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cinema cinema:english

Speaking of Endings- Star Wars:The Rise Of Skywalker

So yeah. 

When I came to the very end of the end of “The Rise of Skywalker” which is the end of this new trilogy of Star Wars films, but it is also the end of the end of all the Star Wars films so far (yet). 

Only one thing struck me, they had ONLY planned the end of the end. 

So the rest of the movie was just to get to the end of the end? 

At least they could have been honest. They could have put in a slide saying, “you know we think the best ending for this Star Wars is Rey doing a Luke and watching the binary sunset, we just don’t know how to get there”, but of course honesty is that value which is quite in shortage in this world, can’t expect much. 

They should have gotten our email address and just mailed the ending. With consent and all for GDPR.

Instead I was treated to more than two hours of lessons on finding the self, being a good leader, not seeking revenge, standing up for brethren and more importantly, never losing hope. In short the movie was trying to emulate a good twitter account and wait for the RTs to ring. 

Look now, I’m not opposed to hope; let me just make that clear,I am just tired that it is being sold again. Yeah people fall for it, deep down everyone feels they are special, of course that is why a character of Rey would appeal to everyone, a nobody who saves the universe- the last jedi- our last hope. 

I have seen this. Next one please. 

Movies can be about anything, it can be about hope, it can be about despair, it can be about friendship, it can be about tiredness; but a film about hope should evoke hopeful qualities not make me tired and a movie about tiredness should not make me hopeful.

The Dead Speak! The Audience Yawn!

The Dead Speak! Screams the familiar opening crawl, as though to make us forget the ending of the previous movie, the entire galaxy has now heard a broadcast, obviously it cannot be someone new, someone whose story we have to build from the start, someone whose exploits we need to follow over time so we get accustomed to their behaviour and then decide whether to fear him or not. 

No no no, it must be an old and familiar face whose appearance might bring some amount of excitement back into the fan bloodstream. So yeah let’s get the old main villain and try and sell the “i’m the puppet master behind everything that happened till now” narrative. 

I paused. So this is where they went a little bit like Infinity War, although without the infinity stones- they just had two-pathfinders-to the villain’s lair. Umm nothing dramatic, I have seen enough movies to know what will ultimately happen in a villain’s lair. 

Irresponsible Expectations 

Partly I am to blame, where did I think they would go with it? 

A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy With More Of The Same

On the Laureate, we try to write about genre a lot, but we skipped franchises. Yes they are deeply steeped in genre lore, but also deeply bound in risk. A franchise exists only to make money. Yep. 

It’s not enough if just the fans see it, it should appeal to everyone and in the end, add more star wars fans. The movies themselves are made timed to not allow enough time for the fans to figure out why they liked it in the first place. They have to see the next one and be disappointed until they announce another series, a few years later- another series where someone’s grandson is now leading the resistance against another black robe clad father figure, I mean Vader figure. 

By this time, another enthusiastic innocent generation would have been pulled into the fandom, this fandom which will include buying t-shirts, dolls, plastic light sabers, theme parks and voice over gigs for Vijay Sethupathi. 

A new paste of slimy culture over mine, made to make me feel how my slime (now hardened) was actually better. No it wasn’t. . 

For some like, it is now a habit. I have seen the films. They are more of the same. I don’t even have the mind to say, “but in the original trilogy…” Nevermind. As someone said, these movies are about space wizards intended for children. 

Good sunset. BTW. 

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cinema:english Essay

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.

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cinema cinema:english

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.

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cinema cinema:english Essay

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. 


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cinema cinema:english

Murder Mystery

As the swivel chair spins #4

There is something sinister in naming a murder mystery film as ‘Murder Mystery’, especially when it comes produced by Netflix. Like most digital businesses, Netflix would be keen to get the search engine optimization right.

James Vanderbilt, who wrote Zodiac, also wrote this new murder mystery comedy (pause for reflection) headlined by Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston; maybe it was too close to the deadline and he couldn’t think about a title for his movie.

Great, I have spent two paragraphs- one slyly on the search engine benefits of generic movie titles and second on how someone who wrote the dense and detailed Zodiac couldn’t come up with titles.

On further introspection, while writing paragraph three, I realized that the joke was on me; this was meant to be a generic murder mystery movie made to cushion the want of those who craved more of the recently released Murder on the Orient Express.

Hmm, but Murder on the Orient Express too is a generic title, at least it has the specificity of the location.

So I come back home from work on a Friday and slump into a chair (the swivel) and think- “it’s the perfect time to watch a murder mystery”; the sentient sensors on Netflix pick this up and before I know it, I am watching the new Adam Sandler movie.

Something happens and we are told that Adam Sandler is a beat cop who wants to be a detective but he cannot pass the test and his wife Jennifer Aniston- a hairdresser is frustrated that she cannot have her Europe trip as planned.

While the movie never tries to be convincing about the genre it takes up- just throw in the elements like multicultural cast-a big billionaire-European cruise setting and the somewhat comical piling of bodies, hoping it works. But the most unconvincing part is about the leads playing broke middle class Americans on a Euro trip. (The movie goes by the tagline: First class problems. Second class detectives- tiring already)

Oh, but I must say Dany Boon excels as Inspector Laurent Delacroix, wish there was more of the O-ring smoking French officer, but there is very little for anyone to do- Terrence Stamp turns in for just one scene

Pastiche is done lovingly, parody takes it over to the top. This one neither has the love for the genre or the silliness that would evoke multiple viewings- this is just generic (like the title).