opposite of charming, their choreography made to look forced, giving me the impression that each and every crew member only focused on the main theme and not on getting their own thing right. The overall camera work and the editing are partners in crime making me nominate them together for the second place in the long list of things that go wrong in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga. There are scenes where you can clearly see the actors and extras in their post-character make-up, giving me a very bad taste in the mouth. All my attempt at trying to enjoy the show failed because what I was seeing on the screen was not entirely honest and only a plastic mask of what the makers wanted to convey. All that I can call impressive in the film, however, is that they were brave enough to sample a topic still so taboo-ed in India while attracting some of the top talent in the industry right now. That none of these were utilized well is why everyone attached to the film should move on right away.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga could have been revolutionary for its basic idea definitely is, but in its current form, owing to an amateur handling by director Dhar and her co-writer Dhaliwal, it "just feels okay" to watch and get it done with. TN.

Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).
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5/10
Little India Directory Review: Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (5 Stars)
26 January 2019
The story of the legendary Indian freedom fighter Rani Laxmi Bai generates occasional goosebumps while watching war drama Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, making it almost cross the line of an ordinary epic, but for all the usual elements that instead make it a damp squib.

Kangana Ranaut acts (in the titular role) and directs here, often giving her a lot of screen space to help her elucidate her character's rebellious nature against the British Raj in the mid-1800s. Rani Laxmi Bai (nee Manikarnika) is automatically given the tough task of removing the kingdom of Jhansi from the clutches of the Raj after a series of fateful events happen in her marital life. Only pivoting on this central character while disregarding most of the supporting ones, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi starts abruptly and then goes on and on making it a tad shorter than the original Indian fight for freedom of 200+ years. Nonetheless, it makes for an entertaining watch if you supply patience and wait for that one humorous sequence to unfold itself.

Ranaut and Krish's direction is applaudable, but what works more in her favor in her debut directorial is the extraordinary war choreography that elevates the whole appeal of the film. There are a handful of battle sequences that not only make interesting of what started as a dull narrative about a queen-to-be's greatness in sword-fighting and kindheartedness but also turn the whole 150-minute shindig into something more worthwhile. When you watch the opening sequence dramatizing the central character's thoughtfulness about a hunt, you will feel bad about your decision to have even considered the film. Fortunately, for you as well as for the makers, the film turns itself around soon before the intermission, depending more on its narrative storytelling and some apt song sequences highlighting the queen's hunky-dory life and insurrectionary attitude towards life. For a fan of any of these elements, this makes both the time and money spent on it worthy.

Keeping aside the lukewarm, glossy CGI, the supporting music by Balhara brothers and Shankar-Loy and selective camera work by Kiran Deohans, Sachin Krishn, and Gnanashekar V S improves the viewing experience, sometimes even making you want to become a part of the queen's people's army and show some valor in the battle. No doubt, this collective effect will be entertainment fodder for nationalist film enthusiasts if they are not busy verifying the historical accuracy of the film, that is.

It is clearly evident that Ranaut has no left unturned to be and look like the queen but her frail dialogue delivery (both in Hindi and English) has a counter-effect on her confident performance of the ferocious character. The supporting cast (mainly Danny Denzongpa, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub, and Ankita Lokhande) - for the smaller roles they enact - do a decent job in supporting Ranaut's endeavor despite having less to no screen space in the longwinded epic. I, for one, enjoyed the battle sequences more than anything else in Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi which, to its credit, hinges on them more than anything else.

However, there is an undertone of opportunistic nature in why and how the film is made, which glorifies the subject to an extent while pressurizing it to make it relevant for the current times we live in. Times where women empowerment is a headline cause and the audience needy to validate its power and effect by finding references in recorded history. Although Ranaut and her team succeed a lot in doing the same, it is only a single statement at the end that just puts mud all over it. A statement that compares the queen with a man amongst indifferent mutineers.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi definitely has some kinks in it as an epic, packed with some amazing war choreography, resplendent production value, and some good supportive music. But it still qualifies only as an average show thanks to the formulaic approach, tepid storytelling, and some miscasting. TN.

Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).
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6/10
One-Line Review: Uri (6 Stars)
20 January 2019
Even though I am still wondering the point of Uri, a self-boasting, anti-cantankerous film based on actual events, it did not cross my mind till before the second half when I was honestly enjoying Aditya Dhar's superior craft of war and its storytelling as he gives into the dreamy requirements of every patriotic cinema enthusiast in an action film where Pakistan again plays the bad element for the nth time and Vicky Kaushal moves to the next level of stardom. TN.
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3/10
One-Line Review: Njan Prakashan (3 Stars)
20 January 2019
It disappoints me to see such talented people waste their time and energy and demand that their audience also do the same (also money) with Njan Prakashan (Myself Prakashan) - a cliched retelling of a modern bildungsroman where Fahadh Faasil's annoying character suddenly heads to a spiritual awakening after acting wrong and being talked wrong by at least half a dozen people, three of which make up the four most irritating characters in Malayalam cinema in 2018. TN.
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3/10
Little India Directory Review: Why Cheat India (3 Stars)
18 January 2019
Education is a lucrative market in India and most people both associated and affected by it know that. Which is why amateur director Soumik Sen's drama Why Cheat India does not impress despite having its glamorous lead actor deliver one of his career's finest performances.

Known as the resident Bollywood serial-kisser, Emraan Hashmi finally sheds his loverboy threads and dresses up as an unscrupulous and sharp-toothed businessman in Why Cheat India. He plays an "examination facilitator" who - along with his small team - exploits the talent and brains of studious, rank-earning students to help those who are not (but whose parents have very deep pockets) crack entrance exams in various streams. What this unabashed exploitation does to all the parties involved is what director Sen highlights in his two-hour long repellent drama that walks on a tight rope with help only from his talented cast.

With a largely insensible plot that constantly tries to exonerate its lead character's actions by blaming the system, Why Cheat India goes on and on, showing how Hashmi's character uses his smart moves and political influence to "help" poor-rich students get a seat in the colleges of their choice not paying heed to the disaster that is becoming of the lives of the bright students who are helping him. The drama does make an effort to show what happens to these students, but I am not at all convinced with its plastic outlining. It is all too easy - or so it is shown - for Hashmi's character to pull things off, which is repeated till just before the end credits, making you feel like cheated of both money and time. And that is something you don't expect after watching a film about examination cheating.

But to give Why Cheat India some credit, it is interesting to see what goes behind the closed curtains in all those news that we read about question papers leaking and cheating racket being busted. There's some insider knowledge poured into the screenplay but even that does not make the film any interesting for its discerning audience. Thankfully, there's no side arcs that the main plot deviates to, concentrating all its focus on the single concept, which Hasmi's character frequently reminds you, he is a master of.

If we ignore such few smart-aleck actions from him, we can completely appreciate Hashmi's role and performance as this confident, fearless businessman. His glamorous appearance - all suave and shaven - is probably the best thing about Why Cheat India, entertaining his fans with rapt dialogs and mesmerizing expressions throughout. He is confident in his character and really shows that he cares for his first production venture. It wouldn't be fair for this review if I don't mention how magnificently entertaining Manuj Sharma is here, not only making you laugh but playing the role of a sidekick in all its glory. Previously seen in Secret Superstar (2017) and indie crime drama Ajji (2017), he adorns each and every sequence he is in like a cherry-top, only second to Hashmi. Newcomer Shreya Dhanwanthary and her supporting cast all do a very good job at enacting the roles without letting the shoddy writing affect them.

A little bit of respite is further brought in by occasional humor and a few sequences involving corruption in the system. It's enjoyable to some extent, but it also throws light into another big problem in the film: Why Cheat India has been made like a B-grade drama that has everything it could ask for (an item number, plenty of stereotypes, and a few more useless songs). All of which definitely does not propel its appeal to modern viewers who are tired of watching this enactment of tried and test formulas. Moreover, for a film that demands high attention to details, director Sen directs his supporting cast like a blind man. There are conspicuous errors in the sequences involving extras who are unintentionally laughing, looking at the camera, and just not "in" the scene - further validating my point about the B-gradedness. Even the courtroom sequence towards the end is made to look like a conversation between two people, which eventually turns into a sermon, all the while showing the judge take forty winks. Might have been a reference to how real-life courtroom dramas unfold in India, considering how the film often takes potshots at the Modi government, but it still looks out of place and unreliable.

Why Cheat India could have been a lot better had it focused one or two real-life episodes and really delved into its deepest point rather than just summarizing how the anti-education industry looks like. As it is now, there's no reason for you to waste your time on this. TN.

Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).
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2/10
One-Line Review: Vallikudilile Vellakaaran (2 Stars)
16 January 2019
Duglus Alfred's debut comedy drama Vallikudilile Vellakaaran (ENG: The Worker from the Mansion) is a series of random sequences stitched together that is so low on entertainment and logic that the only thing you can take away from it is the idea of haste from waste that the central character (Ganapathi) experiments with to pass time. TN.
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The Favourite (2018)
6/10
One-Line Review: The Favourite (6 Stars)
13 January 2019
Yorgos Lanthimos's fascinating period drama The Favourite about two foxy court mistresses' (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) unofficial competition to become "the favourite" of the Queen of England (Olivia Colman) in the early 1700s is so rich in its production values and costumes, so melodious and non-anachronistic in its background score, so wild in its general writing, so highbrow in its dialogues, so highly qualitative in its humor lines, so fancifully breathtaking its three lead actresses are, and so bizarre in its camera work (the use of fisheye lens and pulley effect) that I almost forgot about the proceedings that is as humdrum as a boring Sunday morning in this early 2000s. TN.
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Aanakkallan (2018)
6/10
Molecule Review: Aanakkallan (6 Stars)
12 January 2019
Udaykrishnan's twisted story of a cunning and learned thief (Biju Menon) helping a gullible Deputy Superintendent of Police (Siddique) crack a murder case is as ridiculous as it sounds, but where Suresh Divakar's Aanakkallan (Big Thief) shines is in the comedy department. The first half - which takes its viewers through a journey with the police-thief duo as they set out together in a family landscape to hunt for clues - delivers laugh out comedy, even for the stiff-hearted. The slapstick is very good despite it resorting to foolish acts where veteran actors like Siddique, Suresh Krishna, and even Saikumar are made to dance. Unfortunately, the comedy crime drama goes back to the basics and tries to impress you with its predictable twists, giving you a bad taste in the mouth. The flip-flopping between genres and a stream of incoming new characters (one played by Anusree) further tires you as you wish all the drama had ended sooner. But Aanakkallan takes about two eternities to finish and then ends abruptly. Just like this review. TN.
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6/10
Little India Directory Review: The Accidental Prime Minister (6 Stars)
12 January 2019
"I hope the future does not see my history through the eyes of the media," says Dr. Manmohan Singh as he signs off a press conference corresponding to the end of his ten-year-long, two-term tenure as the Prime Minister of India. So starts the ending of the concise retelling of Singh's time from the eyes of his former advisor, close aide, and journalist Sanjaya Baru in this crisp little, comical biopic that puts the central character in focus while helping its viewers brush up on Indian polity of the 2000s decade.

The talented Anupam Kher restrains himself and his talents from coming out completely as he plays the titular role of Singh who is chosen as the PM of India under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2004 by party chairperson Sonia Gandhi (Suzanne Bernert) after having given a hint by the 'junta' at large that a person with Italian roots will not be welcomed with open arms in a sensitive country like India. But that's a good thing that he restrains himself because there's hardly any other way to play Singh, a shy, taciturn yet stupendously talented finance person, who is thrown into the ring of politics without much thought or self-assurance. The Accidental Prime Minister goes on to emphasize this a lot of times as it takes a novel approach at narration, thankfully comically, through the eyes of his then media advisor Baru (Akshaye Khanna). Why I enjoyed debutante Vijay Ratnakar Gutte's biographical drama despite it being about politics (not a personal favourite) is because Baru and his co-characters often break the fourth wall in the film. It could be alleged that this idea was borrowed from a popular American web show, but it still made for a fascinating two hours, as I often found myself waiting for Khanna to talk to me.

The occasional digs at certain characters, most essentially Rahul Gandhi (Arjun Mathur), also helps The Accidental Prime Minister stray away from being a serious political drama. It can be best perceived as a commentary on the Indian democracy seen from the eyes of a journalist who promises to be objective. And I believe director Gutte because even though the screenplay (adapted from Baru's book of the same name as the title of film) by him and his three co-writers does not potentially demand it, he chooses to show real media feeds of most politicians as recorded by history. There are montages that show these actual persons talk politics during Singh's term and that just elevates the appeal the film has on you regardless of which side you are on (if you follow or are affected by Indian politics).

However, save for Kher and Khanna's fantastic performance and the apt, melodious score (without a single track) that it carries itself on, the film does go too far as it tries to don the "I'm a cool film" hat and overdoes its fourth wall stunt. The jesting first-person narrative gets tired after a while, which is also when things start to become less interesting. What was going to be a chronological narration of Singh's life as PM turns into a real drama that you nowadays see in TRP-loving television news channels. The Accidental Prime Minister does not try to paint a rosy picture of the UPA government; it just tries to exonerate Singh for not acting up, as Baru constantly reminds us in the film. I could even go ahead and say that it is more a film on Baru, and that may be true if you measure the total words spoken by either character. How Singh was a victim of party politics is the highlight of the film and it is up to individual viewer if they want to digest that. The journey, as I have noted, is interesting to see unfold.

There is nothing extraordinary in The Accidental Prime Minister except for how it has been narrated, but I would still recommend it to you because it is at least slightly better than the countless hagiographic biopics we have seen in Bollywood in the past two years alone. This one here is at least honest and occasionally funny. TN.

Originally reviewed for the Little India Directory.
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6/10
One-Line Review: Kammara Sambhavam (6 Stars)
9 January 2019
Rathish Ambat's Kammara Sambhavam's (Big Deal Kammara) satirical story is probably the most interesting that I have seen in the last few years that aims high at describing how cinema can manipulate history and catapult a man's legacy into something positive while using a bunch of lies that everybody collectively come to believe; yet it is terribly long for a multi-genred drama that does remind you of sleep. TN.
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4/10
One-Line Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet (4 Stars)
9 January 2019
Ralph Breaks the Internet starts off really, really well with some very good animation about how the Internet looks as well as picking up from where the outstanding prequel ended in a decent way but it soon becomes a snoozefest consisting mainly of a Disney-themed musical montage involving one of the lead characters as well as a cliched (melodramatic) turn midway in the story that makes it look like an animated film of the early 2000s. TN.
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Green Book (2018)
10/10
One-Line Review: Green Book (10 Stars)
7 January 2019
Peter Farrelly's Green Book is the most pleasurable piece of cinema - which is both majestically crafted (Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen kill it) and socially relevant (it's about racism in the US of 1960s) - that I have seen (since the 2011 French drama The Intouchables) so far of everything that came out in 2018 that I have already decided to dedicate the whole of 2019 to singing its praises to every other person I meet who is interested in films. TN.
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6/10
One-Line Review: The Old Man & the Gun (6 Stars)
6 January 2019
Every time the clock starts ticking and subtle, sporadic beats of drum begins to complement it in David Lowery's The Old Man & the Gun, I instantly know that there is going to be an amazing scene ahead where Robert Redford's character uses his gentlemanly suave tactics to rob a bank like you would take a walk in the park, and for those couple scenes spread across the 90-minute breezer that help highlight the life and times of the character are what makes this comedy crime drama a palpable watch, leaving me with the only (grave) disappointment that they left the escapes (for which he was more famous for) to a single 3-minute montage. TN.
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Bird Box (2018)
5/10
One-Line Review: Bird Box (5 Stars)
6 January 2019
Save for the amazing suspense that it creates, for a survival thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world Susanne Bier's Bird Box is just another polished up plastic story of a chance family running away from an unknown beast this time here to spook humans' visual senses. TN.
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Thunder Road (2018)
7/10
Molecule Review: Thunder Road (7 Stars)
5 January 2019
In Thunder Road, director Jim Cummings carves an almost perfect study of a character going through an emotional breakdown after the death of his mother. So much that together with Cummings's superb performance and a somber soundtrack that drives melancholy home, it is perhaps the very reason why the dark comedy drama is one of the best films to come out in 2018. There's so much to look and think about in Thunder Road, in some scenes, I just could not feel I had a bowl of popcorn in my hands. It's splendid and you need to watch it right now. TN.
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7/10
Molecule Review: Ente Mezhuthiri Athazhangal (7 Stars)
25 December 2018
If the primary characters in Sooraj Thomas's mature romantic drama Ente Mezhuthiri Athazhangal (My Candlelight Dinners) would have just spoken to each other about their actions before doing them, the film would have been a lot better with a more gullible climax. Right now, it just hinges on its two lead actors (Mia and Anoop Menon), their honest characters, and their amusing chemistry to look like a feel-good romantic film. Ente Mezhuthiri Athazhangal is likable because it manages to burst balls of sweetness inside your mouth through this chemistry as well as the dialogues between the characters. There's a scene somewhere in the middle where Baiju's character is feeding some wisdom about love to his friend. And that is when his wife asks him why he could not use the same wisdom between them. It's a great ode to honest romance without resorting to vulgarity, and that is the only reason why it is one of the better films of 2018. Watch it with your partner and you will take away a thing or two from this well-written romantic drama that just melts in your mouth except for the immature, nonsensical climax. TN.
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Mahanati (2018)
6/10
One-Line Review: Mahanati (6 Stars)
23 December 2018
Nag Ashwin's Mahanati (The Great Actress) is that typical, fast-paced South Indian biopic that takes its viewers through almost the entire life of its subject - actor Savitri (played by the expressive and talented Keerti Suresh) who ruled the post-Republic India's Southern film industry - and which acts as a walk down memory lane for people who feel nostalgic about the bygone era of South Indian classic films and have a diehard fanaticism for her, all without boring the hell out of you. TN.
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4/10
Molecule Review: Johny Johny Yes Appa (4 Stars)
16 December 2018
Johny Johny Yes Appa (Johny Johny Yes Dad) is two films sewn together so that it can call itself multi-genred: a comedy drama. Kunchacko Boban, in his sixth feature film appearance this year, is an anti-hero who uses his mischief and stealth to rob houses at night and assume the title of an idealistic at dawn. While I thoroughly enjoyed the drama - with a small potential suspense coming my way - thanks to Boban, Vijayaraghavan, Sharaf U Dheen, Kalabhavan Shajon, and Tini Tom performing their acts pretty decently, what comes after the petty family drama is what shifts the focus in Johny Johny Yes Appa from a family comedy to romance (it has Anu Sithara playing a puppet girlfriend, by the way) into a dark drama that does not sit well together. It is like the film develops half a dozen characters in the first act, then goes and develops another half in the second act, and then finally tries to mix them up. Doing so not only disturbs the characterization but also takes out the fun from the proceedings, which is exactly what happens in the climax. Save for a few jokes (dubbing fillers) by Dheen and Boban and some relatable sequences about family life, there is nothing much to see in G Marthandan's Johny Johny Yes Appa. Watch it, if you are a fan of family comedies turning into gimmicky emotional dramas, when it premieres on TV and if movies on other channels are worse than this. TN.
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Dakini (2018)
3/10
Molecule Review: Dakini (3 Stars)
16 December 2018
Rahul Riji Nair's comedy drama Dakini (ENG: a given name to grandmothers in Kerala, India) does not leave any stone unturned to make its viewers cringe and shut their eyes with their hands while watching. That is the sort of tomfoolery that take place on screen in this two-hour long story about a group of grandmothers locking horns with a dreaded gangster (Chemban Vinod Jose) to retrieve a person who was kidnapped by him. Dakini has it all - septuagenarians wearing fancy, colorful dresses shaking a leg and enacting horseplay, a group of goons being fooled around by a monkey, and other random acts that look courageous but are, in fact, devoid of logic and realism. I understand that Dakini has been made not to adhere to realism, but when you sit down to watch a spectacle like this there has to be a modicum of trust factor. Otherwise you won't believe in the characters, however energetic or childish they are and whatever lengths they go to tickle your bones. The story - whatever it is - starts only after the 40th minute, and by that time, you have already lost interest in this colorful piece of art that could have been so much, so much more, coming from a talented director like Nair (who also wrote this) who previously wrote and directed the brilliant Ottamuri Velicham (2017). Both these films are poles apart in content as well as what they will do to you. Dakini will surely put you to sleep, and maybe even put some angst in you. TN.
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Odiyan (2018)
5/10
Capsule Review: Odiyan (5 Stars)
15 December 2018
Imagine a good-hearted man and a bad-hearted man both vying for one woman who has been in their softest and wildest individual dreams respectively since childhood. The good guy lets go of his desires when the woman ties the knot with a third guy, but that does not translate in the same vein with the bad guy. And all hell breaks loose as the bad guy tries to get what he wants (and more) by resorting to violence and unscrupulousness urging the good guy to don the protector hat and use his superhuman skills to save the last active queen of Thenkurushi village. V A Shrikumar Menon's debut feature, Odiyan (ENG: a mythological shape-shifting hitman), is a thriller drama that aspires to retell the legendary folklore of the Odiyan clan - a family of highly skilled hunters of multiple generations - by shining the light on a proverbial 'last man standing' and his attempts to save his clan's reputation but ends up as a dramatic retelling of the imaginary story that I just narrated with a slightly better punch and clarity. The last Odiyan - named Manikyan (Mohanlal) - uses his shape-shifting skills - skills, not powers, mind you - to earn bread as well as give back to the society by teaching the bad guys a lesson in living life the good way. He is soon proclaimed an outcast in the village when two back-to-back murders happen all hinting at his possible involvement. Director Menon uses amateur writer Harikrishnan's everyday story of an anti-hero to cannibalize the legend, reducing it to a mockery in itself both through a lackluster collection of elements and ridiculously unrealistic stunt sequences. For a film that retells a folklore there is hardly any conflict or historical depth in the protagonist's characterization except for an awe-inspiring titular theme by the masterful Sam C S. Mohanlal finally ditches his mocking air and puts up a decent show similar to how he pulled himself in Vyshakh's Pulimurugan (2016). There are definitely some great secondary performances by Manju Warrier and Siddique, but what goes against the film is the unpolished role of the bad guy (Pakash Raj) whose dialogues are so ineffectively dubbed by an outsider that I even have this theory that the last Odiyan targets his character just because of that. There are still some kinks in Odiyan, which is although pretty low on CGI, manages to stay afloat with its slow-paced, non-linear storyline having some cool sequences to devour even for the discerning viewer. Unless they have gone ahead and taken some good forty winks in the air-conditioned hall, that is. TN.
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Aalorukkam (2018)
5/10
Molecule Review: Aalorukkam (5 Stars)
9 December 2018
V C Abhilash's continuously dull and depressing drama about an old man's (Indrans) armchair hunt for his long-lost son starts like a mystery that has the potential to surprise you. Yet, when the suspense factor is revealed sometime during halftime you realize that it does not have much to say afterwards. How the man copes with his own frail health while at the mercy of strangers and how he encounters the truth about his son that he's been running away from does make an impact, considering writer-director Abhilash strokes a major social issue with his film. However, I wanted the film to end as soon as possible, bored and irritated by the slow happenings as well as the low production value, respectively. The cast, including Indrans, are just average in their performances; and there's even a scene where an extra is seen just banging on a keyboard to make it look like he's working on something serious. Such small errors are all over the place in Aalorukkam (A Man Dressing/Gearing Up) which only stays afloat because of its strong theme. While I appreciate that, the film does not stand out as a whole. Watch it if you are a fan of Indrans or like stories about minorities. TN.
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