kinocow

Review

Saeed: Portrait of a serial killer

Holy Spider

One aspect that differentiates Ali Abbasi's European produced, Iranian serial killer film Holy Spider and the current crop of American movies based on female violence post Harvey Weinstein (Kitty Green's The Assistant, Maria Schrader's She Said) is the gaze with which the perpetrator or the victims are tracked through the story. The current American style seems to be completely omitting the act or the perpetrator from the view, focusing on the victims and their trauma while the perpetrator is shown as a invisible yet menacing threat within the story line. It does make sense to remove the temptation of male titillation to make a story emotionally relevant but the villains in both the cases are power and chauvinism. In America this patriarchal force has a subdued presence while in Iran it has the backing of the regime.

Holy Spider's political messaging is in stride with the Mahisa Amini protests against the Iranian regime, where women have been targeted for not following the strict dress code imposed by the theocratic authorities. The movie shows how the theological society almost sided with a serial killer who murdered prostitutes, by regarding him as a hero from “purifying” the city of Mashhad's streets. the conflict arises when an investigative journalist (played by arresting Zar Amir Ebrahimi) tries to see through the hypocritical bullshit of the police and takes it upon herself to find the killer. The movie relies on a series of implausible coincidences to drive the story forward but the stylistic cinematic choices alleviate from the conveniences of the plot. It devolves into a standard serial killer orgy towards the end, where we as the audience get to ogle at the Iranian version of the American pop cultural creation of the “interesting” serial killer. The result is a phenomenal religious serial killer archetype that Mehdi Bajestani feasts upon for his portrayal of Saeed, who remains as a lingering characters long after the movie is finished.

#Iranian #movie #review

Not your typical first date movie.

what happened was

I don't think you go to a play to forget, or to a movie to be distracted. I think life generally is a distraction and that going to a movie is a way to get back, not go away. – Tom Noonan

What happened was.. was playwright, actor Tom Noonan's directorial debut about two co-workers in a law firm in New York having a dinner date together. Tom Noonan, in his directorial debut, plays Michael, a Kaufmanesque bald paralegal (this film also happens to be one of Charlie Kaufman's favorites) who hides beneath a stoic veneer of learnedness hides the bitter insecurity of not having accomplished much in life. His play-act however has an effect on Jackie (Karen Sillas) who is impressed by the artist's aura Michael wears, hiding her insecurities about being a writer and a woman committed to action. The date doesn't go as planned, with the first date's oddity of mismatched communication becoming the dramatic device to introduce the darker folds of the characters. Michael holds sway over Jackie for the first 2/3rds of the movie, building a legend for himself as a Harvard dropout and a novelist 15 years in the making.

Things take a creepier turn when Jackie reads Michael the first chapter of a children's story she has written and offers to read it to him. Michael being the snob he is asks to listen to it, perhaps to brush off Jackie's simple thoughts. Jackie's story, What happened was.. turns phantasmagorical, going beyond the conventions of a regular children's story. Michael, and us as the audience, are then treated to a ten-minute out-of-body experience as Jackie reads her macabre first chapter from the movie, with the lives of people filtering in from the other apartments and the city lights creating an eerie atmosphere. Michael, who has visions throughout the reading offers Jackie a connection with his publisher, only to be rebuffed by Jackie that she already has one and that the book went to print, which takes him aback.

Through the course of the awkward night, Jackie throws several cues at Michael showing her physical interest in him, which he brushes away. This builds a frustration within Jackie who sees her feelings are unrequited which reaches a crescendo when Michael decides to leave the house without a warning setting stage for his final revelation as a broken couch potato who amasses his knowledge from TV programs and passes it on with his bookish demeanor. It's a harrowing portrait of a man who has to accept the defeat of his intellectual sham: He has no publisher and the book he's working on at the law firm is nothing but make-believe, adding to his persona as a Harvard dropout and perpetual paralegal at a law firm where he could've been doing much better. Jackie listens to Michael and delivers her finest line in the movie, ” we are all where we want to be Michael”.

What happened was.. is a horror movie disguised as a drama, where the horrors reflected are the inner workings of the performative act we put up as humans. This is a forgotten movie washed out by the hype of Pulp Fiction released that year. It deserves a revisit and is a film experience that will stay in the mind for a long, for the questions it asks are the ones we never want to confront.

#indie #American #review

A woman alone in the world

The breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting civil wars and resulting ethnic cleansing left thousands of families in the Balkans without closure. Blerta Basholli's film documents the tragedy of the Kosovan village Krushë e Madhe, where a hundred civilians were separated from the village and are presumed to be shot. The film follows the story of Fahrije, whose husband disappeared during the war and whose remains do not turn up in any of the mass graves excavated around the village. It leaves a lot of questions for her and her two children while facing a simultaneous battle of being a “dishonorable” woman for driving a car and having ideas for sustaining herself. Fahrije understands that she has to move on and that accepting meager handouts from the local women's community will not help her much in the future. She has to fight against the strict conservative norms applied to the women in Kosovan society to work and build a business of her own, a transformation that not only will uplift her but her friends and neighbors who are in the same tragedy together.

An intense character study, Zgjoi paints a picture of a woman finding her place in the backyard of continental Europe. It's a film with deep lows and gentle highs, though the village accuses Fahrije to be a whore for driving to the city and owning a car, the pain for her missing husband is hidden from everyone. This differential wrings hearts whenever she has to visit the mortuary to find out about the remains of her husband, oftentimes all that is left is a pile of bones or some clothes. This in turn becomes the companion piece for last year's haunting Quo Vadis, Aida? which depicts the genocides of Srebrenica, showing the faces of the men whose bodies will be discovered same way as they do around in Krushë e Madhe. _Zgjoi _ is a far more delicate film documenting the tragedy as it focuses on the aftermath for the grieving families and their struggle to find reconciliation in a patriarchal society that stacks all odds against them.

Fahrije is no ordinary hustler, labelled for being deviant she has to find ways to move on and focus on what is still left, her family. A scene that establishes her plight is a women's meeting where Fahrije protests, “we are not looking for donations, we are looking for work”. Though the women around her are slow to change fearing society, Fahrije takes an enterprising step forward making plans to set up an ajvar-making cooperative. The cooperative then becomes a safe space for the women to find collective healing and a path to redeem their past. There are moments in the film where one cannot but cry, but we cry with Fahrije, we cry for her tragedy and wish for her success. That is a win for Blerta Basholli's wonderful film.

#review #Kosovo #film

Or how to use a camera as a medium of consciousness

How to with John Wilson

A camera is a tool that functions as a buffer between the one who's seeing and the person who sees, making film one of the exacting mediums to record reality with. The camera assumes the personality of the person behind it which is often diluted because of the dramatized domains the art form occupies. Rare exceptions are found when the camera becomes a tool of localizing and meditation, giving the viewer depth and context to the nature of things around them.

The HBO show “How to with John Wilson” tackles this meditative approach to film, setting it the bizarre confined of New York City where the director John Wilson introduces specific thematic elements juxtaposed to the everyday goings in New York. It's a show that eludes a genre-specific identity, it is part comedy, part cringe, part poetry, and documentary. Set to the childlike voice-over of the director, each short episode focuses on the issues that irk us as adults but for which no one has a specific answer. John Wilson brings curiosity to find answers to problems like how to split one's check or how to be spontaneous, juxtaposing B-roll footage to great comic effect. It explores parts of the human psyche that are assumed to be functioning properly but in reality, it puts most of us in a state of anxiety. Splitting a check or choosing a bottle of wine seems like the biggest mystery of modern life, what is appropriate behavior in these circumstances? Does one go for the second cheapest bottle of wine or risk a more expensive to a Portuguese wine shop at the end of the street? Though homo economicus might be a good thought temperament to imbibe, mental accounting hasn't yet reached the inner sanctum of our behavior. John Wilson helps us understand this division through his anxiety-prone view of life, making things awkward by overthinking and exhibiting this overthinking through the multitudes of human life in and around New York, with a couple of episodes exploring the same questions in Las Vegas and New Orleans.

How to with John Wilson is at its heart a passion project funded by HBO, giving wings to ideas that otherwise would remain as thoughts. The show exposes the conundrums between the reality of our experience vs. the reality of our thoughts, not a small feat for a 30 minute TV show.

#TV #HBO #review

All ice and no Suntory whisky.

On the Rocks

The image of Bill Murray eternalized by Lost in Translation is on weak ground in director Sofia Coppola's uninspired New York version of her first movie. The dramatic structure remains the same – a lonely woman in a marriage, a charming older father figure and a husband that seems to have an affair. While Lost in Translation offered an image of loneliness immersed in the distance of Tokyo, On the Rocks happens in the characters privileged fugue of New York.

The plot of On the Rocks is illusionary. There is no tension of wanting to know what happens next. From the first moment you know that Laura, played by a trudging Rashida Jones, does not really care if her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is having an affair. She cannot focus on her book which we know nothing about and she feels unsexy thanks to the strain of motherhood. Dean comes and goes, and the tiny amount of lingering suspicion is poofed out with Laura's father, Felix's (Bill Murray) entry.

On the Rocks treats Bill Murray with reverence, at certain moments with too much reverence. His cauliflowered face gets a lot of dull dialogue that almost seems like it's pieced through the trivia section of a newspaper. At one point Bill Murray is singing a song on a Mexican beach which is when I started to wonder, what's the point of the whole thing? On the Rocks is the film equivalent of lounge music, it looks good, doesn't require too much attention and nothing happens in the end while still retaining essential qualities of a film. It's the kind of movie that you can half-watch while you're scrolling through an endless feed or even take a nap and see that you missed nothing.

The only merit of this movie that it has a singing and talking Bill Murray, everything else is glass and ice to his Suntory time.

#BillMurray #Hollywood #review

Budget Devarakonda and his chutney

Middle-Class-Melodies

The past decade of Hindi film has seen the resurgence of stories set in small towns of India capturing demographics that seemed distant from the Bollywood grandeur expected in the 90s. Stories started having ordinary characters with a strong dose of realism that otherwise dreamy film industry has long forgotten. Masaan, Mukti Bhavan, Titli and even to an extent Gangs of Wasseypur stand as shining examples for this new epoch that bring Hindi cinema inline with global consumptory preferences while still being deeply rooted in local cultural milieu.

This could be that the economic demographics of a filmgoer have changed drastically in past 30 years, as the average Indian in a city gets more prosperous, stories of smaller towns have more appeal. With the proliferation of internet and Over The Top (OTT) platforms the film going demographic that earlier was categorized in to A, B and C centers [1] has been now atomized. Film has become democratic in its reach and a consumer in South Delhi has the same content choices as someone in Tirunelveli. This makes the larger than life Bollywood masala films archaic especially when they are competing for eyeballs alongside Narcos and Stranger Things.

The Telugu film industry has been largely absent from this movement. Considering that only a few film families control the production, distribution and exhibition of films, stories became stagnant as the producers turned risk averse. The actors who come from the same families have macho/saint images carefully curated from years of making the mass masala movies. The script of a Telugu film hasn't changed since the mid-90s and it reflects in the reviews of popular film websites, the rating for most movies hovers around 2.5 to 3.5 on a 5 point scale. This stagnation has been changing in the past five years where college educated engineers started making stories that shared their ethos combined with the deep pockets of tech capital. [2]

With the OTT platforms making firm inroads into the production and distribution market there is an appetite for bringing newer cultural elements before the cinematic lens. Middle Class Melodies adds to the growing roster of indie Telugu films that hint at a changing industry practises and a shift from focus from the metropol to the smaller cities and towns of the Andhra/Telangana region.

Middle Class Melodies does not have much of a plot so to speak, the story meanders around a lot of characters before it reaches its conclusion but it's not an anthology either. At different points it is different things, once it is about Bombay chutney and at another a romance between side characters that goes nowhere. Not that this meandering is unwatchable, the freshness of the movie comes from this zigzagging through different characters. It feels like the director Vinod Ananthoju approached Amazon Prime for a webseries and got the budget for a full length film instead. His characters populate the tribulations faced by the Indian middle class (poor/lower middle class from the Western standpoint) which he uses to evoke a nostalgic emotion. The lost Teluguland of Guntur is both real and dreamy at the same time.

The only grouse I have with the film comes in the form of the lead actor, Anand Devarakonda whose only merit of being an actor is being the brother of Vijay Devarakonda whose back-to-back hits of Pellichupulu and Arjun Reddy propelled him to stardom. Anand Devarakonda has neither the nuance nor the charisma of Vijay and is in the film solely for being a cheaper semblance of his brother. Perhaps this level of nepotism is required to attract people to the screens in a culture that's still into hero worship and it is saddening to see that even OTT platforms have to resort to this desperation. In a way, Anand's non-charisma aids his character's loserdom. Most people without the means remain as pale imitations of their aspirations and Middle Class Melodies gets that right.

[1] – A,B and C centers represent the class of people watching the movie. “A” center refers to the educated or class audience in big cities, “B” center is the audience from smaller towns or from stand alone theaters and “C” center audience are the mass audience or in popular parlance the kind “that leave their brains behind at home”. This segregation is arbitrary and overlaps the caste divide often.

[2] – Aided with the rise of Youtube and Facebook. Social media opened the world wide open and for the first time showed that people can aspire for the world while still staying in India. Early Silicon Valley kitsch of “believing in oneself”/“passion” became buzzwords that still dominate the current young Telugu filmmaking generation.

(Streams on Amazon Prime)

#MiddleClassMelodies #Tollywood #Review #Telugu

“When luck suck everybody fucks”

Ludi

Anurag Basu's latest Netflix release Ludo is a case of Bollywood romanticism done right. It is a reflection of what it means to be Indian, from the narrative of the ideal husband drilled into women to the spiritual lens through which the country comforts itself. A game of ludo that the characters populate, color coded and navigating through the game with pure chance.

If you have seen Anurag Basu's Barfi! you know what you're in for. Basu's uses his directorial powers with a lot of responsibility, there is never a moment where your brain is not figuring out the permutations that the scene has to offer. The kitsch involving the child actress is forgiven by the meta-narrative which further liberates the movie from any narrative misgivings. Discussing the meta-narrative would mean divulging spoilers but it relies on classical Indian philosophical inquiry to push the story forward.

Take the case of Ugly, another film that runs on the plot line of interwoven stories revolving around a missing child, the police and opportunistic people that try to profit from the proceedings. The film by Anurag Kashyap has irredeemable characters populating a story with no hope. The discretion of the meta-narrative is dependent on the viewer. The judgement of the characters is upon the viewer's discretion. Ludo's meta-narrative solves this problem making the story palatable and approachable for subsequent viewings.

Throughout Ludo I was wondering how much of a delight it would've been to watch it in the kinos, it's the kind of of film that warrants buying popcorn and dream about movies in themselves. It is sad that the colloquial paisa vasool (“bang for the buck”) has to happen over a Netflix subscription over the box office. Talking about meta-narratives and then Covid.. the picture goes on.

(Ludo and Ugly stream on Netflix)

#Ludo #Netflix #Bollywood #review

“I'm Not Sure Anybody Even Knows What It Is”; “You Can Call It A Germ, You Can Call It A Flu”

Parasite kinocow

I watched the movie thrice, streaming it twice because I thought it wouldn't be the breakout hit it would be. Bong Joon-ho is a perennial favorite, from the first time I watched Memories of Murder thanks to Tarantino. I went into the kino confident of scribbling a few intelligent views but all my aspirations were shot down within the first minutes. I went in to be immersed in a cinematic experience and I found myself drowned by force instead. Drowned with the same force as the subterranean house of the Kims is flooded with sewage and along with it all their aspirations of climbing up the economic ladder. Climbing: which the poor Kim family does up and down the Korean metropolis, into basements, sub-basements and when they connive and trick, into the manicured lawn of the rich Park family.

By the main entrance of the apartment building I grew up in India is a small room the size of a single bed. It has no windows and from what I assume, no drainage. I never stepped foot inside that room though I lived there for over ten years. It was the watchman's house — in which four people lived, a family mirroring my own. When we first moved in there I remember becoming friends with the watchman's son, he introduced me to his friends, and over one summer we played cricket every evening. It made my eleven-year-old self-confident in the new surroundings. We both looked at each other as equals but slowly the drift happened, in part engineered by both our parents.

“Don't hang around with the wrong sorts” was a common diktat in my house. This was also common in other households whose children I hung out with. The Marxian quote of birds of the same class flocking together was something I grew up with, it never occurred to me as something wrong or out of place. That is how things are, were and have been. The watchman's son was uncouth and manner less, he had no education, and he hung out with the wrong sorts. He had no innocence while at the same age I was brimming with it. He had no chances and no chance to have those chances, while I was given many even with repeated failures. His life was a non-starter from the beginning.

Their room has no sunlight and if there is a strong rain there is a possibility that the room gets flooded with sewage water. The beds for the family spill over into the parking lot of the apartment complex, where there is no inkling of privacy, ever. Whenever I used to come from my late night sojourns, I used to tiptoe around these beds as if I were a thief. Here I was, hoping I wouldn't wake the watchman up. The lines were blurred, and we didn't know who was the watchman anymore. Was it the wife or the daughter or the random people who used to hang out at their place? The people in the apartment started complaining about the strangers loitering by the entrance, how dare they destroy the calm of the beautiful apartment they own? From the POV of the flat owners, the watchman couldn’t have a social circle, he had to be chained to servitude.

This small room by the entrance isn't an anomaly, but by design. It was the call of the city for the villagers whose farms have dried up and access to education and health was non-existent. It was the promise that the city would look after them but in the gentle irony that followed, it is they who look after the city. The work itself is precarious, there are no contracts and no promises, there might be kicked out at any moment — just a step away from homelessness at any point. “They” are the dirty ones, the low castes, the poor and the people who have to sit on the floor and shouldn't eat from our plates. “They” shouldn't have the same rules and privileges than us, it is a social contract that's driven by need and is accepted by both parties without discussion.

Mr. Park is not so far away when he notices Mr. Kim's smell on the couch in a pivotal scene in the film. The Kim family might look and act like they come from an appropriate status to serve the Parks, but they cannot hide the smell of their poverty. They can make fake certificates and conjure testimonials for things that never were, but the smell of richness that is beyond them and one they cannot even notice. Watch Parasite if you haven’t already. It’s a story spanning multiple generations in two families that are separated by the invisible hand of money and power. A story of masters and servants, where the masters don’t assert and the servants have illusory freedom. A story that reflects the wishful thinking behind our ignorance of income inequality and our myopia beyond our social bubbles. Parasite made me think of the family living under ours for almost two decades now and all the other families that I haven’t seen. Sometimes I go to the movies to sleep and on rare occasions I go to the cinemas to wake up.

#review

or Thelma & Clyde learn about intersectionality

Yo, I was going to this movie thinking it was a rap comedy or something. I remember watching the trailer a few months ago but I didn't retain much of the information but I wanted this movie to be a comedy. The posters were also misleading, making it look like a cool-ass movie about these really hip people, but no. I see a group of women come from the previous screening and start crying after they plop themselves out in the sofa next to my table. I didn't really get their agony in German but it was something to do with the movie and this experience only raised my cortisol levels during my viewing.

Daniel Kaluuya repeats his Get Out act (or is his acting range limited?) with aimless staring and insecurity his major character traits. Jodie-Turner Smith is a revelation in her role, I went from hating her to liking and falling in love with her character in a matter of half-an-hour, which is both a feat of the writing and the acting. The characters are all relevant and feel real though some minor logical frustrations can be attributed to the dysfunctional trigger-happy American police system. Other logical frustrations however can only be attributed to the stupidity of the characters though the writing is sympathetic to the viewer's intelligence, so they can be excused.

There are intermittent scenes of comic beauty that liven up the proceedings and a delicious sex scene between the two leads which sadly is wasted because the movie wants the characters to be more poetic than they are. I understand the temptation, it is also is about race insecurity in the US but these characters were anything but. If the myth-making was to be the focal point of the story then some development in that direction would've been welcome though that part is left for the fade-to-black pause afforded to the audience.

The women from the previous screening cried for a moment, and then they left after having brief goodbyes and cracking jokes on their way out. If the net emotional effect of the movie can be boiled down to around five minutes — why be so preachy about it? Leaving the broader strokes the story aims for and focusing only on the main characters leads to a better viewing experience. I for most part was hoping that the characters would have a happy ending, having an old friend for dinner, perhaps with some Chianti and fava beans on a distant Cuban beach. In my version they still are, shot with the same skill as the rest of the film, listening to rap music and having some steamy sex.

That is the real power to the Queen and the Slim.

#review #American #cinema #berlin

... or Odenwaldschule on optical cocaine

Sex Education

Sex Education Season 2 is here, released on the 17th of January — a Friday, to suit your binge-watching needs. All eight hours of your time expended for the pure pleasure of see beautiful people worry about their sex lives and other dramatic tropes. Everything is perfect: the screenwriting is in top form, the characters are all well etched for a nominal viewing, the cinematography lulls you into thinking the show is better than what it is but the greatest achievement of it all is that Netflix hides in the background without once making its presence too imposing on the screen.

I don't pay for a Netflix subscription, my partner does along with four other people for a sum of €3 a month. That's a paltry sum for enticing me to binge-watch for hours, the economics don't add up in the end. So for the quantity of content I get for the price point, I must be fed absolute visual junk to while my time away before the start of another day as a productive member of the society.

This is my general gripe with almost all of Netflix's shows these days, they have an interesting hook and after a few episodes they plunge into private label factory produce with stock characters, story arcs and music choices. The writing usually is top-notch, following all the rules of an efficient drama but this perfection in everything lends a sterile viewing environment where the sense are numbed for the lack of any challenge.

Sex Education has an interesting premise but when viewed away from the binge-watching euphoria, it is nothing but shallow. It feels like a fictional version of the Odenwaldschule, where everyone sleeps with everyone else and no real studying seems to happen at any given point. Everything is focused around sex for the students, teachers, the headmaster and even the plumbers and shopkeepers in this fictional village. There is no sport, no classes and no other aspect of teenage life that demands attention, the most popular things to do seem to be a visiting a Sexual Councillor, either real or fake.

The sappy character arcs can be seen episodes away, giving enough time for one to cook, to take a nap or check the occasional Reddit post. The show doesn't demand any serious attention as it's not made to start a conversation but rather to serve as a primer for an awkward small talk incubator at a work lunch or an excuse to have that Netflix account running for one more month. Sex Education is all those sappy Saas-Bahu soaps but with a greater budget. The idea is just the same, to be hypnotized for a little while and go about the day without thinking much. While I'm unconsciously entertained, I am not going to sign-up for Netflix anytime soon.

If you're looking for something memorable and consuming only a fraction of your time, I recommend Napoleon Dynamite from which this show invariably draws a lot from. But if you just want to look at pretty people having a cornucopia of frivolous sex problems, then enter the black box and get some subliminal Coke advertising in the process.

#SexEducation #review #Netflix