24 (2016)

24 Poster.jpg

For a science fiction film about time travel there is something more than a little magical about 24. Vikram Kumar has come up with a compelling story and made a technically excellent film with a well-chosen cast who all perform beautifully. Suriya is outstanding, favourites Ajay and Saranya Ponvannan are impressive in rather more substantial roles than expected and the whole film is a wonderful masala mix of action, drama, romance, comedy and mystery. Definitely one to catch in the cinema to fully appreciate the VFX but also well worth watching for the expertly crafted story and first-rate cast.

24 combines many of the usual elements of a Tamil film, but although the ingredients may be commonplace the resulting story is refreshingly novel. First there is the rivalry between two brothers; Sethuraman and Athreya (both Suriya), one a brilliant but obsessed and oblivious scientist working on a device that will allow travel through time, and the other his jealous and coldly calculating elder brother who will stop at nothing to steal the device for himself. Moving 26 years into the present day, there is Sethuraman’s son Mani (also Suriya) who knows nothing of his past, his adopted mother Sathyabhama (Saranya Ponvannan) who has sacrificed everything to keep Mani safe and the evil Athreya still trying to track down the device to try to rewrite his own past. These are all familiar plot elements but here cleverly put together to ensure there are plenty of surprises throughout and just when it seems the next step in the journey is inevitable, Vikram Kumar twists the path and the story heads off in an unexpected direction.

The opening scenes are amazing and although supposedly set in 1990, the steam train, cars, motorbikes and fairy tale-like mansion give an older-world ambiance. This is helped by the lighting which is golden, warm and suggestive of candle-light especially when compared to scenes set in the present day that are lit more brightly with colder, bluer lighting. Sethuraman has converted his entire house into a gigantic laboratory to work on his invention, and in typical mad-scientist style he has secret rooms, hidden passage-ways and odd devices everywhere. Think Wallace (Wallace and Grommit) with a bigger budget. Thanks to the intervention of a CGI eagle, Sethuraman manages to create a watch that will allow time travel but before he can celebrate his success, his elder brother Athreya shows up to steal the invention. Suriya’s Sethuraman is a classic bespectacled and nerdy inventor, right down to his abstraction when his wife Priya (Nithya Menen) tries to get him to help with their young son Manikanden and various dangerous substances inappropriately placed for safety around the room. This of course allows for maximum damage when Athreya shows up but paint a picture of a ‘typical’ scientist which Vikram Kumar then turns on its head as Sethuraman turns out to be more practical than first impressions suggest. The opening scene sets the precedent for the rest of the film – there is a good amount of humour, plenty of action and drama with Suriya drawing all eyes and commanding centre stage throughout.

The film moves 26 years into the future where Mani is grown up and working as a watch mechanic with no knowledge of his past, or just what he has in an unbreakable box that he cannot open. Athreya is still around too, although after the events 26 years ago he is a crippled shadow of his former self getting around in a motorised wheelchair after waking up from a coma. Athreya is as malevolent as ever and with the help of his trusty sidekick Mithran (Ajay) goes about trying to turn back time 26 years to reverse his accident and regain the use of his legs. Again Suriya does a fantastic job with the character of Athreya – he’s confidently wicked in 1990 when he goes after his brother and his family, and wonderfully warped and bitter in 2016 as a twisted figure in a wheel-chair. Suriya brings the character to life and makes him so much more than a stock evil villain.

Mani is more the kind of character Suriya has played in recent films, but with a hint of mischievousness that differentiates Mani from the likes of Massu and Raju Bhai. There are some well scripted moments between Mani and his onscreen mother Sathyabhama which give Saranya Ponvannan more than the usual mother/son dialogues to get her teeth into. As always she’s the quintessential filmi ma, but here she gets to have a back story and separate personality aside from being a mother and she rises beautifully to the opportunity.

There is also a romance – of course – there has to be a romance! Mani falls for Sathya (Samantha) just as he discovers his father’s watch, and the romance is partly an excuse to showcase all the things the watch can do. The love story is the most conventional part of the film but Suriya and Samantha have good chemistry and Vikram Kumar adds in some light-hearted comedy to ensure the romance doesn’t overcome the action. Girish Karnad, Mohan V. Raman and Sudha as members of Sathya’s family add more background and all are good in their respective roles.

A.R. Rahman provides the music, but it’s around an hour in before the first dance number which is the appropriately electronic sounding Kaalam en Kadhali. I loved Suriya’s dancing in this – it was definitely worth the wait! The rest of the songs are more romantic and fit less well into the narrative, although I did appreciate the black and white co-coordinating costumes in Naan Un. The music itself is lovely, but the songs slow down the narrative and really don’t seem particularly necessary to move the story forward.

Although there is plenty of good comedy in 24, it’s kept light and even Sathyan, as Mani’s friend Saravanan, is more restrained than usual. It is still laugh-out-loud funny in parts though which provides a good contrast to the few more violent scenes, particularly one just before the interval which is shocking in its sudden brutality. However that is the exception and most of the fight scenes rely on intelligence rather than brute force.

24 has the look and feel of a Hollywood film without losing any of its Southern Indian roots. If this had been a Western film, no doubt 3 different actors would have been cast in the different roles of Mani, Sethuraman and Athreya, but in part the film works so well here because it is the same actor in all three roles. Watching Suriya play three very different characters is mesmerising all by itself while ensuring the familial relationship forms part of the story. Plus more Suriya is generally a good thing! The visual effects are slick, polished and look amazing, while the cinematography from S. Tirru is excellent, adding another layer to the story and ensuring a sophisticated look to the film.

Vikram Kumar impressed me in Manam with his ability to make a complex story flow easily and he does it again here. Yes, there are a few too many coincidences and no-one seems to worry about what will happen to the future when the past is altered, but these are small issues that don’t seem to matter when the rest of the film is so well done. 24 is an excellent piece of storytelling and the best big budget film of the year so far. Don’t miss it!

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Massu Engira Masilamani (Masss)

Masss

Venkat Prabhu is a man of many ideas – usually very good ideas – which have resulted in a number of successful films. However for his latest release Masss, he tries to cram as many ideas as possible into the first 20 minutes, and then continues to throw in yet more new ideas throughout the rest of the film. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not all of his ideas work and it’s even difficult to decide if they work or not because the film has already moved on to the next idea! As a result the confusion of the opening scenes feels like trying to cram a year’s work into 10 minutes before the start of an exam. Situations and characters flash by without a chance to work out who is who, what they are doing and how they fit into the story, and if I did have to answer questions on what was going on, I would fail miserably! However it does get better. Suriya is amazing, and his presence holds the film together even through the odd and even more oddly placed songs. The story starts to make sense and the pace slows down to manageable levels with enough comedy and action mixed in to make Masss well worth a watch and much better than the opening sequences would suggest.

Suriya plays Masilamani aka Mass, a con-man and thief who works with his best buddy Jet (Premgi) on a number of overly complicated heists that involve as much theatricality as they do actual thievery. But they make a mistake when they decide to rob a local don who takes exception to their activities. Mass and Jet only just manage to escape, but in doing so they have a serious car crash which has more implications than they first realise.

I had no idea about the story behind Masss and I think it works better when the events that occur are completely unexpected, so I will leave the details of the story there. Up to this point Suriya works his lovable rogue persona well and Premgi is relatively low-key as his best friend. After the first twist (one of many), Premgi takes more of a back seat in the proceedings which is an advantage to the storyline since he doesn’t quite have the acting chops required for such a major role, although his comedy does work well. Suriya takes centre stage and drives the story forwards with an excellent performance and plenty of charisma. There is a double role too, which is perhaps a little clichéd but still works within the format of the story. Plus double Suriya is always a benefit in my opinion (as long as they are not conjoined twins!).

Nayantara pops up as Malini, a love interest for Masss, but she has very little to do and doesn’t even manage a duet with the hero, so her role could have been skipped without too much trouble. She does look beautiful though, if perhaps a little unconvincing as a nurse, but has surprisingly little chemistry with Suriya. However I’m going to mark that down as not having any real opportunity to develop any sparkage due to the briefness of their time spent together rather than any real problem with Nayantara. Vidyullekha Raman makes an appearance as Malini’s friend and actually makes more of an impact than Nayantara, although sadly she too quickly drops out of the story. However they both fare better than Pranitha who appears totally mis-cast, or at least inappropriately dressed with terrible make-up, for her role as flash-back Suriya’s wife.

The film has a huge cast list and there are a large number of good actors who appear as assorted villains or who are part of a group who help Mass later in the film. Brahmi has a brief role as a corrupt doctor in Malini’s hospital, while Samuthirakani has probably the best realised villain role, although even he only appears occasionally. Parthiban manages a little more screen-time as a police officer on the trail of Mass and has some good one-liners while Karunas, Riyaz Khan and many others provide excellent back-up for Suriya. It seems a long time since I’ve seen Rajendran and it’s great to see him here in a small role as a member of the gang helping Mass even if again he only appears briefly.

The second half follows a more linear storyline, even with the flashback portion and the film settles down to an easier pace. What surprises me is that the film received a U certificate given that there is some fairly extreme violence and at times the film is quite frightening for a young audience, although the kids in Melbourne seem to be made of fairly tough stuff and seemed to take it all in their stride.

Masss is a little overlong and the at times it seems that Venkat Prabhu got a little too carried away with his special effect team. There are times when less really is better and there are a few moments here where more restraint would have had a greater effect. In addition, the songs don’t really fit, apart from one during the flash-back sequence and there are perhaps a few too many nods to other films in the screenplay giving the film a more derivative feel than I think it really deserves. However Suriya is excellent and the background score from Yuvan Shankar Raja makes up for any lack in the dance numbers. This is a film to watch for Suriya, the excellent support cast and for Venkat Prabhu’s occasional flashes of brilliance which occur just often enough to give Masss sufficient unexpected twists to entertain.

Anjaan (2014)

Anjaan

Lingusamy has delivered some good action thrillers in the past, so teaming up with Suriya for this latest venture certainly sounded like a good move.  However Anjaan trundles along a fairly predictable path interspersed with a few too many fight sequences (as excellently choreographed as they are) and oddly placed flashbacks that disrupt the narrative flow.  The film is saved to some extent by good performances from the main leads – Suriya is effortlessly charismatic and instils life into his often routine character, while Samantha is cute and bubbly despite having to dance like a maniac.  Sound acting cannot completely compensate for a plot which, while frequently formulaic, fails to present a believable chain of events in a convincing way.   I also can’t see why it was necessary to set the film in Mumbai as it didn’t seem to have any relevance to the story, and the resultant dubbing of the Hindi actors is noticeably out of sync. Anjaan isn’t terrible but in comparison with other recent commercial films, it doesn’t come anywhere near the same standard of storytelling, and really should have been much better.

AnjaanAnjaan

The film starts with Krishna (Suriya) heading to Mumbai from Chennai to try and find his missing brother, Raju (also Suriya).  He’s armed with an elbow crutch and a laptop, but doesn’t seem to have much to go on apart from a handful of names and addresses which take him, along with comedy stalwart Soori as his reluctant taxi driver, to some very dodgy places.  It doesn’t take too long for Krishna to discover that his brother was a notorious gangster who revelled in the name Raju Bhai and after a few false steps he finally tracks down one of the gang members to find out more about his brother.  Baashka (Joe Malloori) is able to fill in the blanks and the film moves to flash-back mode to tell the story of Raju and his best buddy Chandru (Vidyut Jamwal).

Anjaan

There is never any explanation of how Raju Bhai and Chandru Bhai have gained their fearsome reputation or even any detail about their criminal activities, which is part of the problem with the rest of the story.  The big revenge plot which follows doesn’t have much credibility when there isn’t any solid foundation for the story and the other characters are too one-dimensional to impact.  Vidyut Jamwal was impressive in his previous roles as a villain but he’s just not on screen enough here to make much of a mark.  His Chandru appears to be borderline ASD with many obsessive behaviours and signs that he doesn’t communicate well with others – hard for Vidyut to make much impact when most of his role involved moody silences and brooding looks.  However he is excellent at these, and I just wish there had been more for him to get his teeth into here.  Luckily for Chandru he has Raju to deal with the rest of the world for him, and although Vidyut Jamwal and Suriya make a good ‘bhai’ pairing and appear to be on the cusp of some good chemistry, it never quite manages to get going before the camera whisks away to yet another fight scene.

Anjaan

Suriya totally rocks his casual gangster style and cool spiky hair.  He’s just as comfortable as a violent gangster as he is in the more cerebral role of Krishna.  He also has some good chemistry with Samantha at the beginning of their romance although this vanishes later in the film when Samantha is relegated to the usual Tamil heroine status, only appearing in the songs or as a damsel in distress.  Her opening scenes are good and I did have hope that she would have a chance to be more than just eye candy but in the end that seems to be the only reason for her inclusion.  Sadly she’s also short-changed in the wardrobe department for many of the songs and much of her choreography seem to be of the ‘dance like no-one is watching’ variety.  As if that wasn’t bad enough there is a particularly sleazy item song in the second half and a very unnecessary and totally unfunny appearance by Brahmi.  All very seem to be added in to fulfil the standard checklist for a commercial mass masala film, and all are completely superfluous to requirements.

Amjaan

The fight scenes, although excellently choreographed and filmed are also repetitive and strangely soul-less given that the supposed motive is revenge.  Manoj Bajpai is a bit of a nonentity as the smarmy villain of the piece Imran Bhai, while Murali Sharma and Chetan Hansraj are more effective in their negative roles.  Santosh Sivan’s cinematography at least makes the film look great but there are a few too many close-ups of Samantha’s coloured contact lenses for my liking – I really don’t need to see the printed iris pattern that clearly outside of my optometry practice!

Although Linguswamy seems to have checked his Big Masala Cook Book and added all the right ingredients he seems to have forgotten the seasoning and ends up with a bland dish that veers into tasteless all too often.  Suriya makes Anjaan worth a one time watch if you’re a fan, but by the end even he seems to be resigned to the monotonous gangs he has to beat his way through every 5 minutes.  For all Anjaan’s big budget effects and slickly packaged action scenes at the end of the day nothing can cover up the lack of a story or the absence of engaging dialogue, and that really says it all.

Anjaan