Category: cinema:english

Joker (2019)

The immediate message that got to me after watching Arthur Fleck slowly descend into madness is that I should get out of my head for good. 

Joker’s a really well made film, thoughtfully so in the departments of art and cinematography, but something about this record of madness doesn’t sit well with me. This was one of the reasons, I gave myself for skipping the film, until today.

Another reason is that I don’t really like the Joker character. 

There, I said it. 

Enough hot takes, I would like to elaborate a little, what I really mean is that I don’t really appreciate the modern interpretations of the character- starting from Heath Ledger’s take in the Dark Knight.

The character (in the movies) has traveled far from the camp that Jack Nicholson literally painted on screen. Now all the fun is gone. 

Well it’s been a generation since 1989. Things change, people tend to be attracted to different things. 

Maybe they do prefer this interpretation, where a comic prince of clown is moulded into this thinning frame which has nothing in its heart, but only itself ( and self pity of course). Maybe there is a reason why Arthur Fleck is a stand up comedian- a profession that requires a lot of suppressed anger (on society and on self) to be converted into jokes. And when those jokes don’t work? It turns into the descent, that I touched upon earlier. 

Drawing directly from Scorsese’s influential work in the 70s & the 80s that also featured decaying characters in cities of decay, Todd Phillips, adds too little. By throwing in Robert De Niro in as a funny talk show host, Phillips ensure that the Scorsese references don’t go unnoticed.

Gotham now has a rat problem, there is garbage everywhere and they hate the rich. The city then erupts into protests with people wearing clown masks because billionaire Thomas Wayne made an offhand comment, an indication that protests may not always have its origins in meaning.

But there is one thing, it doesn’t seem like a usual super hero(or villain) based film, and kudos to the director for that and Phoenix is in his usual great form; but after a point it becomes difficult to back the delusions of a depressed guy. 

Joker, the character itself is quite diabolical and is in constant need of space and adoration, it almost stole the movie from Batman in the Dark Knight; now it wants it’s own movie and going by the box office collections, it could have its own franchise. 

A franchise for those who feel they are disenfranchised. God, help me.

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

I am not a motorsports enthusiast, heck I am not even a sports enthusiast but the sports film, Ford vs Ferrari is one of the most impactful films I have seen this year. 

James Mangold’s film is a product of conviction and evident proof that the only way to win over the audience is through good story and great characters and not by pandering to them. When done well this approach brings in even those who are not remotely interested in the space that you are making the movie in. ( Me and sports)

I don’t think, I emphasised the previous paragraph to much effect; what I meant to say is that making a good film starts by having complete disregard to the expectations that your audience might have. 

“Oh right, this is one of those sports films and the movie ends with the winning moment” 

No it doesn’t.

But it plays on the existing sports movie template and makes it better. 

Make it better.

Ford vs Ferrari is a movie about optimisation. It’s not what movies are usually about, especially Tamil movies, in which we take the broadest of canvasses to tell the shallowest of stories. Optimisation begins where specialisation deepens. Ford v Ferrari is about making fast cars, faster. 

Bit by bit, Ken Miles(Christian Bale in a soon to be multi-nominated performance), our hero is trying to make things better. As a race car driver he is in search of an elusive perfect lap. Every race win, in this movie (and there are many) ends with a feeling of how he could actually have done it better, while the world watches in awe as Ken Miles breaks his own lap record. 

The search for excellence is a solitary game, it is a search that does not end with a pat on the back or the roaring sound of applause or admittance from peers. The search for excellence is in fact a never ending search. 

James Mangold takes the much seen sports drama arc which has the rebellious maverick- the considerate mentor- the conniving and unreasonable corporate into a drama about artisanal passion where the race (although shot with great precision ) gives way to the characters. 

Competing with respect

In any other movie, Henry Ford II ( Tracy Letts is brilliant) would be the corporate monster, a villain who derives pleasure in killing competition like boutique car mechanics. No, but here, underneath layers of tailored suit is an entrepreneur trying to do good by his grandfather’s legacy.  Mangold and his writers treat characters with respect, even the stock characters. 

Also in the movie is the relationship between designer Carroll Shelby( Matt Damon, too in a soon to be multi-nominated performance) and driver Ken Miles- a friendship so relatable when they have hands on each other’s shoulders talking about chassis and brakes, but not so much when they really try to spell it out. 

Nevertheless, Ford v Ferrari takes a close second place in my imaginary best films on friendship contest in 2019. That honor, as on date firmly rests with Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood. 

For Mangold and his crew, I do what Enzo Ferrari does, with his hat, at the end of the race.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

That Tarantino taught himself movie making from behind the desk at a video store is the stuff of legend. In Chennai, it is not uncommon to have friends who due to compulsions of engaging with popular culture have a tee shirt which proudly says “ I never went to film school. I went to films” or some such Tarantino quote. 

Tarantino is the real life story of the fringe becoming mainstream, the director who launched the career of numerous disciples, the director who within a short time had an ‘esque’ added to his name. The director who has his quotes on t shirts in Chennai. 

It’s what he became.But let’s come back to the first  fact, as a video store clerk- he saw every type of film. Often in the transference of his coolness, the reason for his coolness is omitted.He saw every type of film.  

Has there been any Tarantino conversation without the generous movie name-dropping? To think of it, his tee shirt makes perfect sense, he really figured out how to make movies by just watching a ton of movies- a certified movie nut with unconditional love. 

He just didn’t stream the AFI top 100 to become what he did become(relevant in our time of curated lists and general entitlement of everyone seeking the ‘best’). 

Tarantino went to work, consuming films of all types and sizes, without any notion of preconceived taste.His passion extends beyond just viewing them but to track down and remember every filmmaker. The resultant is a wholly unique person with an extremely specific movie taste. 

Specific to the extent of keeping a close watch on how he will be remembered (the 9th film by Quentin Tarantino is how Once Upon A Time…is marketed), his movies are combos- the ones on a food menu which arrive quick, valuable and consists of enticing items from different pages in the same menu. Each preceding film was a genre version of what Tarantino cooked up. 

But Once Upon A Time is different…it is still a heady mix of genres, it still moves to an assorted pop soundtrack and radio commercials, it does have an obliqueness to violence but this is really Tarantino’s way of giving it back (love) to his industry. 

Although at the same time it is not the “love letter” or the nostalgia driven look of Hollywood- it is authentic but not rose tinted. It is a film about time, a word that features in the title. 

A passage of time, 1969 seems to be year of closure of many things Old Hollywood- the slowing of the studio system- the decline of a certain sort of heroism. 

A man’s man would be ridiculed in our ‘woke’ times, but their careers seem to have ended a long time ago. I can never imagine an ‘environmentally’ aware hero like Leonardo taking up anything remotely similar to Bounty Law ( the TV series that Rick Dalton, his character plays in this movie). 

Tarantino feels for Rick Dalton & his driver-companion Cliff Booth (Dalton himself is based on many leading TV men of the 50s and 60s who lost their way, without a break, mostly forgotten by history) but he is not tied down by the weight of historical accuracy. He wants them to get that one break, that one lucky break which could change a sagging career. 

At the other end of the story is a young Sharon Tate, who at the time represented the Hollywood to come, young with life, till it was horrifically taken away from her. Tarantino cares for her too, doesn’t really care for history. One of the best moments come from Tate getting to watch her on screen in the ‘The Wrecking Crew’. A rather ‘asinine’ film, as Tarantino himself put it while guesting on a podcast. It isn’t regarded as a classic film but means so much to Sharon Tate, thus proving that any movie could make deep impact in a person’s life, irrespective of how it has been ‘regarded’ by society (especially critics). 

The ending, which is sure to shock many, but unlike the catharsis of killing Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, this comes from a sweet place of good intentions and confidence.  The way he juxtaposes fact and fiction in a way that only reminded me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian- a film that follows the parallel lives of the Christ and a commoner.

Clearly my favourite Tarantino and definitely the most re-watchable , a movie where I could endear myself to his brashness.

He knows his stuff, this is his subject, he seems to be having the most fun when without any care following his characters to see where they go-forgetting lines, feeding dogs, folding clothes, watching movies and generally raising hell in the Hollywood of 1969.