Mohan's Measures:

✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ Wow!
✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ Your money's worth
✳ ✳ ✳ Sure, why not?
✳ ✳ A one-time watch
Go for the popcorn

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru - trucking it in

Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru
(Theeran - Chapter 1)

directed by H Vinoth

Karthi as Theeran
Rakul Preet Singh as Priya
Abhimanyu Singh as Oma
Bose Venkat as Satya

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳

The complaints about the caste system in India blame the antiquated belief in people's being trapped by the upper castes into a state of fatalistic helplessness.  An arguable thought, until you see how the other castes are faring for themselves.   Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru holds no pretenses in presenting a true story of the North India Dalit communities and their firm hold on brutal, premeditated violence on a scale of the pandemic.  It took a special group of cops, honest to the core, courageous to the bone, zealous in their belief in a god of Justice, to infiltrate and catch the nefarious Owaria Mob.

The true story alone would have captured our attention. It could have been straight-laced, understated and devoted to duty.  But, that does not interest the South Indian movie-goer.  Instead, we are treated to the predictable  - an action hero, an eye-candy sacrificial lamb, and an over the top melodrama about how even the most heroic cops have thankless jobs.  All the masaala takes a truly amazing story and turns it into cheesecake.

Karthi is the usual beef-cake, who along with his buddy is driven early on to vengeance, because South India doesn't understand the concept of ethics.  Abhimanyu Singh is brought along not to be the leader of an uneducated group of mobsters, but to serve as a Ravana, powerful and womanizing; someone who from a single chair can drive men to acts of violence.  

All this comes to fore, both in reality and in the movie, because of the death of a Tamil politician. Sad that both the movie and real life forget the common man.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Justice League - Mother lode

Justice League 

Directed by Zack Snyder

Ben Affleck as Batman
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman 
Ray Fisher as Cyborg
Ciaran Hinds as Steppenwolf
Ezra Miller as Flash
Jason Momoa as Aquaman
Henry Cavill as Superman
Jeremy Iron as Alfred 
Amy Adams as Lois Lane

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳

Those having grown up with him will remember Superman speaking of "truth, justice and the American way." One can only imagine him resurrecting to the current leader of America to understand why the third part of his famous statement has now been intentionally removed. 

But, even his carefully staged return to life cannot save the poor scripting of this movie. Justice League tries very hard to make itself into an Avengers competitor. But the simple lack of chemistry just doesn't do the idea - pardon the pun - justice. What little humanistic banter there is feels like afterthought, put second to CGI villains and big guys being bashed against layers of steel and concrete. 

All the CGI seems like something we've seen before, a megalithic mixture of fire and metal dangling between Bahubali and Thor.

If there is a softening overtone, a sense of meaning behind all the chaos, it is Wonder Woman and Flash. Some of movie's funniest moments are seeing the innocent, self-described "handsome Jewish boy" watching the DC universe with wide eyed wonder, struggling to speak to the stunning Amazon woman. Ms. Gadot's flattered but amused smile is a Kodak moment. 

It is this which makes the Marvel Universe so much more appealing to me. For it is in the wonder of humanity being human we find our heroes to be super friends.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express - there is Good, there is Evil, and there is...

Murder on the Orient Express

directed by Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot
Tom Bateman as Bouc
Penélope Cruz as Pilar Estravados
Willem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman
Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff
Johnny Depp as Samuel Ratchett
Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen
Derek Jacobi as Edward Henry Masterman
Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot
Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard
Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

Suffice it to say, India is still deeply influenced by its British roots.  But, those expecting the dry wit and stoic eccentricity over high tea from the previous versions of this story are going to be disappointed.  The latest rendition of Agatha Christie's most famous novel is not about merry old England, but about Belgium, or at least Belgium's most famous fictional citizen, Hercule Poirot.

Precisely why this version belongs to the European Union world.  It is a Parisian Noir understanding of the story in which 13 people, trapped on a train, stuck in an avalanche, find a 14th brutally stabbed. And it is the thirteenth among them who introduces himself as "possibly the world's greatest detective".

There is something almost Catholic in the final scenes where 12 people are seated at a table facing their judge, jury and executioner.  A great crime has been done, and these 12 souls are the carriers of its pain, suffering at the reality of the horrors of what happened.

Orient Express cannot be pieced together in a British whodunit way, but should be watched for its emotion, its overarching sense of tragedy and poetic justice; all through the eyes of a Belgian who cannot help but feel, even repent, for all that is going on.  As the great detective says, "this is not America..."

This is perhaps the movie's greatest strength and greatest weakness; for in turning away from the British humor, it does great injustice to Dame Christie's novels, bringing in a sense of existentialism to the otherwise black and white world of right and wrong.

The actors, sets and CGI are alright with me, however, and so too is an interesting take on the whole detective plot.  For, in truth, do we not have, somewhere in our combined experience, a need for Divine Justice?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela - The chili chicken in the room

Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela
(an interlude in the land of crabs)

directed by Althaf Salim

Nivin Pauly as Kurien Chacko
Shanthi Krishna as Sheela Chacko
Lal as Chacko
Aishwarya Lekshmi as Rachel
Ahaana Krishna as Sarah Chacko
Siju Wilson as Tony Edayady
Srinda Arhaan as Mary Tony
Krishna Shankar as Subbu
Sharafudheen as Yesudas

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

A truth as true to film as is true to life - just keep on doing what you do best and all else will fall into place.

A truly fitting descriptor for Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela, a film whose story is much easier to understand than its title is to pronounce.  It is a simple story about a simple young man, who returns to his simple family to discover a less than simple issue - cancer, particularly breast cancer, as it strikes his mother, and millions of women each year. Indeed,  its zodiac symbol makes the entire world a land of crabs.

The fact that it does effect so many people, combined with the fact that this family is devoutly Catholic, makes this story believable, plausible, and lightly comical.  For you see, as Sheela says, making it through the  challenges in life needs only two things - faith and family.  And the Chacko family has both, and in a way that is uniquely their own. Each makes Sheela's illness their own - from the confused husband to the fashion-conscious daughter - providing support in ways only a family member can, and growing from that experience.

Is there good in it all?  No; not for the patient anyway.  For Sheela, played with due understated poise by Shanti Krishna, there is only falling hair, constant nausea, and sleepless nights with pain and discomfort.  But, she is strong, and in being so, expects others to be the same; what other support is there in life?  It is in this that the young man, Kurien, finds his purpose.

He always says he has made it in London, but we see little success in him.  Perhaps odd jobs with the help of other Indians; but mainly he is a sad sack.  One can see his desperation to come back to India, and in the hopes of a marriage, he finds reason to stay.  Marriage does not come through arrangement, but through empathy, with a young woman whose father is battling cancer too.  Empathy soon turns to friendship, but he is quick to learn to need to have patience for it to blossom into love.  

Love, patience, a positive outlook, all values that each of us must have if we are to survive, if we are to grow, and if we are to experience the Divine Present in all of us.  Nothing wrong with shedding a tear.

PSV Garuda Vega 126.18M - Cashing in your chip

PSV Garuda Vega 126.18M
2017, Telugu

directed by Praveen Satturu

Dr. Rajasekhar as Sekhar
Pooja Kumar as Swati
Kishore as George
Adith Arun as Niranjan Iyer
Nassar as NIA Head
Posani Krishna Murali as Pratap Reddy
Shraddha Das as Malini
Ali - as marriage counselor

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

PSV Garuda Vega finds succeeds in its being a straight and narrow, no nonsense action movie which is totally true to what it wants to be, a spy thriller.  While it has its share of comedy and one-liners, such would not be implausible in the world of super spies out to stop evil bad guys.

It is here that Kishore amazes us.  The stoic Kannada actor projects George as having a nature that is purely into the business of mayhem; in this case nuclear fuel deals that are so scandalous, it even amazes him.  

Amazing is the level of technology shown in this movie, gadgetry and hacking tools that would be the stuff of science fiction, if they were not in use today.  And at stake is an all too familiar enemy, the last bastion of authoritarian communism, North Korea, which is the highest bidder in the game of illegal dealings. One can only wonder at those who see the corruption of India as only preying upon the Indians.

The spy game is played extremely well by Dr. Rajasekhar, a one-time well-known Tamil actor whose voice continues to be dubbed in Telugu movies.  His roles as the clean cut good guy have worked for many years, so why change?  He adds a touch of humor to his role, as being the loving husband and father who finds so little time for his family and cannot figure out why they don't understand.  

Pooja Kumar does what she did in Vishwaroopam, playing a suspicious but rather ignorant housewife who cannot figure out what her husband is really all about.  But, all similarities to Vishwaroopam end there; this movie is truly serious about entertaining us and introducing us to a world where when it comes to profit, religion, ethnicity, language, nationality matter little, if at all.

We leave the theater fueled with excitement.

Thuparivaalan - "Sher-luck"

(the detective)

directed by Mysskin

Vishal as Kaniyan Poongundran
Prasanna as Manohar
Vinay as John Richardson Holcha/Devil
K. Bhagyaraj as Muthu
Andrea Jeremiah as Pritha
Anu Emmanuel as Mallika
Shaji Chen as ACP Vijayakumar
Abhishek Shankar as Madhivanan
Simran as Mrs Dhivakar

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳

No matter how many years ago they left, the British are still very much a part of India's identity, and no good Colonialist can even begin to pretend not to know Sherlock Holmes.

But, what director Mysskin fails to tell his audience is that this is not just Sherlock Holmes he is imitating, but rather Sherlock, the stylized, 21st Century adaptation of the same featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious and eccentric Mr. Holmes.  And, it is here that the film, from the onset, shows its failings.

There is a dark humor in the BBC series; an overarching sense that Holmes is not quite the rationalist he claims, that he is somehow involved in the dark sciences and that his relationship with Dr. Watson is at times verging on the homo-erotic.  There is also that mystery woman in his life, Mr. Holmes' only weakness and vice, a beautiful devil-may-care thief who turns to him occasionally for support and a helping hand.

Serious adaptations are made to "Tamilize" this obviously European plot.  The intelligent but bumbling Watson is replaced by Manohar, a cook, who at times is more stylish and intelligent than Kaniyan.

The thief and Mrs. Hudson are now put together as the housemaid, Mallika, a former prostitute who is killed to invoke the revenge angle that has to be brought into every action film.   As for Moriarty himself, he is now a foreigner called the Devil, who uses more brawn than brain to irritate the great detective.

The detective is just as much an irritation to the audience.  Unlike his role model, Kaniyan never completely reveals the logic he uses to come up with his deductions; its as if it is intuitively obvious, and the audience is one big laughing stock for not figuring it out.  He is also rather reckless, the gruesome killing of the above mentioned housemaid is something that the original Holmes never would have allowed.

There is enough violence and bloodshed in this movie to fill Costco's aisles with tomato sauce.  This too is a failing from the subtlety of the original stories about the immortal Mr. Holmes, who finds clues not in blood or fingerprints, but in how the room is laid out after the crime.

This lack of subtlety, along with jumpy editing and unemotional acting, leaves us clueless. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Maanagaram/Nagaram - When the lights go down in the City...

(Metropolis/The City)

Tamil/Telugu, 2017

director - Lokesh Kanagaraj

Sri - as Divya/Regina's new employee
Sundeep Kishan - as Divya/Regina's love interest
Regina Cassandra as Divya/Regina
Charlie as Cab Driver for PKP
Ramdoss as Winnings

Madhusudhan Rao as P.K.Pandian/Prasad (PKP)

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

I have included both the Tamil and Telugu titles for this film, because it truly deserves recognition and praise as being one of the best to come out of Kollywood this year.  As expected, however, Telugu critics gave this a lower rating; simply because the film was made and set in Chennai.

I was 19 years old when I discovered that unlike the tikky-takky West, each city on the other side of the pond has a pulse, a certain overarching tone to itself that one can feel and connect with.  It is as if each has a deity which guards the city and provides it with soul.

For Chennai, that guardian deity is Mari, the goddess of rain.  Like rain, she is unpredictable, emotional. She is seemingly cruel, even cold at times.  But, after all is said and done, she offers hope and brings about valuable assets to our lives.  And, much like the culture of Tamil which praises her,  she brings about meaning in life in her belief in humanity.

In an unexpectedly convincing performance, Regina Cassandra symbolizes this goddess, the impetus for bringing four strangers into a series of well-timed coincidences, initiating them into the rules of her city. To  a young man seeking a job, she is the challenge that stands between him and a career; to a former lover, she offers yet another challenge in finding his purpose; to a third man, a desperate cab driver, she is the catalyst to finding direction in the City; and to a fourth, Winnings, she is the one who prevents his entrance into the big leagues.

The pulse of the City itself does the rest.  Chennai, the center-point of the time-honored tension between conservatism and modernity,  human decency and barbarism, deep spirituality and blatant atheism. It is here that four strangers from small towns find torture, struggle, pain, and eventual growth and wisdom into just what it means to be one of the City's adopted children.

The meaning is offered by Charlie in poignant self-inquiry - perhaps rather than focusing on what we want from the City, maybe we should focus on what we can give to it.

As goes Chennai, so goes the world!  Bravo Director Nagaraj on a truly brilliant noir!