Movie Reviews, Commentary & More

Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf

In a scintillating performance, Marion Cotillard paints a picture of Edith Piaf in La Via En Rose. The picture is not absolutely complete, but its full of fulfilling segments that gives the audience a peek into the world of the great singer. Some critics have called her role as a 'high quality imitation' , but its not. Marion gets under the skin of the Piaf - she not only walks and talks like her, but waits and smiles and shouts and looks and drinks... her body language is so accomplished that she grasps & emanates the essence of the character. Costumes, make-up and production design help her a lot - the viewer is transported to a different place & time just by the visual achievements. Not to mention the strong script which has helped Marion in giving life to Edith Piaf. This could very well be the high point in Marion's career because its difficult to surpass something like this outstanding performance.

One interesting point to note when it comes to Oscar winners in the leading actress category in the past 8 years is that 7 of them were playing a real life character. I hope the members of the academy aren't biased towards biopictures.

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Probably the lowest budget advertisement in a presidential campaign.

Free Flow in Kadhalikka Neramillai

There is such a stark difference between the performances of the Nagesh / Baliah duo and the rest of the cast in 'Kadhalikka Neramillai'. Consider a scene between V.S.Raghavan & Muthuraman: the son comes home, the father asks him a few questions, the son answers, the mother interrupts, cut. The transaction of words is governed by a rule, rather than spontaneity or naturalism. On close observation a viewer can clearly see that one actor is waiting for the other to complete his line so that he can begin his line. This is the same with body language - there are many shots where an actor walks upto a certain point and stops right at a point where the director has instructed him to for the best focus or frame symmetry or whatever behind-the-camera reason.

In real life, people don't conduct conversations that way; one guy starts his response well before the other is finished resulting in an overlap-dialogue. And there are pauses where either parties don't have anything to say after a round of dialogues. The threads of Nagesh & Baliah in this movie are solid examples of dialogue delivery. In an era where the emotions associated with dialogues came from shower heads, these guys opened up like Niagara. The classic scene where Nagesh narrates a thriller-horror scene to Baliah has been very well dissected that I have nothing to add other than express my awe at their vocal chord modulations & facial muscle contortions.

Nagesh's interactions with Sachu are terrific in the sense that how a director of Sridhar's calibre might have had a tough time with a new face like Ravichandran. Of course, Ravichandran's performance is artificial at the worst and ultra-bland at the best. When ever Nagesh, the budding director here, bangs his head at Sachu's acting disability, I wonder what went through Sridhar's mind. Baliah's reactions in the presence of the older Muthuraman is supremely enjoyable. The slide from the authoritative estate owner to someone like a petty businessman is extreme. Like the cartoons, there are no subtleties for the viewer to discern - the expressions are out in the open for everyone to see. His transition from a proud, authoritative figure to a submissive, controllable man is just binary - there are no in-between expressions.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter who the hero was or who got paid better. People still remember Baliah, Nagesh, K.V.Thangavelu, Chandrababu.... It's fun to watch these guys repeatedly as opposed to somebody like S.S.R or A.M.Raja. Action comes not only from an understanding of the screenplay but from an element that is twined with the inherent personality of the actor. These actors can transform some of the boring lines into funny snippets because they express themselves in those lines. Coming back to 'Kadhalikka Neramillai', this is a funny movie because it stars a couple of good comedians and has a script filled with funny lines. Replace Ravichandran & Muthuraman with Tom & Jerry and the movie will do just as well.

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Death Proof's Car Chase

One of the recent car chases etched strongly on my memory cells is from 'Bourne Identity' where the mini blazes through the narrow streets of Paris. But the immediacy & urgency in the sequence is generated by too many shots from various angles from inside & outside the car with some good music. The thrill is concocted but very much there.

I saw 'Death Proof' by Tarantino last week. You got to give it to the man - he just loves old movies and the final car chase, though not high on technique (because of the screenplay, a throwback to the sixties), its pure thrill. You just see two cars chasing & dashing each other and a woman holding on to her nerves. But the adrenalin this chase scene generates would be in litres. Tarantino said: Every time a stunt happens, there's twelve cameras and they use every angle for Avid editing, but I don't feel it in my stomach. It's just action.

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Ginger & Cinnamon

A teenage girl desperately trying to lose her virginity slaps a man who is passing out after drinking much. Too bad, he can't help her. And too bad, there's nobody to help the audience either. There's just too much talk and too little happening to hold my interest. A 15-year old girl cons her 30-year old aunt into a island beach resort where the young one mightily tries to get laid and the older one, who is freshly single after breaking a eight year relationship, wants to look at the world from a different perspective - essentially offering the viewer nuggets of wisdom about sex & relationship. American comedy sitcom's do a better job at offering such advice.

IMDb Link

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Belle Epoque

This Oscar-winning Spanish movie is just damn too light. It's the kind of movie where you walk out of the theatre and say to yourself "Now what do I do." The story is set in the early 1930s and has political and religious undercurrents - but the treatment is so frivolous that the audience are assured by the director that they don't have to be worried or joyed if a dialogue regarding the church or republic offends or defends their views.

The story is about four beautiful women chasing an young vulnerable soldier. Well, it's not much of a chase for any of the ladies as the young man positions himself at vantage locations. The movie begins with a crazy joke - Fernando, a young soldier has deserted his camp and he walks himself into a couple of police officers. (And I can't think of a police officer who has played an intelligent role if the story is set in the first half of the century.) With their lazy movements and fickle demeanor, they end up killing each other over a silly rule of law. The execution of this scene is so dramatic that it sets the tone for what is about to unfold later.

Four daughters visit their father for their summer break in a villa where Fernando has assumed the role of a cook. Since the youngest of the ladies is a virgin, she is constantly pushed out of sexual gossips. The first three ladies have a strong crush and make advances that result in 'consummation' - just to use an archaic word. And after every night spent with a lady, Fernando feels obligated to talk to the father to ask the daughter's hand. The daughter's don't want to show themselves off as sex-hungry beasts but at the same time don't even entertain the thought of a long-term relationship.

The books and movies and cultural stories that were part of my up bringing taught me the exact opposite: it's the women who wanted a stable relationship and the men just wanted to fling and fly away. Fernando, with his puppy-like face feels betrayed when the women use him. Finally, the virgin of the house (played by a young Penelope Cruz) matches his innocence and longing for something more than sensual. What's astonishing is the sexual freedom of the era this picture paints. In a scene that is 100% intended to be funny a husband says to another man who has been dating his wife that he'll be done very quickly with his wife, almost like asking his permission without offending his sensibilities.

IMDb Link

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Sex & Lucia

A title more simple & direct than this one is hard to come by: the movie is about Lucia and she has... well, a lot of sex. The explicitness here almost qualifies to be called soft porn - but hey, this is an European family fare. It's difficult to paraphrase the plot, if there's any such thing. The writer/director Julio Medem's objective is the same as David Lynch's when he made 'Mulholland Drive'. The movie is meant to be enjoyed frame by frame, with every scene being a self-contained well constructed piece. But when you piece them all together and try to make connections in order to understand the story - hmmm, you can try and possibly succeed too. But I'm afraid that will be your interpretation of the screenplay, because the point is to give an illusion of a clear story heading somewhere, but really, in the background make events as murky as possible.

Lorenzo, a novelist is the focal point of the story. Because of his one-night stand with Elena in a magical island, he sows the seeds for his daughter Luna. A few years later, he meets his daughter and strangely enough, his daughter's baby-sitter Belen falls for him. Now, in an emotional struggle that I half-understood, Belen has a crush on her mother's boyfriend Antonio and he reciprocates her crush, which Lorenzo is able to identify as he finds himself torn between Luna and Elena - the daughter and the mother. It's important that you understand the previous sentence, the essence of the movie. Where does Lucia fit into this picture, you ask? Well, she's the observer, Lorenzo's girlfriend, the character that very closely but helplessly observes the mental deterioration of Lorenzo.

Paz Vega as Lucia sparkles with a raw, natural beauty. And for capturing her beauty in so many amazing close-up shots, a big thanks to Kiko Rica. The movie is a lot saner than the picture I've painted here. Directors with a reputation, in the name of art sometimes come up with such products that remains in the memory for all wrong reasons. I'm sure Julio Medem can create lucid stories. It's okay to indulge in the art of movie making. But ultimately, it's the story that is the heart.

IMDb Link.

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