Saturday, December 29, 2018

2018's Journey in Movies

Unlike what some cranky geriatrics might say, there are a good number of interesting and/or entertaining movies made these days too, and testament to this is the strong slate of movies that kept me engaged this year, whether at the cinema or on streaming and home video. Concentrating only on movies produced this year I present to you my list of:

Black Panther - A fun action-packed superhero movie that holds its own and in fact manages to mostly avoid the cookie cutter feel of other Marvel adaptations. The first half feels more like a James Bond adventure (if Bond had access to a Crysis-style exosuit).

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero - It would have been more apt to call BJS 'Bhavesh Begins' because this vigilante hero origin story is a fitting companion piece to Chris Nolan's Batman Begins. BJS is notable for the grounded manner in which most of the action is set. The film is also to be praised for its non-stereotypic exploration of Mumbai and its surroundings, raising issues that mainstream cinema will not acknowledge. Slack editing, a half-baked romance angle and mostly cardboard villains bring down the experience, but the reasonably unique approach to the vigilante hero genre is worth a watch.

Annihilation - I haven't read Jeff Vandermeer's book, the film comes across as a mix of Stalker the film and STALKER the game. Its best elements for me were purely visual, with some gorgeous artistry on display. I'd definitely recommend as a watch.

Carbon - A gripping and visually ravishing tale of one man's obsessive quest for (fool's?) gold, evoking comparison to Herzog classics like Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo. Excellent direction and a strong lead performance from middle-of-the-road Malayalam cinema's hot favorite Fahadh Faasil. Damn, why couldn't this have come out on blu-ray?

The Incredibles 2 - This one turned out, all things considered, as good as the first film...which automatically makes it about 3 zillion times better than most superhero movies of recent times.

Manto - Biopic of author SH Manto. While the script does simplify the complexities of the author's personality and distill his life as a vehicle to discuss issues of religious hatred and censorship, Nawazuddin does an amazing job as the flawed and tormented writer and Rasika Duggal who played Manto's wife Safia is wonderful. Lots of great cameos from seasoned actors.

Andhadhun - Overall not on the same scale of greatness as Johnny Gaddaar, on account of the twists in the second half falling into the territory of "kuch bhi!", but yeah this is probably Sriram Raghavan's most FUN movie after JG. Ayushmann Khurana and Tabu totally rock their parts. Don't read any detailed reviews or synopses beforehand, just see andhadhun.

Tumbbad - IMO the best Indian horror movie ever, with a strong script and incredibly good shadowy visuals and great sound design. Focused direction and a defining performance from Sohum Shah (who also produced the film and stayed committed to its making over a period of several years). Also excellent staged CGI for the budget.

Badhaai Ho - There is little that feels new and much that appears contrived in this tale of a mother of significantly older children discovering that she is pregnant again and deciding to go on with it. But I was hooked. It was mainly the performances that worked, Neena Gupta and Gajraj Singh look the part of a long-time middle-class couple and their interaction has a warmth that overcomes cliche.

Wildlife - Paul Dano's family drama with Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan is captured with restraint and quiet attention to detail. Its impact is limited, ironically because of its civility; the script never tries to probe the wound of family discord or seriously discomfit the viewer with the emotional angst of the characters, but with steady direction and strong acting a very respectable effort it is.

Ballad of Buster Scruggs - In a series of unrelated episodes set in the West represented in old-school Hollywood, the Coen Bros anthology (co-produced by Netflix) seem to pay tribute to masters like John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and hell, even animator Tex Avery. Over the various courses of this banquet, the tone goes from hilarious to stirring to romantic and a dash of the macabre. I won't spoil it any more save to say that I enjoyed myself thoroughly and look forward to revisiting it. Entertainer of the Year!

Manta Ray - This Thai directorial debut (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng) was a slow but engaging and eventually hypnotic blend of reality and fantasy, highly reminiscent of the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee, Cemetery of Splendour).The beauty of the film is in its rhythm and its evocative mix of real and imagined elements, coming across as a fable of sorts. And towards the end there are some sequences that are rapturous pure audio-visual experiences. This is a brilliant assured debut from a maker whose future work I will be looking forward to.

Endhiran / Robot 2.0 - The middling reviews of this movie were right about stuff in-between the action being dull filler but what they don't tell you is that there is very little footage that is not badass action or imaginative VFX. While it has less rewatch value, this movie is in overall feel like Pacific Rim - dumb but awesome. For anyone who understands Tamil, that version is clearly superior. It also has very good 3D, with solid depth and some excellent front projection.

Roma - Alfonso 'Gravity' Cuaron's latest film (produced by Netflix) deals with the life of a housemaid and the family she works for in Mexico. It takes a while to feel immersed with the characters, and sometimes the technique is a little overwhelming for the actual scene, but it turns out a brilliant and compassionate portrayal of the humanistic bond between the characters, the parallels that run in the lives of mistress and servant. The scene at the beach towards the end is nerve-wracking and cathartic. Highly recommended.


Avengers: Infinity War - The overwhelming feeling I had all through this movie was one of weariness. I got BORED of seeing stuff blow up and huge things come crashing down. The dialog is caught between dull exposition and desperate attempts to inject humor. There is absolutely no sparkle here.

Raazi - It's not as jingoistic as some of the worst offenders in the patriotic movie genre, but that's about the only good thing I can say about it. Bad writing and direction, give this Raazi a Razzie.

MI: Fallout - The action sequences are done efficiently and the final scene at the cliff carries some genuine vertigo-triggering thrills but the connective tissue between the set-pieces is unbelievably poor. No one seems to have given a thought as to making the script interesting or even bear a decent degree of coherence. Good humor is all about pacing, but that's lacking here. Worse, the dialog seems to have been written by amateur drama kids given a 5-min deadline, and the actors simply cannot make it work.

Saheb, Biwi & Gangster 3 - Even with a few okay moments courtesy returning actors Jimmy Shergill and Mahie (No Sher for you)Gill and unintentional laughs from a hilariously out-of-place (and likely drunk) Sanjay Dutt, this one is on the whole a whacking big turd.

Stree - The stray amusing quip aside, 'Stree' was such a load of cock it might as well have been called 'Purush'. The script is so poor and lazy even the brilliant cast can only occasionally raise it above the doldrums. Two thumbs down.

Blackkklansman - I suspect if Quentin Tarantino had made this film, Spike Lee would have been railing at him for being patronizing / exploitative towards the struggles of the black movement against white oppression. Unlike (the wholly fictitious) Inglourious Basterds this film is not able to take its preposterous narrative and milk its potential to create genuine tension in the narrative and empathy with the characters.

In Fabric - I did not immediately enjoy the new film from Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, Duke of Burgundy). It begins well enough as a haunted object tale , but the film's tone is all over the place and its sense of humor never seems comfortably seated. I feel I could give this another try sometime in the future, but on the whole my first viewing left me dissatisfied.

Thugs of Hindostan - I thought I’d seen an okay if VERY bland homage to the multi-starrer masala movie, with a few touches - like the Bachchan homages to Coolie, Mard and Aakhree Raasta - it didn't really capitalize on. Then to my (most unpleasant) surprise, instead of ‘The End’ it said ‘Intermission’. Bloody Hell!

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