Category Archives: Movies

Raw talent on display in violent Anjathe

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Mysskin rides the new wave of Tamil films with this effective police procedural, buddy movie and gut wrenching emotional drama rolled into one. Must watch movie. 

Anjathe, Mysskin’s new movie about two friends, one who becomes a cop and one who should have been a cop, is a cocktail mix of explosive action, thrilling sequences and gut wrenching emotions.

This is the year’s best Tamil movie so far and will remain among its best. This is also the work of an ambitious and stridently commercial director, who is at the peak of his game.

The movie, earlier titled Aruvathu Sinam, begins with a deceptively simple, but innovatively shot stunt staged in a corporation park. Right from the first low-angle shot of a blue sky into which thugs walk in, Mysskin waves his talent like a red flag. Ten minutes into the movie, he has managed to grab you by the collar and pull you headlong into the narrative.

Naren (Chitiram Pesuthadi, Pallikoodam) and debutante Ajmal Ameer play the two friends, and much of the movie revolves around the intertwined fates of the two, as they are pitted in a cat-and-mouse game. Classmates Sathya (Naren) and Kiruba are both sons of cops and live opposite to each other in a police colony. When the movie begins, Sathya is a rowdy and Kiruba is studying hard to be a sub-inspector.

In a quirky twist of fate, Sathya becomes the cop and his friend, who believes that he lost despite his hard work to his friend’s street-smart ways, turns his bitter rival. Many of the early sequences are earthy and simple in sharp contrast to the post-interval manic speed.

Naren plays Sathya as an inarticulate, angry young man with a penchant for violence. This hides his naivety and soft underbelly that can’t stomach his new life as a policeman. On his first day at work, a man who walks into a police station carrying the head of his cheating wife in a bag, sends our hero straight to bed. His father, the head constable, advises his son while polishing his shoes to keep his eyes open to horror. “The policeman lives with murder,” he tells his son.

Ajmal’s breakthrough performance as Kiruba is of a man who slowly, but unwittingly enters a life of crime. His face is often a canvas for the director to the show man in moral dilemma.

As a trainee cop, Sathya is soon on the trail of a gang of kidnappers, which abduct girls of rich families for ransom. The screenplay unfolds like a game of poker in the hands of a devilishly clever player. It is quite sometime before Mysskin has assembled the cards, but once he does, he plays it right.

Prasanna, in a marked departure from his usual chocolate boy role, plays a serial rapist and the kingpin of the kidnapping gang. Prasanna’s histrionic talents may just fall short of portraying implacable evil, but this is a boisterous and courageous performance from the actor. Much of time, his character Daya has to hide his morbid desire to abuse underage girls behind his long hair.

Prasanna provokes just the right amount of disgust and stealthily enters the movie only to retain a vice-like grip on the proceedings towards the climax. Daya’s desperate inventiveness in the face of the police hunt provides many of the movie’s thrills.

Some of the action sequences are brilliant. Naren’s first battle as a lone cop standing in the way of masked killers in a hospital is heroic. But it is also a study of a cop in an unfamiliar crisis. Having to face killers, Sathya discovers that he, indeed, is a hero.

The director also displays remarkable acumen in rooting this crime thriller in a compelling and realistic sociological background. Many of his criminals are victims of life. A flower seller, who helps Sathya rescue a dying man, has a nylon cover wrapped around a leg wound. Such details fill Mysskin’s canvas. Even when wanting to entertain, he isn’t insular to being sensitive.

Sundar C. Babu scores the music, which keeps pace with the editing, often providing the viewer with aural clues. But the songs, particularly a dream sequence and the mandatory post-interval item number, are weak links. Mysskin cans them like a director in a hurry to hide his compromises.

The filmmaker also reveals a penchant for slow motion montage (influence of Eisenstein?), which he uses often with devastating impact. A ransom payoff sequence is shot like a visual counterpart to a symphony, and sometimes in the midst of the trippy editing, it’s hard to locate the characters zipping past one another.

In these sequences, cinematographer Mahesh Muthuswamy displays his variety. His camera, which remains largely functional, turns flamboyant at command. In one superbly realised sequence, the story is told in one long, low-angle shot of the characters entering and leaving a house. All through this sequence, only the feet of the actors are shown. In fact, the movie is realised as a series of long shots, each one signaling a new twist in the screenplay. A sugarcane forest where the kidnappers take refuge during the film’s climax is beautifully evoked.

Actor Pandiarajan, superbly cast against type as one of the kidnappers, delivers a performance that virtually reintroduces the actor to movie audiences. Even if you saw Aan Pavam and Anjathe back to back, you will be hard put to identify the actor in both the movies.

Vijayalakshmi plays Kiruba’s sister, who is in a quite, fierce and blindly trusting love with Sathya. In the little screen time she has, the actress does a commendable job.

With Chitiram Pesuthadi, Mysskin announced his arrival as a name to reckon with. Anjathe is a tastier second course from the director.

 

A Mighty Heart

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For years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Hollywood hesitated to make a movie based on the dramatic and tragic events of that day. Such a movie, it was feared, would hurt the sentiments of the families of the victims as well as fail at the box office. Only five years after the attacks, did Oliver Stone release his World Trade Centre and Paul Greengrass make the superior United 93, the story of the one plane that didn’t hit its target after passengers overpowered the hijackers. The connection between 9/11 and A Mighty Heart, is more elliptical than the aforementioned two movies. The movie is based on the memoirs of the same name by Marianne Pearl, the wife of Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded by militants in Afghanistan in 2002. The movie, bankrolled by Paramount, will undoubtedly be seen by some as the ability of a country to make money out of one of its worst tragedies.

Pearl, who is called Danny by everyone in the movie, is the South Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal and is based in Mumbai. He arrives in Karachi, a day after 9/11, and stays back to investigate the hidden links between the Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. The bustling port of Karachi, the “frontier against the war on terror”, as Marianne describes it in one media interview shown in the movie, is one of the protagonists of movie.

Director Michael Winterbottom (an unfortunate name, really) plunges his camera into the densely populated streets of the Pakistani port, recording its sounds and turning its atmosphere into an inevitable part of the movie.

Angelina Jolie, one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, stars as Marianne Pearl. Her husband, actor Brad Pitt, is one of the movie’s producers. It’s ironic that serious reportage of current world events like say, the Iraq war, often take backstage because of the coverage of Brangelina, a fact that many in the audience will not miss.

Jolie plays Marianne as a white woman even though in reality the latter was a French-speaking African American. The murder of Daniel Pearl was one of the biggest media stories post 9/11 and served to illustrate the dangers journalists faced while covering terror. The kidnappers use of the Internet to make their demands, show photos of Daniel on his knees a gun cocked to his head, and even allege that he was a CIA spy was probably the first time that the cyberspace was tainted in such a fashion.

Daniel is not kidnapped because the militants fear that his stories might bring them harm. According to the film, he is kidnapped just because he is an American. As Marianne mentions in her memoir, 230 other journalists were killed during the Iraq war, which followed the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. This is partly because of their risky work and partly because they are targeted by terrorists.

The movie, which is tightly edited and shot in pseudo-documentary style, plunges into the narrative right from shot one. After a few file shots of the offensive against the Taliban, the film shows Marianne and Daniel Pearl, adequately played by Dan Futterman, covering the events after the war.

While showing the day of the kidnapping, Winterbottom cuts between the two main characters, Daniel and his wife. The sequence when the couple is travelling in two separate cars to different destinations is an example of how to take a perfectly ordinary scene and cut it in such a fashion that it creates maximum tension.

Even though Jolie is one of the biggest pin-up stars in the world, her acting skills aren’t far behind her looks. Ironically, it’s the good looks that stand in the way of her performance as Marianne Pearl from becoming truly outstanding. Winterbottom uses close-ups sparingly and even in those it’s impossible not to detect the actress beneath her façade. She plays Marianne as being a levelheaded wife who does her best to improve her husband’s chances of being freed. “Totally silly,” she chides herself after bursting into tears upon hearing that the militants are alleging that her husband is a CIA agent. Though the movie plays out with like a thrilling police procedural, it works best when it’s a politically charged drama. It’s also in many ways a love story. The movie shows Daniel deeply in love with his wife and ending every phone call to her with the words, ‘I love you’.

Unlike the earlier 9/11 movies, this one comes with the acknowledgment that terror is often linked to poverty. The elevation of the Daniel Pearl story into a tragedy is a testimonial to Winterbottom’s abilities.

There is no shortage of Indian actors in the movie. Irrfan Khan plays the head of the Pakistan counterintelligence unit; Archie Punjabi is another Wall Street Journal reporter, whose house virtually becomes the war room in the search for Daniel; and Aly Khan plays Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man responsible for the kidnapping and beheading. The latter two have it easy. It’s Irrfan, in the plum role of the character called Captain, who stands out. His acting is a true delight to watch.

Much of the violence is not shown in the movie. Daniel’s beheading and the way his body was cut into10 pieces is not shown. We only get to see the shocked reactions of the persons watching the videotape of the beheading. In fact, after his kidnapping Daniel is never shown as if he has gone into another dimension, never to return.

They say journalism is about facts and art is about truth. A Mighty Heart tries to go beyond the facts and access the truth.

The Whore of Mensa

Just read this story by Woody Allen, which is based on the quirky premise of intellectual whorism. It’s quite a funny story and if you manage to read it without chuckling once, that says something about your sense of humour. Anyways, this line from the story sounded remarkably familiar

“Central Park West upbringing, Socialist summer camps, Brandeis.”

I am a big fan of Annie Hall, the movie that won Allen the Oscar in 1977.

Alvy Singer: You, you, you’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and the really, y’know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper, stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself.

Allison: No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype.

In both instances, Allen is mocking intellectualism, a favourite sport of his. Anways, when I read the short story I was reminded of the scene from Annie Hall. It’s cool, you know. The connection.

Hat tip: Vatsan

Big Fish

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Tim Burton is perhaps the most idiosyncratic and quirky director working in Hollywood today. His films may fail to satisfy you, but even the most critical of viewers would agree that they are fascinating.

Big Fish, starring Ewan McGregor, tells the story of Edward Bloom, whose exaggerated stories about his own life are loved by everyone else except his son Will, played without any grace by Billy Crudup. (For a while, I confused Crudup with Christian Bale, a far superior actor). This conflict between Edward’s fables, which his son sees as lies, and his son’s refusal to believe them is the theme of the movie.

The stories that make up Edward’s life include: A circus owner, played by Danny Devito, who becomes a werewolf by night; the heaven-like town of Spectre which has grass pavements and where no one wears shoes; a naked mermaid, who appears as the object anyone wishes for; a pair of conjoin Korean twins; a witch played by Helena Bonham Carter in whose eyes the viewer can see the exact manner of his death; and a thousand other scenes which serve as Burton’s big excuse to show off the special effects.

We don’t quite know until the end if the stories are all true. Edward’s wife played by a lovely looking Alison Lohman (who matures into Jessica Lange) tells her son that not all the stories are entirely fabricated.

But somehow, the Burton touch, while clearly there, doesn’t work its usual magic. That’s probably because this is a very pointless story just like those told by its protagonist played in old age by Albert Finney. At one point, Edward’s doctor tells his son that he chose to believe the stories because they were always better than the truth. But the movie doesn’t delve deeper into this subject. Are fables better than truth? Burton doesn’t ask.

The title of the movie is from one of Edward’s stories. This is the fish Edward is catching when his son is born and the fish that he turns into in the movie abysmal climatic sequence.

This is a feel good film with its moments. Like like the one where Edward runs into the poet Norther Winslow (a cameo by Steve Buscemi) just as he is robbing a bank.

The darkness that was so present in Burton’s earlier movies like Sleepy Hollow is missing here. Never mind that the quality of this film is nowhere close to Edward Scissorhands, the effort that made Burton internationally known.

I love Burton movies and consider myself a fan. If you don’t like him much, don’t watch this movie.

Oram Po: A review

Oram Po, the new movie starring Arya, Pooja and Lall, has been reviewed here.

A Mighty Heart

Have seen the movie. Plan to review it here.

Azhagiya Thamizh Magan: A review

Here’s the review. Do let me know what you think.

Kannamoochi Enada: A review

The review of the movie Kannamoochi Enada is here. Comments are welcome.