Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review #507 - Vivegam (Tamil, 2017)

Vivegam, Ajith's third outing with Siva - who proclaims it to be an 'international spy thriller' & a first of sorts in this genre for Kollywood (I don't know what Vishwaroopam is then?!) - released to much fanfare today. Is it what it was said it is going to be?

The film opens with Ajay Kumar (AK) thwarting an immensely guarded illegal weapons deal & escaping from a huge chasing group. He is then being hunted by a consortium of world's secret agencies and it appears they figure he was one among them and was suspected to have been dead. The flashback unfolds with AK & his team of 5 thick friends going about their business of killing the world's deadliest baddies and focuses on a single mission where they try to get hold of the decryption code to stop some artificial earthquake setting bomb blasts. When AK gets close to target, he understands he is sabotaged. How he hunts down his betrayers with rage forms the latter part of the story.

There is nothing new in terms of the story that you just read but the age-old cat & mouse game is staged on a scale and setup that is not very common for Tamil films and the screenplay (by Siva aided sizably by Kabilan Vairamuthu) has its geeky & intense moments that all integrate well to present some finely conceived action blocks choreographed well by Kaloyan & performed admirably by Ajith. The sequences in Serbia where AK chases a hacker Natasha (played by Akshara Haasan) is easily the film's best portion and given the impression the build up and the single sequence her role features in creates, it would have been great if the character had accompanied the lead a little longer. Amidst all the chaos, the husband-wife angle & how the relationship complements the pair is brought forth well (a little over the top at times) and Kajal Aggarwal (who plays AK's lovely pair Yazhini) gets a role better than many of the ones she must have played before.

The friend-turns-foe twist in the interval is hugely cliched (especially for an Ajith film & takes us to a totally similar sequence in Aasal) and brings down the tempo post interval. The latter part of the film is a mixed bag with a couple of adrenaline pumping sequences (the comeback song Thalai Viduthalai & a sniper sequence in the middle of traffic) and a couple of real duds (the scene where AKsaves his lady love from trained weapon-wielding villains from a building afar!).  The pre-climax involving Ajith & Vivek Oberoi (who plays Aryan - the leader of the betraying friends' pack) resurrects the film's intensity with some interesting 'who-can-think-what-the-other-is-upto-faster' game but a pedestrian climax with the wife having so much confidence in the abilities of her husband that she begins singing a song as he is in the edge of a life/death fist-fight battle doesn't let it soar.

The technical aspects of this ambitiously set film are top-notch with Vetri's camerawork reminding us of some of the famous hollywood action blockbusters, the art-work by Milan recreating multiple geeky-setups, non-shoddy VFX which amalgamates seamlessly with the real stunts and Ruben's work at the edit table right-sizing all of the action blocks so they retain their intensity. Each of the teams that have worked technically for the film can boast of Vivegam being a marquee work in their careers.

In all, Vivegam ends up being a film that doesn't have new things in terms of what it presents but the moments that make up how the what is presented takes it a little beyond the archetypal star outing that is attempted to appease a certain fan-base.

Age-old story but Actions aplenty!

Review #506 - Dunkirk (English, 2017)

--> The allied forces are surrounded by the ‘enemy’ in the coast of Dunkirk leaving 400,000 soldiers stranded. A miraculous evacuation is the only hope for them from surrender and defeat. Do they get through? The outcome of the survival attempt that lasts for over a week comes down to one help that gets extended over a day & another, that barely lasts an hour.

What's Hot?

  • Christopher Nolan’s body of work is so varied & impressive that any mention of a work being unlike another of his, in itself, would mean a lot. In going with a fresh setup presented in a monumental scale, yet, retaining some of his characteristics, he pulls off something remarkable with Dunkirk
  • He plays with a wacky screenplay yet again (all his films except Insomnia have kept the viewers’ brains working hard through the watch with interlaced writing) but, smartly, lets it only stay complex to an extent that allows it to play second fiddle to the tale of survival
  • The film’s cinematography (by Hoyte van Hoytema) & editing (by Lee Smith) help us stay with the narrative that focuses on individuals on land, sea and air – That’s not easy given the scale of the historical event. They also make us ‘feel’ the enemy even though they aren’t shown explicitly
  • Nolan seems to have taken Hans Zimmer in his hitherto unseen journey as the score, from ranging from mysterious to pounding, is apt & amazingly different in style in comparison to their other outings together. The sound effects as the bombs keep flying off the Luftwaffe are excellent additions to the immersive experience on offer
  • It is one of those films where the entire cast play a solid supporting role as the story is primarily told through sound technical nuances and doesn’t have much focus on influencing the viewer with human emotions. Yet – Mark Rylance (with his non-chalance as the ‘been there, seen that’ civilian Dawson),  Tom Hardy (who expresses his astonishment at the German aircraft & the grit to somehow bring it down through only his ‘eyes’) shine

What's Not? 

  • As straight as it may seem for viewers who have had experience with watching Nolan’s works, the usage of the time dimension (elegant, make no mistake) ends up letting emotion take the back seat and leaves us longing to find that one hero we’d like to root for – Blame Spielberg for conditioning us all that way!


--> With Dunkirk, Nolan takes himself, his crew and the viewers through uncharted waters and as we sail through the story, shows how war films could be handled extremely different from some of the most famous ones we may have seen and yet give an equally immersive experience as they all have done
Epic Escapade!
--> --> --> -->

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review #505: Kadamban (Tamil, 2017)

Kadamban Movie Review

The honey-extracting tribal folks of Kadambavanam, a village in the deep interiors of dense forests, enjoy their peaceful & humble lives with the philosophical company of their forefathers. Presence of limestone underneath earns the village some interest from unethical vultures. With multiple soft evacuation plans failing against the tribal resistance, they resort to uglier ways putting the villagers' lives into complete disarray. Can they withstand when payback time presents itself?

What's Hot?

  • The grandeur of the idea, the seemingly determined execution of it with the filming make the fact that this is only director Raghava's second outing (his first being Manjapai is another surprise!) sound unbelievable. Still a long way away but the film defintely gives us the confidence that he could make it big in Kollywood, especially in the Action genre of films
  • Arya, as the rugged and chiseled Kadamban, lives the role in a way that even inspires you to root for him and the film (at moments when things don't go so well). A lot of what he does revolves around performing stunts or chases and he is completely convincing
  • The film's cinematography (by S.R. Sathish Kumar who had also done a fine job in Peranmai) is splendid to say the least. I don't mean it only for the way it captures the beauty of the forests with aerial shots. In the action sequences, it helps you travel as fast as the ones involved in it. Special mention to the climax (with traps & elephants) that uplifts the spirit of the film unbelievably
  • For a film with very minimal dialogues, the choreography of the action sequences needs to take care of establishing the emotional moments as well & Dilip Subbarayan's work here comes out quite convincingly (A couple of ideas repeat themselves twice but that I'd put against the director)
  • The supporting cast helps create the right atmosphere & even though Cathrine Teresa's role doesn't offer anything new in the romance angle & Murugadoss' comedy doesn't click as an idea, the presence of them and others helps us see the village as one well-knit group
  • CGI work is commendable. Except for one involving Hyenas, all the sequences are believable which is the essence of any good work with graphics

What's Not?

  • The execution in terms of the way sequences & action have been shot may have been good but there is very little in terms of plot points. The villains, the little twists etc. are pedestrian & some ideas the villagers adopt to chase away their intruders are 'facepalm-worthy'
  • Yuvan Shankar Raja's songs are sub-par and play as much a role in impeding the flow of the film as the uninventive placing of the songs picturised (The dream song sequence should have gone on to the trash without a second thought, Editor Deva)
  • The focus on the livelihood of the villagers, their belief-system and instances explaining why they feel obliged to protect the forests could have taken precedence over shots exploring the romance, shots building the villains up etc. That would have made the sermon Kadamban gives at the end look less preachy

The sincerity and extravagant making of a film set completely in the forests makes up for the film's shortcomings as a story-telling device. The enjoyable action sequences with the fit-as-a-fiddle Arya at the forefront make this a bearable watch

Bumpy Forest Ride

Review #504: Kaatru Veliyidai (Tamil, 2017)

Kaatru Veliyidai Movie Review

Romance is in the air as the lives of Fighter Pilot Varun & Medical Doctor Leela collide amidst the scenic beauty of Kashmir. While Leela yearns for Varun’s affection in the delicate of ways, Varun’s idea of love is all give-give, not give-take. Just as the avalanche of built-up emotions sets rolling, Varun becomes a PoW post the Kargil episode. Do their paths cross later?

What’s Hot

  • Coming from a director known for being an auteur, Kaatru Veliyidai has glimpses of magical moments that we associate with Mani Ratnam films. There are exchanges and scenes that bring a nostalgic smile on you (A rather unimportant Thiruda Thiruda type chase sequence with Mani paying tribute to Spielberg & Rahman to John Williams, for example)
  • The female lead Aditi Rao Hydari is exceptional as Dr.Leela. She is the example one should use for people finding linguistic challenge as the reason for heroines not being expressive enough or upto the mark with lip-sync. To be fair to her, she just does much more than that in the film – A great debut in Tamil
  • Karthi is earnest as the narcissistic Varun and shines inconsistently (thanks to a pretty empty sketching of what could have been a fascinating character sketch) through the film. To appreciate his work, one probably has to undo his earlier roles as we get reminded of it and we see that he is ‘trying forever’ to break away from that!
  • The technical work in the film is world-class. AR Rahman’s mesmerizing tunes are put forth to good use, bolstered by an inspiring work behind the lens from Ravi Varman. They also contribute immensely to the story telling with their background score and perspective shots

What’s Not

  • The magical moments I mentioned are few and far between and don’t succeed in holding the film together. Usually, in Mani Ratnam films, the most crucial scenes also end up being the most wonderfully made. Strangely enough, that isn’t the case here. The pair’s first conflict scene amidst a brewing snow-storm comes abruptly and ends up looking like a farce; So does the glass-room dining table sequence of Varun with Leela’s parents
  • The film doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid to giving us a realistic feeling in terms of nativity of the characters. Varun’s family depicted looks anything but Tamil. The ‘pregnancy before marriage’ idea is unnecessarily thrown one time too many
  • The character sketches of Varun & Leela are interesting but we get a feeling that only the tip of the iceberg is shown. If we had been taken further into the reasons behind why they are the way they are, it could have made way for a fascinating character-driven romance drama. But the lack of detailing makes us lose interest in their pursuit and we don’t root for either of them

Amidst a little mayhem & a little magic, Kaatru Veliyidai has its share of moments which aren't stitched as well as we would have liked. Impeccable technical brilliance notwithstanding, the incomplete character sketches make the film as flawed as its lead VC.

Minor Misfire