Mohan's Measures:

✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ Superb
✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ Excellent
✳ ✳ ✳ Good
✳ ✳ Not Bad

Monday, May 22, 2017

Comrade in America - Chetan Guevara

Comrade in America (CIA)
2017, Malayalam
directed by Amal Neerad

Dulquer Salmaan as Aji Matthew 
Chandini Sreedharan as Pallavi
Karthika Muralidharan as Sarah Kurien
Siddique as Mathew
Parvathy as Aji's mother
Soubin Shahir as Joemon
Dileesh Pothan as Hari
Jinu Joseph as Syril
John Vijay as Arul

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. - Che Guevara

CIA presents an interesting scenario to those of you who followed the prevailing trade winds and voted for the current Administration.  What if the wall that is proposed to be built keeps out not only people from Mexico, but fellow residents of our Motherland? 

Mr. Salmaan, as always, provides us with a more than convincing performance as Aji, a impressionable young man aiming to find himself through his imaginary friends, Marx, Lenin, and Guevara.  Following the male instinct, he attempts to meet the above quote by falling in love with Sarah, a US raised girl who is studying in Kerala.  

The girl is sent back to America by force, and, in classic Indian fashion, the young man must go there to rescue her from an arranged marriage.  All else traditional stops there, because the way this young man comes up with is most interesting: travel to Socialist Central America, and get help from his fellow comrades to cross the border into the US.

The satire and deep humanity of this journey is brought to light, as he and his Sri Lankan Tamil mentor must face hardship and catastrophe as they wind their way with a ragtag team of refugees to Texas. What they face seems worth it for the happiness that will soon be theirs - or will it?

Filmed on location along the Mexico/Texas border, the movie both brings a laugh and tear, making both the hero and the audience, in an understated but sincere way, come of age into the realities of life.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ivan Veramathiri - hold the fish

Ivan Veramathiri
(This guy is different)
2013, Tamil
directed by M Saravanan

Vikram Prabhu as Gunasekaran
Surbhi as Malini
Ganesh Venkatraman as Aravindan IPS
Vamsi Krishna as Eeswaran

Hariraj as Sadasivam

Mohan's Measure 

After seeing the highest grossing Indian film of all time, I wind up seeing a film that grosses me out.  Ivan Veramathiri uses terrible amounts of both direct and implied violence to convincingly capture the audience's attention, but remains ever true to the Indian fetish for style over substance in telling what is only variation to a formulaic film.

Gunasekaran is not what it seems, and it is made obvious when he gifts his love interest with a bagful of goldfish on the bus.  Even more so, however, is his means and method for vigilante justice - gagging, binding, and eventually locking his nemesis in the stinking bathroom of a building under construction.  In doing so, we see something of the Superman in his character which for the rest of movie, really isn't there.

Instead, he is plastic, almost lifeless, in his screwball romance with Malini.  Even the charming smile of Ms. Surbhi just doesn't bring any chemistry to the scenes.

Vamsi Krishna, however, brings great justice and realism to the role of villain, and we actually wind up feeling for the bad guy - despite his being a mass murderer - more than cheering on the hero. 

After what feels like hours of repetitive fight scenes in which both bash each other black and blue, we are left with a bad taste in our mouth; if only from the villain drinking water from the toilet.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Baahubali 2 - Fire and Reign

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion
2017 Telugu/Tamil

directed by S S Rajamouli

Mohan's Measure✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

Prabhas as Amarendra/Mahendra Bahubali
Rana Daggubati as Bhallala Deva
Anushka Shetty as Devasena
Ramya Krishnan as Sivagami
Satyaraj as Kattappa
Nassar as Pijjala Deva
Subbaraju as Kumara Varma
Tamannaah as Avantika

What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in
Reason? how infinite in faculty? in forme and mouing
how expresse and admirable? in Action, how like an Angel?
in apprehension, how like a God? - William Shakespeare

It is humanity's never-ending search for the meaning of life which takes us from the world of the ordinary into the world of myth; myth, not as falsity, but as seeing the world through the eyes of poets and philosophers.  The Baahabuli series is certainly this kind of myth, hearkening to a time when it was possible for human beings to become gods.  To do so, say the Tamils, requires us to discover what it is to be truly human, to put others before ourselves, to find purpose in a Higher Good.

Such a sacredness is not necessarily divine.  Rather, it is primal, found in the basic human passions which we all hide, but can certainly relate to when shown in a movie.

It is this passion, driven by a femininity all too sacred, which defines Ms. Shetty's character as Devasena.  She appears to us as a goddess, a vision, as she does to the young Amarendra.  It is her incredible on-screen presence as a woman and a warrior, combined with her strong chemistry with Prabhas, which makes the first half of the movie mesmerize us and want for more.  

It is in the second half where we go from mesmerized to shocked, when we see to what levels of darkness human beings can go when their thoughts go from others to themselves.  Rana presents us a man possessed, driven to madness by always being second best to an adopted younger brother.  It is through this dark side that he brings the insecure Pijjala into his fold, and it is the duo of the crooked and the mad upon whom justice needs to be eked in ways that would tear apart a kingdom. The kingdom's anarchy serves as allegory to a deep ethical question, putting Sivagami's motherly love in strife with her Queen's power.  

All the way along, through the ironies of Fate, Kattappa stands humbled; a mere slave and helpless observer to the chaotic ways of people who would dare to be gods as much as demons.

Baahubali 2 is through and through, and not unintentionally, a South Indian tale, in its sublime study of ethics and Dharma, its dark undercurrents, and in its view of God as present in every action.  To watch is not just to say you saw a good movie, but to have a religious experience!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ezra - lacks in bagels

Malayalam, 2017

directed by Jay K

Prithviraj Sukumaran as Ranjan Mathew
Priya Anand as Priya
Tovino Thomas as A. C. P. Shafeer Ahammed
Sudev Nair as Abraham Ezra 
Vijayaraghavan as Fr. Samuel
Sujith Shankar as Rabbi Marques
Pratap K. Pothen as col. Nambiyar 
Babu Antony as Rabbi David Benyamin

Mohan's measure 

Ezra is the stuff of classic horror movies; indeed it is refreshing in that it adheres to the stereotypical Western formula.  A couple moves into a dreary old mansion and unlocks a box containing the spirit of an angry soul.  Weird sounds, strange facial expressions, ghosts in the mirror, a creepy looking priest, all the stuff is right there and hits us at just the right time for a scary, albeit predictable tale.

There is one problem. The story is supposed to be Jewish!  For those less familiar, unlike Catholicism, Judaism is a pragmatic religion, emphasizing life on this earth and our relationship to other people as being more important than qualifying oneself for Heaven.  As a result, there is little if anything, about creepy ghosts, possession, or any of the other things which make a horror movie...well...horrifying.

While the only Hebrew word in the movie, "dybbuk" - a lost soul who possesses the body of a living person -  is known in Orthodox Judaism, it has been described by Rabbis as being more of a psychiatric condition, rather than a supernatural one.

Super, however, as always, is Mr. Prithviraj, whose red, sleepless eyes and worried constitution convinces us that something is not quite Kosher with his pretty bride.  But this is superseded by an image of a Jesus-looking Rabbi in Catholic garb (with white collar), the Chief Rabbi reminding us of Gandalf, Gregorian chant passed off as Jewish hymn, and an exorcism replete with Jewish guys losing their Yarmulkes as they fly across the room.  Worse yet, the Jewish exorcist wears a cape which has a yellow star on it - someone call B'nai B'rith. And since when did the Star of David serve as an icon?

If this is a Jewish movie, then I'm the Flying Nun.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Kuttram 23 - robbing the bank

Kuttram 23
(Crime 23)
2016, Tamil

directed by Arivazhagan

Arun Vijay as Vetrimaaran
Mahima Nambiar as Thendral
Thambi Ramaiah as Thirupathi
Aravind Akash as Gaurav
Vamsi Krishna as John Matthew
Amit Bharghav as Aravind

Abhinaya as Sri Abhinaya

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ 

Perhaps it was because I was tired, or because I was still getting over Mani Ratnam's over-hyped excuse for a movie. But, I really could not get into the critically acclaimed Kuttram 23.

No doubt, the story is unusual, a crime-thriller set around the cutting-edge world of reproductive medicine.  Arun Vijay is a cop initially assigned to a missing person's case, but, through a forced scene intended to cameo the actor's father, soon finds himself in the world of corrupt medical practices and a bizarre psychotic killer.

Mahima Nambiar plays his love interest, but the acclaimed actress seems to fade into the background as the story plays itself out. She is not quite eye-candy, not quite pivotal role, but an odd middle ground which just doesn't quite fit.

Sadly, the villain himself seems to occupy the same lost space, with an entire network of corrupt doctors and goons ahead of him who use his maniacal vision for blackmail and murder.  In fact, we can question why we need the guy; wouldn't just a random sample of male reproductive agent do to create the setup for blackmail? 

The question is never answered, because of Vetrimaaran's constant desire to be an action figure, who beats and randomly kills the bad guys for getting on his nerves.  There are far too many over the top action sequences in this picture to keep our attention; so much so, even the song sequences are few and far between.

Sadly, I was kept far from thoroughly enjoying what would otherwise have been a clever thriller.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Take Off - God's Angels

Take Off
2017, Malayalam

directed by Mahesh Narayanan


Parvathy as Sameera
Kunchacko Boban as Shaheed
Fahadh Faasil as Manoj
Prakash Belawadi as Indian embassy officer
Asif Ali as Faizal
Parvathi T as Shaheed's mother
Anjali Aneesh Upasana as Shaheed's sister
Prem Prakash as Jayamohan, Crescent Group CEO

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

Mosul, Tikrit, Baghdad.  Names of cities that we all hear every day on the major news networks.  They are just names to us, left only to our imaginations.  But, millions of people are in the midst of that horrendous state which the US reluctantly calls a war.  It is a civil war, both sides struggling to gain power over teeming populations whose only commonality is their Name for God.

Take Off is fiction, but it based on the true story of 24 adventurous nurses from South Asia who join hundreds of others in Iraq such that they can bring comforts to their families back home.  In many ways we can all relate to them, trying to make a living, each struggling with their tragedies, dreams, and thoughts of their loved ones.

It is in this that a newlywed couple, both Muslim, find themselves unwitting heroes and victims to a brutality they had never seen before, and would never want to see again. Their religion is a coincidence; but it preserves their life, for how much and how long always in question.

Ms. Parvathy and Mr. Boban share a chemistry which the previous film's director could only dream of.  They are both character actors, and we can hardly believe our eyes at their everyday looks; their limited makeup, their pimples and bald spots unhesitatingly revealed to us, as they are.  The characters are careworn, wishing that life could be different, but knowing and working within the bonds of knowing it cannot be.  In as much, they see death as much a part of the human condition as life, and are willing to do anything to lengthen the latter, even risking life to prevent the body of a dead man from being riddled with bullets.

The understated acceptance of the world as it is, rather than pipe-dreams, is what separates the East from the West, creating a spirituality much more interwoven into the lives of individuals, differentiating it from the ideology filled beliefs of zealots.  It is that spirituality which motivates Mr. Faasil's character, Manoj,  to become the pivotal character in saving those who would otherwise have been cast aside as collateral damage.

It is in that kind of faith, hopeful and realistic, where humanity exists, and it is there among the matured on both sides; another thing which the West would perhaps fail to fully understand.  Take Off puts us directly into a place known only for war, and shows us how simple humanity can be found even in the midst of hell.  Sadly, such is found only in a few, and they forever remain heroes.

Kaatru Veliyidai - apologetic excuses

Kaatru Veliyidai/Cheliyaa
(Breezy Expanse)
2017, Tamil/Telugu

directed by Mani Ratnam

Karthi as Officer Varun Chakrapani "VC"
Aditi Rao Hydari as Dr. Leela Abraham
K. P. A. C. Lalitha as Achamma
Shraddha Srinath as Girija Kapoor
Rukmini Vijayakumar as Dr. Nidhi
Delhi Ganesh as Col. Mithran
RJ Balaji as Dr. Illyaas Hussain
Sivakumar Ananth as Girish Reddy

Mohan's Measure: ummm...I don't think my ratings system goes that low

Long before many of you were born, Tom Cruise starred in a movie called Top Gun.  The movie was proclaimed the greatest Navy recruiting film ever, because it depicted Navy pilots as handsome muscular studs romancing wild, independent girls.  The movie was filled with spectacular shots of actual fighter planes, beautiful scenery and, of course, steamy romance between a couple trying to make their relationship work.

Mani Ratnam's new movie has a muscular clean-cut stud, a wild, independent love interest, and spectacular scenery interlaced with actual fighter planes.  But, it has nothing more.

The movie is like looking at one of those cheesy paintings put up in model homes; they have function but no soul.  What is supposed to be breezy and romantic really involves Karthi looking like a maniacal womanizer, and Ms. Hydari staring at him with "deer in the headlights" eyes.  He keeps hurting her, and then he apologizes to her, and it goes on and on, more times than a gangster at the confessional.

I had to keep my eyes propped open with toothpicks, even through the trite chase and explosion action sequence; the only sequence to actually tell you that around all the googly looks and misunderstandings, there was actually a war going on.

I wish our eyes would light up to the fact that Mani Ratnam has seriously lost his touch, the films of the 90s the only things he can speak about without embarrassment.