‘Manuscripts Don’t Burn’ review – But authors do.

There is a moment of suspended animation in Manuscripts Don’t Burn where a character nonchalantly places a laundry clip over the nose of another, watching the latter suffocate to death slowly from having both his mouth and nose sealed. It is a chilling moment, and one that strikes the viewer exactly where the director intends the film to strike. Mohammed Rasoulof’s 2014 film is a fictional retelling of the infamous Chain Murders of Iran, a series of murders and disappearances of Iranian intellectuals who had been critical of the then government. Starting with the lead character – the man commissioned by the government to carry out the extortion – the film makes choice after interesting choice in its narration of the hunt for a banned manuscript. Taking its time with each moment and lingering on the seemingly mundane bits of daily life, the silence of the film and its observers is deafening.
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‘Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum’ (Evidence and the Eyewitness) review – The film you must watch.

I don’t usually review non-English language films on this blog, and I have many reasons for it, one of the biggest ones being the smaller audience for these films. Writing a review is a pretty time-consuming task, and with my readership being as low as it is already, writing one for a non-universal language just doesn’t seem worth it. (The few Indian language films I have reviewed are also the result of requests by my friends.) But last night, I saw a film called Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum – in my own native language of Malayalam – which changed my previously held opinion and reminded me of why I started doing this in the first place. This film, the title of which roughly translates to ‘Evidence and the Eyewitness’, is one which deserves to be seen by a larger audience: and that is the purpose of this review. With excellent cinematography by Rajeev Ravi, and featuring Fahadh Faasil, Suraj Venjaramoodu, and Nimisha Sajayan in lead roles, this Dileesh Pothan film is a real-life masterpiece in its truest sense.
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‘Loins of Punjab Presents’ review – Cringe masala.

When my friends sat me down and told me that we would be watching a film named Loins of Punjab Presents, I certainly wasn’t expecting much. But having just arrived in the scorched city of Delhi after a long flight, I was in no mood for complex character dramas, and this didn’t seem the type. And while the movie is definitely no mockumentary as claimed by its Netflix page, it does stay true to the tone of its title and packs quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. Though an Indian film, it is almost entirely in English and follows the organizers and participants of a ‘desi’ singing competition held in New Jersey. Stuffed with characters that satire popular Indian stereotypes to the extreme, this turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable film for a setting similar to the one I watched it in.
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The Best of 2016 in Film – Dreamers, witches and nice guys.

It seems that the events of 2016 have birthed a new generation of cynics, and at the turn of the new year, all one can hear around are people crying over the horrible year that has passed. However, being one who prefers to count gifts over curses, I consider ourselves blessed to have received a stellar list of films, taking various different genres to stranger waters, and realizing the full potential of some others. Now while the movies that big franchises and studios have churned out were more in the form of financial investments than works of art, 2016 has witnessed masterpieces from global filmmakers and the independent categories. The following is the list of films that I think made the most of their run-time this year, and deserve to be seen by one and all. (This year, I’ve added suggestions of old movies similar in some way to each film on this list, so the doubtful ones can decide what to watch.)
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‘Little Sister’ review – From an unconventional premise, an unexpected masterpiece.

If there’s one thing you can count on your kids to do, that’s rebel. And what better way is there to rebel against your ultra-liberal, atheist parents than to run away and become a nun (especially when those parents wished you to grow up as a lesbian Satanist)? Set against the backdrop of a pretty unconventional American family, Little Sister follows its protagonist’s return to her family home for the first time since she ran away, and the seven days she spends there to dig her family out of the metaphorical dirt. Directed, written and produced by Zach Clark, this film gives the homecoming cliché its own wacky spin, balancing glee and gloom as brilliantly as it works the dissonance of the premise into the story.
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‘Arrival’ review – A sci-fi masterpiece has arrived.

Language is the cornerstone of our civilization.

So begins the book written by Dr. Louise Banks, the protagonist of the latest film from Denis Villenueve, who has been making his mark felt in the world of cinema with a string of thought-provoking films including Prisoners, Sicario and Enemy. Arrival is based on a short novel by Ted Chiang, titled ‘Story of your Life’, which seems a more appropriate name for this all-encompassing film than the uninspired ‘Arrival’, which seems to suggest little more than an invasion. Taking on heavy themes of bridging languages, colonisation and questions that hit the core of our existence and our perceptions of reality, this latest child of the science fiction genre carries them confidently and with the seriousness they deserve, all the while having us hooked to a plot that gets more interesting with each passing second.
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‘Don’t Think Twice’ review – As real as comedy gets

It came as a shock to the world to hear that Robin Williams, the man who made us laugh in madness when we were at our lowest, was in constant battle with depression to his very last days. Comedy is brewed from sadness, and the former has no meaning but when coming from a place of desperation and pathos – perhaps there was some truth to Alan Alda’s character describing it as ‘tragedy plus time’ in Crimes and Misdemeanors, although not in the way he meant it. In Don’t Think Twice, we are introduced to ‘the Commune’, a New York improv comedy troupe of six people, each carrying their own blue devils onto stage every night. Mike Birbiglia brings us an incredibly poignant and human film, as we follow each realistic character through their own troubles, as well as they way they deal with each other’s.
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‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ review – The spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused

You would think that we as an audience know exactly what to expect from a frat comedy, having seen more than a fair share make their way to the screens, starting with Animal House back in 1978. Fast, loud and surrounding its protagonist with a bevy of cookie-cutter characters, it wastes no time in pushing the adults out so that the rock and roll can blare, the beer and girls can come pouring in, and the party can start. With Everybody Wants Some, however, Richard Linklater chooses to go a different way, sketching out the characters of the people who call the frat their home and the pack-mentality that binds them, without leaving out any of the dazed fun. Staying true to the themes of its spiritual predecessor – Dazed and Confused – this glance back at the ‘80s picks up from the weekend before college, and meanders through the many parties and escapades the team needs to make it to the first day of college.
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‘Hail, Caesar!’ review – The Coen brothers’ love letter to ’50s Hollywood

Ah, Hollywood in the ‘50s: a period marked by extravagant, glitzy productions that ranged from the biblical epics like Ben-Hur to the romantic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, and saw the rise of stars like Audrey Hepburn and Gene Kelly. But it is also not an unknown fact that despite the memories of grandeur associated with the era, most of these films were served to the public as fantastical escape from the fear surrounding the Cold War and the Red Scare. It is exactly this strange mix of superficial glam and underlying political conspiracies that the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have tackled in their ambitious satire Hail, Caesar!, a much needed comedic break from their serious recent works. A satire that runs from one caper to the next, the film does lose its foot at times, but the performances are hilarious and offbeat enough to keep you rooted to your seats.
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‘Spotlight’ review – Elegant, inspiring, shocking

We often find ourselves in situations when it is hard to deny that truth is stranger than fiction. No matter how hard to digest the news might be, it is the duty of the journalist to bring it to light so that injustice may not thrive beneath our noses. There is little injustice that invites the scorn and disbelief of the general public like the taking advantage of little ones, and all the more when it comes from an institution most people turn to for security. Cormac McCarthy’s Spotlight is the film that sees to the fulfilment of the journalistic dream two-ways – in creating nuanced and well-formed characters in journalists, and in playing second newsman with the startling headline that ran in the Boston Globe back in 2002. This all-rounder – already sweeping up the Oscar buzz – featuring well-cut and drawn out performances and the gentle touch required to address a subject of this nature reaffirms faith in earnest journalism, something all of us could do with. Continue reading