Let’s talk about : The Ocean’s Trilogy

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While we are on the topic of greatest movies ever made, let’s talk about the Ocean’s trilogy.

Steven Soderbergh is unpredictable, he retired from movie making some four years ago and then came back to make Logan Lucky, many called it an inversion of his Ocean’s trilogy; functional and without any style. The whole style vs substance would put the Ocean’s trilogy in bad light, but in reality style is the substance in these films.

Soderbergh himself has taken various positions on the Oceans franchise, from being appreciative to being ‘I don’t really care if you don’t like it’; but he has admitted that a lot of work went into the trilogy and that is why it is interesting (and great). A carefully constructed ode to old hollywood but still very modern and yet entertaining cinema.

Full disclosure: the Ocean’s trilogy for me is up there (obviously with LOTR) in terms of breaking up characters and their tales into three parts. The Lord of the Rings also had the cushion of a literary work and generations of readers who are familiar with the story.

Breaking down the Ocean’s trilogy; 11 sets up Ocean and his men brilliantly and 13 perfectly completes the story. Twelve falls short because it is unlike 11 or 13, but definitely the most interesting.

Soderbergh’s source material was a 1960 film directed by Moldovian-American director Lewis Milestone*; the original Ocean’s 11 headlined by Frank Sinatra and  Dean Martin, a film that currently holds only 48% weight on critic aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. That the remake has a score of 82%, that’s where I stop with the facts.

Even as a choice this seems quite odd for a remake. Soderbergh is like that, he professes that many directors too are like him: attracted to not so greater works of great filmmakers. Positively, this could be seen as learning from other’s mistakes but realistically it is about ignoring what ‘most people’ have agreed upon.

Great work usually comes from not-so great sources

Having seen the 1960 film, memorable is not something I would associate with it; but I can take a guess, it was the probably playful tone and actors bouncing off each other that attracted Soderbergh. He makes the source material his own and we get with three well directed classic films on professionalism and camaraderie.

Show, but don’t show-off

Like most films in this genre where we are indeed cheering for the bad guys, there is a sense of casual code; the team may seem like an assembly of rag-tag crooks but really they are bound together by their professionalism and dislike for vanity. Yes vanity.

Let’s look at the antagonist in the three films

  • Villain 1-Ocean’s 11: Terry Benedict: owner of 3 of the biggest casinos and suitably self-obsessed
  • Villain 2-Ocean’s 12: The Night Fox: a self congratulatory European gentleman thief
  • Villain 3-Ocean’s 13: Willy Bank: megalomaniac, obsessed with building the best hotel on the strip

If there had been an Ocean’s 14, then it is quite possible that the rat-pack would have taken on Tony Stark (yawn) or Donald Trump(?). The only difference between the good guys and the bad guys is “you can be be cool by not saying so”.

Also take into account that the villains have to be over the top, so that the thievery can be normalized but there is always an undercurrent of Ocean and co having a personal stake in the happenings. It is not about the money, but about the job.

It is always about the job

Coming back to professionalism: to sum up, the three films are about a bunch of guys who really really(emphasis mine) love their job and are very good at it, ready to accept unreasonable challenges but don’t want to be seen as very serious about it. It’s part of their act.

Daniel Ocean claims to look at the angles of buildings even when he is not working, Linus spends the prize of the first movie in improving his ‘skills’, Rusty tries running a hotel but feels he is not good at anything else.

The dialogue is a dictionary on skill development, tactics(looky loo with a bundle of joy!) and planning , everyone working towards doing a better con than before. Like Basher puts it ” we don’t do the same gag twice“. Optimization.

Much has been written about work and fun, as though they are too separate things; and coming from a society where the skills you have is almost always not the one which would be called to action at work, I am able to relate to this differentiation. Meaning work is the complete opposite of fun. Maybe that’s why Ocean’s sticks with me, it is about how with the right skills at the right place, any con is doable; I mean any goal is achievable.

Soderbergh could have just made a series of films about a bunch of accountants and still he would have made it in interesting. Ocean’s for me in many ways is about the triumph of work and not without the help of any hack productivity handbook.  A very American thing, but countries are really built by hard working passionate men (and women), who don’t usually get their due.

It is also about the gang

Already covered is their common dislike to individual success, Ocean despite being a master thief doesn’t work alone, the loot is equally shared even if everybody’s skills are not completely utilized.

Two of the three movies happen just to set things right for their mentor Reuben, and all the time they spend together is playful and devoid of any real conflict; the spirit of friendship pervades all through, just like friends having a good time in real life.

But more importantly, it all comes together very well

And finally a listicle!

If you have never watched the Ocean’s trilogy, here’s what you should expect.

  • Addictive. Re-watchable. Laugh-out-loud funny.
  • Sweeping the casino carpet type cinematography.
  • A soundtrack that stays with you for life.
  • Blow-your-cinephile-mind team up.
  • Rusty and Danny saying so much by not saying a word.
  • The twins saying so much but actually saying nothing.
  • The Amazing Yen!
  • Bruce Willis as himself.
  • And introducing  Tess as Julia Roberts! (the whole Looky Loo sequence)
  • Vincent Cassel -laser dance.
  • Viva La Revolucion!
  • Al Pacino ordering a Samsung phone
  • Everybody knowing Mandarin (no language imposition, they know it on the job)
  • “They have enough armed personnel to occupy Paris”
  • George Clooney saying “yeah”
  • The fountains swaying to Debussy’s Claire De Lune

The general coolness of it all(without being cool, sorry Quentin). I mean what is not to like?

Among the greatest Hollywood films, indeed.

Out of The Past: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

 

FML6 copyI have concluded that reading Raymond Chandler at an impressionable age has contributed the most to my further life choices, be it ‘literature’, movies, terse sentences and of course typing in the ‘courier new’ font.

Chandler started writing when the oil industry crashed and he had nothing much left to do, his creation reflects himself; being weary is his core competence.

If I could go back and play the irritating game invented for social engagement, ‘describe your creation in just one word’, Chandler would have said “tired”. If he was kind, he would add, “I’m tired. Enough!” As always breaking the rules.

So when there is a delay in our usual blog posts, it is probably because we are generally tired. Tired of ourselves, tired of the world, tired and yet careful not to add the growing empty mass that is film writing.  Readers must be thankful in that case.

We forgot to add one word to the above: growing boring empty mass that is film writing.

Boring.

 

 “You’re a very good-looking man to be in this kinda business”

Enter Robert Mitchum

Marlowe is supposed to be in his mid-thirties in the works, curiously but not unnatural the best portrayals of the private eye has come from very old ‘has-seen-it-all’ men.

Bogart was in his forties and Robert Mitchum almost touching sixty, it’s that kind of a role. It requires that kind of experience, it is the ‘hamlet’ of all detective roles, no I’m not joking. A sequel to the Big Sleep was called ‘Perchance to Dream’ which is from the famous of all famous soliloquies.

People and war have made our hero tired, and out of this tiredness comes sparkling wisdom.

Why does Marlowe still do it?

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For the much quoted “25 dollars a day plus expenses?”

Nah, Marlowe doesn’t snoop around for money, but he doesn’t evoke moral mightiness too, he certainly doesn’t identify with a cause or putting criminal behind bars. Thankfully he is not insufferable with his ‘genius’ and actually very funny, like a real person.

I guess he just likes looking at people and what they do.

Looking brings us to Robert Mitchum, in many ways the spiritual remnant of Bogart’s distant masculinity, but looking at Mitchum’s eyes we know that this present sadness had once seen sparkle, that alone makes me feel that Mitchum is truer as Marlowe.

Marlowe watches because he knows that deep down all the depravity there is some tenderness, that’s all he looks for in a client, not money, not name, not fame. And he will do anything to look at that tiny true part of yourself.

Evil doesn’t startle him as much as innocence and goodness

People first, plot go to hell

 

For Chandler, the plot was secondary, the characters weren’t, he would never describe anyone unfairly nor would he puncture them for the sake of plot.

An open opponent of this whole locked room plotting business made him see people as people and not as clues or alibi to get going to the next page.

Marlowe is the same wise-ass to the police as he is to the crooks. An ending in a Chandler story is not its logical conclusion or hurrah for its hero, but the acceptance of reality.

The thread of Farewell My Lovely the film is very simple and it follows the book closely, just out of jail thug Moose Malloy wants to get his girl back. Will Marlowe do it or not?

And the hits keep on coming

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Marlowe is always narrating his tale, when we meet him he is just out of a case, naturally tired; Mitchum looks like he just wants to go home but cannot when confronted by his innocent of a thug client.

Within moments Marlowe becomes the centre-piece of a worm caught in a web, and all he does is just give a sideward glance.

Very easy to be dismissed as non-acting, especially in the age that we live in (as in the golden age of non-acting); but I think tiredness is difficult to bring out as an emotion without being dramatic.

Mitchum gets hit on the head, shot at, danced with, seduced by, but all through the film but he plays it like a detective who knows the ending every single time, people will be people.

I don’t really care about the twist in the end

There is a twist in the end, but the film (naturally the novel) is not moving towards it a big reveal way, for fans of detective fiction and crime thrillers this could prove dampening.

Many things happen and so does a twist.

Detection truly could be one of the most boring jobs if not for the humongous amounts of exciting literature written about it.

<pause for reflection>

Maybe all jobs are boring or it is the nature of them to become boring. But somehow Marlowe and hence Mitchum(because of his ability to understand the character) seem to have cracked it.

This detective is a seeker of the intangible, something remote and indescribable as human kindness, that is his spiritual quest, something not even the thighs of a femme fatale or the muzzle of a gun could distract him from.

Hamlet of the detective class, indeed.

That’s an admirable state to be in and this is an admirable movie.

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Out of the past is our series on movies that are anything but current,new,fresh etc; we find the idea of film writing just for the sake of a movie release distressing and also it demeans the timelessness of film itself. Mad or what, we won’t be reviewing old films,just writing about them.

 

 

 

La La Land

la-la-land-pic-2048x1152Having seen hundreds of films in which actors routinely break into song for no reason, the musical is a genre something I could slip right into, only that in La La Land there is always some reason for the music.

La La Land operates in multiple dualities, the real city and the virtual city, the earth and the stars, the famous and those without a face, the past and the present, and more importantly how dreams push reality and how ruthlessly dreams are pushed back by this reality.

Yes and all this is told through the lives of two.

Mia and Seb.

The film keeps religiously hinting at the co-existence of real and dream states, where even a phone ringtone brings you back to drab daily life and the sight of an old movie theatre could push the leads into the clouds.

Not falling into the trap of grandness, Damien Chazelle shows meditative concentration on his leads, shot in the ultimate film maker’s wet dream of a format: cinemascope, when the screen is filled with Emma Stone’s crystal green eyes or Ryan Gosling’s timely nod, even the best of nature’s landscape would concede defeat.

I wouldn’t want to limit La La Land as a love story of two struggling artists in a big city, but it does brilliantly work solely as a love story, beyond the romance, has there been any film that uses the yearning for the past and aspirations to come and yet stay contemporary? Questions are a plenty and these gently push the film along, without being conscious and feeling self important about handing these questions.

La La Land is a film that flushes out all emotions, moments to cry into crumpled hankies are interrupted with moments to beam with happiness at what La La Land throws at us, but not for a moment it looks constructed or organised.

La la land doesn’t want to be brilliant, but it cannot help itself from being so.

Great films aren’t necessarily great because they utilize the finest of techniques or technicians, it is great because of their ability to bring out emotions that other great films too invariably bring out, something like a Casablanca, something like a Sagara Sangamam.

Maybe it is a mixture of all that.

A complete film which takes all from Old Hollywood but yet comes out as its own, the flourishes of which will be enjoyed for years.

To all those quick to use the phrase “they dont make them like that any more”,

they just did.

 

PS : It is only providence that I got to see a film divided into parts namely winter, spring, summer , fall and winter again in a theatre called seasons.

Arrival

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Where to begin a story which has no beginnings, or an end?

An arrival is often followed with a marker for when, but here it is why. Under the hands of a director comfortable with blockbuster cinema, Arrival has the maximum potential; 12 alien ships arrive on earth, no one knows why; except of course America. Yes, this too is an ‘America-saves-humanity’ movie. Only that it was directed by Denis Villeneuve.

And it is bound to frustrate those seeking blockbuster entertainment, because of the very visible slowness, take for example the usual money shot of earth realizing that it has guests, showed here simply by Amy Adams(she is simply brilliant here!) walking away from a group of students crowding around the television. Absolutely no hurry, even when there enough opportunity to create tension, something like a Dr. Strangelove kind of situation; Villeneuve refrains.

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Why?

Arrival is adapted from a short story titled ‘Story of Your Life’, not Armageddon or Apocalypse, this is one of the most personal films I have seen and maybe the slowness is to make us understand there is no concept of time; where there is no such concept of time; slow and fast are deprived of their meanings. Even beginnings and endings are just empty words.

Arrival is about being alone and being together, about being human and alien, about the teacher and the taught and about the nature of knowledge itself, and how we are all going about in circles, literally. Denis covers all this and without hurry and completely removing drama, treating aliens and humans with respect, the movie is neither dark nor filled with popcorn aggression (again much scope for this is there when a world prepares for war), nor does it squeeze the aliens into blobs of horror or sentiment.

Arrival is perhaps the most tranquil of alien invasions.

Thank you.

 

 

 

Truth alone triumphs

 

(And also side characters)

andavan-kattalai

Before getting down to praising Aandavan Kattalai, let me first get down on the system; innumerable films have taken on the system, whisking out heroes who break the system, become the system even; but rarely acknowledge it.

Even in Manikandan’s film, the cheekily named Gandhi wrestles with the system and with the truth much like his Gujarati-namesake. Like everyone else, he doesn’t want to be seen as the one who is not smart enough not to take a short cut.

This mindset has served us well right from our daily commute, right up to the get rich quick plans we invest in. Short cuts have been ingrained into our skulls as an Indianism, street smartness is something even companies look for in candidates.

It is time to drive away this smartness.

The Messengers (or who says these things in the movie)

Vijay Sethupathi, in his fifth appearance on screen this year! (Surely this must be a criteria for TIME person of the Year) plays the small town guy in the big city with absolute plainness, there isn’t any special characteristic, there is no extraordinary back story, Gandhi could be anyone, Gandhi could be me or even you, maybe that’s why. So this isn’t much of a performance but more of an appearance.

But this appearance serves him well especially in the comic portions of the film, but the problems in Aandavan Kattalai is unusual because you really don’t know who to follow on screen, obviously Vijay Sethupathi drives it forward; but the supporting characters are not so much a supporting but  actually essential.

I am a supporting character sympathizer, as in if there is one movement I would like to be part of, it would be for the ethical treatment of “hero/heroine’s friend” in Tamil films.  First there is Yogi babu as the not so constant companion, he is luckier than our hero, which almost never happens in films, he gets the best lines as well; then there is the Srilankan refugee in search of his family but has to play dumb, the friends at the theatre crew and the intrepid journalist who also happens to be the heroine.

But my favorite would be the senior and junior lawyers at the family court, a truly unusual comic relationship, at least something I haven’t seen in Tamil films; the closest I could pair them to:  the similar comic duo from I heart Huckabees, totally brilliant, yet so fitting in the atmosphere.

Most of the characters seemed lived in, not just turning up for the shoot, but these aren’t serious roles which would require an entire long read on ‘method acting’, these are just everyday people in highly non everyday surroundings and that is how the humor is brought about. I could just go on about the other supporting actors as well, because this movie is a triumph in terms of casting, characters and dialogue.

A major win in a time, when giving a character a name and a job is seen as writing (something which is referenced in the movie)

Now to the message (Or what is being said)

A message movie is one troubling thing, not everyone will be empathetic enough for it to go all the way or sometimes the message itself might not be presented in a way to create impact, or hidden behind subtexts later to be brought forward by others. But there is something in every movie for everyone, it might not be the one that the director intended, but there is something; because that is why we watch a film.

Most of the times the message is lost in the telling. Here in Aandavan kattalai, the director puts first dart bulls-eye from slide one (This is a message movie #hehehe)

We (or you) can infer whatever you want, but this director is telling you not to take the short route, in fact there are no short routes, in fact (v2.0) the short route is the longer one and the one with thorns and no GPS.

No don’t take the short route.

Fill your own forms. Don’t break the line. Don’t ask your colleague if they know anyone anywhere. Don’t refer anyone from anywhere. Don’t break the process or try to bypass it. Just fill the form and wait.

Because the system might just be easier than the short cut.

Hey, I’m not saying this, the movie is.

Movie(s) of the year

Every movie blogger who thinks he/she is worth something will come up with a list of ‘movies of the year’, we are not exceptions; but we would like to do things differently.

Is Aandavan kattalai our movie of the year?

Our answer is “not quite Oru Naal Koothu” *

 

Epilogue

The movie begins with eighties style kaleidoscopic images, nice touch but I couldn’t see how they connect to the overall theme

*Pitting movie against movie is a very bad thing and I’m sure we will be punished for this.