“THE ICE CREAM TRUCK” (2017)

Alright; only if someone, anyone can tell me what director Megan Freels Johnston is trying to accomplish here with her ice-cream truck earworm jingle filled suburban slasher, I could be a happier pilgrim.

There’s too much going on here; between the Ice Cream Man (Emil Johnsen), the furniture-long hauler man (Jeff Daniel Phillips) with the handle-bar, those shades and a ultra-sleazy demeanour, Mary (Her Hotness, Deanna Russo) the writer who, we learn during the first few shots, has decided to move back to the place where she grew up, away from the hustle bustle of a city life, and the cocky & feminine Max (John Redlinger), the boy who grew up to be Eli RothThe Ice Cream Truck is a fickle, coincidental mix of The Stepford Wives, 1975; Straw Dogs, 1971 (only because of what happens when you’re lonely); Desperate Housewives, 2004 – 2012 and any standard, low-budget soap-opera from the roaring Eighties. I write ‘soap opera’ and not ‘slasher’ for a reason. You have to look really hard or you’ll miss the slasher part. 

It begins with a dutch-camera-angle descending on a suburban street and stops in the middle with upper-middle class housing on both sides. We are introduced to Mary, the three little witches (to show Mary around, be nosy, have a son for Mary to have an affair with, et al.) and an ice cream truck whose driver, with his orange-ish hair and a Tintin-like feel isn’t intimidating for one single moment. He could be scary looking to a three month old child, but then everyone except the mother is; scary to a three month old child. The title-run comes to an end after what seemed like an eternity and then this pilgrim was back to shifting gazes between the film and a new collectable that amazon.com recently delivered. I wasn’t interested in Mary’s life or the number of flavours that the ice cream man offers. Period.

The Ice Cream Truck at some ninety odd minutes isn’t scary, nor is it mystifying and neither does it manage to intrigue or simulate in any department, specially not in the areas of thriller or horror. It feels as if  writer/director Megan Freels Johnston really went out on a limb to concoct a resolution for the borderline bored viewer and it did manage to stop me from going to sleep – and that is saying a lot since yours truly was having a real hard time keeping his eyes open; and then suddenly, BAM! Where’d that come from? From a place where most writers without a coherent plot contrivance go to. An ending just for the sake of that.

The film is pedestrian, specially with so many other B-grade films actually being close to bearable (Open Water 3: Cage Dive, 2017), with its good deal share of bad acting, lazy dialogue, poor reaction acting, a script that would never end but did because Miss Johnston actually went to the place that film directors go to every once in a non-inspirational while.

Why does Max start crawl before he’s wounded right into the killers crotch? Why is pot the drug of choice for most B-horror films? Why does the film fail in almost every area it delves into, including perverse charms? What happened here all those years ago when Mary was younger and left for the city? These are some of the questions that The Ice Cream Truck leaves us with, hanging high and dry with the dread melting like ice cream in lunatic heat.

Watch at your own peril and not because you’ll wet your pants or anything, just that you might want to call in an early night, unintentionally.

Mary on the phone with her husband: “You know we have an ice cream truck.

Husband: “Yeah?

Mary: “Yes. It’s confusing things; existing in some other time.”

Much like the film itself; “in another time”.

 

           

    

“ALIEN: COVENANT” (2017)

I was not made to serve. Neither were you.” – David

Replete with ‘God’ references and deeply ambitious Satan allegories and heavily inspired by various religious texts, Covenant starts off as Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and David (Michael Fassbender) have a conversation about existence; questions and queries bounce off the minimalist, white set design, the custom Grand, where David plays Wagner‘s The Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla, and Piero Della Francesca‘s The Nativity: An oil painting from the 1470’s that shows the birth of Jesus Christ.

If you created me, who created you?“; David raises a question in the presence of the mighty sculpture of David by Michelangelo. While in the more traditionally religious texts God furiously tells Satan to leave His kingdom; Peter Weyland asks David to emulate and ‘make tea’, probably trying to prove human superiority and planting the seed of contempt deep within David’s AI heart. The first few minutes explain to us the actions of David in Prometheus, 2012 and the last, horrifying line spoken: “Don’t let the bedbugs bite. I’ll tuck in the children.”

In the middle of this (seemingly) casual, walk-in-the-existential-park masterpiece, David attributes the creature to Byron only for Walter to correct him. “Byron or Shelly?“. The look on David’s face after the line has been spoken tells us that a decision has been made; it was in the process of being cemented as he used Dr. Shaw for birth and Neomorph dissection, the thought was gaining momentum and strength while he adorned his workshop of horrors or xenomorph anatomy. David, the dastardly David is the real villain in Covenant, the rest is for the franchise to keep breathing and keep smashing its head against the windshield of a Weyland Corp. spaceship.

God complex is what we have for you here, boys and girls; that and a haircut and matricide compulsions; “how can someone be so kind?“. It is also about evolution, not the Kubrick, bone-to-satellite evolution but the evolution of machine and its consummate disdain for its inferior creators and the final solution, shown through a rather Apocalypto-like flashback, which is also playing subconsciously through the length of the film.

 

Scott knows he cannot make another Alien, he knows he can’t hold the audiences by their necks and make them jump off their theatre seats; so he, affectionately blends in the AI vs. Man plot with the gore-fest and action set-pieces that are truly remarkable to watch & Jed Kurzel‘s music certainly augments the tight-spaces of Scott’s production.

An observation: When the crew lands on planet number 4 after a anti-cryogenic detour from Origae-6 when an Engineer shows up in a hoodie as a static/white noise signal, singing Country Roads by Jon Denver; we are shown the settlers stepping on soil and small egg like formations that crush open and let out a corsage of visible bacteria and later when the bacteria makes its way through the ears and nostrils, telling us (not yet revealed) that David’s dirty bombing of planet number 4 has changed the soil and the ‘species’ have evolved and we do not require the chest-busters anymore to produce the xenomorphs. However, giving benefit of doubt, the orifice-bacteria (lets just call it that) gives life to neomorphs and a full-on face hugging procedure ends up in the familiar and treacherous xenomorph. That’s all the sense I could make.

Poster distributed on the set of Covenant

Oram (Billy Crudup): “I met the devil when I was a child and I’ve never forgotten him. So, David, you’re going to tell me exactly what’s going on or I am going to seriously fuck up your perfect composure.
David: “As you wish, Captain. This way (to a Kane-like fate).”

Not a good day to be a pilgrim

All said and done, Covenant is a bloody film, a violent film, a close-quarters deep-space terror parable, which appreciates the other films made as part of the culturally significant franchise: the POV of dog-alien from part III, the terraforming bay sequence (much like the yellow power-loader from part II); the crew walking into something that they have no clue about. The Guardian put it quite well: “(The) greatest-hits compilation of the other Alien films’ freaky moments“.

I’m absolutely convinced that even after watching the film for a third time, certain parts of it are as concealed as ever. On the other hand, when I watch it again, I’ll not be intentionally looking out for those parts; it would just be a bag of popcorn and a fat joint called Hicks.

Handling itself well above the Machiavellian management of expectations for all its interplanetary ranging, Covenant with its a Freudian-Jungian narrative is a spectacle of sorts and changes the arch-nemesis in a film with a monster described as such: “Perfect organism whose structural perfection is matched only by its hostility” villain cannot possibly be replaced; head-banging, shoulder biting, shower-love-making-scene-intrusion or not.

A must watch to see no matter how hostile an organism can become, man – with his inherent tendency of survival and procreation – will always present a far worst threat to itself than anything else.

David: “Use security code ‘David 73694-B’.
Mother: “Welcome, how may I help you?
David: “How about some music, Mother?
Mother: “Selection?
David tells her in contrast to Peter Weyland telling him to play what he pleases: “Richard Wagner – Das Rheingold Act II: The Entry of the Gods into Valhalla.
Mother: “Yes David, as you wish.

Hola!

Are you finished?” – Corporal Hicks

“GUN WOMAN” (2014)

No way. Really?

I’ve always been of the opinion that trying to make a live-action Manga is a tight-rope balancing act. Ichi the Killer, 2001 being an early exceptional act. Manga and before that, Japan herself introduced the over-the-top action set-pieces, the hyperbolic sequences, tons of pig-blood and full frontal for the entire feature length, with real actors. This was The Spaghetti Western evolving.

Gun Woman is camp and simply put, it is a movie that could have simply done without the elaborate, epic revenge narrative.

The characters are straight from the 80’s, and so is the entire treatment of this Manga meets Grindhouse flick; the one thing that the keen viewer cannot dismiss easily.

Another thing that the film has going for it is the character of Gun Woman/Mayumi Asami. The protagonist has a face of the girl next door; however according to the film she is goddess Athena herself.

Special shout out to the training sequence when Mastermind (Kairi Narita) brings in a woman and places her before Asami before proceeding to cut her at the exact same places as he would cut her, to implant a dismantled weapon (a 9mm Glock) into her body.

Director Kurando Mitsutake brings in the such is not the case Mastermind, showing and telling Mayumi what her body will experience after she has recovered the weapon from inside her (by tearing the stitches) and how long will it take for shock, de-realization, blindness to set in and finally death to occur if she does not make it out of The Room in twenty two minutes. Now that’s pressure.

The film shows us the entire surgery not shying away from the needles and flesh and boobies and scalpel and the surgical-saw for a moment, even when Mayumi tears her stitches apart and fights in the nude (it reminded me of Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, 2007 – however that was Cronenberg, and this is full-blown Manga)

Oliver Stone, Tarantino, Kamal Haasan among others have used animation to add surreal fireworks to their pictures; a gentle swing of the blade that results in tons of blood being splattered all over as the victim goes down with eyes wide open. Tarantino may have used the sequence to manipulate the MPAA into getting an under-age sex scene approved, with a gentle R and not NC17 or even an X, for the O-Ren Ishii backstory in Kill Bill, 2003.

God bless Asami (The Machine Girl, 2008 and Sukeban Boy, 2006) and her dedication to the new-wave of extreme cinema. Sometimes the nudity and the bushy Venus get in the way, but hey; who’s complaining, I dig the trim.

The film is an exaggeration of everything B Grade – gore overhaul and bleached colours and a loose plot, which adds to the guilty pleasure of the viewer.

Watch it when you’re stoned (it is a bona-fide stoner film!) and you’ll be laughing or cringing like nuts while at it. Although the discomfort remains even without the help of any psychotropic agents. Plus the munchies are not included in this equation.

“BRIDGEND” (2015)

“Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note.” – Gore Vidal

Director Jeppe Rønde tells a tale about real life suicides, in a dream-like state to a background score that reminded me of the drug infused classic/space rock from Pink Floyd, complete to the Nick Mason triple triad eclectic climax. And then the horns go off when the world is about to end.

A little more research and dialogue and lesser metaphorical visuals might just have done this mountain man some good. Honestly, I am greedy for an explanation; which is hard to come by in Bridgend.

Fine, so for that we have the scenic and depressing Bridgend, a town in Wales. Let’s just trust me on the depressing bit, alright? Rønde shoots his scenes with the calm of Virgin Suicides, 1999, yet we are made bereft of the root of unease and angst and and hormonal immortality & similar adolescent themes of the In Utero variety. Yes, it keeps referring to the cyber communion and perhaps hints at a collective psyche bent towards the feelings of escapism, as none of them are allowed to leave town. Or perhaps, the sudden deaths and non linear editing are supposed to keep the cat outta trouble.

Bridgend does succeed at many levels as it navigates its way through the viewers’ minds, touching every nerve that is sore enough to gobble up the whole damn deal. But it also makes one question the banality of life and what it means to teenagers and adults and whatever element of dramagatory disguises that are lost in translation or drown in a river of melancholy.

Again, honestly, I am touched but not moved and a tad bit confused. And the good thing is that its just me, for now. What the fuck are those Larry Clark bunch of kids smoking or drinking in this case? By the way, they consume some sort of moonshine, or so it seems and that could be the reason for killing the monotone.

“EX DRUMMER” (2007)

The Belgian film directed by Koen Mortier (10 jaar leuven kort, 2004starts with an impeccable lengthy shot of three men cycling in reverse motion, it goes on to show a bald, heavily tattooed man who is mostly suspended from the roof of his apartment, with the furniture upside down and blood splatter that defies gravity and crimson beads roll up the wall; the protagonist breaking the fourth wall more than Deadpool and people talking after they have met violent deaths; these are some of the more bizarre flourishes that the film presents us with; a film whose roots can be traced back to the grunge of Trainspotting, 1996 complete to the electric performances and the toilet-decadence.

The movie does lose momentum during the second half of its 100 minute run-time when Dries Van Hegen, an author, fills the screen with philosophical and impassioned rants juxtaposed with him meeting the band members and a mighty humongous cock that does so much damage that it becomes hard to watch or even think of (too late hombre) and not just because of Dikke Lul (Fat Cock). Ex Drummer has been heavily criticised for its explicit sex/rape scenes (one of them is just too difficult to watch specially when the director has the balls to add black comedy to it after everything has been said and done) and the hyper-violence.

Dries Van Hegen is hired as a drummer for a band, which consists of handicapped people. Hegen looks at all of this as inspiration and an opportunity to write a novel by working with the dysfunctional band members and their even more fucked up lives and families. What is Hegen’s handicap? He cannot play the drums.

Image courtesy: Cinema Paradiso

Even though the movie slows down in the middle it picks up pace as Hegen’s obsession grows and the dialogue starts to decimate the sensibility of the characters and the viewers. We are shown the blending and the poisoning of two completely different cultures and social stratum.

We witness a fissure forming between the well founded and compelling author and the other band members who think the world of Hegen. We are taken deeper into the lives and ramshackle homes of the band members and are shown, in contrast, in-door shots of a luxurious white mansion that the writer shares with his wife. These scenes result in disparity and contradistinction, making us take sides with Hegen, who we know is a bastard, but an intelligent bastard.

The ending of the film is one of the most shocking in recent cinema history. You have to watch it to believe it. Although we can see it coming from the first time Hegen has a conversation with Jan Verbeek at his home, very early in the film.

What is wrong with Pa?

Ex Drummer is a peculiar film and it is definitely something rare, something that crawls out from under a rock and makes a name for itself by bashing the face of women on the tiled bathroom floor, as a compulsive hobby. Yeah, hobby.

Not for the squeamish, a must-watch nonetheless.

“STRANGE BLOOD” (2015)

Simply Brilliant

Here’s the thing; I visit IMDb and pick out horror films with the lowest ratings and watch them. I see that the critics have made ketchup of the film at Rotten Tomatoes, so I use it with the fries. It does not work every time, however when it does, it gives me a sense of being different than the mob of 308 people that burned the film to a crisp and did not even know what the hell was going on. Not that I figured either, but; but I really don’t need to as long as there’s enough ketchup and gore. The film is malformed, repulsive, psychologically fucked and pretty bloody twisted with a sign on it, ‘I’m Turd – Hug Me’.

Director Chad Michael Ward, known for his over the top ideas and their executions, directs the film the way a young Cronenberg would have, albeit with a more stable narrative than say Rabid, 1977 or Shivers 1975. The frantic mood and the sudden bursts of sexuality of Cronenberg is replaced by two characters having a conversation that nobody should understand about a creature that Dr.Henry has produced. Yes, there is the animal urgency during sex scenes.
The creature looks so much like the poor man’s ‘Alien Egg’ and it is ugly as fuck.

The psycho-sexual film is so strange that when it began the colours were entirely washed out, completely turning me off. However, the narrative got to me in minutes, plus the colours started to fill in. The Pi, 1998-like transformation, the Zero Theorem, 2014-like mania; feeding on creature poop and all that jazz make you gag and think at the same time. All along the film keeps entertaining.

The film also has a rather lengthy scene that did not make any sense whatsoever and contributes nothing to the film. This is classic ‘Monster Horror’, which I think has been misunderstood by 380+ people and five critics. Yes. I got it, they didn’t. I’m so smart I can choke on my own bullshit.

The film, with it’s quick pacing, lovely direction and grand performances is nothing short of an extremely entertaining film for both, Cronenberg fans and suckers for Monster Horror.

Strange Blood is well written, and some parts glimmers with a slice of degenerate genius rearing its head in some of the most beautiful scenes.

Woman in Black 2, 2015 is a complete bore (yet I still hear people liking it; it scared them. What are they? Five?). Just that Strange Blood did not get a theatrical release, despite Thanksgiving in a glass box.

Watch it.

“ANTIBIRTH” 2016

A contextual mix between Baise-moi, The X Files and Rosemary’s Baby (pray for it), Danny Perez‘s Antibirth is a horror film, which attempts to use pregnancy and sexual promiscuity as its intimidation tactics and that is it (It Follows, anyone?) The entire film seems as if it has no acts or resolution to the plot devices that come up as matter of fact; nothing solid is actually built to keep the viewers intrigued throughout.

We watch as two women get smashed while partying at an abandoned warehouse. Something happens, Chloë Sevigny shows up (I can’t help but picture Sevigny with Vincent Gallo‘s ding dong in her mouth; It’s a good thing I watched Zodiac before I watched The Brown Bunny) and gets it on with one of the two mates repeatedly being shown to us from a crowd of at least 200 people.

The party is a catalyst to the film’s half-baked attempt at body horror. We watch surreal shots of an old holy man meditating to fucking Holy Mountain (go figure); we watch an oversized Oriental gent wearing a red bathing suit and dancing like a woman on the television; inter-cut with scenes of scabs being peeled off the neck and fetal development, in dog years. I mean Lou (Natasha Lyonne) goes from a flat tummy to the third trimester in just two scenes.

Then we have a scary as hell, weird as fuck advertisement playing on the TV, again, with two mascots in creepy masks dancing around kids and inviting the viewers to join them at the ‘Funhouse Pizza and Bowling’. Another woman enters the film and she takes Lou to the same hangout (as shown on TV) and then stays with her till the ridiculous Gozu inspired end, where everyone, the whole fucking team behind Antibirth, jumps in to see what Lou has given birth to.

This one is a tedious watch with a ‘devil may care’ attitude and it does not work one single bit except when I had to turn my face away at the visuals of Lou extracting pus from boils on her feat and picking at her skin. That’s all there is to that.

I’m not pregnant, I’m infected.” Uh huh?

“CHILD 44” (2015)

There is no murder in paradise

If you want to experience some high grade, top notch, brilliant and ethereal performances, this is where you must stop before you proceed to the next film town.

Tom Hardy is a force to be reckoned with. His mannerism, body language, the slouched and deliberate walk is as ferocious as a calm hungry lion bound in a cage.
Gary Oldman gets to shout at Bane and Bane shuts up. The Count has yet again managed to keep his own in the face of the acting behemoth. Oldman was god once.

I believe this is the film where viewers get to experience cinema in all its thespian glory.

From Vincent Cassel‘s Major Kuzmin to Joel Kinnaman‘s power hungry and sadistic MGB Agent Vasili to Noomi Rapace, whose character opens up during half-time and changes the tone of the film completely, tearing the mighty Achilles to shreds.

A period piece, Child 44 brings the Stalin era to such life that it makes the keen viewer paranoid of Uncle Joe’s ‘Collectivism‘ in Ukrain among other provinces and his lust for blood and helplessness to doubt everyone. Also the fact that ‘Murder’ was strictly made to believe as a capitalist deviancy. If the parent denied it, they faced the firing squad.

Child 44 is a carefully crafted film with Tom Rob Smith‘s novel and the child murders of Rostov as fodder for the screenplay that manages to connect the farcical political stance and the inner turmoil of a man dedicated to the ‘Gulag‘ cause; the fissure in his resolve to serve the Russian People and safeguard the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from monsters everywhere; from the highest ranking officials to a derated surgeon’s psychological plight to Stalin’s words echoing repeatedly in the mind, forcing us to take sides: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

Once again, Child 44 with its grand execution and even greater performances is one of the best films to grace the cinemas in these times.

My gripe with the film? It should have been in Russian with sub-titles to implicate the servitude, even more and to raise the performances to a level where only Method to the Madness counts – and, believe me, Hardy is more powerful in this than the entire Marvel Universe put together. I guess that is one of the reasons it bombed, so did Alien at its initial release in ’79. Ridley Scott is a producer for this picture, directed by Daniel Espinosa (Life, 2017).

There is no murder in paradise” is a recurring theme/ideology (among the top ranks) that fills the film with so much tension that you need Locke’s (2013) voice and accent to calm the fuck down.

Picture courtesy: MovieStillsDB.com

A must watch.

“10 RILLINGTON PLACE” (1971)

John Reginald Christie: Won’t you come in a minute…?
Beryl Evans: Well, I’ve got…
John Reginald Christie: I’ve just put the kettle on.
Beryl Evans: Oh.

Before there was Hannibal Lecter, there was John Reginald Christie.

While watching the film you can’t help yourself but think of Anthony Hopkins whenever Richard Attenborough appears on screen. However, watching it after more than 40 years of its release, it is apparent that Silence of the Lambs, 1991 had more source material to develop Hannibal the Cannibal than apparent.

Although almost half a decade old, the movie is way ahead of its time with extreme, tight close-ups, moody atmosphere and the ‘always closing in’ direction of Richard Fleischer (Conan the Destroyer, 1984). All this helps build 10 Rillington Place; the structure (and the eventual crumbling of it) is fascinating to watch specially with the knowledge of the case-file. The performances are water-tight and repressed, adding to the sudden and horrific show of deviant instincts that pour out from the walls and drop from the roof.

The whole package is a treat to watch. The movie intentionally spirals out of control towards the end, which is executed with passion. Finally the film ends abruptly, showing a close-up of Attenborough’s pudgy, innocent face with unadulterated desire in the eyes. There is no credit roll; no ending score, nothing; just a simple fade to black.

It is effective but in those days the credit roll happened before the film started, so a technicality makes the ending ever so potent and it stays with you thinking that if a baby in 1949 went missing, it just might be that he grew up at 10 Rillington Place and learned all the dirty secrets of the structure and went on to become a PhD who couldn’t help himself when he looked at a good rump; animal or human.

It is sad that the movie is based on true events and what is worse is what was to follow in the real world. Bundy, Rominov, the Rose Family Murders (what are you guys feeding them?) and what have you.
In the end, it is a classic crime drama that sets its pace – on a tight rope – at just about the right time and then keeps the balancing act on for the movie’s length.

In one scene Judy Geeson‘s character says to John Hurt that he resembles Gregory Peck, he dismisses it laughingly, “… he’s seven foot three for starters!

A powerful, retro punch in the nuts.

“TOP 5 BOLLYWOOD PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS” (2013-2015)

5. BADLAPUR (2015)

Too poetic for its own good, Badlapur finds redemption in its supporting performances and director Sriram Raghavan’s (Johnny Gaddaar, 2007) serpentine direction, which sculpts the brilliant plot for the audience and simultaneously suffers customarily, mainly because of eventuating a screenplay that is unalloyed impractical and leaning towards the absurd, specially when the lead Varun Dhawan is unable to share the screen with not just Nawazuddin Siddiqui (the best damned thing to happen to Indian cinema after Irrfan Khan) but also Huma Qureshi (the best damned thing to happen to Indian Cinema since Tabu and before Nimrat Kaur).

Dhawan as ‘Raghu‘ gives a downright abysmal and dwindling performance, unsure of himself in front of acting veterans like the superb Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta and Ashwini Khalsekar and damaging the mood of the film in the process; a film that has much potential but sadly does not even manage to walk the rugged talk of Siddiqui’s ‘Liak‘ (“Can you get me weed? I can think even more clearly.”) nor move adequately to the sizzling number of Huma Qureshi as ‘Jhimli‘ the prostitute, where she is not even trying to put fire into her performance, for reasons of plot contrivance.
Do keep an eye out for a exchange between Zakir Husain and ‘Liak’. Also pay close attention to Pathak as ‘Harmaan‘ and his gut-wrenching disintegration on the steps leading up to the bedroom. The sequences elevates the film to a entirely hinterland and masterful level of unadulterated thespian play.

Watch it for every time Nawazuddin Siddiqui graces the screen with his presence and the powerful dramaturgy we get to witness; also watch it for Raghavan’s brilliance that isolates itself from the ridiculous screenplay (although rarely) and rears its consummate-elegance head every once in a coruscating while; however destroying the entire disposition of Badlapur with a song and dance ‘end-credit’ where we see a grieving ‘Raghu’ partake of a trademark mainstream musical sequence, complete with disco lights and ‘Raghu’ baring a chiselled upper torso and cramming (what he thinks are) sad emotions in to the camera as the electric guitar blares out a progression of befuddled chords. Ridiculous.

‘Liak’ after putting on a pair of sunglasses: “See? I went to Bangkok.” Beautiful.

4. “EK THI DAAYAN” (2013)

The last time an Indian movie scared me this much was Purana Mandir, 1984.

Ek thi Daayan, 2013 is not without faults, even though with names like Sippy, Bhardwaj and Gulzar associated with the project, the movie cannot give us closure as a film, as an ending maybe; but definitely not as a film.

However the scary scenes eerily and witheringly transform the mood of the set-pieces and increasingly regenerate themselves into your worst nightmares.

I liked it a whole lot. Didn’t even skip forward the song and dance sequences because of Huma Qureshi. I mean she looks hot-iron-awesome even with those ‘zombie’ lenses.

It could also be the fact that the idea of witches has been scaring me senseless since I was a kid, about a couple a hundred years ago, or so it seems.

There’s a disclaimer at the beginning, which says ‘…this film is a work of fiction and does not stereotype women as witches.’

No? Really? Then why do the filmmakers feel the need to put it there?

3. “DRISHYAM” (2015)

This review may contain spoilers.

Nishikant Kamat directs this thriller as if for television. That is not to imply that Drishyam is not watchable. On the contrary the performances and the rock solid plot keep the viewer engaged to the very last scene, which, could’ve been cut short by Salagon’s character (Ajay Devgn) simply asking for forgiveness. The explanation is how the 163 minutes it takes for the direction to move the fuck on and keep up with the solid performances, including the supporting character of Inspector Vinayak Sawant played masterfully by Yogesh Sonam who fluently puts on a terrifying skin after he’s given off enough evil vibes to fill two films called Vendetta 1 and Vendetta 2. He’s that good. Stealing screen from Devgn is not an easy task but the inspector kicks and slaps his way through like a motherfucker.

Tabu is not here, she’s lost in a “Roman wilderness of pain“.

A must watch, nonetheless, if only to watch the crossover from South of the border.

2. “UGLY” (2013)

A missing ten year old named ‘Kali’ (flower-bud); A ruthless, tall and towering, suave, extremely well-dressed and groomed, angry, and ‘more disciplined than necessary’ cop, played by virtuoso actor Ronit Roy who is also on the extreme right side of the law and who keeps his wife imprisoned in their home and his pistol in an unlocked drawer (never mind), a woman who is addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol and on the verge of squeezing the trigger on a Standard Issue Mumbai Police Pistol, whose barrel is snugly fixed in her mouth as the film opens; a reckless and aspiring actor and by now (film-time) a hopeless shadow of himself, Rahul (Rahul Bhatt); his friend and casting director, a sleazy motherfucker who dresses all shiny and pimp and acts super suspicious, the brilliant Vineet Kumar Singh from Gangs of Wasseypur, 2012 who no one can trust, not even the brilliant and virtuoso director, Anurag Kashyap and an annoying at first, cop with a love for selfies and iPhones, the brilliant Girish Kulkarni, who changes gears after becoming part of ‘the operation’ and becomes one of the best portrayals of movie khakis. All of the above comes together and explodes on the screen with the acute and harsh histrionics of the actors.

A neo-noir, Ugly once again has the Kashyap stamp of ‘gorilla-style-filming’ and a goddamn maze of a plot where no body can be trusted, although from which, everyone can benefit in so many ways.

Kashyap’s direction is non-chronological, making the viewer feel as if he’s watching one too many scenes in a single frame, however that is not the case if you pay slight attention to detail.
Everyone knows how but nobody knows where thanks to the sinuous editing by Aarti Bajaj (No One Killed Jessica, 2011); editing thousands of minute of footage to make sense of, because Kashyap refuses to stop and expects everyone to keep up, and keep up they do at the cost of everything, even if it means getting beat up for real. The house/techno compliments the angled shots and restriction of space in a country that is running out of real estate. It also does wonders for slow-motion scenes that are not meant to be shot reducing the FPS on the recorder. However, it works like the clogs on a Baume & Mercier

A fierce thriller, Ugly comes across as impressive and accomplished and improvised for realism and good reason. The film also shows us the opportunist in all of us, from the grieving mother to her soft-core actress friend, Rakhi.

Ugly is based on a true story and it sends chills up my spine whenever I think of the ending and put the entire 128 minutes of the feature in grim perspective.

A must watch, if only for the steely performance of veteran actor, Ronit Roy and the crack we witness in his resolve as he slouches in his seat after disconnecting a call.

1. “TALVAR – ALT. TITLE: GUILTY” (2015)

Ashwin, you have thirty two days to clean the rust off the sword

CDI Cheif Swamy (Prakash Belawadi) says these words to Detective Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) as the cop takes small sips from a bottle covered in a brown paper bag and eats his spaghetti at a shabby, over-crowded road side restaurant and the Chief settles for tea. The sword he refers to is the one ‘Lady Justice’ carries in her right hand – the word ‘Talvar’ meaning ‘Sword’ in Hindi; although the English title for the film is ‘Guilty‘.

Talvar is based on the 2008 real-life murder of a fourteen year old girl, Aarushi Talwar that made waves in the media and spread panic among the middle-class community of Noida, Uttar Pradesh in India.

During the early hours of March 16th a double homicide was committed at the residence of the Tandon’s (actual name The Talwars) in a busy neighborhood of Noida. After discovering the 45-year-old servant Hemraj’s lifeless body on the roof, the domestic help was written off as a suspect. Immediately after, the pining investigative eyes all turn to the Physician couple and the parents of Shruti, Doctors Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nutan Tandon (Konkona Sen Sharma).

Aray sir (Oh sir), this is ‘Open/Shut’ case sir; yes sir… Case solved sir

After the initial, sloppy, incompetent, circumstantial, at best, investigation by the UP Police, led by the brilliant actor Gajraj Rao who plays the dismissive, tobacco chewing Inspector Dhaniram and whose phone keeps blaring vulgar songs whenever it rings at most inappropriate times/visuals; the case file is handed over to the decorated detective Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan), a man who is in the middle of his own mid-life crisis and takes over the case reluctantly, all along playing Flash games on his mobile phone. Once the CDI enters, the evidence starts to change and many other suspects come to light.

Meghna Gulzar (Hu Tu Tu, 1999) directs her picture with the hustle bustle of a police station, she recreates the murder scenes as the investigators build different scenarios as more evidence surfaces. She lets Irrfan Khan do what he does best, however the trademark outbursts are few and far in between.
Gulzar uses intricate dialogue by the gifted Vishal Bhardwaj (Haider, 2014) to consort her sparse direction and wide-framing of shots, combining razor sharp wit with ground realities of a Police Investigation in a Third World Country, until Detective ‘Free Games’ shows up wearing Nicholson shades (that keep sliding off his forehead on to his nose); sporting a Sanchez and blends into the character’s quirks from the very first frame.

Khan is electrifying and his investigative techniques a tad bit debatable; he brings a sense of reason to the entire untrustworthy narrative of the film; the source material, which had all the potential to blow up in the face of a lesser director. Then there’s someone who lights up the screen with her small cameo and brought a smile on this preacher’s face, the ravishing Tabu (Maqbool, 2003) as Mrs. Reema Kumar, who wants a ‘trial separation’ from her infidel detective husband, not that she is faithful to him either; and when she confesses to that part, in court, I could not help but fall for her even more. Oh, Tabu, Tabu.

Talvar could’ve been more watertight; for instance the servant quarter placement is too convenient for a plot contrivance. Yes it was like that in real life but this is a film. We watch films to escape reality.

The characters are built upon at every new lead or revelation, the performances from some of India’s greatest actors really help the film from getting where it is (starting by becoming part of Toronto International Film Festival’s Special Presentations). The DP is just right at day time and when the sun goes down, the colours change, the mood changes, the atmosphere becomes soaked in moonshine.

At 132 minutes, Talvar does a tremendous job of showing all sides of the story, even going to the extent of reanimating and reviving the vital testimonies as set-pieces that play out differently each time with the same actors and the same location. Even then the mood keeps changing from confused to convinced to doubtful, again. This film means business, it wants to get to the bottom of the bloody mess, but there is a underlying theme running throughout that makes you wonder if the rust can actually be taken off the sword?

The third act shows us bureaucracy, farewell parties, a drunk ex-CDI Chief, who does not chew his words for shit. It also determines that Detective Rapid Fire (this guy is a wit machine) has become emotionally affected by the case and his separation and the fact that the case be given to an entire new team, dismissing all prior evidence. The screenplay also approaches faux-relief since the detective’s personal life seems to be settling down.

However, the best scene of the film is a sequence where all the big wigs of the law agencies are sitting together and presenting their cases to the CDI Chief/Director with opposing hypotheses. Here we watch an actor on the top of his game cutting the serious conversation with his razor tongue and Sherlock Holmes-type instincts. Khan does not raise his voice nor does he get angry, he keeps laughing, checking his phone for the high-score, and keeps refuting and dismissing the case put forward by the new person in-charge, Detective Paul (Atul Kumar) and his boss JK Dixit (Shishir Sharma).

The scene is soaked in dry-humour, controlled emotions, dialogues that cut you in half and also bring a smile to the face. It is a scene that can be studied for its composition and the way the characters interrupt each other in a light-hearted manner in a very big hall, with each of them knowing that this is no laughing matter but if they don’t laugh, all of them will go crazy.

Talvar is a cinematic tour de force, it is highly engaging and above all a winner in achieving what it sets out to do. Even though the viewer is aware of the outcome, Gulzar keeps us guessing till the end and if that isn’t enough to be called a triumphant directorial venture I don’t know what is.

Tabu is so lovely. Oh my sweet Lord, she is so alluring, irresistible. I think the kids should make way for the queen once again; the only problem being Tabu is a little cuckoo in the head, just check out her body of work to get an idea.

If there isn’t a reason to leave, there isn’t even a reason to stay.”