Movie Reviews, Commentary & More

Ilayaraja's Melodies - II

8. Poove Ilaya Poove, Kozhi Koovudhu - That men in love are poets is something known to all Indian cinema audience. Of the loads of songs fitting the 'man describing the beauty of his woman' situation in Tamil movies, this one stands out not just because of Raja, but also because of its lyrical beauty which just impeccably sits on top of the tune. When Malaysia Vasudevan at his breezy best delivers the line ' Ilampalingu nagam serthadhe, nilavu adhil mugam parthadhe', I can only pity those who don't speak the language for the tune assumes a greater depth with those fantastic exaggeration's. Though it starts and ends with western touches, the middle course is royally set in Raja's Tamil-esque way with a soothing tabla and short breaths of flute accompanying the charanam. This song embodies the collection when people with misty eyes say 'in the 80's...'.

Ilayaraja's Melodies - Part I

Ilayaraja's Melodies - I

I will present a list of Raja's 10 melodies in the forthcoming days. They are by no means 'my top 10', for they keep varying all the time and I can come up with dozens of such lists. Though it's no countdown, I number them for the heck of it.

10. Indhaman endhan sondhaman, Karagattakaran - Such a gracious flow of voices in spell-binding sinusoids at a leisurely pace that you would think it's easy to compose melodies. Huh? I don't know if its the tabla that accompanies through the main course or the group of violins and flute that beautify the interludes that puts me to a semi-sleep state with a smug face. A romantic lightness pervades here, be it the lyrical word play (ennathan unnai ennithan) or Chitra's yearning rendition of those words; even the shenai interlude, which has a native pathos in it sounds just right for a happy couple. A just-about-perfect piece once can compose for rural love birds.

9. Elangathu Veesudhe, Pithamagan - The opening flute piece contemplates if it should stop breezing or just mellow down and pick up the momentum again. For such a serene mood piece which starts with a simple and absorbing pallavi, there are numerous beautiful minor variations in the charanam. A magnificent bass guitar accompanies Sriram Parthasarthy's smooth voice setting almost a prelude for a meditative session. But not quite, an interlude is totally dominated by percussion which makes the piece seem apart from the whole, but when you see the visual you'd know why Raja did that. It was the director who wanted a beautiful aberration and the meastro has simply obliged. One of the rare occasions where the choreography comes close to the composition.

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And the Silambarasan Award Goes to...

Nobel personally didn't give away any Nobel prize.
Abel personally didn't give away any Abel prize.

But today in the Jodi No.1 finals, Simbu handed over the prestigeous Simbu award. He also mentioned that Jodi No.1 paved the path for self-realization. It's only after this show he saw who he really was/is/whatever. Seriously, I'm not making this stuff... watch the final few minutes on Youtube. A defining moment in Simbu's life. Vijay TV is making strides in family entertainment.

With tears of joy running down my cheek, I applauded.

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Milestone, Marketing, Miscellany

Time to indulge -
  • Yesterday, my hit count crossed 30,000. Now, that's just peanuts for a lot of movie sites, which on an average have as many visitors everyday. But these peanuts are special to me; baby steps no doubt, but ScreenArt is moving forward.
  • Many thanks to the few regular visitors - Varaha, Suresh, Shreeja, Randramble... sorry if I've missed any other names - I don't know you unless you comment here. (My feedburner says that there are 25 subscribers as of today).
  • My review of Babel is the biggest puller. I estimate that somewhere around 3K visits were from search results for variations of Babel. My pieces of Tamil comedy artistes comes next to Babel.
  • If you've read my review of Babel & those three pieces, you'll know that they stand out in the crowd of posts I've made - they really took some writing energy and it has showed off in the results.
  • I was initially drawn towards James Berardinelli's movie site: He's my Drona, but it's been a while since I visited him - I haven't grown tired, but I find his reviews very objective. I have also learnt/absorbed a lot from Roger Ebert of Chicago SunTimes and Stanley Kauffman of TNR.
  • I only critic that I find amusing all the time is Stephen Hunter of Washington Post - he's funny, sharp, ignores conventional reviewing and creates his own style.
  • I wouldn't regret if some bug were to clean all of my entries written before a year. I can see a forced tone in many of those reviews. The only purpose they serve is to remind me of my growth and integrity.
  • Before I invested time and energy into ScreenArt, I was quite frequently about non-movies stuff. With this milestone, I wish to spend some of my time consistently on ScreenAct too, my other blog where I ramble about anything but movies.
  • Though I can't reply to all the comments I receive, I read all of them and try to reply.
  • Long time readers will know that I still haven't written reviews for two of my favourite movies - Schindler's List and Michael Madana Kama Rajan. I fear that I haven't grown as a writer to do justice to these movies. But there's no point in dilly-dallying, I'll write them soon and may be after a few years I will read them with disdain.
  • I received an offer from Behindwood's editorial desk. After seeing that their style and mine clash, we had to let it go.
  • Just to generate traffic, I tried some stunts: include images, come up with top 10 lists, write a piece on the happening thing, etc. I just couldn't keep myself at it... I just have one top 10 favourite scenes list in my blog and I squirm whenever I read it. I tried including a picture of Rajini in a 'masala' piece, but later took it down.
  • I don't promise that I won't come up with lists in the future or include images, but only I find myself completely convinced of the need. I'm currently compiling a short list of Ilayaraja's melodies. That should be out shortly. I have also thought about a top 10 movies list every year - but the problem is that I don't see many of the blockbusters, which essentially rules me out.

Irreversible - Movie Review

In my modest cinema viewing history (approximately 700 movies) I have never walked out of a movie because its brutal - and I've seen 'The Passion of the Christ', 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Salo' without as much as battering an eyelid or twitching a toe. And then comes this French movie called 'Irreversible' and hits me like a hurricane. To be fair, I should warn you of a couple of cruel scenes deliberately composed to shake you: a murder and a rape. I sat through the murder with shock and I walked out of the rape visibly shaken. After about a month, I gathered enough courage to finish this movie, very carefully skipping the rape scene. Now that I've seen this movie (of course, barring those few hellish moments) I can tell you that its a rewarding experience, visually and artistically. I recommend, but only for the very strong-hearted, and please note that I don't belong to that category.

There isn't a structured, flowing screenplay and what one finds in its place is improvisations. The movie has very few scenes when compared to a regular movie, which is obviously the result of extremely long shots. Now, this is taxing the actors, for a single blemish could result in the director calling for a repeat shot and with no concretely written dialogues for the lead artistes in most of the scenes and the supporting cast trying their best not to intrude into the main frame. At the end of the movie, I was overwhelmed by the level of performances the three protagonists have delivered, especially Monica Bellucci donning a thoroughly demanding role.

Though this isn't formatted as a message movie, I can easily pick two damn strong messages: the results of losing oneself to the moment; more precisely, the effects of letting the impulse rule the mind. And the second one is pointing out the stark reality of the pervasive presence of beasts in human skin. Most of the movie recounts the events of a fatal evening in a Paris suburb. Alexandra and Marcus are your normal couple with their shares of fights and blushes. Pierre is Marcus' friend and Alexandra's ex-boyfriend. [Spoiler] In a raucous party one weekend, Alex decides to leave early with Marcus staying in the party house. When she takes a lonely subway, she encounters a pimp who very violently rapes and then beats her to coma. When this event dawns on Marcus and Pierre, they decide to deliver justice through their own hands and trace the pimp to a gay bar. Acting on the moment, Pierre pulps a man to death with a fire extinguisher, which I think is not the pimp but someone else. [/Spoiler]

The movie is told in reverse chronology, so towards the end of the movie, we see a normal happy couple but we can't leave the chair with a good feeling because of our knowledge of the supreme tragedy that has descended on them. There aren't any dramatic scenes or unbelievable events: these are the things we read about in newspapers and the director Noe, very subtly and very firmly pushes the message that this could be happening to you; you're as vulnerable as the guy you see on the TV news. In spite of skipping those critical 9 minutes, I felt a hard slap from which I recovered days later.
Monica Bellucci delivers a riveting performance that just blows everything away. This stands taller than the other best female performances I've seen: a courageous portrayal of Phoolan Devi by Seema Biswas in 'Bandit Queen' and Valentina Cervi as a struggling painter in an era of men in 'Artemisia'.

The initial scenes gives the audience an idea of what is about to come: rapidly swirling camera transitions inside a gay bar with extreme sex and a low-frequency buzz for a background music generate a sense of revolt. Many viewers are said to have left the theatre in the first few minutes and a good chunk of those who stayed put left once the (in)famous subway rape scene began. The extreme cruelty lies in the absolute non-commercialization: no background score; a static-as-stone camera; her piercing screams for help; and finally to compound the reality factor, a young man steps into the subway, witnesses what's happening from the behind, stays there for a few moments and walks back without raising a hue - thereby implying the helplessness of the audience to do nothing about such a situation. In another totally improvised scene where Alex, her boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend travel in a metro which must have gone on for a challenging few minutes, they all talk like regular people discussing sexual intimacy, needs of a woman in a relationship and how one feels left out. The only thing great about this scene is how natural is looks, sounds and feels - there is no sense of artificiality or hurry infused, the actors are just relaxed and laid back and follow a natural rhythm that befits the nature of discussion. Typical French.

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Mini Reviews

Good Year
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe pair again, for a gentle stroll. A mechanical man always after money gets to spend a week in a French chateau - after discovering the joy of a deliberate country life and the prospect of a budding love he ditches his high-speed London life. A feel good movie that really feels good at the end.

Hot Fuzz
The IMDb rank for this movie misled me - a slim plot and slapstick comedy can only help a screenplay so much. A gang of villains disguised as innocuous villagers try to clean up miscreants (read: kill em all) so that they consistently receive the best village award. This movie is about 1 hour long. Recommended for insomniacs.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I curse myself for making an entry for this movie in the Mini Review category. A magnificent love story without any cliches at all. A shy and introvert Jim Carrey (think about that for a couple of seconds) and the crazy out-going Kate Winslet fall in love, fight, break-up and then .... The genius of Charlie Kauffman's screenplay is in his daring originality.

The Pianist
A story that must have been very personal for Roman Polanski, the Polish director who escaped the Nazi camps. The journey of a pianist through the tough years of occupation told with deceptive simplicity without any manipulation. Adrien Brody in the lead role adorns the story with a magnificent performance.

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Snatch - One Minute Review

I don't remember the last time I had such great fun while watching a gangster/heist genre told in a back & forth and then back-to-front with a lot of characters, but doesn't gloss away any characterizations and packs the story with punches and ironies... well now I remember, it's 'Pulp Fiction'. While on the way to rob a bank, the wonderfully versatile Benicio Del Toro disguised as a Jewish scholar talks of the translation of Bible where the translators substituted 'virgin' for 'young woman' and how the whole story took a wrong turn. This exactly reminds one of the foot massage talk between Jackson and Travolta before they shoot a few renegades in 'Pulp Fiction'. Snatch' is a step ahead of 'Pulp Fiction' when it comes to dialogues - cool, witty and sharp; but a bit low on the style factor. But what's lost in the style department is copiously made up in the pace - the editor must have been the busiest man in the British film circuit while working on this movie. You show me a single sagging scene in this movie, and I will... need I bother to challenge?

The movie is about many gangs, ranging from the juvenile to the hardened mafia, running after a piece of 84-carat diamond. While the diamond keeps changing hands, we get to know the attitudes and lifestyles of those who chase the gem: a man's weakness for gambling costs his life; a man's love for his mother costs the mafia's lives; helpless boxing promoters fighting to save their lives; a Russian don refusing to give up his life; a hit man accidentally losing his life; clueless street fighters caught in the big game are juggled with their lives. There's much more - terrific performances, laugh out loud brilliant lines and a convoluted yet superbly lucid screenplay and fluent direction. If the word masterpiece is to be reserved only for those movies that define a genre, transcend time and set milestones, this movie may fall a little short. But who gives a damn - 'Snatch' has 100% entertainment value and that by itself qualifies it as a masterpiece.


Bharathiraja's Woes

Sun TV. Deepavali. Patti mandram. Cinema - boon or bane.

One would have expected Bharathiraja to be a bit coherent and slightly sensible. His body language befitted a political leader's rally speech and his slurred words were proof of homo erectus. On speaking of Tamil cinema's contributions, he cited an Indian family settled in Chicago for 40 years. A couple have children who're in their mid-twenties and though they rarely converse in Tamil, they're fluent when they talk. Bharathiraja wondered how was this possible. And then the couple illuminate him of the truth: through Sun TV, yes for the past two decades (Maran must have had a secret transmission service even before satellite television was introduced in India) the kids had fed on Sun TV which has served as their Tamil life line. Truly magnificent reasoning.

Update: The one and only T.Rajendar (homo sabilis) does a mimicry at the end of the show that makes you cry and laugh at the same time. Another reason to be proud of Tamil cinema.