14 Nov 2019

Jallikattu review: Tense, visually gripping cinema

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

- Animal Farm
by George Orwell (novella, 1945)

How much provocation does it take to make beasts out of men? In Lijo Jose Pellissery's stark, spear-savage, beastly, consistently fascinating and mind-slitting insightful 90-min Malayalam movie Jallikattu, all it takes is a runaway buffalo for village men to lust after its meat, and plunge screaming into the despair of their own darkness even as the chase gets frenzied and increasingly barbaric, much like the recent mob lynchings in India.

Jallikattu story 
Jallikattu is a traditional 2000-year-old sport predominantly existent in rural Tamil Nadu where many men try to tame a bull released into a large open enclosure, an act associated with raw masculinity.

In the movie, a mob frenzy erupts in a Kerala village, when a buffalo escapes the clutches of the local butcher Varkey (Chemban Vinod Jose) and leaves a trail of destruction. Most men of the village burst in screaming, angry groups to catch the elusive animal, but as the chase stretches out for hours, the demons within each of the collected men are revealed, leading to a monstrous heap of a climax. 

Visual treat 
Along with Super DeluxeJallikattu is easily one of the Indian movies of the year. It begins with a series of two-second cuts of various pairs of human eyes opening, followed by a wide shot of a supposedly calm forest with distant flickering lights.

The mini edit cuts are (especially) admiringly used in a mercilessly sharp sequence of killing an animal, chopping and hanging up its meat, followed by men thronging at the butcher. These scenes made me forget that these were human characters, a recurring touch the movie emanates from - growls, brutality, screams, quarrels, stabbings, forceful lust and other barbarous mannerisms usually identified with wild creatures. 

Straight, unwavering, deliciously beastly 
Great cinema is often about various elements coming together in a textured richness of audiovisual flow. In Jallikattu, Gireesh Gangadharan's cinematography, the R. Jayakumar and Hareesh S.screenplay, the brilliant ensemble cast (Antony Varghese, Sabumon Abdusamad, Santhy Balachandran and others), Prashant Pillai's effective (if not brilliant) background score and director Lijo Jose Pellissery's assured, reined direction of the insane crowd and chase scenes, make this a mini-masterpiece.

Dear cinema lovers, Jallikattu is your ticket to stark, rough yet necessary cinema, and like the best movies ever made, breathing with stabbing truths and goring it's horns to our insane, disorderly times.

Maybe there is a beast… maybe it's only us.
―  Lord of the Flies
by William Golding (novel, 1954)

3 Oct 2019

Joker Movie Review: Joaquin Phoenix is terrific in uneven, grim, gruesome take

Brace for impact, keep your sanity intact and prepare to dive deep into the murky demented world of the Joker.

Did we need a grim, hauntingly immersive Joker origin movie? Why so serious?

Wasn't it infinitely alluring that we never knew what made the Joker a psychotic, deranged criminal? The Joker is the most enigmatic Batman villain ever because of this delicious crazed air of mystery. Why touch an unexplained story thread that works the way it is?

Joker story
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a single man, having previously undergone psychiatric treatment, surviving with his ill mother in a ruinous apartment, trying to laugh out a living as a banner-twirling roadside clown.

Fleck wants to be an established stand-up comedian, he is a huge fan of talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), but it is a rough road ahead. When Fleck is fired from his job, things start getting out of hand - way, way out of hand.

Director-Actor symphony
To their credit, director & co-writer Todd Phillips and lead actor Phoenix keep us guessing and glued through the first hour of Joker, choking us in the blues and despair of surviving in bleak urban conditions, the utter hostility of living in a disintegrating city. Things start getting unrelentingly gloomy in the second half. The violence is unforgivably gruesome as Fleck swirls and dances into a slow spiral of downfall.

Phoenix and Phillips have conjured a Joker of our scariest nightmares, and boy, it is not a pleasant feeling at all.Getting the audience up close into the Joker's insane mind is an arguably unnecessary cinematic burst.

Joaquin Phoenix is terrific, this is the performance of a lifetime. Watch out for the laugh and the back story to it. His quite menacing portrayal helps the director skip over the movie's irregularities and the 'whatever' final act. 

Hits and misses 
Plugging in the Batman origin story to this forbidding tale has its hits and misses. The underplayed scene between Fleck and a young Bruce Wayne is eerie. The Thomas Wayne 'father' tease is a masterstroke. The pivotal now-too-familiar Wayne family murders could have been avoided.

The clipped narrative mode may make it hard for the general audience to comprehend some parts, especially the scenes involving Fleck's love interest Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz). The underlying tribute to another director-actor pair, Martin Scorsese & Robert De Niro, is a touch of brilliance.

The Dark Knight rules 
For the record, The Dark Knight remains the best comic book movie ever made. Nolan's interpretation has a sense of gravity and control, sorely missing in Joker.

Dangerous take 
That the Joker is made out to be a patron saint of unprivileged urban people taking to murder, madness and destruction is a dangerous screenplay take.

I have often heard people unreasonably mention how glorifying crime in movies can influence the audience to indulge in criminal acts. Well, by the end credits that previously illogical reasoning scarily fit Joker.

The negativity and mashed up madness stayed with me while gingerly driving home from the cinema hall, that's not a good feeling to have after watching a comic book-based dark drama.

Joker review 
One may either love, hate or doubt the evil allure of Joker, but it is too damn hard to look away.

Here is a dark, dubious, genre-defining hell-hole drama that I can't make up my mind whether to detest or recommend. I shook my head in disagreement several times during the screening at the sheer atrocity and cruelty of it all.

Go only if you have the nerve to take in the dreary details of a sick mind. If you do go, try to laugh it all away later. I suspect you might not succeed.