You are going to be hearing a lot of things about 1917 and one of them will certainly be about the technical wizardry. This is with good reason as a major part of the film’s triumph is due to the sheer magic behind the making. But what makes 1917 truly great is the personal conflict that drives the story forward. The soldiers that undertake the mission take it on for brotherhood and friendship. In the grand scheme of the war, this might not mean anything but for these two men it means everything.
There are moments in the film that will make your jaw drop regardless of which screen you watch it on. But that being said, the impact is so much more on a bigger screen. Films like 1917 show you how magical a theatrical experience can be. It is a testament to the power that the medium possesses. We feel like we have been dropped in the trenches with these soldiers. Every bullet that is fired feels like it’s whizzing past us. And of course, none of this would have been possible without the brilliance of legendary DP Roger Deakins and his team of camera operators. What they have done is not just an astonishing achievement technically but physically as well. They probably would have ended up running the equivalent of a marathon during filming.
But despite the technical marvel that 1917 is, it still needs convincing performances to hit home. This is where George MacKay’s extraordinary work helps the film enormously. For most of the film, the camera travels with him. He is our guide into this hellish landscape from which there seems to be no escape. He goes through enormous challenges that makes us feel and root for him. What really comes through is the sheer torment that builds up and is visible on his face as the film goes on. Shell shock is not an easy emotion to display. There has to be an emptiness mixed with terror and MacKay brings that out quite beautifully.
This review wouldn’t be complete without talking about the man directing all the mayhem. Sam Mendes is someone who has excelled at the bombastic action films and quieter dramas as well. 1917 is not a film where you expect this to converge but it does and that makes the film a more enriching experience. It is in the quieter moments that Mendes lets his characters and the audience take a breath. These moments add more weight to the journey that we see our protagonist undertake. War is not just about valor and bravery, it is also about the cost of everything for people. Cities are torn down, people are destroyed, spirits are decimated but through all that, our protagonist must soldier on. And thankfully for us, Deakins and his team are there to capture it in breathtaking fashion.
Noah Baumbach is a name that makes me want to watch a film. One of his best qualities is the way he makes his characters speak. This is on full display in Marriage Story as you get to see a real splinter deepening between a couple. What is remarkable about this film is that he’s taken this structure and not take sides. We get to see both the husband and wife make their case for what they feel. This makes the impact hit you with a lot more force. You might be thinking that you’ll have to take a side but even at the end, there is that ambiguous feeling in us. These are just two people who care for each other but don’t have to be together.
For Marriage Story to succeed, a lot of it depends on the quality of acting from the leads. And this is perhaps the single biggest achievement of the film. We get two incredible, heartbreaking and real performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. I wouldn’t be surprised if people paused the film if it got too much to handle. I know I did this. You almost feel that its better to watch it on a streaming service than a theater from which there would be no escape. The emotional hits keep coming and at no point do they feel forced. And the beauty of doing this is that you understand where these people are coming from. Their motivations, feelings and actions feel organic and this is quite hard to achieve but Baumbach aces this part of the film.
You can see traces of your own relationship, your parent’s relationship or those around you in these two people. Another good move by Baumbach is that he doesn’t use the emotional impact on the child to manipulate us. Even there, the element of realism present in the child makes us feel so much. The amazing thing about both Driver and Johansson is that they convince you in both the showy moments as well as the more somber ones. These are two actors who are completely in sync with the characters that they play to such an extent that we forget the actors and focus on the characters.
Marriage Story works as a way of telling us that it is possible to love someone but you don’t always have to like them. The cast is rounded off with some solid turns from Ray Liotta, Alan Alda and best of all, Laura Dern. She gets a monologue that is so riddled with truth, it becomes uncomfortable after a point. It is this kind of writing that makes Marriage Story so convincing. We may look at it and wonder why we should feel for these people but Baumbach makes us feel, ache and yearn for all sorts of things. At the end, your not left in a weepy mess but you feel the sense that this is life. As Russell Bufalino from The Irishman might say, “It is what it is.” Baumbach takes a real situation from his life and makes it our own by making us privy to these problems. It is hard to deal with personal material but he does it with real aplomb. And perhaps that is the biggest triumph of Marriage Story.
When you are constructing a whodunit, the trick is to surprise the audience. Since we have seen so many variations of this kind of story, we try to be one step ahead of the filmmaker. So, when someone actually does play a fast one on us, the feeling is strangely satisfying. This is exactly how I felt at the end of Knives Out as I sat back and was happy at what Rian Johnson had managed to accomplish.
In many ways, this is the kind of film that I would like to see being made every year. Get an all-star cast, give them meaty parts and back that up with some ingenious writing. It probably won’t happen but imagine if it did. Knives Out is incredible because it keeps surprising us with its reveals. We expect the story to go one way and it goes the other way. Or, it goes one way and digs deeper than we ever thought it would. This is the perfect situation for a murder mystery film. Everyone is at the top of their game here be it the sleuthing Benoit Blanc played by Daniel Craig or the nurse Marta played by Ana de Armas. The casting works perfectly because we have seen and loved these people in other parts but they feel like their characters here.
Films of this ilk don’t get the kind of appreciation they do but they should, because they are incredibly hard to pull off. Tying every knot together and not leaving any loose ends is so hard but Johnson manages that in Knives Out. The cinematography by Steve Yedlin adds some gloss to this story that renders it timeless in a way. The problem for me in writing this ‘review’ is that its difficult to analyze the film. I did try and all I could come up with was praise for what Johnson has achieved. In a way, this film made me feel the same way that Andhadhun did.
If you are able to find some flaw in this film, then good for you. Is it a perfect film? Well, when you get a wickedly fun experience like the one Knives Out gives you, perfection doesn’t matter. It works on many level. It works as a mystery first and foremost, and there is an impressive amount of social commentary thrown in as well. I would love to see a double bill of Knives Out and Parasite. Now, that would be perfect. To sum up, go and watch this and try to do so without knowing anything about it. It is easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in a theater this year.
Before I get into how I feel about The Irishman I’d just like to say that it is kind of a miracle that this film actually got made. Thanks to Netflix for picking it up and letting Marty create the magic that he always does. So, let’s get back to the film at hand. The Irishman is different from a film like GoodFellas particularly in it’s pacing. While the 1990 film was more about the speed at which the mob goes, this is more of a methodical approach. The result is that we get to see all elements of the mob, the government and most importantly the men.
This is more to do with how these men deal with what what they’ve done. The most obvious example of this is Frank Sheeran (Robert de Niro) and the final shot says so much about him. It ends up being a little heartbreaking to see a man at the brink. The Irishman is backed up by what you expect from a film that has this much firepower. From the performances that frequently feel sublime and the direction that knows when to reveal and when to hold back. A special mention has to be made about Rodrigo Prieto’s camera that captures all the chaos with such elegance that it feels intoxicating.
And of course, you can’t talk about The Irishman without the heavyweights that are involved. De Niro, Pacino and Pesci all pull off their best work in years and they’re not really playing to type here. Pesci’s Russell is in many ways the anti Tommy from GoodFellas. You don’t expect him to be this way but it is a revelation to see him introspect so much while being a complete badass. De Niro does explode every now and then but by the end of the film, there is almost a sense of guilt and regret in his mind. Pacino on the other hand gets the most showy part of the film and is in incredible form. When you have so many people operating at their peak, the results are going to be magical.
These three are supported by some fine turns including Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano and Anna Paquin who in a nearly wordless performance says so much about Frank the man. The Irishman is more than just a story about the mob. It is about betraying friends, losing family and all the while looking to survive. The jobs these men do takes a lot out of them and it is visible both physically and literally. Using digital effects to show the age of these men will feel a little distracting to begin with. But due to the power of talent on display, you will soon forget that and be invested in the story. I’d never thought I would get to see a somber mob film from Marty but I’m so happy that he’s entered that zone. More than anything else, The Irishman is proof that there are very few directors who can stage a scene as well as Scorsese does. From all of us, thank you for The Irishman. Keep making more movies and bringing such amazing talents together. Also, thank you Netflix.
One of the worries I had going into Ford v. Ferrari was how were they going to dramatize some pretty awesome real-life events. In hindsight, this is the kind of story that was always meant to be made into a movie. It does not need any more drama and works perfectly the way it is. And in the hands of director James Mangold, we get a film that is thrilling, entertaining and moving as well. This is more that just one man or company’s obsession to become the best. It is as Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) puts it, about those who have to do ONE thing. I had no real inkling of the actual events, so the reveals, twists and turns worked so well. I was genuinely curious to know what was going to happen next. The script by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller gives us a few of the usual elements, but it doesn’t have that familiarity.
A big reason for this is the cast of Ford v. Ferrari and when you have two of the greatest actors of this generation coming together, sparks will fly and they do here. Damon and Bale pull off a cracker of a balancing act that gives each character a proper arc where we see these men as fully realized characters. We learn about their motivation, what drives (forgive the pun) them. Both these actors bring the excellence that you have come to expect from them and it is at times exhilarating to watch them. They are ably supported by some fine work from others including Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal and Josh Lucas who has never been more punchable in his career.
This is exactly the kind of drama that I want to see make hundreds of millions at the box office. It has everything, a couple of fabulous and famous leads, a great director but most importantly, it is a great film. I was wondering how Mangold was going to follow up his stellar work in Logan but Ford v. Ferrari shows that he’s one of our more underrated directors. And even the runtime which clocks in at more than 150 minutes doesn’t feel too much because the visuals, performances and the story earns that length.
A special mention has to be made of DP Phedon Papamichael who brings us some of the most thrilling, blood-pumping race sequences. His previous work is no indicator as to the kind of adrenaline rush he can give. But his wizardry coupled with the razor-sharp editing by Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland gives us scenes that are full of life. And that is what makes Ford v. Ferrari great. It is about hitting that fabled 7,000 RPM. It is about men fighting an impossible battle in the hopes of pulling off a miracle. As a film, Ford v. Ferrari becomes one that sets out to entertain us and it does its job beautifully. Hopefully the success of this film prompts Hollywood to give us more such films. But till that day comes, watch Ford v. Ferrari.
Moothon is dictated by two revelations that take the film forward. I am not going to tell what they are but it was quite stunning to see them. And one of them is something that you don’t get to really see a lot of in Indian cinema. Geethu Mohandas in her second film shows more control of her craft and that she’s not afraid to tackle some harsh truths. Though Moothon is set in a specific area, the feelings are universal. It is a film about those that leave the island in search of a better life. It is also about those people that stay on the island because they feel that they know better.
Presenting two sides of the same coin can be a bit tricky and it shows in Moothon‘s runtime. There are no scenes that feel out of place but you start to feel that we could have done with a little more exploration of each world. A particular highlight of Moothon is the camera work by Rajeev Ravi. He takes us through the grime of Mumbai’s gullys in such a thrilling fashion. I couldn’t help but wonder how they managed to get certain shots in such crowded areas. This is contrasted with the serene beauty of Lakshadweep and the difference jolts the viewer. It is this dichotomy that defines the film. Mohandas must be applauded for refusing to pull any punches. She gets down and dirty with the seedy part of Mumbai and is unafraid to show us the harsh realities of this life.
Moothon has a number of interesting characters that get their moment to shine but it is Nivin Pauly’s Bhai that steals the show. The actor does things we’ve never seen him do. It is quite startling to see the way he plays the two shades of this man. One of his best acting moments comes in the second half when he looks at the mirror. The way this scene is staged is quite brilliant. We get to see emotions that we don’t usually see from our leading men. It is breathtaking and at the same time refreshing. The cast is rounded off with some memorable performances from Sobhita Dhulipala, Roshan Matthew and Shashank Arora.
The real surprise of Moothon is the performance of little Sanjana Dipu who goes in search of the titular brother. The young actor’s combination of innocence and confusion is a fantastic contrast to the world weariness of the others. This counterpoint of Moothon makes the emotional reveals feel so much more devastating. Nivin has to be appreciated for taking on a role that required a lot of guts. We haven’t many mainstream heroes do this in a long long time. This is a performance that has to be and will be talked about for years to come. Moothon is a tale of what life is and what life can be. Too often we are caught in between both much like the people that Geetu Mohandas creates.
The opening scene of Satyajit Ray’s Nayak does not show the titular hero’s face for some time. We only get to hear the voice of Bengali cinema’s Mahanayak, Uttam Kumar. Perhaps this is Ray’s nod to the power of matinee idols. We do not even have to see them to know who they are. From there, what follows is a glorious deconstruction of an actor and more specifically one that is very famous. My favorite part of Nayak is that Ray never lets Arindam, our hero, lash out at people. Uttam Kumar’s incredible performance seems to have stemmed from a very personal space. Its almost as if he is experiencing the very emotions that Arindam is going through. The beauty in his acting can be seen when he moves from one emotion to another mid-sentence.
Nayak is the story of a man struggling with the decision that he has taken in moving to the movie world. This can be seen in the famed dream sequence. There are many skeleton hands around him but the only real hand is that of his mentor Shankarda. His refusal to help Arindam from drowning in the mountain of money is symbolic of his thoughts on what Arindam has decided to do. Perhaps more than anything else, it is the fact that Shankarda never approved of his choices is what haunts Arindam the most. And it is interesting to see the way Uttam Kumar plays this particular emotion. He is realizing it as we get to know it as well. There is an element of disappointment and then a resigned look at what he has become now. He does not make it seem earth-shattering. This would have been the direction in which others would have gone but not Ray.
Ray is famous for writing great roles for women and that holds true here as well. From the unwilling Molly to Aditi (Sharmila Tagore) the journalist who gets the hero to open up, Nayak is filled with real people. There is a point that Aditi makes saying there is not much reality in Bengali cinema. It is almost a tongue-in-cheek comment on how realistic Ray’s films tend to be. The whole film and even her role is written in a gentle manner. There is no malice in what she’s trying to do. To her, this is just an opportunity to write about a famous actor. But gradually she realizes that this man is opening up because he trusts her. All of this makes her actions at the end of Nayak feel justified.
The final scene of Nayak feels particularly poignant in that we can see what Arindam wants and what he has. When Aditi walks away from the station, Arindam looks at her with a rueful look. Is this him longing for her, or is it him longing for a normal life? My guess is that despite the attention, garlands and all the trappings of fame, he would like to have a ‘normal’ life. The joy of Nayak lies in the way Ray is able to blur fiction and reality all while making use of one of Indian cinema’s biggest matinee idols. Uttam Kumar gets to take on us on a gentle emotional roller-coaster while still maintaining a level of dignity that is aspirational. He makes us feel with him and feel for him. And at the end, when Aditi tears up the papers she had used to record what our Nayak said, we feel a sense of relief. That is the power of an actor and Ray manages to bring out that in a realistic and touching manner.
When you make a inspirational biopic, it can be difficult to make the proceedings feel interesting. We have seen so many of the beats that we’ve become used to them. But Dolemite Is My Name benefits from its unique setting that lets it become an interesting and entertaining film. Taking on the real-life story of Rudy Ray Moore, it is able to bring out a heartfelt, funny look at the other side of Hollywood. As Dolemite himself says, more than money this is about connecting with people. As per his words, he wants to give something to the brothers and sisters that they like. This is beautifully shown in the scene where Dolemite and his friends go to a theater to see Billy Wilder’s The Front Page. They don’t see anything funny but the predominantly white audience finds it hilarious.
And therein lies the crux of Dolemite Is My Name. It doesn’t have to be work that is super successful and make you millions. It is about giving your people something to connect with and laugh at. At the center of the film is the fantastic performance by Dolemite himself Eddie Murphy. He does what we know he can do and is amazing at pulling off the wackier moments as well as the more somber ones. Many described this as a comeback for Eddie and if he’s going to do films like this, then it is a welcome move. He is supported by a wonderful cast that includes standout performances from Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. If anything, I hope that Dolemite Is My Name sparks interest in the Blaxploitation genre again.
Dolemite stands for not giving up when others tell you what you can’t do. The way this is presented is different, the setting makes it fun and informative to people who might not know much about these kind of films. And it is also proof that Eddie in a R-rated film is a different actor. He is released from the shackles of keeping things PG. His personality really comes out in the way he delivers his lines. This is what made people fall in love with his stand-up in the first place.
It would have been interesting nice to see how Dolemite Is My Name would have been received with a theatrical release. But with a platform like Netflix, Dolemite might be able to do what he always wanted. He will be able to connect with people. One aspect of the film I really liked was that Eddie and the script don’t let Dolemite become too self-serious. A good example of this would be the sex scene that is shot for the first Dolemite film. Though it is supposed to be tender, he realizes that it is better off if it is made funny. The story work because it is about a man who succeeded by making himself the butt of jokes. In his own way, Dolemite is an inspiration to look up to. And to quote the man himself:
“Dolemite is my name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is my game!” There’s no better way to describe him and the film.
The feeling you have when the first half of Kaithi ends is one of wonder. I sat in the theater amazed at how well this film was constructed and executed. I had the same feeling at the end of the film. Writing a good story is one part but bringing it onto the screen is another matter altogether. This is where director Lokesh Kanagaraj shines as he is able to bring all the different elements and characters in an organic manner. Despite being in the framework of a commercial film, Kaithi never loses sight of its story. And that is perhaps the biggest compliment I can give this film. Lokesh who made his debut with the equally amazing Maanagaram shows that he is a director to be excited about.
You can sense his cinematic strengths when he is staging his action scenes or the way he throws in comedy every now and then. It is visible in how tightly packed the story is and for that, we are ready to overlook a couple of the more obvious commercial elements. And with Kaithi you are getting a film without a female lead or songs. This is quite unusual for Indian cinema in general and it is refreshing to see Lokesh employ this. He also realizes the star power of the actor he has in Karthi. This pays off wonderfully when we get a goosebumps inducing ‘mass’ moment involving a Gatling gun.
The background score by Sam CS does its job without feeling overpowering. If there are technical areas that shine in Kaithi, it is the camera and editing handled by Sathyan Sooryan and Philomin Raj respectively. The former does an incredible job of showing the different landscapes our hero goes through. Whether it is a quarry or a forest, all of them are shown in the dark but you never lose sight of the people in the frame. The editing keeps track of multiple locations and characters but makes sure that the film is riveting.
Kaithi works on multiple levels. It is a film with pulsating action scenes yet it has a strong emotional undercurrent. It works as an odd couple film where a criminal and a policeman come together. And finally, it works as a testament to the fact that if you trust the script, magic can happen. You really need to congratulate Karthi and Lokesh for doing this. One aspect about the writing that impressed me was the way the ‘bad guys’ were written. From the outset it looks they are one-dimensional but they are made interesting. Other characters such as the constable and civilians in the police station get their own moment to shine. A film like Kaithi is a showcase for what Tamil cinema can be. Thrilling, touching and more than anything else entertaining.
The first thought I had while watching Sonchiriya is that I should have seen this in the theaters. From director Abhishek Chaubey who gave us the excellent Udta Punjab we get another gritty realistic tale on bandits, in the heartland of India. Aesthetically what really struck me was the fact that this film looked and felt like a western. It has many moments that you would find in a western. A fine example of this is the Mexican standoff that takes place when Sushant Singh Rajput’s character splits from his gang. These moments are framed brilliantly by Anuj Rakesh Dhawan. The ravines of Chambal are shown in all their glory. We get a sense of how these bandits use their surroundings, sometimes it is an advantage but other times it causes their downfall.
One of Chahubey’s strengths is the way he writes his dialogues. The characters feel like they are talking on their own and not like they are reading from a piece of paper. The other reason this works is because of the incredible cast. When you have heavyweights like Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey and Ashutosh Rana, it can be difficult to keep up with them. But Sushant and Bhumi Pednekar pull of amazing performances that match up to the rest. Bhumi has less action than the men but her actions make her among the strongest characters in Sonchiriya.
Despite how grim the circumstances are, Sonchiriya throws in some humor every now and then and it works. The moment where a bandit on the run wonders if he’ll get to eat mutton in jail is one such instance. If there’s one takeaway from the film, it is that all of us will fall prey to the law of nature. It doesn’t matter which level of society we are in, nature comes for us all. Sonchiriya works on multiple levels. It works as an action film about bandits with some spectacularly choreographed shootouts. It works as a commentary on the class difference that existed then and exist now as well. And it works as a commentary on the way men and women are perceived. One of my favorite lines is when Phuliya, the leader of another gang tells Bhumi’s character:
“Men created all these castes to separate themselves but women have only one caste. We are all below them (men).”
I’m paraphrasing a little bit but I think I’ve captured the spirit of what she said. When I heard this, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I am amazed at the fact that writers Chaubey and Sudip Sharma were able to come up with this much depth. Sonchiriya had everything to succeed commercially, a successful director, a killer cast and most importantly, it was an incredible film. But it didn’t do too well at the box office and that is disappointing. But more than anything, I am happy with the fact that such a film exists. Sonchiriya is a rare film, in that it is a slow-burn thriller that sometimes becomes a race against the clock. With a subject like this, it would have been easy to go down the Mad Max: Fury Road way but the approach here works much better. The characters take some time to reflect on what has happened. Even the minor characters are given their own motivations and feel like real people. I can keep talking about Sonchiriya but I think I’ve said all that I wanted to say. To you, all I would like to say is, watch it and be amazed at what Indian cinema is capable of.