Thanos’ Quest & Why Our Heroes Need Rest

Thanos

Somewhere in deep space, Thor gets his skull crushed by someone who manages to make the God of Thunder weep.

This someone also gamely allows Hulk to have a go at him for a while before reducing the Green Giant to his original self.

With his huge hands this someone also touches Tony Stark’s head , like how a father would after a mock fight; shaking the internals of the Iron Man.

Yes yes, this someone is Thanos of Titan; the true hero of Avengers: Infinity War in which our much loved heroes of the past decade scamper around HIM with no clue on how to save the universe (their usual core competence)

I have long lamented on the lack of true evil in these films which will will act as counter weight to true goodness; but Thanos is something else altogether: he is committed, he has focus and above all he is calm.

Scarily calm.

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The power that comes to reside in him (humongous power of all the infinity stones) does not consume him, does not whisk him away from his cause and more importantly does not make him mad. Even when he is just using a neighboring planet as a slingshot.

The stones and the gauntlet makes Thanos almost zen like, a man with a vision willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Yes, we have the hero’s arc here (for a super-villain).

 

Let’s now come to cause itself

The film unfolds through the course of Thanos’ hop-on hop-off tour of the universe in his pursuit of balance through destruction, our heroes like ox-peckers perched on a charging hippopotamus stretching themselves to save half the universe.

Infinity War changes most things about traditional heroes and flips the narrative by making the villain the hero of the film, dwarfing all the build-up that the MCU had done till now, to the point that the collective gasps that were heard in the theatre was in a way a reflection of ‘How are they going to beat this guy?’

Superhero movies tend to leave things upbeat when before calling curtains, but here too Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely bring out the inner doubts and whether the good guys are good enough?

The mightiest heroes (or what’s left of them) sure do look like they need some time to figure out what to do next.

I guess the producers will revert to the usual MCU beat and I’m not too worried about that.

But the story of Thanos by itself is a satisfying start to a devastating end.

Fin.

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Let’s talk about : The Ocean’s Trilogy

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While we are on the topic of greatest movies ever made, let’s talk about the Ocean’s trilogy.

Hi there Avengers Infinity something. (yawn)

Steven Soderbergh is unpredictable, he retired from movie making some four years ago and then came back to make Logan Lucky, many called it an inversion of his Ocean’s trilogy; functional and without any style. The whole style vs substance would put the Ocean’s trilogy in bad light, but in reality style is the substance in these films.

Soderbergh himself has taken various positions on the Oceans franchise, from being appreciative to being ‘I don’t really care if you don’t like it’; but he has admitted that a lot of work went into the trilogy and that is why it is interesting (and great).A carefully constructed ode to old hollywood but still very modern and yet entertaining cinema.

Full disclosure: the Ocean’s trilogy for me is up there (obviously with LOTR) in terms of breaking up characters and their tales into three parts. The Lord of the Rings also had the cushion of a literary work and generations of readers who are familiar with the story.

Breaking down the Ocean’s trilogy; 11 sets up Ocean and his men brilliantly and 13 perfectly completes the story. Twelve falls short because it is unlike 11 or 13, but definitely the most interesting.

Soderbergh’s source material was a 1960 film directed by Moldovian-American director Lewis Milestone*; the original Ocean’s 11 headlined by Frank Sinatra and  Dean Martin, a film that currently holds only 48% weight on critic aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

Even as a choice this seems quite odd for a remake. Soderbergh is like that, he professes that many directors too are like him: attracted to not so greater works of great filmmakers. Positively, this could be seen as learning from other’s mistakes but realistically it is about ignoring what ‘most people’ have agreed upon.

Great work usually comes from not-so great sources

Having seen the 1960 film, memorable is not something I would associate with it; but I can guess it was the playful tone and actors bouncing off each other that attracted Soderbergh. He makes the source material his own and we get with three well directed classic films on professionalism and camaraderie.

Show, but don’t show-off

Like most films in this genre where we are indeed cheering for the bad guys, there is a sense of casual code; the team may seem like an assembly of rag-tag crooks but really they are bound together by their professionalism and dislike for vanity.

Let’s look at the antagonist in the three films

  • Villain 1-Ocean’s 11: Terry Benedict: owner of 3 of the biggest casinos and suitably self-obsessed
  • Villain 2-Ocean’s 12: The Night Fox: a self congratulatory European gentleman thief
  • Villain 3-Ocean’s 13: Willy Bank: megalomaniac, obsessed with building the best hotel on the strip

If there had been an Ocean’s 14, then it is quite possible that the rat-pack would have taken on Tony Stark (yawn). The only difference between the good guys and the bad guys is “you can be be cool by not saying so”

Also take into account that the villains have to be over the top, so that the thievery can be normalized but there is always an undercurrent of Ocean and co having a personal stake in the happenings. It is not about the money, but about the job.

It is always about the job

Coming back to professionalism: to sum up, the three films are about a bunch of guys who really really(emphasis mine) love their job and are very good at it, ready to accept unreasonable challenges but don’t want to be seen as very serious about it. It’s part of their act.

Daniel Ocean claims to look at the angles of buildings even when he is not working, Linus spends the prize of the first movie in improving his ‘skills’, Rusty tries running a hotel but feels he is not good at anything else.

The dialogue is loaded about skills, tactics(looky loo with a bundle of joy!) and planning , everyone working towards doing a better con than before. Like Basher puts it ” we don’t do the same gag twice“.

Much has been written about work and fun, as though they are too separate things; and coming from a society where the skills you have is almost always not the one which would be called to action at work I am able to relate. Meaning work is the complete opposite of fun.

But here films could have been about a bunch of accountants and still they would have made it in interesting. Oceans for me in many ways is about the triumph of work and not without the help of any hack productivity handbook.  A very American thing, but countries are really built by hard working passionate men (and women), who don’t usually get their due.

It is also about the gang

Already covered is their common dislike to individual success, Ocean despite being a master thief doesn’t work alone, the loot is equally shared even if everybody’s skills are not completely utilized.

Two of the three movies happen just to set things right for their mentor Reuben, and all the time they spend together is playful and devoid of any real conflict; the spirit of friendship pervades all through, just like friends having a good time in real life.

But more importantly, it all comes together very well

  • Addictive. Re-watchable. Laugh-out-loud funny.
  • Sweeping the casino carpet type cinematography.
  • A soundtrack that stays with you for life.
  • Blow-your-cinephile-mind team up.
  • Rusty and Danny saying so much by not saying a word.
  • The twins saying so much but actually saying nothing.
  • The Amazing Yen!
  • Bruce Willis as himself.
  • And introducing  Tess as Julia Roberts! (the whole Looky Loo sequence)
  • Vincent Cassel -laser dance.
  • Viva La Revolucion!
  • Al Pacino ordering a Samsung phone
  • Everybody knows Mandarin
  • “They have enough armed personnel to occupy Paris”
  • George Clooney saying “yeah”
  • The fountains swaying to Debussy’s Claire De Lune

The general coolness of it all. I mean what is not to like?

Among the greatest Hollywood films, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Beginning

AnbeSivam1Kamal Haasan (KH) announced that he would retire from films from barring Vishwaroopam 2 and Indian 2, not surprising at all. The fact to be noted is that both are extensions of his previous works and sadly not something new.

‘Something new’ would be the murmur of those who walked out of a Kamal film, even for the truest of fans, the films would be things that couldn’t be described at a moment’s notice.

Notice that KH has been very cautious about his late career, not wanting to be another curd rice eating lion (his phrase for the later phase of Nadigar Thilagam) but somewhere along the line he too had realized that it was time.

Time is of the essence, something that resonates in Kamal’s cinematic swan song “Uttama Villain” in which an ageing superstar has to balance between his final act to right his wrongs and his final act (in a movie) with his mentor.  For me the last Kamal consummate performance.

Performance that has no end is of interest, one song from the film claims. Yes we have finally reached the point in the universe that there would be no more waiting for a Kamal film. Waiting and patience, the two characteristics that binds even unlike Kamal fans of which there are many.

Many careers come to an end, but few leave a lasting impact; while in fields which are driven by statistics (hi sports), achievements  which will always be broken. Performance artists on the other hand achieve near immortality thanks to their craft and can comfortably disregard numbers.

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Numbers too are surprisingly in Kamal’s favour; in a career spanning almost sixty years he has played from camp to class and what lies between.  Take 1982 for instance which gave the Tamil movie going public both Sakalakalavallavan and Moondram Pirai. This is not a singular occurrence Sagara Sangamam came with Sattam, Nayagan came with AVM’s Paer Sollum Pillai, Virumandi and Vasoolist etc etc etc and it is hard to imagine any other actor who can withstand this stretch consistently and still look natural.

Naturally, his multifaceted nature attracted different kind of fans. His long career has ensured that there was a constant churn in admiration, old fans becoming disillusioned allowing new ones to take their  place. An example would be a generation that still believes that KH was the coolest in the 80s, while another set claim he peaked in the 90s, some say he should just direct and not act, others don’t want him behind a megaphone, some want him to even work with youth directors (LOL). Personally, it is KH’s ability to be all this and more that makes me revisit the films.

Films (of his) are all that we will have of him in the future (not discounting the interviews), and it is surely exciting to revisit them not just as a fan, but as an explorer of the medium. Especially now, when there very little to expect. You have given me a lot to work with and all the best for your future endeavors, Kamal.

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