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  But this is superseded by an image of a Jesus-looking Rabbi in Catholic garb (with white collar), the Chief Rabbi reminding us of Gandalf, Gregorian chant passed off as Jewish hymn,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.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Naam Shabana - know when to step in, know when to leave

Naam Shabana
(name's Shabana)
2017, Hindi

directed by Shivam Nair

Taapsee Pannu as Shabana Khan
Akshay Kumar as Ajay Singh Rajput
Prithviraj Sukumaran as Tony / Mikhail
Manoj Bajpayee as Ranvir Singh
Anupam Kher as Om Prakash Shukla
Danny Denzongpa as Feroz Ali Khan

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

She has no makeup, dresses in conservative clothing, occasionally with a hijab; yet, she floors us with her performance.   Tapsee Pannu is both title character and star of this prequel to 2015's Baby, and she pulls off her character extremely well.

So, well in fact we find ourselves missing her in the few scenes she is not in.  In those scenes, we see Akshay Kumar reprising his role as the carefree super agent for the super secret spy agency which will eventually become Baby.  His role is supposed to be suave hero, but we find him manhandling poor Shabana, pulling her by the arm as if she were a troublesome kid, only stopping for a moment to ask the trite question, "Are you okay?", and then vanishing, waiting for the next time there is a need for a man to step in.

Prithviraj Sukumaran as Tony/Mikhail is a true man, and he flaunts it.  He is sheer class and demonic evil at the same time, and we find ourselves loving to hate him.

The classic love-hate relationship by Om Prakash and his job continues, but it feels like a bad fit in a plot focused on the strong woman with serious motivations.

But, there is a motive to all of this, as the story turns out to be a well thought out and well presented prequel to an equally entertaining film.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Kavan - Fake News

2017, Tamil

directed by K. V. Anand

Vijay Sethupathi as Thilak
T. Rajendar as Mayilvahanan
Vikranth as Abdul
Madonna Sebastian as Malar
Pandiarajan as Pillai
Akashdeep Saighal as Kalyan
Nassar as Police Commissioner (Guest Appearance)
Bose Venkat as Dheeran Maniarasu

Mohan's Measure ✳ ✳ ✳ ✳

Not since 1987's Broadcast News has there ever been such a bold satire of the television news industry and its focus on the bottom line over accuracy.  On the heels of President Trump's accusations comes this story of Thilak, a man who believes the real news is dramatic enough if brought to the fore, and goes about making it happen with the help of Mayilvahanan, a down-and-out owner of an amateur TV Station.

Indeed, it is Mr. Rajendar's one-line wit that keeps this movie going, and keeps the story entertaining.   His unique sardonic lines are fed to us to in a way they feel improvised, weaved in and around his inimitable Tamil rap for which he is famous.

Mr. Sethupathi fulfills his role as an action star/comedian, and brings along starlet Ms. Sebastian from his previous films to play an intelligent romantic lead.  She is refreshingly natural and believable, freed from the eye-candy arch-type which other actresses have to contend with.

If there is a weakness it is the seemingly forced acting and poor lip-sync of Mr. Venkat as the villain.   Mr. Rajendar plays off this, though, hinting that the villain is a North Indian and making it clear that his pseudo-Western outlook is the reason why he can't understand them or their values.

For when it comes to the power of the people versus the big bad corporate class, the people very much should and do win.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Khaidi No. 150 - Water, water, nowhere

Khaidi No. 150
(Prisoner No. 150)
2017, Telugu

directed by V. V. Vinayak

Chiranjeevi as 'Kaththi' Seenu and Konidela Shankar (Dual role)
Kajal Aggarwal as Lakshmi
Tarun Arora as Aggarwal
Brahmanandam as Doberman
Posani Krishna Murali as Borabanda Bujji
Ali as Malli

Mohan's measure ✳ ✳

Even in making exact copies, we have to allow for some poetic license.  But, how on earth did they come up with a character called "Doberman"?

This is just one of many varied questions you will ask of Khaidi No. 150, the Megastar's return to the big screen after several years.  Khaidi is a remake of Kaththi, Vijay's less than deserving blockbuster about farmers protesting against big corporations.

While the original is filled with comedy between Communist soliloquy, Chiranjeevi's remake is about trying to be serious in a less than believable movie which is really only about the music and midriffs.

Difficult to believe is how mainline pipes to the Megalopolis which is Hyderabad are above ground and are empty most of the time, enough time at least for the same aging group of farmers to camp out inside them.  With them in the under - no I guess it's overground -  is Kajal Aggarwal as Lakshmi, who does little justice to the little justice found in Samantha's role as Ankitha.

But, justice is somehow served, and unlike the previous version - this is a Chiranjeevi film, after all - both heroes are lauded.

I applaud the effort, but still have to raise the question, just what exactly is "kummudu"?