‘Personal shopper’: Of grief and ghosts

The movie is a shocker in so many ways. This is a horror movie trying to get at deeper things. Kristen Stewart, with smeared eyeliner et al, engages us in a performance that is impossible to ignore. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux, especially as Maureen drives through drenched streets of Paris on her scooter, is beautiful. There are very few scenes that are self-indulgent. Somehow, in the end it all ties up neatly together. And, to boot, there is a perverse sex scene thrown in.

Maureen, played by Kristen, is not just a personal shopper for a rich model. She is also a spiritualist. After her twin brother dies, she is desperate to get a sign from him. The movie avoids all the cliches of the usual horror fare and goes for something much more philosophical. But this doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t have its chilling moments. The breaking of a glass cup in broad daylight is perhaps, one of the most spooky moments, in the film.

The pic was screened in the competition section of the 2016 Cannes Festival. Olivier Assayas was chosen as one of the two best directors. I would love for you to see the movie.

‘Life’: Space horror with a touch of gore

 

Life is a riveting space-horror film that gives the Alien franchise a run for its money. Superbly conceived, the movie is about a life form from Mars that wreaks havoc on the International Space Station. The life form, the first sign of extraterrestrial intelligence, is nicknamed Calvin by American schoolchildren and turns out to be a clever murderer. As the movie aptly points out, Calvin really is killing only for food and doesn’t exactly hate humans.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation) are at the centre of the film, which is superbly cast all around. The special effects are good and believable, especially of the creature, which just grows bigger and bigger. The gore is stark and on your face; There is no escaping it.

The film ends with an unexpected twist and a dire warning. Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa directs the movie with the steady hand of a veteran. Perhaps, he is destined for greater things. You will do well to see it.

Going Social

I have gone social. This just means that there are quite a lot of cute buttons I have added at the end of each post. You are welcome to click on them. I would like for you to use these buttons to share my posts with your friends and family. And, as always, I hope to blog more, so that you can put these buttons to good use. Thanks, and happy clicpointerking.

St Vincent, of relationships thinly disguised

st-vincentBill Murray is a brilliant actor. We know this because many of us have seen movies like Lost in Translation, Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters. Now, the actor has put in a scintillating performance as Vincent MacKenna in St Vincent, a little gem of a movie, which is in parts sentimental and feel-good, but also equally heartfelt and brilliant.

I discovered St Vincent while browsing on YouTube tonight. They have this paid section for movies and I chose the movie, trusting Murray and the four-star rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie is mostly a comedy though it has some pretty intense dramatic sequences. Murray is really funny is his own laid back, mild kind of way. Melissa McCarthy, who also has a gift for comedy, lands a plum role as Vincent’s neighbour, Maggie Bronstein.

Maggie has a young adopted son, Oliver, played by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher and is going through a divorce. Oliver and Vincent strike an unlikely friendship and Lieberher’s role is a cohesive one, bringing together most of the major characters of the movie.

Naomi Watts plays a strip dancer, who is pregnant. Vincent is one of her regular customers.

The movie revolves around the life of Vincent, who underneath his sarcastic, mean and grouchy exterior has a heart of gold, which Oliver is quick to sense.

The dialogues are of standout quality. They are sharply written and Oliver’s monologue at the end is incisive. Lieberher is superb as Oliver and plays him as a charming, intelligent and lovable kid. It is a give and take relationship between Oliver and Vincent, who despite odds help each other pull along.

The cinematography and background score are non-intrusive and sublime. Some well-known rock songs also dot the movie’s soundtrack, especially Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm, which booms as the end credits roll. Murray quite delightfully mumbles along the words.

The movie is a snapshot of modern America. The prostitute who is pregnant, the woman who can’t conceive, the Vietnam War veteran, the boy with inner dignity are all people who are part and parcel of the country. St Vincent is a not too bad an attempt in asking us to invest our emotions in these characters, who in turn restore our faith in humanity.

In recent days

Since moving to Ooty last year, I have written a few articles for various websites. The attempt here is to present a slice of them. Please click through to read.

Before the release of Kabali, when expectations had reached fever pitch, I wrote this article for Scroll.

I wrote a column titled Flicks That Clicked for a friend who was then running a website. Only four columns appeared. Some of my political stories in Tamil Nadu have appeared here.

A fan’s viewpoint on rock artist Bob Dylan winning the Nobel was published here. Also, a list of his most famous songs was also published in Outlook’s website.

An article on Tamil movies completing 25 years was published on Outlook as well. Please take a look. 

I have always loved Maharajapuram Santhanam. BLink gave me an opportunity to write this article about him.

This article on Ilaiyaraja appeared on The News Minute.

This was an early article I wrote for TNM. Was quite pleased when they published it.

 

The timeless appeal of Hank Williams, a little botched

I picked up a DVD of I Saw The Light a couple of weeks ago. It is about the rise to fame of country singer Hank Williams, who was an inspiration for Bob Dylan, probably my favourite artiste. The movie, which runs for just two hours, starts with the marriage of Williams to Audrey Sheppard. It was released to negative reviews, perhaps unfairly so.

Hiddleston, more famous for playing Loki in the superhero film Thor, plays Williams. I remember watching I Walk The Line based on the life of Johnny Cash and Ray based on Ray Charles. This doesn’t come close to either movie, but cannot be dismissed either.

Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Sheppard, put in great performances and the movie is caught up with the women in Williams’ life. His music, sometimes, takes a back seat. Hiddleston, however, sang all the songs himself. The title of the film is from a famous gospel song by Williams.

The film makes no mention of Hank’s father or the street musician he learned the trade from — Rufus Payne. This seems inexplicable, especially since Payne is the only one credited as his teacher by Williams.

Hank Williams has an appeal that has cut across generations and an easy yet insightful writing style. This has not been captured by the pic, despite the talented Hiddleston’s scorching performance.

Directed by Marc Abraham, the film doesn’t get anywhere close to get near the Hank Williams legend or what makes the singer tick. A number of scenes show him drinking, which is later revealed to be because of a condition known as spina bifina occulta, which means that the songwriter-singer’s vertebra were not closed. He was born with the condition.

Sheppard is shown as not caring for him when he falls ill, leading to their divorce during which husband and wife trade absurd charges against each other.

Williams began recording at 23 and died of heart damage at 29, while being driven to a performance. He has sold 11 million albums.

Hindi films as I saw them

bobby

Some of the earliest Hindi movies I saw were Bobby, Shehanshah and Aradhana. I saw Shehanshah on video in the house of our family friend in Mumbai. The tape was available in a provision shop and, along with essentials, it was rented out for a few bucks. I was very impressed with Amitabh Bachchan in that movie, and to my memory it is the first movie of his that I watched. The shallow heroics stunned my young mind. I had just turned 11.

In those days, original sound tracks of Hindi movies were not available in Nagercoil, my hometown. So my dad used our own National Panasonic two-in-one to record the songs of Bobby when it was telecast on DD, which itself was a new channel then. He put the device in front of the TV and taped the songs. He had already seen the movie many years ago and knew when the songs would come on. I listened to those noisy recordings for months together and in love with the songs, and the movie as well. The lead pair were cute, don’t you think?

Aradhana also received the same treatment. Then I saw Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Hum. Both left an impression on me. The passion between the protagonists — Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla — is still etched in my mind. And, you simply got to watch the scene with the cockroach in Hum. Amitabh is at his comic best in it.  Hum was adapted as Badsha in Tamil later on.

I also distinctly remember watching on VHS Maine Pyar Kiya for the first time. I fell in love with the movie and its songs. I was enamoured by Bhagyashree too, just like Salman in the movie. Looking back, I am ashamed of how poor my taste was. It is too mushy and corny now. In my teens, it was something to die for.

I don’t know if Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge will stand up to scrutiny now. But the picturisation of ‘Didi Tera Dewar Diwana’ really attracted me to Madhuri Dixit. Besides, this was not the TV anymore. It was the big screen in Nagercoil’s best theatre. There was that sensual underlying to the whole business that even Rajshree Pictures is unable to capture again.

So, where do I fit in Sholay? Or Dil To Pagal Hai? I am only aware I can’t name them in the same breath. But these are films I saw around the same time.  I don’t think I can say anything about Sholay  which hasn’t been said. I never had the chance to watch Sholay in the theatre, something I regret. And, at least according to me, DTPH is quite forgettable.

I remember dragging my dad to watch the national award-winning Bandit Queen. The film was heavily edited and the print that landed up in Nagercoil wouldn’t have been exhibited in a good theatre. But despite this, I loved the film’s cinematography by Ashok Mehta.

Khamoshi was another mature movie I saw. It was exhilarating. I saw it in the theatre. The songs were damn good. The story was off beat and I developed a crush on Manisha Koirala. It broke my heart when she did Baba after all those years. But I don’t think even Khamoshi belongs in anyone list of all time great flicks in Hindi. And I haven’t seen the all-time greats as Mother India. I have to get around to doing that someday. But Khamoshi was classic Bansali and was a soul-satisfying watch.

1942: A Love Story was another movie that I saw in the theatre and simply loved. It was a movie that began my courting of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s films. I loved the songs and listen to them till this day. I also thought the movie’s climax was mounted on a massive scale. I vividly remember walking out of the movie with my cousins, all of us slightly giddy with joy for some strange, unknown reason.

Then I remember watching Kareeb and Di Se in Thiruvanathapuram, while staying there to spend time with dad. I saw both movies multiple times since I had nothing better to do. Kareeb’s love affair between two innocent people captured my imagination, though the lead pair never matured into major actors.

I have always been a Manirathnam fan. So I didn’t mind long queues to watch Dil Se. The film ran only for a couple of weeks, but the initial crowd was maddening. A R Rahman’s rendition of ‘Dil Se Re’ is still among my favourites of the music composer.

I saw Pukar in Chennai while studying at the Madras Christian College. My friend had seen it and rubbished it. I nevertheless saw it and thought it was better than the average song and dance movie. Moreover, it had a score by AR Rahman. What’s not to like. But that was one of the few Hindi movies I watched that year. My friend and I always preferred the latest Hollywood blockbuster to the Hindi movie.

Other movies I remember watching are Dil Chahte Hai, which won an unexpected national award. I also saw Black, which I found to be a little pretentious. I didn’t like Devadas outright. I didn’t think Bansali showed feel for the material. There are probably many more movies which I have seen and liked. But this blog will go on and on if I write about all of them.

I will just end this with short notes on two movies I saw recently. One was Tamasha. I liked the movie quite a bit, despite the mixed reviews. I am happy that it had at least this much of depth, which is not often noticed in mainstream fare.

I will end with a note on Bajirao Mastani. The dialogues were complex and I had to struggle to keep up. But with the movie being such a massive hit, it is clear that there will always be people in the Hindi film industry wanting to be alag and people ready to embrace their fare. And that is a happy thought.