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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.

Categories
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 Parking Lot Notes

Parking Lot Notes: First Man

Damien Chazelle’s First Man is an intimate portrait of the first man on the moon and not necessarily of his times; in absolute essence it is the tale of focus and realization. Look for the number of times the camera stays on the eyes of Ryan Gosling and then cuts to the solitary moon.

Unnaturally too for a space biography film which could have made us of the expanse, the camera lurks close to the astronaut and their families, but the emotions that come with the families are not not effective and as with most real lives do not readily lend themselves to drama.

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Ryan Gosling is fantastic as an distant archer with eyes always on target but using the moonshot as a way to get over his daughter’s death results leads to a contained movie.

This leads me to a question on the nature of bio-pics themselves; to establish the greatness of a person or in other words for a person to warrant a bio-pic shouldn’t the impact and hence the setting be also part of the story telling? Chazelle doesn’t seem to think so, but maybe he is right; everyone knows that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon; here it is more about carrying the weight of ambition.

The Apollo Moon Landings is a very important moment in American history, it reestablished them as ‘the greatest country in the world’ and the ones who reached for the stars (to quote that monologue from the Newsroom) and to see a film that does not harp on this fact is a bit unnerving.

Probably greatness is incidental and that makes making greatness as the main goal pointless. To be the best versions of ourselves, space and time permitting seems a more fulfilling goal.

 

PS: The 2 biggies in the theatres currently (First Man & A Star Is Born) were both first optioned by Clint Eastwood; both were finished by others.

Categories
cinema cinema:english Essay Essential viewing

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.

Categories
Books cinema:english Essay Essential viewing Movie Notes Uncategorized

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.