Tamil Movies That Weren’t Reviewed – 2018 Edition

Tamizh Padam 2
Shiva in Tamizh Padam 2

Every year, I set out to the nearest cinema hall to watch new releases. While I used to review every film I watch, I have been lacking the motivation to do that for the last few years. It’s not because these films aren’t worthy of reviews. I just cannot sit down and finish reviews. My drafts folder is overflowing with unpublished reviews. As 2018 draws to a close, I decided to make a list of the films that did not make it out of the drafts folder.

Thaanaa Serndha Koottam
An adaptation of Special 26 that becomes a boilerplate Surya movie. TSK ends with the actor’s trademark monologue where he brings to light a problem with today’s society. It’s an entertaining film but the last 30 minutes could have been better.

Naachiyaar
Bala’s latest film is a cop drama that seems to have been written in the 1970s. Naachiyaar feels like a made-for-TV movie. The presentation needs an extra coat of polish.

Kaala
The second Ranjith-Rajini collaboration makes me reconsider my dislike towards their first outing, Kabali. Nayakan was an effective film set around the plight of the Dharavi neighborhood. Kaala, which is made 30 years later doesn’t hold up.

Tik Tik Tik
Swivel chairs with wheels on a spaceship? A sub-plot to steal a nuclear payload from a Chinese spaceship? A criminal who reforms in outer space? Gimme a break!

Semma Botha Aagatha
Badri Venkatesh and Atharvaa’s second collaboration after the latter’s debut film, Baana Kaathadi feels like a student film and makes you wish for more scenes with Anaika Soti whose stereotypical performance turns out to be the film’s brightest moment.

Tamizh Padam 2
A sequel which is better than the first, Tamizh Padam 2 reunites C.S. Amudhan and “Agila Ulaga Superstar” Shiva. It’s a laugh riot from the word “go”.

Kolamavu Kokila
Writer-director Nelson’s dark comedy has its flaws but Nayanthara’s winning performance engulfs the film’s drawbacks.

Vada Chennai
This is perhaps the most satisfying gangster epic since Pudhupettai.

 

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Announcement: The Ratings System Is Obsolete

I’ve received several comments over the last few years over my ratings system. I am out of touch with my own blog and decided to take a look back at my ratings. Acclaimed films such as American Hustle, Zero Dark Thirty and Prisoners were given only two stars – an honour they share with films such as Singam and Dirty Picture. On the other hand, Tamil films such as Aadukalam, Kullanari Koottam and Payanam have received three and four star ratings.

The ratings system is strange indeed. Let me try and explain it. Hollywood films are rated from a different viewpoint when compared to Tamil or Hindi films. As someone who often bashes Tamil films, I’ve become lenient towards Tamil films and have been more accepting – case in point, Singam. I look forward to two things in Tamil films: (i) are they entertaining and, (ii) does the film achieve what it set out to do. Tamil and most Hindi films are rated based on that principle.

When it comes to Hollywood films, I compare them with other films in the same genre, by the same director or benchmark films in the ratings system.

Given this confusion, I’ve decided to do away with the ratings system.

Review: Sarkar

Sarkar
Vijay in Sarkar

A Wasted Effort
Rating: *

This has been a year of reunions. Directors and actors coming together for second, third or even a sixth time (take Mani Ratnam and Arvind Swami). A.R. Murugadoss and Vijay’s third collaboration after acclaimed films such as Thuppakki and Kaththi makes you wonder if third time is no longer a charm. Sarkar is Vijay’s vehicle. He wants to enter politics and what better way to do so. Sarkar should have been an effective movie, but, it fails to make an impact. Take the scene where Vijay launches into a well-written monologue after the public hurls tomatoes at him. I wanted more of those scenes. Even the scene where he takes his family to a nearby hospital and tells them of the fates suffered by the patients could have been a great scene, if only it were less preachy. Back in December 2015, several American political commentators wondered if Ivanka Trump was the brains behind her father, the presidential candidate. Sarkar offers a glimpse of that too. The Chief Minister’s daughter is thousands of miles away and dictates to her father and his cronies on what they must do. Varalakshmi Sarathkumar’s character, Komalavalli sounds good on paper, but, it isn’t captivating on film. It’s not that Varalakshmi isn’t a convincing actor, the film revolves around Vijay. He is the center of the Sarkar universe. He is the sun, if you will. This best explains the shades of yellow and gold that accompanies Vijay in the film.

With Sarkar, A.R. Murugadoss solves another problem: how do we introduce a heroine without wasting time on a needless subplot? Keerthy Suresh’s Nila already knows Vijay’s Sundar Ramaswamy. His brother married her sister and now they’re getting divorced. I wondered if the lead characters will work things out with their siblings, but that isn’t what Sarkar is about. Sure, Keerthy Suresh has to fall in love with the protagonist. The love angle is unconvincing. Sometimes you wonder if a romantic subplot is necessary in movies like Sarkar. Time is money, and every second wasted on Keerthy Suresh’s lovey-dovey glances is a test of patience.

The 49-P subplot is brilliantly written and executed. The first half moves with conviction. But, Sarkar loses its Midas touch somewhere in the midst of Sundar’s political rallies. A.R. Rahman’s songs are plain vanilla as only Simtaangaran holds water. Even the fight scenes – which are essential to Vijay’s films – fail to excite you. The first two fight scenes are just a series of slo-mo and sped up shots. Remember the coin fight in Kaththi? There’s nothing inventive here.

Sarkar, in Vijay’s eyes is a launch pad for his political aspirations. However, his trust in A.R. Murugadoss may have blinded his ambitions. Sarkar will remain a movie that should have been better, but isn’t.

Review: Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

Arvind Swami, Arun Vijay, STR, Vijay Sethupathi, Jyothika, Aditi Rao Hydari, Aishwarya Rajesh
Arvind Swami and Jyothika in Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

This Gangster Whodunit Lacks Fizz
Rating: *

Arvind Swami, Vijay Sethupathi and STR in a Mani Ratnam film? I’m in. I am definitely in. And so with high expectations I watched Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (Crimson Red Sky). Halfway through, I was disappointed. The story wasn’t gripping. The film’s trailer promised a good family feud but the film was a damp squib. One couldn’t help but be reminded of Kalki’s epic novel, Ponniyin Selvan, while watching Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. We are introduced to Aishwarya Rajesh who arrives to meet her husband on a boat, and she speaks with a strong Eelam accent. I shuddered. Aishwarya Rajesh’s Renu reminded me of Poonkuzhali, and much like the character in the novel, the character in the movie shows up on a boat. I waited for more such connections to show up. It didn’t happen. I waited for Ponniyin Selvan-esque female characters. That didn’t happen either. The story offers its female characters a cold wind to suck on. It’s just another attempt to create a film fuelled by testosterone, which I assume was extracted from Arvind Sami’s chest hair.

The last best Mani Ratnam film was Kannathil Muthamittal (2002). Aayutha Ezhuthu – despite its flaws and Mouna Ragam-esque Surya subplot – was a good film, but the impact did not leave any residue. Mani Ratnam has been doing films more frequently now than he was back in the 90s. Take a close look at the four films he has made in the last five years. He has focused on evergreen themes such as good vs. evil (Kadal), modern relationships (OK Kanmani), combating the inner devil (Kaatru Veliyidai) and dysfunctional families (Chekka Chivantha Vaanam). Now, compare this with his love-drenched sociopolitical dramas of the 90s or the hard-boiled crime films of the late 80s. Is this the evolution of Mani Ratnam?

STR gives us his best performance since Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, and in some ways is the saving grace of the film. Vijay Sethupathi continues with his “talk fast or talk loud” exercise. The trailer promised us Prakash Raj in a meaty role as the patriarch of this crime family. He’s reduced to just a handful of scenes. Heaven knows what Aditi Rao Hydari is doing in this film! Are we to consider her as just another casualty like Aishwarya Rajesh, Jyothika and Jayasudha? They play characters that sound interesting on paper but remain one-dimensional on film.

Review: Vishwaroopam 2

 

Kamal Haasan, Pooja Kumar, Andrea Jeremiah, Shekhar Kapur, Rahul Bose
Kamal Haasan returns as Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri in Vishwaroopam 2

A sequel we don’t really need.

Rating: *

 

After watching the overlong Vishwaroopam back in 2014, I yearned to see Part II not because I was invested in Wisam’s righteous battle or Omar’s tale of vengeance, but to check whether Andrea Jeremiah and Shekhar Kapur get meatier roles. In Vishwaroopam 2, Andrea gets a bigger role but it somewhat feels stereotyped. Andrea’s bratty RAW agent kicks ass and takes names but is letdown by the film’s homage-like presentation. What does the film pay homage to? Well, mostly Kamal Haasan and the first part. Time and again we are reminded of what happened in the first film. If not for this recap, the film would have clocked only two hours or even lesser.

Kamal’s Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri is often accused of being the bad guy due to his religious belief. This sets up a memorable scene at an old age home where he visits his mother who has Alzheimer’s and cannot remember who he really is. She remembers her son as the dancer who joined the army instead of living a life of peace. The scene serves as a reference to Wisam’s hostile reception in the Indian community and the actor’s wayward entry into politics. The first film’s breakout performer, Pooja Kumar continues to impress but not as much as the first film. It is nevertheless a relief when she’s onscreen.

The film’s biggest problem is Kamal Haasan’s ambition, which blinds him from making a memorable film. The steak is burnt and the broth is overcooked, Mr. Haasan. And, the remaining guests are thinking about leaving. We didn’t really need Vishwaroopam 2. But, now that we have it, we wish we didn’t have it.

 

Review: Junga

Junga, Vijay Sethupathi, Yogi Babu, Sayyeesha, Madonna Sebastian
Sayyeshaa Saigal and Vijay Sethupathi in Junga

Vijay Sethupathi needs a vacation, pronto.

Rating: *

 

Junga has such a silly premise that makes you not want to care about the movie. But, the dreaded “second half turn” makes the first half’s goofiness seem implausible. Junga, a bus conductor learns that he is from a don family and sets out to Chennai to win back his family property, a rundown theatre called Cinema Paradise. In his attempt to claim this rotting cinema hall, Junga flies to Paris in the hopes of kidnapping the fair-skinned, Tamil-speaking, lip synch-fudging daughter of the primary antagonist (or is he), Chettiar, an aging man living in palatial building, who drinks fine scotch, smokes light cigarettes, dons sunglasses inside the house and always wears pastel coloured suits like he’s an extra on Miami Vice. This preposterous movie, directed by Gokul who earlier made the surprisingly good Idharkkuthaane Aasaippattaai Balakumara is a travesty on an international scale. To him I say “Leave Paris alone!’

Vijay Sethupathi is either talking fast or talking loud, and both are somewhat unpleasant. As the film’s second half moves without grip or conviction, you begin to wonder if such a large scale production and budget was really necessary? I could tell right from the film’s trailer that Junga wasn’t going to be a blockbuster due to its lacklustre execution. The 150-minute film proves my point. Screenplay, performances, plot holes, background score and songs, and execution are the film’s minuses. At some point, you begin to yearn for more scenes with Saranya Ponvannan and the grandma – I would love a spin-off focusing on these two characters alone. I initially thought that Madonna Sebastian’s cameo-like appearance as a Telugu girl with high hopes was a waste of time, but Sayyeshaa Saigal proved me wrong. From Vanamagan to Kadaikkutty Singam, the actress shows all signs of being the next “it girl” of Tamil cinema. In reality, Sayyeshaa is more or less, a watered down version of Tamanna. In retrospect, Tamanna shouldn’t have to worry about losing the spotlight to Sayyeshaa. The actress doesn’t do much of acting and it’s only her milky white skin that’s keeping male audiences glued. Then, there’s Neha Sharma who is perhaps the important female character in the film who isn’t the character’s mom or grandma. I wasn’t much of a fan of Neha Sharma, but her performance is much better than Madonna and Sayyeesha.

In one scene, Junga and his comic relief, Yo-Yo (played by Yogi Babu) tell Kalki that they are in Paris to scout locations and that their movie has a pretty big budget to cover their expenses, including their hotel room which looks like Marie Antoinette’s boudoir. The line wasn’t just delivered to the woman but also to us. Vijay Sethupathi is making good money because he does almost every movie that comes his way. The actor needs to take a break, rethink his strategy and return to cinema with a refreshed focus. Give us Soodhu Kavvum and Vikram Vedha. Give us KaKaPo and Dharma Durai. Take back Rekka, Orange Mittai, Iraivi and Junga.

Junga has its good bits. But, then again, they are just bits and fragments of a film that’s just painful to watch after a while.

Review: Cinderella

Prince Charming and Ella in Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella.
Prince Charming and Ella in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is Enchanting!
Rating: ***

Critics around the world have been praising Kenneth Branagh for bringing Cinderella and Walt Disney Animation back to its roots. There was a time when animation supported storytelling. It was merely a prop. In Cinderella, you can make out what is real and what is animated. It’s just that you will not care for it as the story sweeps you away. Thankfully, Chris Weitz’s screenplay doesn’t alter the original story. Branagh’s execution however makes Cinderella, a wonderful cinematic experience; in other words, a fairy tale.

Watching Branagh’s version gave me fleeting memories of Disney’s 1950 adaptation, which I watched in third grade. The screening was arranged at our school library and we were given two periods off in the afternoon to watch it. As kids, we were ready for anything that took 90 minutes off school time. I was forced to sit behind due to my rather round head (not anymore). I remember Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo and Sing, Sweet Nightingale, the latter was known by us kids as the “soap bubble song”.

The 2015 version is not a musical, but it does have a handful of melodies, all composed to perfection by Branagh’s long-time collaborator, Patrick Doyle. Fairy tale adaptations much like classic literature adaptations are losing their share of the audience. The cinema hall I was at had just twenty or lesser viewers apart from Yours Truly.

Cate Blanchett rocks the house as the wicked stepmother bringing to the table a range of snobby retorts and coldness, while Lily James slips comfortably into the shoes of the “courageous but kind” Ella aka Cinderella. The film has a notable cast that include Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgård, Sophie McShera and Derek Jacobi. I for one was thrilled to see McShera and James in roles that are the exact opposite to their roles on Downton Abbey.

With Cinderella, I seem to have regained trust in Branagh’s capabilities as a director. His last two films – Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – were disappointing. Branagh needs to treat every project the way he has treated this. He needs to, as Ella rightly put it “have courage and be kind.”

Review: Meaghamann

Aarya in Magizh Thirumeni's Meaghamann.
Aarya in Meaghamann.

All Hope Is Lost

Rating: *

If you were watching Meaghamann on the night of December 26, at Screen-1 of Inox Cinemas, Chennai Citi Centre, you would have heard a man yell “What the fuck is going on!” Dear reader, that was me.

At this point, you may ask, “But, you have walked out of movies before; why didn’t you do it this time?” The answer simply is this: Meaghamann is the destruction of Tamil Cinema as we know it. I have preached apocalypse after watching movies such as Aadhavan, Kandhasamy and Sura. But, Meaghamann is the chosen one.

For starters, you can never get the pronunciation right. Even the titular song calls it “Mee-gha-man” and later as “Me-gaaa-man”. In reality, the titular character is “Megaman”, a larger-than-life Superman. But, unlike Superman, Megaman has no Bizarro ego – for there simply couldn’t be another like him.

The film opens with a disclaimer that although the story takes place in Goa and Mumbai, all characters speak in Tamil so that the common Tamilian can understand the dialogues. But, when the dialogues come with such heavy accents and are often eaten up by the jarring background score, you doubt the fate of the common Tamilian?

Meaghamann is a death-blow to your eyes, ears and sanity. There are scenes that have queasy, handheld cinematography. These are not only out of focus, but are also guttural. And, why are there so many sudden cuts to sunlight. In a dark room like a cinema theatre, the last thing we need is blinding light. If you’ve ever wondered how vampires react to sunrise, Meaghamann offers you plenty instances to experience firsthand.

The story is pretty simple. But, it has been hacked to small, uneven pieces to a point that you may find Hansika amusing. An undercover cop has to arrest the leader of a drug cartel and must work his way to the top. Filmmakers always find some way to weave in romance, and that’s how you get Hansika Motwani, who plays an idiotic, chirpy neighbour with no self-respect.

But, if you were to know how Aarya single-handedly kills a room full of armed gangsters, you would rather choose to see more of Hansika. It is always amazing how gangsters run around with guns all the time, but USE knives while fighting the protagonist.

In any screenwriting class, you will be taught that the first ten minutes are the most vital ones. This is where you catch hold of the audience. Meaghamann revealed in its first ten minutes that there was nothing great to expect. But, instead it gave rise to a new level of greatness. Yes, I’m referring to the audience – those poor, clueless wimps who paid the price and spent more than 2 hours watching a train wreck of a movie.

And this time, give the audience a National Award. They fucking deserve it!

Hansika hasn’t been on my good side since her Tamil début in Maapillai. I haven’t found her of any good use. Or maybe, it’s because she hasn’t been convincing in any of the roles given to her. A heroine is not needed in Meaghamann. Unless she too is an undercover cop, I can’t see why her scenes weren’t cut from the editing table. And here’s the hook. The director Magizh Thirumeni connects Hansika’s character with the main plot by envisioning a Bourne Supremacy-styled theft of a mobile phone.

Is it just me or have Indian movies started portraying non-consensual sex as a woman’s fantasy? Hansika’s character is quite infatuated with Aarya that she fantasizes of being “taken”. The fantasies please the heroine and spike the blood levels of the younger generation, but the scenario is overlong and hampers the pace of the film.

The film would have been less than two hours, if not for Hansika, who play a college student trying to perfect her Latin dancing skills. “In Latin, it’s all about the legwork” mutters Aarya as he helps her master the spinning technique.

At this point, you may ask “Is the protagonist an undercover cop or a Latin dancer?”

Here’s my reply: “He’s Megaman.”

The Age of Experimentation: I Am Curious (Yellow) and Belle de Jour

If the sixties stood for anything, it was experimentation. From psychedelic to new wave, art underwent a massive change in the sixties. These aged masterpieces continue to bedazzle us even today. And more than Hollywood, it was the European film market that offered a lot of these experimental films.

In this post, I’m gonna discuss Luis Bunuel’s acclaimed Belle de Jour and Vilgot Sjoman’s I Am Curious (Yellow). Both were controversial when they released due to the gratuitous nudity and storyline. Yet, both films were well-received by film goers, from the sixties to today.

Still from I Am Curious (Blue)
Still from I Am Curious (Blue)

Before we go on, I must tell you that I watched an edited version of these movies, so I don’t exactly know how much of skin was shown. But, the internet tells me that it was a lot, considering it was the sixties and people were just getting adjusted to nudity in mainstream Hollywood.

I Am Curious is a set of two Swedish movies, each differentiated by a colour – Yellow and Blue – the colours of Sweden’s flag. The film itself plays like an early form of mockumentary. It revolves about an actress and activist, Lena (played by Lena Nyman) who is having an affair with the director Vilgot (played by director Vilgot Sjoman). Lena is headstrong. She’s an activist who goes around interviewing people on human rights and nonviolence.

The film also includes footage of an interview with Martin Luther King. I Am Curious (Yellow) is set in a film production where Lena becomes attracted to another actor Borje (played by Borje Ahlstedt). It’s a film within a film.

When I Am Curious (Yellow) released, many Christians referred to it as a “dirty film”. Of course, nudity was taboo back then. I still remember Anne Bancroft’s interview where she mentioned that her Church was upset upon the release of The Graduate.

Catherine Deneuve in Belle De Jour
Catherine Deneuve in Belle De Jour

In Belle De Jour, Catherine Deneuve plays a bored wife with sexually illicit daydreams, who spends her afternoons as a prostitute. The character wanted something daring and found it in wild sex with strange men, and ultimately faced the dangers of it.

But, that’s not what these movies were about. These were metaphors of empowerment. Having been in the kitchen all their lives, the sixties encouraged women to get out and find a life of their own. Women found meaning and a new direction to lead their lives. The sixties were the age of liberation.

New paths were made. New jobs were created. Old regimes were questioned. It was the dawn of an era that impacted lives for decades, and continues to do so.

Review: 3 Days to Kill

Kevin Costner and Amber Heard in 3 Days to Kill.
Kevin Costner and Amber Heard in 3 Days to Kill.

2 Hours to Kill
Rating: ZERO

When the credits for 3 Days to Kill rolled, a person sitting near me read out the name “Luc Besson”. And he went on to make fun of it, relating it to Besant Nagar and the word “luck”. Having watched the film and a lot of other films by Besson, I think he is abusing his luck.

3 Days to Kill starts off like any action film starring Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liam Neeson or Harrison Ford – an aging protagonist known for “old school” violence. And much like the aging Murtagh from Lethal Weapon  who famously quoted “I’m too old for this shit”, Kevin Costner too displays similar symptoms.

But, is Kevin Costner really old for this shit? He surely hasn’t done action films in a while. He truly belongs to the sports genre (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tin Cup) and maybe the crime genre (The Untouchables). Being a one-man army has never been on Costner’s resume.

Being a one-man army wasn’t on Liam Neeson’s resume either. But, look at him now! Taken and its sequel, Non Stop, The A-Team and Unknown are all proof that Neeson is this generation’s John Wayne. He’s old. He’s a gunslinger. He’s got the looks.

And who made Neeson a bankable action star? It’s lucky Luc Besson, who has been a part of at least 50 films, as a writer, producer and sometimes a director. He’s known as “the John Hughes of action films”. But, there are signs that he’s losing his touch.

Take 3 Days to Kill where Ethan Renner (Costner) a veteran CIA agent is suffering from terminal brain cancer. In the film we are introduced to a young blonde CIA assassin named Vivi (Amber Heard) who looks more like a swimsuit model than a trigger-happy killer. Oh, and why do female assassins wear spandex costumes when killing someone? Wouldn’t it be better to dress like a normal person because it will be easy to blend in the crowd when getting away? And at this point, let’s totally not question why the said assassin shows off her glowing blonde hair and thick red lipstick when she’s pulling the trigger.

Ethan is told about an experimental drug that can extend his life and in return must help Vivi find a terrorist leader, who is known as ‘the Wolf’. Really? You’d wonder. From the Jackal to the Wolf, look at how villainous characters are named these days. And, here’s the funny part. To get the Wolf, they must first capture his right hand man, ‘the Albino’.

People in the cinema hall were laughing when they heard that the code names of an elite terrorist group were based on alpine wildlife.

And then, there’s the emotional baggage that he carries. Ethan has an estranged relationship with his family. When he’s not tracking down terrorists, he’s making amends with his daughter, played by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit is still on my mind).

If you’re wondering why this review is out of touch in terms of context, it’s because I’m still in a state of shock. I cannot believe that someone made a blunder of a movie and managed to cast Kevin Costner in the lead role.