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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:tamil Essay Movie Notes

The Aunty Terror Squad

FYC: Spyder

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Has there been any Hollywood movie that has influenced so many Indian filmmakers within a short while than Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight? Maybe it is about the obsession with creating an antagonist.

Oh but I’m only thinking out loud, but it could really be the next on the ‘movies-we-look-up to-for-immediate-inspiration’ after Coppola’s The Godfather.

But the Batman and Joker are already part of larger conscious because of decades of multimodal existence, making it easier for writers to evoke invested past strands and bring to life the characters; it is not the same case in a Telugu-Tamil bilingual; a genre where a master in the culinary arts would not feel out of place.

Such movies are not called masala for nothing.

The Dark Knight is a (dark) blockbuster superhero movie, the near equivalent from what we have is the south Indian mass masala.  While some of it can be considered as comic, but here the word does not refer to periodicals out of which characters leap out of.

Mass masala by itself depends much on its leading man and the story gives into him. By that very statement it means that these films are meant to work only for those who buy into the charms (or lack-of) of the star.

Which means that for the most part the writer-directors are restricted in their choice of ingredients, sometimes they have to make do with just one condiment, more often than not trick the audience by throwing garam masala in our eyes.

AR Murugadoss seems to, in my eyes at least an expert chef who can find different uses for the same ingredient.

(I am really overdoing this samayal-cinema analogy, must come to the point before things get over cooked)

Under The Influence

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I believe more than the act of being inspired by another work, it is more important to know why that particular inspirational moment worked and think before replicating it.

Spyder’s hero does what Batman wanted Lucius Fox to do, listen in on people; while the ethical ramifications of spying are superficially dealt, they provide a convincing motivation for the lead; to prevent crime before it happens.

Yes, this could be the pre-crime from Minority Report but it could also be the inversion that is seen in ARM films like making a Vijaykanth film without making a Vijaykanth film?

The hero becomes a mass hero as a reaction to personal tragedies or societal atrocities, but can he/she really still be called a hero by preventing events from happening and not let the world know?

But it isn’t really an inversion unless you follow through with the act of an unseen hero, ultimately compulsions prevail and there is a love track and so there must be songs and an overblown climactic fight which makes you forget the questions that the film tried to raise earlier.

Especially notable is when Madan Karky rhymes mosam with awesome and concludes love is eternal much like plastic.

But Spyder is still somewhere there and even these commercial elements are not without joy.

Who Wants To Be A Hero?

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Earlier in the Spyder, a scene made me reflect on an underlying theme in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, that every person is capable of heroism, Bruce obviously states this in the concluding chapter but there are enough visual examples.

The way the common folk are involved in the events that happen to the city, not just as observers but as  active participants, they are not alienated in the good vs. evil battle nor are they just used as bait for the hero to rescue.

But why?

In Spyder’s best segment which lasts about 20 minutes, has nothing to do with Mahesh Babu  or the antagonist S J Suryah, but about common people (middle aged ladies in this case) finding courage to do what they would not normally do and lend a helping hand beyond possible imagination.

It worked totally for me and convinced that this involvement of the nameless with whom we can identify, add to how we receive a film.

Yes yes, S J Suryah character and how he seems to have played it tries to match Heath Ledger’s Joker in every step, but then there is more to the Dark Knight trilogy.

Only if we choose to see, hence for your consideration.

 

 

 

Categories
cinema cinema:english cinema:tamil Essay

IT’S THE SAME THING, MR SIVAM!

HOW KURUTHIPUNAL AND THE DARK KNIGHT ARE ONE AND THE SAME

Well, almost the same. An essay.

“The mind sees what it wants to see”

The Da Vinci Code, 2006

The choice of opening quote from the Da Vinci Code might put you into a lot of worry, I know, but I simply love that movie. Nevertheless the movie has this brilliant quote which is so close to what I am trying to do here.

When you keep seeing a lot of movies, ok let me refine that, when you keep seeing a lot of movies, a lot of times; things just strike you, you begin to see things that you wouldn’t have cared about during your first viewing, you start to make assumptions based on thin connections, this article is a voice of all that goes into a head which makes these connections.

It could be frivolous to many who have reached this page, and this is what that gives me the nervousness.

Nevertheless, I begin.

Sometime after Inception was released, there was a Disney comic that was doing the rounds, written of course years and years ago which had the exact structure as that of Inception (A dream within a dream within a dream), we can hardly accuse Christopher Nolan of theft, but the interesting point here is the similarities in structure and how some things are quite universal.

Let’s now get to the wonderful police film Kuruthipunal, released in 1995 is actually based on a Govind Nihlani film Drohkaal which was released the previous year.

Then why doesn’t your article cite Drohkaal? You are bound to ask, I’ll come to that in a bit.

The starting point is of these kind of these connections are of course the interrogation scenes from Kuruthipunal.

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FEAR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF TERROR

The above subtitle would have been a better title for this whole piece, because that is what these two movies are essentially about. Two men; one with an ideology (Badri-Nasser) and another seemingly without (The Joker- Heath Ledger) make up the main antagonists, so critical to both the films

While the joker constantly plays on the subject fear and loss, not only on the main characters of the film, but also on the inhabitants of the city; similarly do Badri and his gang unleash terror on the common public and the honest police officers.

Interestingly both movies begin with an incident involving a school bus.

Well, all this too generic to see, every terrorist group will aim to do just that.

But Wait.

In the Dark Knight, the token of Harvey Dent is a coin, he keeps referring it to as chance- the fairest of all things in the world, but just look at it from here, a flip of a coin can indicate many things and among them is the change of sides.

WE ARE NOT AS STRONG AS WE THINK

The Joker keeps referring to himself and the Batman are one and the same, just on different sides, he also strangely says that he is able to understand the freakiness that is the Batman character and that Batman would do better on his side.

This is again exactly what Badri says to Adi (Kamal Haasan), but here it is not the freakiness that is in question, but honesty.

Both films have characters that have been lured by the tricks of the antagonist and cross over to the other side, Harvey Dent even asks “why me?”, but it was the Joker’s trick with everyone, only Harvey was not as strong as he seemed to be, similarly the case with Adi who accepts to become a terrorist informer for the sake of his family and friends.

Shake your belief to an extent that you topple and fall from grace, the death of Harvey Dent had far reaching consequences including a major cover up, similarly in Kuruthipunal, Kamal makes a last ditch attempt at honour even when fully realising that he can live no more without his honesty.

Thematically these movies are so similar because of the below: fear and faith, and most of the conversations in Kuruthipunal are about the same, while only the scale of events are different.

In the Dark Knight, as with most Batman lore is about the city, while Kuruthipunal is interestingly anonymous about the whole setting of the movie, there are few references to other places in the country, but invariably the setting seems anonymous, to imply what I believe is the universality of terror.

The terror groups in the film also represent the threat of the times in the south, although that could be reading into it too deeply.

Something which Kamal again touches upon in Unnai Pol Oruvan (again a remake, improved if I might add)

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The Dark Knight has three pivot characters around which the Joker operates, the Batman: The Dark Knight who as we know has many issues including one childhood girlfriend, Harvey Dent: The White Knight who also has girlfriend issue and then there is Commissioner Gordon who fears for the life of his family.

Ok, Kuruthipunal too has three central characters whose life is turned upside down by Badri, DCPs Adi and Abbas and Commissioner Sreenivasan (Director K Vishwanath). The transformations that these characters undergo because of the activities of the antagonist are what I think the most common element amongst them.

There can be no private life of a public protector

The Dark Knight however has this advantage of having a symbol that is incorruptible and hope giving, while Kuruthipunal and Drohkaal manage to bring the same story out with real life characters as opposed to comic book heroes.

That brings us to Drohkaal and why Kuruthipunal is more closer to the Dark Knight than its predecessor, on casual viewing you can say that Kuruthipunal is really better made, there are so many things that are added to the Tamil version that is not there in the Nihlani film, like for example extending the role of Abbas (Arjun) and involved action sequence on the platforms of the dimly lit Egmore Station, which still remains as chilling as I saw it the first time, cinematic differences aside which are many and bound to be when a film is being helmed by one Mr PC Sreeram, the structural similarities between the Dark Knight and Kuruthipunal is only heightened because the screenplay and dialogues (John and Kamal Haasan), because only through dialogue character motivations are completely brought out.

Drohkaal on the other hand brings it down to a more corrupt police vs good police generic concept.  But there is no denying what Kuruthipunal owes Drohkaal, the basic story.

While Kuruthipunal makes it a clash of cultures and ideologies as shown through the conversations between Kamal and Nasser, and this is what the Dark Knight tries to achieve by letting off the Joker against the Batman.

Both scenarios end with a sacrifice.

ENDING NOTE

All this analysis is for what? Any movie can be compared to anyone and with a convincing writer, connections can be established.

I am hardly a convincing writer and this is not a post of revelation, it is just a thought that has been doing the rounds for quite some time in my head, to look at the ideas that make these films as one fluid entity and that may be the reason for the similarities, ideas that flow from one person to another. But the explanations might be even simpler for this, a common movie that has inspired these both, putting this entire post to waste bin. But that is a risk I am willing to take.

I have always seen Nolan’s Batman films as police films that comment on terrorism and maybe that is also one of the reasons for this post.

The stories of both progress differently, Kuruthipunal with a strong grounding towards the families of the policemen involved, while it is only a sub-element in the Dark Knight.

The relationship between the three characters in both the movies oscillates between absolute trust and just working relationships which as mentioned before is exploited by the villain.

Did not want to put this up as points and reduce it to a scoop whoop/buzzfeed release, because this is more involved and needs more discussion. Both are great movies even without these similarities: taut and exciting thrillers which deliver one good scene after the other.

Both films are elevated to a different level by their villains, although Heath Ledger has been lauded posthumously, Nasser’s chilling portrayal towering over the leads and that to in a Kamal film has sadly been forgotten, like most of his roles.

Interestingly Ashish Vidyarthi whose role Nasser assumed for the Tamil version won a National Award.

Kuruthipunal and not Drohkaal was India’s official entry to the Oscars in corresponding year, while the Dark Knight was nominated for every other major category except Best Film, which it would have, had it not been a super hero film.

PC Sreeram has just made one film after Kuruthipunal as director; Nolan came to the theatres with yet another terrorist film called the Dark Knight Rises.

It is also interesting to note that Kuruthipunal begins with a phrase that contains the word Kuruthipunal which translates to River of Blood, while the Dark Knight literally ends with the words: the Dark Knight.

#justsaying

The title of this post, if you haven’t figured out is a direct reference to another Kamal film called Anbe Sivam

This post also marks 20 years since the release of Kuruthipunal.

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Thank you for reading.

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cinema cinema:english Uncategorized

THE HERO WITHOUT A FACE

 

 

                                                         “It all ends here”

I believe in Christopher Nolan

We live in a time of superhero films, a time of summer blockbusters, a time of unabashed super groups and unwanted reboots.

We also live in the time of Christopher Nolan, whose previous film till then was about a guilt ridden cop who could not sleep. The year is 2005, the year this story begins.

If one would mentally recall the appropriately lit ‘coming soon’ spaces at the cinemas, it would have invariably be a superhero film, either a reboot or a numerical following. They are the perfect mould for a wide release, intact support base and space for extension and a special effects supervisor’s occupational nightmare; but they really did not require anything more than a slice of something of a story to slide between these action sequences.

It was the case before Batman Begins as well, the first live action Batman films went from good to worse, it is also to be remembered that Tim Burton’s Batman was once hailed the movie of the decade; I’ve seen them all including the Joel Schumacher movies which are now seen as the lowest point in any superhero filmdom, but I am yet to see a person who has something good to say about Superman and the Quest for Peace.

I am sure it happens with any franchise as Spiderman now rightly proved, there are times when you do need an over haul; but basically we must understand these are money vehicles for studios, a direct pairing would be the Ajith-Vijay films that we make, by saying that the people in LA only make it better I would risk being called unsavory things. But many fail to realize the whole backbone of all these superhero films are the comics themselves, I cannot speak for the Marvel ones but Nolan’s Batman has been drawn out from not one, but many comic book arcs and it is disheartening to see people lash out in 140 characters or less about TDKR(The Dark Knight Rises) not being as ‘great’ as TDK(The Dark Knight, I’m sure you got that but still).

Who decides whether which is great and which isn’t is a question that not many are wishing to ask, not to others but to themselves. Personally for me Batman Begins is the greatest in the series and It might be because of a skewed up argument as to how the Dark Knight is not all that great, it may be aided because of the sudden rise in the number of people wearing “Why so Serious?” t-shirts and randomly quoting “Some people just like to watch the world burn” whenever they strike a match.

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As a famous line goes,” They are the opposite of Batman”

Superman is flawless which makes him boring after a while, what Superman might become is imagined as Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen, an insensitive mass of nothingness who can never really become human let alone sympathize with us. Nothing but an alien mineral to stop him, his problems are not enemies and a villain like the Joker would have no hold over Superman, it is even doubtful that man of steel would ever indulge in conversation during such a combat. So let’s drop Superman there, let’s leave him in his quest for world peace.

Batman is us, he is human; he doesn’t have any powers and he has as many (if not more) as problems as the average salaried male; in fact never quite recovered from the death of his parents. This very single line lends to further interpretation towards the development of character. Batman Begins simply works because it is as real as it can get.

Christopher Nolan puts in the default ingredients of a coming of age movie and seamlessly binds them to a superhero franchise, it is now clear that the whole idea of Batman Begins came from much irritation of the Joel Schumacher films and Wikipedia informs me that since the success of the Batman reboot, many other comic book adaptations were green lit.

But they have only been costume dramas, fail-safe and entertaining in an established way, nothing cinematic except for the effects; giving people a reason to go back to the theatres. Only Nolan majorly spent time on character development and actually having plots and sub plots, twist and turn them relying on physical stunts and increasingly great acting that none of the arty movies have been unable to provide over the years geography of Gotham and finally the mind of the audience, arrive at a product which is paragon when compared to conventional superhero films but still makes the same money(if not more, to use it again)

That is why it is sad, when we come to know that the only nomination that Batman Begins got was for Wally Pfister’s art of light. Begins pales wrongly when compared to its successor, I feel that it is one of those movie that come and change your life for the better and I watch it whenever I feel sad or happy. There are not a lot of movies that can deal with your emotional extremes.

Why am I building a case for Batman Begins?

Because that is how I feel that true greatness of Rises is realized.

Rises is a direct sequel to Begins, the Michael Mannesque grittiness that began in first film is reflected in Rises. This is not some ‘here we go and get the Tesseract’ movie, only while mentioning Avengers and Rises in the same breath that you realize how a foolish movie it is, entertaining nevertheless with Downey-liners and brutal synthesized violence of the Hulk, it is just the display of your Gijoe like action figures, it is not a film. I remember rating it favorably, but you don’t compare them. Avengers is a popcorn film at the very best.

I believe in Gotham City

Batman has grown beyond the imaginations of Bob Kane, from being masked vigilante (what a phrase) to being a symbol of trust and human justice, but Bruce Wayne has also grown or deepened. Within those long halls of Wayne Manor walks a restless soul, a hero who doubts the very notion on what he stands for.

It perfectly understandable if Bruce had stopped wearing the cape after he felt avenged for which he needn’t have worn suit in the first place. But he realizes that one must strive for something higher than revenge.

Fear and justice are two parallel streams in the three films, a young Bruce falling into the well of bats and how he first encounters the reality of the streets are brilliantly shown. He could have simply been everybody’s millionaire turning up at social events and writing cheques for the have-nots, it is doubtful if Bruce would have inherited such idealism if his parents had been alive. There is a lot to Batman/Bruce to most others and that is what I believe Nolan began with; it is just not about fighting villains.

That is what irks me about the Dark Knight, it is a great film nevertheless and nobody can argue about Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, but I wouldn’t quite forgive him for stealing the movie away from the Batman and the Knight true to his character just stays in the side of his city.

 “I’ll be standing where I belong, between you and the people of Gotham” (Begins)

The Joker is like than attention seeking kid during a very interesting and serious class, the kid that would not shut and mouth philosophies, bully people around him, then the teacher would have to indulge him for a moment and then continue with the lesson. A good moment of silence spoiled by fireworks, but then that is how troublers are and Batman would willingly do what is necessary for his city. But marking the performance of a teacher solely based on how he handles a problem child may not be right.

Expecting people to view films in a certain way is not only wrong but also pretentious; The Dark Knight gives people with dreams of anarchy a figure to identify it with, and when anarchy is dealt as chaos in Rises the story comes to a full close.

People who have no belief in social justice and order will not know how to deal with the achieved lawlessness and anarchy is only a representation of non-acceptance in the society. The society is not without its stinks but you do not burn it down, you clean it. You stick to it, you walk with it.

The Batman films for me were not entertainment but social statements with Gotham standing for the world and Batman standing for the fractured individual who wants to act but can’t directly.

“What chance does Gotham have when the good people do nothing?” (Begins) 

After a long standing debate with a good friend, we decided to leave the matter of the Dark Knight hanging as ‘the greatest super-villain story ever told’ to give him some credit and I do not believe in the Hitchcock quote as to how greater a villain is, the greater the film is. A villain still remains one, a dog whether he chases cars or not.

Amidst all this talk about the greatest films made, it is the integrity of Nolan to not lose touch with humanity throughout. The franchise can be seen both as Batman stories or stories with Batman in it, bridging the divide between the taste of the fan boys and the frowns of the critics.

That brings me back to my first point, I believe in Christopher Nolan. As an honest director who makes good films who also understands Batman and not as the fanboy director who makes comic books films restricting himself to only a level of exposure. He is a filmmaker first and we must be proud of it.

                                  I believe in Batman

Ever since the movie released there have been countless reviews, everyone I know has posted something about the film, it is understandable that the liking of a film is a personal statement but I cannot understand as to why it has become a social compulsion to have something to say about it.

So this space is used to thank those who stayed silent through the whole ruckus, it is also the space where I beg for forgiveness realizing that for many people Batman may not be as important to others as it is to this author.

I have also realized that summarizing a recently viewed film not only reduced the juiciness of it all, but also gives more feed for garrulous readers to make opinions simply based on what is written and not seeing it for themselves.

It is too early to speak on the epic-ness of Rises, but there can be no doubt that is the best superhero series ever and one of intriguing stories of mankind.

I can only plead with the unfulfilled to look at the Rises as a final part of three and not two.

As I hopelessly scout websites for tickets for another viewing, a sad feeling of how it is all over rises to my throat.

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, Dark Knight;

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”           

 

-adapted shamelessly from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet