Monday, March 27, 2017

Rogue One - choking on aspirations

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Gareth Edwards

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor
Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe
Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso
Alan Tudyk as K-2SO
Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook
Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus

Mohan's measure  

Young immigrants to the West may find the whole Star Wars craze humorous. After all, it is nothing more than spaceships, laser beams, and talking robots.

Those with spiritual inclinations may recognize the mythic elements behind it all, borrowings from the Mahabharata and Ramayana which George Lucas admits he put into the series to serve as inspiration for others.

All of us, however, will have to agree that Rogue One just doesn't make the cut.  First of all it is not part of the original Star Wars Universe.  It is a rather an attempt at a spin-off which purists, like me, find unnecessary.

Of course, it does feature Ms. Jones; and the talented and charming actress has done great service to her character.  But, that is all the movie is worth.  The rest is trite remarks, poorly executed one line philosophical quips, and off-chance references to the Force which fail to make it into the main story effectively.

My understanding of the story is blurred by the heavy accents of the costars; but as best as I know a ragtag group of rebels is put together to find their way on to an Imperial Battle-cruiser and retrieve the plans for the Death Star, the very same plans which Princess Leia would eventually send to Obi Wan Kenobi on Tattooine, along with her hologramic image asking for help.

The idea sounds fun, but is presented to us as a dark and tragic story of how this band of heroes sacrifice their own lives such that a stylized flash drive can be delivered to the princess.  There is something utterly ridiculous about this, given that the same plans are already sent over electronically earlier in the story. 

Also electronic, and not very impressive, are CGI images of the late, great Peter Cushing superimposed onto the live action.

In many ways, this whole thing was an imposition on my weekend.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Katamarayadu - "veeram" off course

2017, Telugu
directed by
Kishore Kumar Pardasani

Pawan Kalyan as Katamarayudu
Shruti Hassan as Avanthika
Rao Ramesh as Narsappa
Ali as Linga Babu / Lingam
Ajay as Konda Babu
Siva Balaji as Sivarayudu
Nassar as Judge Bhupathi, Avanthika's father

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳

Multi-lingual film-goers will immediately recognize Katamarayadu as a glaring imitation of Veeram, Ajith's moderate success of 2014, except in one area, comedy.  That's because this version doesn't have any.

Mr. Pawan Kalyan, normally the personification of eccentricity on screen seems almost too focused, too caught up in the intensity of the action, to have time to play the likable character that Ajith played in the original.  So, while he does justice to the role, he just can't create the magic needed to get the film off the ground.

Off the ground in egocentricity is Ms. Hassan, who seems to full of herself to even know she is to play opposite a hero.  This becomes obvious in the item dance songs, each involving her character not even turning to face the hero while dancing.

Stoic-faced too is Ali, whose little comedy in the beginning of the movie fails to capture us.  He seems like he wants to make something funny, but doesn't know where to fit it all in.

If anything does fit, it is the superb job Mr. Rao, whose combination of comic relief and frustrated cynicism brings offbeat fun to what should have been an offbeat story.

While I remain skeptical, Nassar's entrance into the second half and a closer following of the original script makes us to leave the theater slightly less than disappointed

Friday, March 24, 2017

Aanandam - Hampi-day, it must be Goa

Aanandam (Joy)
Malayalam, 2016
directed by Ganesh Raj
Arun Kurian as Varun Manjooran
Thomas Mathew as Akshay
Roshan Mathew as Gautham Roy/Rockstar Gautham
Vishak N Nair as K. Unnikrishnan Pillai/Kuppi
Siddhi Mahajankatti as Dia 
Annu Antony as Devika/Devooty
Anarkali Marikar as Darshana Maliaka
Dr Rony David as Chacko Sir

Vinitha Koshy as Lovely Miss

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳

When I was between semesters in college, I wound up watching an episode of the Love Boat in which a group of Ivy League co-eds find themselves and each other during Spring Break on Captain Stubing's famous cruise ship. 

Aanandam is not along the same lines, but certainly follows the same theme. As much fantasy as the aforementioned boat, it brings a group of computer engineers onto a bus for what they dub an I.V. - which in Indian college parlance is an Industry Visit.  What Goa and Hampi have to with high tech really doesn't matter, because the teacher Mr. Chacko agrees to it.  

So, there is the gist of it, a group of cool but eccentric guys with a zany bunch of eccentric girls are out to party.  It would make you think of some kind of sex-crazed comedy had this been an American film.

Thankfully, this is a Malayalam film, and the story, though hopelessly romantic and filled with booze, tries to be more sensitive to the feelings of these young adults and their views on love, marriage and life, with occasional time spent in hippie drug shacks.

The resident nerd Akshay and his new girlfriend, school optimist Dia lead the story in forming an alliance through adventures found in the present day, like zip lines and para-sailing.  Somewhere along the way, we find romance between Rockstar and Devooty, and even between photo-hound Kuppi and a bit character name Kathy.

The plot is supposed to be interspersed with comedy, but it is really only a chuckle or two, around the real story of good looking college kids and the surrounding scenery.   But, chuckle or not, happy endings still manage to make us feel good.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beauty and the Beast - Poppet Show

Beauty and the Beast
Directed by
Bill Condon


Emma Watson as Belle
Dan Stevens as The Prince / Beast
Luke Evans as Gaston
Kevin Kline as Maurice
Josh Gad as LeFou
and the talents of
Ewan McGregor as Lumière
Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza
Ian McKellen as Cogsworth
Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts
Nathan Mack as Chip

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ 

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience.That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.

The Storyteller's Creed.  Naive by today's standards, but words of inspiration a quarter century ago when Disney released its first version of this 18th Century fairy tale.  We can never know completely when and how these words and the lifestyle which accompanied them left us, and we can now only experience it vicariously in the giggles of the children who watch along with us with wide-eyed wonder.

The re-release of the now live action Beauty and the Beast is a refreshing way to relive those memories, and perhaps hope we can return to them; the charming Ms. Watson being our host to a world of talking tea cups, dancing candelabras, and of course, a grotesque-looking but naive beast.   

Her brilliant acting aside, the sheer cinematographic allure of this film brings us in to this world of wonder, and makes us both laugh and curse Gaston in his futile desire to win Belle's hand. We witness both the beauty of the village and the darkness of the castle.  We get charmed by Lumière, pampered by Mrs. Potts, and fall in love with little Chip.  If we are puzzled, it is at observing LeFou, if only for an instant, to realize how much the world has changed, and perhaps wonder at how some of the innocence we had back then no longer applies now.

Whatever it is that drew each of you to the animated version of this movie will bring you to this live action/CGI version.  You will be drawn in to the mythos of this film, filling yourself with Disney "pixie dust", which dares us to think that even death itself can be conquered through the simple expression of love.  You will watch the ballroom scene with a tear in your eye, remembering the feelings you had when you first met your spouse and knew that the meaning in your life had come in his/her form.  

And you will leave the theater like I did, angered by the cruelty of the sands of time and how they painstakingly scraped away the "pixie dust" from life.  What would life have been like if they hadn't?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Aakrosh - Mississippi Masala

Hindi, 2010
directed by:

Ajay Devgan as Pratap Kumar
Paresh Rawal as IPS Ajashatru Singh
Akshay Khanna as Sidhant Chaturvedi
Bipasha Basu as Geeta
Reema Sen

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳

Aakrosh would have been anything but smooth sailing for director Priyadarshan.  The story is an Indian replica of 1988's Mississippi Burning, which starred two of the finest actors in Hollywood, Gene Hackman and Willem Defoe. To step into the shoes of these great actors and to tell a great story must be very much like putting a square peg in a round hole.

That is what is both frustrating and engaging about Aakrosh, which attempts to take the racial and religious element of USA violence and put it into the caste and community element of India.  It works, but it feels sloppy somehow.  Especially discomforting is the scene of a burning trisoolam left outside the special agents' hotel.  We all know it is a bad fit, and at the same time like the concept because of its innovation.

Certainly, the movie does much for innovation, but it would seem odd that the murder of three activists by the KKK is transformed into an honor killing based on caste.   There is a certain lack of depth to a triple homicide being justified on the ground of intercaste relationships.  But, perhaps, there is something more to rural Indian life than meets a city kid's eyes.

Most of the family couldn't completely believe what they were seeing in the story, either, although they found the movie excellent in terms of acting and execution.

I would have to agree. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Winner - horsing around

Telugu, 2017
directed by Gopichand Malineni
Sai Dharam Tej as Siddharth Reddy / Siddu
Rakul Preet Singh as Sitara
Jagapati Babu as Mahendra Reddy
Mukesh Rishi as Dharmendra Reddy
Thakur Anoop Singh as Aadi
Ali as Horseman Babu
Vennela Kishore as Padma
Pruthviraj as Singham Sujatha

Mohan's Measure 

While the true critics were watching the screw-up at the Academy Awards, this armchair critic wound up at this screw-up of a movie.

The writers and director once again take us to their rendition of "La-La Land", a Hyderabad replete with enough room for quaint corrals and the high-stakes game of horse-racing.  While the idea is innovative, it is anything but that in its execution.

Sai Dharam Tej is Siddu, a guy who runs away from home at five, but still manages to become the creative head at a tabloid newspaper.  His father makes no effort to search for him, but instead spends his "hard-earned" father's money on religious rituals and charitable causes in the hopes his son will return. The typical evil-doers find out and come on board with a fake son.  In the meantime, Siddu falls in love at first sight of midriff with Sitara, played by Ms. Singh, who continues to allow the camera to focus on her torso, in spite of her pretty face, expressive eyes and somewhat believable lip sync.

Had they stayed with the story about horses, which is only loosely brought in for some comedy and sentiment, there could have been something to watch. But, someone who writes only storyboards has probably been "Moonlight"-ing as an actual screenwriter for this crazy excuse for a movie.

We cannot begin to explain what happened, but blame Steve Harvey for the mix-up.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru (D16) - the devil is in the details

Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru
(16 extremes)
Tamil, 2016
directed by Karthick Naren
Rehman as Deepak
Prakash Vijayaraghavan as Gautham
Ashwin Kumar as the aspiring cop
Karthikeyan as Melvin
Praveen as Mano
Bala Hasan as Prem
Yaashima Aanand as Shruti

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

As many readers know, I am really into film noir.  Its dark, captivating genre reminds us to be humble yet committed in life; it emphasizes its gray areas, and upholds the inevitable success of justice.  It is obvious that such film requires a certain emotional maturity to make, what to speak of write.  It requires a certain precision, a focus to details of emotion and personality.

Needless to say, to learn to Mr. Naren is just 21 years old is perhaps the most impressive thing I can say about D16.  It is profoundly classic noir, bringing an aging gentlemen together with a tough aspiring cop to discuss what it means to serve, and to recall the events of the baffling case which brought the older one to disillusionment and retirement.

But, there is more than flashback here.  The story is told from different angles; what-ifs are intermixed with facts.  The image of a psychotic killer plagues our mind, and we find ourselves just where the brilliant director wants us to be, where the cop is, outside of ourselves, confused, asking too many questions of ourselves and the film.  

Throughout it all, we are haunted with Rehman.  He is stoic, honest, unattached to the cops around him, and to the witnesses who fill him with information.  For him, it is a matter of doing the job and justice.  The risks result in a tragic accident which leaves him without a leg, and his young partner, Gautham, in a coma.  The years will pass without answers, with Divine Justice waiting in the wings, and a shocking answer is revealed, to our applause.

D16 is a like a fine wine or a good cup of coffee.  It invites you in, carefully sinks you in your seat, and sets your thoughts ablaze.