Category Archives: Movies

“Bird Box”. Unseen Ghost/s

birdbox

In “Bird Box,” Sandra Bullock plays a single mom (Malorie) trying to save her kid’s lives after mysterious forces invade Earth and causes people to kill themselves. Survivors must wear blindfolds or be exposed to supernatural entities (or monsters) that embody their deepest fears and drive them to suicide. Directed by Susanne Bier, this apocalyptic horror film , is based on a novel by Josh Malerman.  Netflix claimed ‘Bird Box’ was watched by more than forty-five million subscribers, a record of sorts.

The premise of the movie is pretty unique, and it starts of well. It works here and there with a few thrills, but overall leaves you unsatisfied. You cannot complain much about the script in a horror set-up but it could have been better. The cast makes it up for the flaws in the script and engages you for most part, making it a watchable fare.

Birds being used as a way to foretell the onset of the monsters like dogs for ghosts is a pretty neat trick. It does remind you of the water ripple in ‘Jurassic Park’ and the associated music. The kids combination just like in ‘Jurassic Park’ and a not-so-good parent taking them to safety, is also a similar theme from the dinosaur movie.

Unlike ‘Jurassic Park’ you never to get to see the dinosaur, but you do bump into infected individuals every now and then.  In ‘Bird Box’ because the whole world is infected or you are unaware whether it is infected or not, Malorie’s  only hope is to follow the radio message and cross the river to safety. An effort similar to the Meryl Streep movie ‘The River wild’. The movie ends a bit like Hitchcock film ‘The Birds’, with birds returning to their habitat (birds were human’s foes in that movie though), and leaving many loose ends, keeping the possibility open for a sequel.

Guess the popular themes of apocalyptic world, escape from monsters, bad parent to good parent, race to survival, world wide calamity etc and the familiarity offered by popular actors, gave the movie its initial draw. Throw in the social marketing of Netflix, it is highly unlikely that anyone interested remotely in these themes would miss it.  The movie reportedly made with a budget of USD19mn is a tad low on production values, but it is enough to make the story believable.

Tailpiece from ‘The NewYorker’

Netflix notoriously doesn’t, in general, report viewership numbers. Yet it couldn’t resist crowing that more than forty-five million subscribers watched “Bird Box” in its first week online. How would it have done in a traditional wide theatrical release? Would it have taken in four hundred million dollars at the box-office in its first week alone? I suspect that its viewership depends upon its low barrier to entry. Even just the extraordinary cast, which also includes John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Lil Rel Howery, and Sarah Paulson, is good enough to watch for free. Unfortunately, “Bird Box” puts these performers through familiar paces, in roles of such tight typecasting that they seem like recurring characters in an extended TV series—which may also be part of the secret to the film’s Netflix success- New Yorker

Related Links

“Bird Box,” Reviewed: An Apocalypse Built for Netflix

The Mist
Jurassic Park
Evil Dead
The River Wild

The Birds

‘Godless’ : Devil is the God.

godless

It takes some time to get used to the pace of  ‘Godless’, but once you do, you will get bowled over by everything in it.

An interesting take on the Westerns, yet serving all the ingredients–gunfire, duel finale, satanic villains, loner hero etc–in good measures. What sets ‘Godless’ apart from a B movie western is ironically its leisurely pace and the build up to next episodes. Equally worth mentioning are interesting characters, terrific acting and brilliant production values. Thumbs up for editing and music, both grow on you and pull you into the action and the drama of this mini series.

Often, the right casting of the protagonists does it for a good execution. ‘Godless’ makes it great, with almost all the characters perfectly cast, right from Jeff Daniels as the devil incarnate to  Tantoo Cardinal as the Indian grandmother…and the lesser screentime actors from the black town. In the end every ones get their share of hurrah and lift the series to the next level.

One does wonder about the portrayal of Frank Griffin, by Jeff Daniels, an unique take of a villain who is so sure of himself yet that morally wrong.  May be you could position his take of the charcter between between El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè) in ‘For a Few dollars more’ and Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) in ‘Unforgiven’. Frank Griffin is in a way opposite to these characters though…if the villain in ‘For a Few dollars’ is in constant turmoil and subconsciously waits for death, Frank on the other hand believes death can’t touch him. In ‘Unforgiven’ Sheriff believes he has an entitlement to certain beautiful future, and has a goal sort of, while Frank only interest is in mayhem and murder, till Roy Goode provides him with something to go after.

Undeniably Jeff Daniels delivers one of the best performances and depicts the villain in a manner we haven’t seen before. This also brings the excellent writing into spotlight, and you could say material was all there for him to play with.

Overall, ‘Godless’ is a must watch for all fans of Westerns and good drama….and if you make it to the final episode, it is worth the effort.

Related Links

Unfogiven
For a Few Dollars More
Deadwood
Title Music and Sequence

Rangasthalam- ‘Oka Chittibabu aathma katha’

ramcharan

“What is sound design?” I asked a sound engineer in early 2000, He simply replied, “you cannot do it for the majority of Indian films, as the star dominates everything”. He went on to explain, taking an example of a Rajinikanth film or for that matter, any superstar film, the sound of his shoes should blast the speakers even if it were a mile away and captured in a long shot.  He continued, “Look at films like ‘The Matrix’, the sound was not an afterthought, but an integral part of the Wachowskis’ script. That’s where it all begins. Films like ‘Hey Ram’ and makers like Kamal Haasan understand it, but that’s a small group.”

Over the years, things have improved and we even have an Oscar winner in this department, but still, a majority of films do not use the sound to enhance a situation and simply turn on the decibels.

I remembered this for two reasons. In the movie ‘Rangasthalam’ the hero is a different kind of sound engineer (someone who cannot hear) and there is a loud explosion scene at the beginning of the film for which all the Dolby speakers are used to maximum effect. If it were a point of view of the hero, should the explosion sound a bit different, muffled perhaps? Or was he wearing his hearing aid? A case in point. Martin Scorcesse opens ‘The Casino’ with a car explosion, noise is loud alright, but he quickly merges into a background operatic music and a memorable title sequence by legendary Saul Bass. Maybe he or his sound designer were thinking if it were inappropriate to continue the explosion sound as the character in question, who is hurled into the air, is out of consciousness and cannot hear a bit?

Obviously ‘Rangasthalam’ cannot and should not be reviewed on sound alone. And to be fair, Director Sukumar does use the point of view, in several scenes including the ones between Ram Charan and Samantha (the one before the fight in village fair is nicely done). Yet he leaves out it in the most important scene of all, the one Megastar Chiranjeevi let out a spoiler alert about. (By the way, Ram Charan’s performance is out of the world, just as he said).

One cannot blame the director beyond a point and that too in a commercial film (was it realistic too?) about these technicalities. Instead, one should focus only one thing–sublime acting of Ram Charan.

Rangasthalam tagline should have been ‘oka chittibabu athma katha’. If you look at it from this angle, everything …literally everything in the film falls into place. And you cannot but appreciate the amount of work that has gone into showcasing the acting prowess of Ram Charan. It would only be fair to say there is not even a single scene in the film did he fail to deliver the goods. That in itself a rare feat and would not have been possible without the duo coming together in ‘Rangasthalam’.

You could argue about some aspects of storytelling like loner President villain with no family, repeated scenes of the villain’s  henchmen, the back and forth scenes in the lead pair romance resolution, the pre-climax violence, the sudden change in a few characters, absolutely no police around after Chittibabu smashes a dozen or more into a pulp (captured in crystal clear sound) and the epilogue with a twist.  But from a story point of a view of a simpleton set in 1980, and the fact that the movie duration is already 2hr 45minutes, you would ignore all this and savor the freshness served by Superstar Ram Charan (Yes, he is one now, as he carried the entire film on his shoulders and made us see the film his way!!!)

Few asides:

  1. When interviewed about how he worked on his story of ‘Swathi Muthyam’, Veteran Director K.Vishwanath said, he would take an interesting character and then explores various situations to see how reacts. And that’s how the scene of grandmother’s death came about, in which Kamal Haasan innocently enquires about his hunger for a meal.
  2. What are realism and commercialism? Do we confuse with more melodrama or the liberties we take with the character?  Can’t both of them merge seamlessly? In one of the most commercial films Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone is never seen boxing his way out, instead his acts of violence are what within his character reach and never becomes a Rambo. Same Robert De Niro undergoes a complete transformation to become a boxer in ‘Raging Bull’. Any reference to ‘Rangasthalam’ characterization and ‘realistic’ violence is purely coincidental.
  3. How would ‘Rangasthalam’ would have been without the violent and twist-filled epilogue? A kind of Trivikram subtle justice, with the lorry hitting the car itself ending the character?
  4. Movies to revisit– Peddamanushulu (1954), Manavuri Pandavulu (1978), Pranam Khareedu (1978), Krishnavataram (1982), Khaidi (1983), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992), Pithamagan (2003)

Related links:

The opening sequence of Casino (1995)

What is sound design

Sound, point of view