La La Land

I first came upon the trailer for La La Land on The Verge last July. I played it on the telly and immediately decided to watch this on the big screen when the release eventually comes along. It was not the actors nor the music but just the cut of the trailer, the visual vibrance was enough. I didn’t see the trailer again and forgot about the movie.

December comes along and I realize the limited release included our local CinéArts theater (I don’t how it falls under the category of an artsy theater when it is just another branding effort by a big chain. One thing I do miss about Rochester is The Little Theater referenced here in this review. The view of the screen there has not been matched again. Hope to be back there some day and catch a matinee) so on a Friday I left a little early from work and we got to catch the first show.

When Sachin was at the top of his game, there were a few moments, where he would step out of his humility and decide to toy with the bowler, go out and do it, enjoy doing it and show the bowler that he is enjoying it, with that subtle nod of his head. La La Land does exactly this in the visual story telling. The swagger and bravado is all too real to see.

Being a musical and being a story of a musician and an actress, there are a lot of songs and dances that enable a magical realism but the real choreography in this movie belongs to the camera. The eye popping colors across all the costumes on display throughout the story are embellishments on offer, the lights cutting in and fading out as needed to showcase the actors and their wares, but the movement through that space by the camera, matching the flow in rhythm with the dance at some points and with the song at others while going against the dance, weaving you in and out of those realms.

May be it is just me, but I do feel a little jaded by the overt realism in movies over the years, characters struggling against ginormous odds. Its either that or we have un-relatable fantasies ala the superhero movies. But here we have a self-aware meta movie doing justice in as much to be aware of the fallacy of such fantasies, but while keeping the story about two people, their crafts, their passions, their struggles, their success, egging each other on, with no external conflict but their own, gets to the crux of the continuing need for such fantasies. The subtle drifts towards to the fantasy and the return back to the grind, is probably the best handled metaphor throughout the movie, that it is a drift and not a cut. The need to return is real and immediate but it is a continuation, not a clean slate, like if it were a refreshing vacation.

There’s so much more to like and write about this movie and its songs. And am sure there will be videos on YouTube that will showcase why the making of this movie is an educational experience for movie makers, in due time. But for me this movie, took me back to the time where watching a movie meant me being lost in the world setup on the screen. A good part of that is us being ready to indulge in such worlds. But a bigger part is those worlds do need to entice us and engage us. And the nod at the end of the movie tied together with the two smiles – those two smiles coming up knowing what could have been but wasn’t, made sure I will indulge in future worlds to come.

PS : And if you haven’t watched it yet, give it a chance at the theaters. The grandeur of the camerawork is best suited to be experienced on the big screen.


Movie Review – Hello

Write a movie-script based on something very common but something no one would even think about making into a full fledged movie. Let there be commotion at the beginning, the main characters to have sex, all hell break loose near the end and then all’s well that end’s well.  Publish it as a book at a time when much of the youth of the nation has just picked up the habit of reading. Also, do not forget to include, ” soon to be made as a movie” at the bottom of the cover page. Publicize it well enough and sell it in huge numbers. 

Repeat process 3 times and today your name is Chetan Bhagat. 

Hello is the only one of those three which has gotten to see daylight as a movie as of now, but it is the one that should not have and that is because of the story. Now that it is out, I shall not bash the movie based on the story but judge it based on how well the story is told through the performances.  I assume that unfortunately you have read the book. 

Character building and character assassination both take a lot of time, but with time constraint being a limitation that films as a medium inherently have, there is only so much that can be done, especially in the case of adaptations, since there is a preset notion to cater to. While building the screenplay for this movie , maximizing available screen time towards assigning the fallacies of all the characters seemed to be the last thing on these guys minds. From the very beginning, with a Salman Khan dance performance, the naach-gaana sequences had a higher priority than the actual telling of the story. Precious time wasted I must say. ( Precious time wasted you must say since I wasted so much space in telling just one thing 😛 ).

Sharman came the closest to portraying his character, Shyam. Sohail Khan as Vroom was a joke. Vroom was the only part one would  have wanted to be and Sohail’s antics just took all the zing out of it. And the ladies, the less said the better. They just droned through the entire thing. Sharat Saxena as Military Uncle was totally wasted. Yes, his part didn’t have much to say in the book itself, but all his scenes were as if he said whatever he did because he was in the book and not because the story required him to.  The only person who did total justice to the character was Dilip Tahil as Bakshi, the manager. The music was nothing to gaga over, just the standard stuff that Bollywood doles out when Pakistanis and crime master Pritam are not involved.  For a moment at the end, I had thought that the climax had changed, but then how could the very scene that made the  book feel perfectly Bollywood-esque, be out of the movie? It stayed and completed the drubbing. 

For the best part of this movie, it is expected of the viewer to have read the book before watching it and thus fill in the blanks on our own. If you havent read the book, then you are in for a confusing time. This is really a pitiable situation for the writer, because inspite of being actively involved with the making of the movie, it still does a horrendous job telling the story that he started out telling. And if one is to believe, that he had a change of heart and wanted to do a better job with the movie than he did with the book, then I would say he screwed it up royally.  

And now for some free advice to Chetan. Since you continuing to write books and hoping that they would make it as movies is a given, I hope that you would do a better job at it, for it was a novel writer ( Yendamuri Veerendranath)  who has been a major driving force behind the phenomenon that is today known as Chiranjeevi.  Lets see how FPS makes out as Three Idiots.

P.S. : It is another matter that Yendamuri too let success get to his head at a later stage but not before giving Chiranjeevi some of his best hits.

Update: I just remembered something from Saarang 07. The FPS play by Madras Players was far better than this and they did it in about an hour.

Movie Review – That Four Letter Word

Just a headstart for those who haven’t heard of this movie, visit the website. More about how to watch the movie here. Also, this movie is not to be confused with A Four Letter Word.

How does one review an Independent film?  Amongst the ones that I have seen before, Before The Devil Knows Your Dead and Once are the most prominent ones.  Mind you independent doesn’t necessarily mean a finished good with seething amateurish features; it is purely a qualification on the production part of the business.  BTDKYD looked like any other studio production, where as in Once, one could see the so called independent flavour.  That Four Letter Word is somewhere near halfway on the path to getting to Once.

The story involves a bunch of six friends, one of whom wants to make a movie, for amongst many other reasons, impressing a girl. Since there are six of them, there are a lot of threads running around and I don’t want to give the movie away. But the main theme is the battle between clarity and indecision. Clarity that we seek to have in our life in the manner of having a plan and indecision that we always seem to have irrespective of having a plan to execute or not. At the end all the characters seem to overcome this confusion and take seemingly meaningful steps forward at decisive junctures of their life. And of course, the movie making guy gets his girl after all, with a little help of a mad guest star. The BGM  filled in very well, especially the final few minutes. The title credits and the accompanying rap song were amusing. The acting, apart from Cary Edwards’, seemed a bit choppy. It had the action-take-cut feel to it, didn’t seem natural for much of the time.

One major issue that I had was the ending and it is something I felt the same with Welcome to Sajjanpur. Why do we need happy endings?  Why the scrummy final 1minute prologue type thingy to tie loose ends? I would have certainly preferred to see the climax as it had ended in reality, but then again one would say that after all films are just another way of escaping the reality.

All in all it was an okay movie on the face of it, but considering the efforts of the people involved, in spite of their lack of experience in actual movie making, its worth a watch. And since God is the script-writer for this movie, He has subsidized it for us to watch it for free.

Movies Review : Happy Days vs Kalloori

With the dawn of the new year fast approaching, I now sit down to compare two movies of 2007 dealing with the theme of college life, Happy Days in Telugu and Kalloori in Tamizh.

Happy Days is another Shekhar Kammula movie that has struck the right chords in the Telugu cine-goer’s heart. The fact that the average Telugu movie buff is an engineering college student has hugely biased that opinion. There have been infinitely many movies based on college life, but this one shall be remembered for a long time because of the story. I now feel, more than the story, it is the choice of the manner in which the story was told that mattered more. The songs were excellent and “Happy Days” and ” Oh My Friend ” will replace ” Mustafa” at college farewells for sure. I feel this movie is more for the parents of students than students themselves because they get to see more of their kids’ lives than they usually would get to. The comedy was in most parts provided by Rajesh’s character. ( I had more comedy to deal with due to the comments of a college gang on the camrip ).

Now for the bashing. Apart from a single instance of Friendship-Showing ( Tyson – Shankar ), the rest was unbearable. All the friends just HAD to be paired up right!!!? This is where the movie pissed me off the most because the message that is given here is that all college gangs are pairs or trying to be. Yes, the LOVE angle is bound to be there – I do not disagree with that, but when you are trying to brand your movie to be a family movie, trying to tell the parents, a fair share of what they should know, then why not be totally correct too. If not for the supposed branding, I wouldn’t have had this itch to criticize this movie. There are many who remain very good friends and not go by the KKHH-SRK definition of Love. Please. Let us move on from all that. Though set in an engineering college backdrop, the movie attempted to summarize college life in general. But this movie got caught up with the love-interests of the leading characters and forgot about the guy from the village. With a do-takey ka dialogue, his story is finished off. The friendship being portrayed too felt a bit artificial at sometimes. I will remember this movie more for the songs than anything else.

Now coming to Kalloori. I saw this movie only because techsatish was showing it. I had no idea about it. Was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the leading ladies in both the films to be common. The bus-scene start was a nice one. Instead of ragging being the crux, its a song by the seniors explaining ways to screw up their education culminating in a request to avoid those ways and study well. I was taken aback by this novel beginning and mind you the song was not the preachy kinds – I felt it was pretty funny. It was set in a village/town backdrop, wherein a group of village-friends are joined by a city-girl in their BA-History class. Each one with different problems in their family life, socio-economic or otherwise, but when together tend to forget about all that and help each other out in their own very way. One of the girls is portrayed to be staunchly against the concept of Love and expects everyone to be friends forever and nothing more. But when two of them are attracted to each other, I thought, another movie going down the drain. And that is where I went wrong. The uneasiness amongst the two, to stand up to their friends’ ideals and control themselves was nicely shown. Two scenes I liked the most were the one where the girl makes him realize the cost of his education and the one where she confesses her love towards him, to the other girl and the subsequent explanation by that girl towards the need for her idealistic views. The happy ending wasn’t to be with a Dharmapuri incident-like climax, which I kind of expected with the movie coming from the same team as Kadhal did. The songs weren’t as catchy as Happy Days but nevertheless very melodious and thoughtful. But it is in the lyrics department that it outdid the former. Also, there weren’t any song-dance sequences; songs took the story ahead, and that is something I expect to see in every movie ( Spoof Dances like Dhoom Tha Na in Om Shanti Om are also expected). I hear that the climax was changed to what I ended up watching, after post-release criticism on logical irregularities. I wish to see that as a positive step on the part of the Director, willing to correct mistakes in the finished product. There was nothing spectacular about the movie. Just the fact that almost everything was as close to reality as it can get. I pity the Telugu town/village student community who could not relate to themselves in Happy Days. I hope Shankar dubs Kalloori into Telugu and at least gives them a chance at that.

One thing that was common to both the movies was the actors. Almost all were rank newcomers, and all portrayed their respective characters very well.  Most notable was the role of Ramesh in Kalloori – he was the most versatile actor amongst the lot.

Two movies with seemingly same basis, but turned out to show two entirely different viewpoints. Regarding viewer appeal, Happy Days wins hands down, but in terms of telling what was really intended to be said, Kalloori succeeded.

If you haven’t watched any of the two and now intend to do so, sorry for spoiling the fun.

A Little Escapade – 1 – Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead

Last week I became a member of The Little Theater. It screens only independent and foreign films. It has 5 screens( I saw 5 ) each one characteristically , little. No legroom at all. But the decor of each screen was remarkable( though Spot Cafe is another league altogether). Each of the walls had these vintage posters, with archaic font-types, which I felt was very amusing( Don’t ask how. Not all visual pleasures are traceable down to logic ). I look forward to watching many more movies at this theater as, part of the deal with the membership being able to watch a dozen movies for free. Effectively I shall be watching those movies for a highly subsidized rate.

Now to the movie. Plot – Domino Effect. One detail goes wrong in a plan that is not well thought out and the rest of the movie depicts how that affects a family. One scene I liked in particular was the father – son talk after the mother’s death. The elder son feels that he had always gotten to see the rough side of things and that his father always favored his brother. The father feels that he should have been more considerate to his son. The dialogue that follows and the slap that ends it, that for me was the defining moment of the film. Much of the movie shows the emotional support systems of the two brothers , which also fall apart eventually. There aren’t any comic scenes in this heavy drama bar one, wherein the wife/girl friend decides to leave him , but has to ask him money to go to her mothers. Excessive use of firearms ( I am not comparing with action flicks ) was one thing that was hard to digest, but the ending I felt was appropriate. The father has his revenge, after his final words to his son.

It was made out to look like a very dark film with the plot and the intentions of every character involved, but I felt that it was coldly natural of everyone involved to have behaved the way they did. The best part of the film was the camera work, where in zooms were extremely slow and letting the scene run into silence for excruciatingly long periods which kind of lets you soak in the drama.

I keep getting this from people – ” That movie made me think a lot”. The same was happening with me once I came out of Little. About what, I do not know even now. May be I was brooding over the following lines.

“May you have food and raiment, a soft pillow for you’re head;

 May you be 40 years in heaven, before the devil knows you’re dead.”