Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Top 10 Tamil Movies of 2014

Following the end of my undergraduate studies in June, I have been spending the second half of the year catching up with all sorts of movies, so much so that I could make my own Top 10 list. Just so you know, this list is purely based on my own thoughts and not box office collections and professional critics' opinions. So let's get kicking.

12) Vadacurry

It is evident from the first few scenes itself that this is from a Venkat Prabhu school of film. He not only stars in it, but was the mentor to the director. Jai carries most of the scenes on his shoulder, branding himself as a comedic actor after the success of movies like Goa and Raja Rani. This movie also proves you do not need necessarily need Santhanam to provide comic relief in an out and out comedy film that does not require a separate comedy track. RJ Balaji does a good job in this position, or perhaps even better as his comedic timing goes straight to the punch without the Santhanam-esque long-winded dialogues that leave subtitle writers annoyed. Everything invites laughter in this film, even the villains who are not really big time criminals are amusing. Songs are pretty decent as well, although the ending could have been better by having a slightly more menacing criminal behind the whole plot.

11) Velaiyilla Pattathari

This film's trailer made it appear like an out and out typical Masala commercial entertainer with its punch dialogues, boy-next-door heroism, folk songs and family sentiments However, it is more than just that. It is also a poignant coming-of-age story. Dhanush plays a similar role as he did in Polladhavan (2007), Yaaradi Nee Mohini (2008) and Padikkadavan (2009). However, the presence of a formidable villain makes for an interesting David versus Goliath element. Though the film is racy and borderline predictable, it boldly tackles an issue most cinema goers today face - a jobless young graduate waiting for his big break. Though this is only his début, director Velraj proves he can tell a good story with a strong social message while still mixing in some commercial elements. 

10) Mundasupatti

Set in a 1980s fictional village in South India called Mundasupatti, the film depicts an entire village of highly superstitious and uneducated people who believe bad luck will befall them if they are photographed. This film makes fun of organized religion and superstition in a way that is not too in-your-face, which saved it from controversy. This could have the been as good as another satire film that came out this year, Vaayai Moodi Pesavum. However, where it falls short of critiquing society, it makes up in the comedy department.

9) Thegidi 

Ashok Selvan is like the urban, yuppie version of Vijay Sethupathi. Both make new age Tamil movies that are more artsy than commercial but still fare well at the box office. They were together in a movie in fact - last year's blockbuster Sodhu Kavum, where Vijay was the literal and figurative crazy one of the group while Ashok was the more mature and educated one. Also, Ashok played the main character in last year's Pizza 2, which is a spiritual sequel to the Vijay starer Pizza. Thegidi appears to be low budget but it still boosts a decent story, dealing with private investigating. Unlike most mainstream Tamil films that deal with blue collar crimes, this film deals with a different form of crime that we all perhaps take for granted. Also prepare yourself for the big twist at the end, which is nowhere near Pizza 2's twist, but still a decent attempt.

8) Cuckoo

This romantic drama staring Attakati Dinesh and Malavika Nair each in a role of a lifetime revolves around two visually-challenged young people who fall in love with one another. What makes this film absolutely refreshing is the fact that it does not depict the visually-impaired in an overtly sympathetic way like what you would expect from a regular artsy Tamil film. Instead, they are shown as normal everyday members of society. The hero is a singer for a band that performs at various functions, while the heroine is a trainee teacher in the midst of her teaching practice. There are many light, funny moments, and also overly melodramatic ones like the ending. This film could have been much better though, but since it the director's debut, we can give him a pass. 

7) Kochadaiiyaan

Thank our lucky stars that this film had the Superstar in it, or it might not have even taken off. The animation is unfortunately mediocre, but the movie is saved by the KS Ravikumar's engaging story and dialogues, and of course, AR Rahman's brilliant soundtrack. Thankfully this movie does not have the usual hero-worshiping dialogue that most big starers have, though the opening song does incorporate elements of it, which we can look pass thanks the beautiful accompanying music. It is difficult to understand why this had to be a motion-capture film when it could have simply been a regular animation one. You cannot really feel the 'motion' captured from the actors' performance with their animated versions looking so stiff. Perhaps its a good starter that will go on to be well developed in the future. 

6) Vaayai Moodi Pesavum

This is a satirical film that might not have worked in mainstream cinema. The second half of the film seems like a silent movie, which actually works very well. It still manages to be funny and engaging despite the lack of dialogue. The film pokes fun at many aspects of Tamil Nadu's political and social environment today - like the manipulative media, corrupt politicians, hero worship, alcoholics and of course, our excessive use of speech. Just like how the director, Balaji Mohan reinvented the Tamil rom-com genre in his debut, he introduces a completely new concept yet again added with his own style of story-telling, making the movie not just a thought-provoking piece of film but an enjoyable

5) Pisasu

This film was wrongly promoted as a horror film. It is more of a ghost film which fits into the genre of psychological thriller. There are still some genuinely scary scenes, which has been executed differently by avoiding the usual blood and gore, thus destroying a few clichés along the way. It has Mysskin's name all over it with his signature camera angles, slow paced scenes, and villains who are not really evil. His obsession with all things morbid truly fits this kind of genre, as it makes for a well-made edge-of-the-seat psychological thriller. Although the big revelation during the second half of the film renders the film less than suspenseful, the climax makes up for this. 

4) Madras

Though this film still maintains all the commercial elements needed in order for a film of this genre to succeed, it does not compromise with the social reality of its setting. This is unarguably Karthi's best movie in recent times, though he does seem to stick out like a sore thumb not just as the movie star member among a group of mostly newcomers, but as a bit too chic and mature for a lower middle class young man. This revenge drama is about two friends from north Madras who despite being the most educated in their clique, end up being lured into the midst of a bloody gang war of political rivalry and betrayal which comes with living in a neighbourhood like theirs. Though the basic premise is not completely original, director Ranjith's screenplay and character development keeps us engaged throughout the film. 

3) Arima Nambi

This is a a very well-crafted urban conspiracy thriller. The suspense scenes are genuinely nail-biting thanks to the racy plot. It is hard to believe this is a debut film for the director, especially with such clever writing, excellent direction and cool camera works. This film is a rare gem in a rarely explored genre in Tamil cinema. The villain, who only comes in the second half, is truly menacing and power-greedy. Most of the high-tech talk spoken in this film is believable enough to make the movie appear as realistic as possible. The only problem with this movie is one song scene towards the end of the film that just stands out like a sore thumb.

2) Naan Sigappu Manithan

This movie came as quite a shock as it comes from the same guy that gave us the usual run-of-the-mill Tamil films like Theeradha Vilaiyattu Pillai (2010), Samar (2013). It is truly refreshing to see Vishal reinventing himself as a true actor and slowly shedding his 'mass hero' image. In this movie, he plays Indhiran, a boy next door who is not a looser but an excellent student, who hangs out with his friends at a cafe instead of a bar. The narcolepsy aspect of the story is an actual part of the whole film, just like how split personality is part of Anniyan, and not just a sickness that the hero happens to have. This illness has a major role in how the entire story plays out.

1) Jigarthanda

After a stunning debut through Pizza (2012), Karthik Subbaraj has proven himself as an auteur for Tamil cinema with his this comedy cum gangster film. In this genre-defining film, we see a raw and gritty gangster film that is as comical as it is violent. The film is packed with a series of twists and turns that keep audiences at the edge of their seats. The structure of the film is very unconventional that some might not be able to stomach the sudden change in genre after the intermission, although those who have come to like Karthik's earlier attempt of a twist in Pizza might actually appreciate the uniqueness that he is trying here. Bobby Simha truly stuns us with a career-defining performance here after having played a dummy in Sodhu Kavvum (2013) and a comical villain in Neram (2013). Moviegoers can definitely expect more from both him and the director in the future.

Honourable Mentions:

1) Sarabham

2) Kaviya Thalaivan

3) Kaththi

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Top 15 Unusual Things to See in London

I was in England for three years doing my degree. During that time, I've visited London many times, but it was always the usual famous tourist spots like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Madame Tussauds, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park and much more. Looking back now, I have come to realize that there are quite a few unusual spots that I have missed. If I were to revisit London someday, this are my top 15 unusual things to see there.

1) The Fake No. 10 Downing Street

Although access to the actual Downing Street is often restricted, there is No. 10 Adam Street close to The Stand, which is an exact replica of the British Prime Minister's residence.

2) Brixton Windmill

This is actually one of the six windmills that you can find in London and it has been here since 1816. Initially closed in 1934, it was restored in 2011 and is currently open to the public.

3) The thinnest house

Situated on the corner of South Terrace and Thurloe Square in Knightbridge, this seven feet house is worth up to £2m.

4) The smallest house 

No. 10 Hyde Park Place, Marble Arch is only 3 feet 6 inches wide. When it was built in the 18th century, it blocked a tiny passageway, and functioned to watch out for body snatchers at the opposite St. George's graveyard. It is now taken over by the similarly coloured Tyburn Convent next door.

5) The smallest church

Measuring merely 56 feet by 30 feet, St. Ethelburga-the-Virgin in Bishopsgate, EC2 dates back to the 13th century.

6) The smallest police station

Located  near Trafalgar Square, this circular stone station was built in the mid 20s and has space for only one officer.

 7) Leinster Terrace’s fake town house façades 

This row of fake town house façades was actually built to hide the ugly train tracks and smoke from the engine venting when the first tube line was built around these upscale area back in the 1860s.

8) Speedy’s Cafe in Camden

BBC's Sherlock fans don't need any introduction to this very normal-looking cafe. Lucky to know, the care has not exploited the fame from the popular TV show.

9) The Traffic Light Tree

This eight metre tall fake tree contains 75 computer operated traffic lights was made by French sculptor Pierre Vivant and is located in Canary Wharf.

10) St. Bride's Church

Apart from St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Stephen’s Walbrook and St. Lawrence Jewry, this church also beautified the city's skyline. However, what makes this church truly wonderful is its tiered spire that inspired modern wedding cakes not just in England but worldwide.

11) The Thames Lions

Taking a stroll down the River Thames on the Victoria Embarkment is not unusual. But people hardly spot the carved lion heads with rings in their mouths. Sculpted in the 1860s, these Thames Lions were part of the river's flood warning system. If the Lions drink, London will sink.

12) Temple Church

Many miss this smaller church, although it is one of London's most important Christian buildings. Built in the 12th century, it served as the Knights Templar's English headquarters.

13) The Last Sewer Lamp

Located just off the Strand, this lamp was built in the 1880s and is connected to the city sewer system below. Fumes to travel up along its iron post and fuel the flame on top

14) The Victorian Operating Theater

Like many other churches in 19th century England, St. Thomas provided food, shelter and medication to the poor.  This church, however, even had its own operating theater, which back in the day would have staged a performance to avoid with no anaesthetics and what not.

15) Tower Bridge Chimney

Tower Bridge is one of London's iconic landmarks, but what makes it unusual is its chimney that has been blended in with the lamp posts lining the bridge. It is connected to one of the bridge piers which had a room with coal fire to warm the guards. 

Top 10 Most Beautiful Floating Mosques in Malaysia

While researching for my articles on the Top 10 Most Beautiful Mosques in Malaysia and the Top 10 Most Unique Mosques in Malaysia, I learned that there are quite a few mosques that are floating mosques. They are built at the edge of seas, rivers, ponds and lakes to create the illusion they are floating on water, making for quite the spectacle. Here is a list of Top 10 Most Beautiful Floating Mosques in the country. 

1) Putra Mosque, Putrajaya

2) Crystal Mosque, Kuala Terengganu

3) Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque, Teluk Ibai

4) Selat Melaka Mosque, Melaka

5) Bandaraya Mosque, Likas

6) Tanjung Bungah Mosque, Penang

7) Petronas Technology University Mosque, Seri Iskandar

8) Al-Hussain Mosque, Kuala Perlis

9) As-Salam Mosque, Puchong 

10) Darul Quran Mosque, Kuala Kubu Baru