Friday, December 31, 2010

#17: Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se

Ashutosh Gowariker is the kind of film maker you could call a sensitive type - one who wouldn't ever be in a tearing hurry to reach a climax, someone who believes in the adage that songs could do a lot to move a story forward and someone who believes that there are numerous untold stories in Indian folklore that need to be told to broader audiences. To an outsider like me he represents someone whose intentions can never be questioned when he sets out to make a movie. In short his movies deserve that bit of respect that eludes a lot of the film-makers in India. And it is with such honest respect for AG, that I chose to watch Kheley Hum Jee Jaan Se on the very first day ahead of Rakta Charitra-2. Given his previous debacle of Whats Your Rashee, I didn't find too many takers to accompany me on the occasion but since I liked the promos with an intent as firm as Bhuvan's, I did manage to march in for the 10 p.m. show.

2 hours and 40 minutes later, I wasn't sure if I could take a call on whether I liked the movie or not. There were some things that I did like, some that I thought that could've been better and some that I thought were things so basic even Geoffrey Boycott's mum would've fared better at. The strength of the movie is the action sequence in the second half of about 20 minutes when a group of teenage revolutionaries take on the might of the British police force with superior weapons in a plan spearheaded by a Maths teacher Binayak Sen ( Abhishek Bachchan), that akin to the movie also doesn't go completely right. The boring first half is the build-up to this action sequence that has very few things going right except Abhishek Bachchan. None of the 12-13 young students who get inspired by the school teacher endear themselves to you, both Abhishek and Deepika Padukone the female lead seem to speak squeaky clean Banarsi Hindi except when taking names of each other when they fabricate a Bengali accent and Sikander Kher, the supporting actor while putting in an earnest performance doesn't really affect you much. Add to these, an insipid soundtrack and unimaginative photography and what you have is the recipe of a near disastrous first half.

If only AG would've crunched the first half by 20 minutes, we would've witnessed something that could've worked at an emotional level for us. The next 20 minutes of the second half do their best in redeeming the movie but just about. Because soon after that solid action sequence we're once again left in the lurch with these characters seeming like a bunch of headless chickens directed by AG, who didn't have so much of a clue as to how to elevate the movie to the next level. So by the time the end arrives, you feel a tad disappointed with the whole affair. There's however a wonderfully put together set of end credits that should surely count as one of the highlights of the movie.

KHJJS is adapted from a book by Manini Chatterjee titled Do and Die: The Story of Chittagong Uprising, yet another example of how AG knows to choose the stories that need to be told like he did with Lagaan and Swades and in spite of the fierce criticism he received for Whats your Rashee, I would just like to point out that not too many directors have the conviction, however misdirected and misplaced, coupled with the guts to adapt a Gujarati novel into a mainstream movie. And that is why in spite of the downer that KHJJS turned out to be, I will still turn up on Friday, first day, night show, the next time AG releases a movie.

In the meanwhile I will wait for Shonali Bose's on-screen rendition of the same story. That is supposed to be released in 2011.

Rating: 5.8/10

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

#16: Der Untergang

"I did not go to any military academy and yet by myself I conquered all of Europe...", thus thunders Adolf Hitler ( Bruno Ganz) in an epochal moment of the Second World War. Epochal, because these were his words just before he concedes that all is lost and there's nothing that could be done to salvage the Third Reich from there on. The shoulders droop, the temper subsides and Hitler's eyes wilt towards the floor. If ever there was a movie, from which you would get all the monies worth from just one monologue, it is this one monologue in Der Untergang - the story of Hitler's last days.

It's a script that's compiled from memoirs written by Hitler's associates ( including a secretary) who were present during those fateful days of the war that saw the Fuhrer coming to terms with the fall of his empire. The first thing that strikes you about the movie is it's stark realism of it's characters some of whom, given their impending surrender deem it fit to revel in drinks and dance rather than worry about the inevitable. It also helps that since this is a European production there's not a single character who doesn't seem fit for the cast in their respective roles as native generals and soldiers. Eva Braun- whom Hitler weds just before they commit their suicides is charmingly portrayed by German actress Juliane Kohler.The few scenes that they have together are treated with extreme sensitivity. One particularly touching moment is when a general pleads with Eva to convince Hitler to leave Berlin and all Eva says is The Fuhrer will make the right decision.

The movie works at several levels to hook you as a viewer- first there's the brilliant performance by Bruno Ganz ( Wings of Desire, Der Baader Meinhoff Complex- he supposedly underwent 4 months of preparation studying Hitler's conversation to mimic the accent). The shaking of his hands, the pride in his voice, the anger, the despair and the eventual acceptance of his rout- all moments in the movie that will keep you glued to the screen (The one monologue I referred to in the beginning of the movie is still something I watch from time to time on DVD ). Then there's the near claustrophobic experience of getting sucked into Hitler's bunker, the plot movement about how the Germans will negotiate with the Russians if at all and then the performance of the entire supporting cast. As every minute passes, you know for a fact that it's all about to get over soon and soon the two-and-a-half hours pass you by without you even flinching in your seat.

There are few movies that you can look back and say, I wouldn't change a thing about that one- because everything about it seems in place- Der Untergang is that movie. A must-watch if you're into war movies, a must-watch if you want one of the best slices of German cinema ever and last but not the least, a must-watch if you just want to behold the finest on-screen portrayal of one of the most complex characters in the history of mankind.

Rating: 8.25/10

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


That such crap can exist on paper in form of a script is a blot on the art of screenwriting. That someone finds such trash worthy of being made into a movie is just plain regrettable.

Eurotrip is a crass, puerile and an incredibly inane piece of cinema. Boy stumbles upon girl on the net, writes a rude e-mail, regrets, wants to make up, ends up going all the way to Europe (without knowing her address), makes out with her in a confession box and all's well in the end. The movie has such an idiotic script, it could make an infant's gibberish seem smarter. I normally avoid spoilers while writing reviews but I thought I should really save you all the trouble (or misfortune) should you ever even think of watching this.

Matt Damon in a 2 minute special appearance does more to redeem this movie than the other 86 minutes put together. There's also a star turn by Vinnie Jones playing a rogue English soccer fan that evokes a smile. (And at this point I am racking my brains to see if I could add anything here but that's it!)

There are times when you watching a movie and you sense there's something that could salvage a movie that's going the drain. In the case of a movie like Eurotrip, you just forget any healing thoughts to that effect.Writer-Director Jeff Schaffer directed the movie in 2004 and since then has nothing of note in his filmography. This movie explains why.

Rating: 2.5/10

Monday, December 27, 2010

#15: Road Trip: Beer Pong

In 2002, in second year of college when I saw Road Trip on Star Movies in India , I didn't think there were cooler movies that existed. Road Trip was funnier than American Pie for me- it was a road adventure woven into a college love story around friends that made it cool and pretty watchable with an unforgettable portrayal by Kyle Edwards who played the scrawny DJ Qualis -a loser friend to the cooler character of John played by Breckin Mayer.

So when I saw Road Trip: Beer Pong at Clixflix, there was nothing that could've prevented me to pick it up based on a sheer token of nostalgic respect for the original. What was even better was the mention in the opening credits of: Based on the movie Road Trip and the familiar Kyle Edwards introducing the University of Ithaca to an unsuspecting group. Road Trip: Beer Pong is a self-confessed tribute to the original cult comedy classic ( christened CCC from hereon) by writer Brad Riddel. It's directed by Steve Rash.

At it's heart, the movie is a comedy that tries to weave in the fun game of Beer Pong as a sport that gets certain students from the University of Ithaca excited enough to go on a road trip to Atlanta to compete in the National Championships. What doesn't work for the movie is that the adventures shown during the trip aren't really exciting enough, unlike the original. What works for the movie though is the character of Arash played by Danny Pudi. Both Brad Riddel and Steve Rash mention in the DVD extras than Danny will go a long way in Hollywood and if you haven't heard of him till now, well you know now where you heard of him first. Pudi is excellent in his turn as a despot's son- his mannerisms, accent and the overall character will have you in splits that assuredly is the best thing about the movie. Apart from Danny Pudi and a watchable Beer Pong contest, there's little to write about as far as the movie is concerned though the lead actress. Juliana Gill is comfortably cute in her avatar as Katy- leading man John Preston's love interest. Everyone else is trite in their roles in a script that as predictable as the days in a week. Consequently, it would be hard to come up with a mention of any memorable moment in the movie.

The best thing I can say about this one though is that Road Trip: Beer Pong is a movie, you should watch only if you love Beer Pong. Catch any other Todd Philips movie if you want the thrills of a real road trip on screen.

Rating: 5.5.10

Sunday, December 26, 2010

#14: Y Tu Mama Tambien

Y Tu Mama Tambien ( And your mother too in English) is a movie about 2 adolescent teens taking off on a road trip along with a hot newly wed lady to a beach known as The Heaven's Mouth in Mexico.

At 16, the desire for sex occupies a center stage of a teenager's life and director Alfonso Cuaron (Great Expectations, Children of Men) presents this aspect of the teenagers' life as blatantly as possible. So there is a party that ends with one of the characters in a threesome, there's masturbation around a swimming pool and numerous odes to jerking off in a drunk stupor. What the director manages wonderfully well is the scant respect these teens have for things like relationships that become a focal point for individuals in their mid-20s. None of the teen characters take anything too seriously- whether it's about their careers or their girlfriends. All they care for is an outlet for their lust and the movie simply put is about these two guys wanting to have a good time.

The subtext to the movie though is the narrator explaining the background of the characters as they get introduced and that's when we come to realize that the country of Mexico forms an important character in the movie. There's a mention of how certain fishermen must re-locate from one of the beaches due to a new star hotel coming up, there's the declaration of a new regime taking over the country's affairs after 71 years and there's the backstory of the characters themselves - that are mentioned in a couple of sentences by the narrator. Some wonderfully innocent acting by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna keep you enticed to the action while Mexican actress Maribel Verdu albeit a bit frumpy looking will blow you away when she begins to show off her body. At approximately 100 minutes, the movie has enough moments of shock and joy to keep you interested.

There's a scene in the movie that's about the 11 rules that form the code of the 'Cholatras' as these teens call themselves and midway through the movie- the teens end up breaking these rules themselves. That, in essence explains the spirit of the movie. Y Tu Mama Tambien is unlike any other movie because without any real plot, the movie makes you a part of the journey of these characters and because the characters are a little different from you and me, you will never feel a minute's boredom during the movie.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, December 25, 2010

#13: Glengarry Glen Ross

It's very tricky when a movie has a cast of 6 stellar names- each of whom could star in a solo film and deliver an unforgettable performance. It's even trickier when unlike The Bridge Too Far or Spartacus or How the West Was Won, the movie is nowhere in the vicinity of 3 hours; instead it's all of 100 minutes. It is trickier because in crunching time each of the leading names gets a smaller duration of time to showcase their skill and exhibit consistent character traits. But it can happen if the script in such a case is so watertight that you forget who's delivering the lines but what are the lines that are being delivered. David Mamet with his story in Glengarry Glen Ross gives us a fine illustration of how it is to be accomplished.

Now consider a motion picture all of 100 minutes with Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin and Jack Lemmon- all packed into a real estate office going full throttle with verbal volleys against each other and what you have is the setting of Glengarry Glen Ross. That sales office has a monthly sales contest which has salesman Ricky Roma ( Al Pacino) leading the figures. If he stays there, he wins a Cadillac. The other guys competing with him are old hand Shelley 'The Machine' Levene ( Jack Lemmon) who hasn't got a penny to his name on the sales board along with Moss (Ed Harris) and George ( Alan Arkin).

Apart from Roma, everyone's struggling and needs better leads. They're brought in by the hot shot department head Blake (Alec Baldwin) who has a cameo very similar to what he would play in The Departed years later. He has got one monologue in the movie and that's all he takes to sweep you off your feet. Those leads are handed over to the unit manager John (Kevin Spacey) and overnight those premium leads that everyone is so desperate for are stolen from the office. The story from there on is to find out who the culprit is.

The shooting took less than 40 days, all of it shot mostly in sequence with the majority of the action taking place in one office. The movie has a terrific pace going for it, first tickling you a bit in the beginning as the characters get introduced and as the action progresses gripping you in the action. The project had a hard time getting off the ground with few people willing to finance it because of the strong abusive language involved.( Fuck - 138 times, that 1.38 fucks per minute compared to 1.32 for Scarface - don't you love this ? Where else would you get data with such precision sliced and served for you). Investors involved small-time cable and television companies and yet the troubles didn't end. The producers had a fallout and sued each other and to top it all the movie didn't even recover it's cost.

And yet whenever we guys get discussing about movies around work, this is one movie that brings a spark to the eye of every person on a drinks table who has been in sales and seen this movie. As I said in the beginning, make no mistake, author David Mamet is the hero of this movie- his insights, his dialogues laced with the trademark profanity amongst sales guys and the desire to 'always be closing' is something Mamet brought from his own experience of having worked in a real estate office and how he nailed it!

Glengarry Glen Ross will be a very special movie for you if you've been in sales but the beauty of the movie is that it will still be a very special movie even if you haven't.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, December 24, 2010

#12: The Treasure of Sierra Madre

What do you say about a movie that has no female character through the entire duration of 126 minutes, is adapted from a book by a mysterious author who couldn't be traced and one that has the son directing his father in a role which wins the father a best supporting actor Oscar while the son goes on to win the Oscar for best director.

The Treasure of Sierra Madre is a movie that has so much history going for it, so much off-screen trivia that I could write an entire post on it. (Not that I won't be able to slip a few inadvertently during this review.) The pre-production for the movie began many years before the year of it's release in 1948 but the word was that execs at WB were really keen to have John Huston direct this movie and so they waited until he returned from the war even though they had a ready version of the script with them. So once John returned from the war, this was the first movie he directed.

With a title as simple, the story was obviously going to be about a group of people setting out in search for treasure. In this it turned out to be three men in search of gold in the mountains of Mexico. One of the first things that John Huston got right in the movie was the casting. Tim Holt as Curtin played the subdued partner to Humphrey Bogart's rugged and greedy personality of Fred Dobbs and whenever Walter Huston's character Howard spoke on screen, he simply stole the limelight. There's this one dance which Howard pulls off during the movie which is one of best expressions of happiness ever on-screen ( Do I note this down ? I don't but they stick in mind e.g. Will Smith's expression in the climax of The Pursuit of Happyness ). The story goes that this was a dance which Walter Huston brought from one of the plays he had acted in and was not a part of the original script but when John saw what his Dad was doing, he let the step be in the movie. The magic moments don't end there. The character of the Mexican bandit who comes up with the famous 'We ain't got no badges...' line and the pleasant digression in the movie about the tribals taking a liking towards Howard keeps you hooked as a viewer. The contrasting styles of the three main characters give room for suspicion, jealousy and fear that enhances the drama with the only binding factor between the protagonists being an unfulfilled quest for gold.

One of my favorite stories about the movie is how the author B.Traven was corresponding with John Huston regularly over letters and John was quite keen that the author come over to the sets as a consultant. The reluctant author would always refrain from agreeing to visit but instead sent his assistant by the name of Hal Croves to the film's sets. After working with Croves, almost everybody at the sets was convinced that Hal Croves was actually B.Traven himself but nobody could affirm it for sure because nobody has ever seen B.Traven.

The Treasure of Sierra Madre is a peach of a story with a very smart director handling the script. More often that not, that is good enough for a movie to sail through with mediocre actors but here's a movie where the actors give so much to their respective characters that it's impossible to be not swayed by their emotions as the story moves along. In the DVD, Martin Scorcese quotes a famous director about being fortunate to be in the business that made movies like The Treasure of Sierra Madre. .
Now, who am I to better that, as a humble viewer?

Rating: 8.5/10

Thursday, December 23, 2010

#11: Capote

It has an intriguingly lovely beginning with a young girl climbing up the stairs of a forlorn house in Kansas countryside and calling out for somebody called Nancy. As she enters a bedroom, we see Nancy lying sideways on a bed with blood splattered on the walls. 3 of a family have been slain and that attracts the attention of Truman Capote ( Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is looking for ideas for his next book.

Along with his childhood friend Nelle ( Catherine Keener), Capote sets out to find more to write an article for the New Yorker. Within days, he knows he has enough material to write a book and stays on. The book eventually is released and goes on to become Truman Capote's literary zenith. Capote is a movie that tells the story of the making of the book and what Capote went through in those years interacting with the perpetrators of that heinous crime.

The beginning was so fascinating, I am wont to believe that I raised my expectations too high. Consequently, the movie did very little for my senses thereafter. Just when I thought it would be a classic murder mystery, we saw the murderers getting caught without any explanation. When I thought Capote's gay leanings would be explored to make this movie interesting, I didn't get that either. The character of Nelle Harper Lee, the author who during the same time also worked on "To Kill a Mockingbird' was in my mind the catalyst who would challenge Capote but that didn't happen either. At 114 minutes, the movie did get tedious at times.

What of course worked was Adam Kimmel's poetic cinematography. His filmography really should be more impressive than what it is. Each scene crafted with a delightful languid punctuation that embellished the dialogues. Now let's come to Philip Seymour Hoffman who won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal. While he's done a really good job, as a viewer I failed to be affected by him and somehow that put me in a fix whether that was because he was trying too hard to be Capote or whether director Bennet Miller just didn't have in the movie that one shock, that one twist that it so badly needed that the character's conflicts never interested me enough to take notice of what Hoffman was trying to portray. I am a devotee of Phil Seymour Hoffman's work who with his performances in movies like Doubt, The Boat That Rocked, Charlie Wilson's War, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead has always stood head and shoulders above so many of the other popular names in Hollywood. Because of which I am going to stick my neck out and say that if they gave him an Oscar for this, he should've easily pocketed one for each of those other performances as well.

To sum it up, Capote is what we call in our social circles, a decent movie. Bennett Miller got a decent debut going too as director ( so christened because his first movie The Cruise was a documentary) but overall the experience of Capote was underwhelming.

Rating: 5.9/10

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

#10: The Talented Mr. Ripley

It's a classic. Period.

With that kind of a beginning to a review, I think am making things difficult for you as a reader and me as a writer. Nevertheless, I must let you know that I wrote that first line thinking that it would be a great disservice to take any time to praise The Talented Mr. Ripley.. It is here that I must also confess that since this falls in my favorite genre of crime, I might be a bit biased in my adulation towards this gem.

So the movie is adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel (she had also written Strangers on a Train) by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Breaking and Entering, Cold Mountain) who also directs it. Given that it is based on a book, it is clear from Anthony's commentary on the DVD that while he did bring his own touch to the screen, he's treated the original book as a Bible and any of those changes that have been are made deftly and in the spirit of deference to what essentially is a great novel.

The protagonist Tom Ripley, played so brilliantly by Matt Damon is a struggler doing odd jobs in the US. In a swift but fateful twist of circumstances Tom finds himself going to Europe and befriends the wealthy son of a shipping giant - The Greenleafs. Dickie Greenleaf essayed by Jude Law excels as the millionaire deviant playboy heir and his friendship with Tom Ripley, shot against the backdrop of 19th century Italy, becomes very thick in a short while. Just when all seems to be going well, Dickie Greenleaf realizes the imposter that Tom Ripley actually is and from that moment on, it's all edge-of-the-seat stuff.

And if the plot isn't mouth watering enough, you'll soon realize that there's not one character in the movie that you will want to have enough of. The highlight of the movie is the portrayal of Matt Damon - he is so likeable as Tom Ripley that although you realize that Tom is doing all the bad things in the movie, you do want him to get away with it. Now hand on your heart, who was the last villain, you felt like that for in the last 25 years ? How preciously rare must that writing be if it makes you feel so?

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Gwyeneth Paltrow play Dickie Greenleaf's best friend and fiancee and between them represent Dickie's fantastic easy-going life before Tom Ripley rips that world apart in no time. Needless to say, with their charm and craft, all these characters leave you yearning for more.

I can't finish this piece without commenting on two more elements that elevate this movie to a peak of cinematic excellence. First, the the exquisite background score by the oh-so-accomplished Gabriel Yared and the stunning photography by John Seale - both of whom have been long-time collaborators with Anthony Minghella. The ease with which the movie appears on screen, as if it's a glass of Montrachet being served exclusively for you, sure has a lot to do with all three of them working in unison. The emotions pour itself out on screen because the script, the shots and the score are in sync in every single frame.

I have seen the works of Jules Dassin, John Huston, Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, Otto Preminger and I have sampled enough and more of Hitchcock and Wilder so what I am about to write here, I would like to believe with a grain of vanity, is not an outcome of a limited study of the genre of crime. In my estimation, The Talented Mr. Ripley is as good a movie there ever was and is as good as any there will ever be.

Rating: 8.95/10

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#9: The Damned United

As far as screenwriters who adapt works from other sources go, they don't come better than Peter Morgan (State of Play, Frost/Nixon, The Queen) and as far as actors who portray real life characters on screen go, they don't come finer than Michael Sheen ( Frost/Nixon, Queen, The Deal). And that explains why these two people have collaborated with each other so often in a fairly short span of time. And in doing so have brought to screen alive some of the best work that can be seen on film.

The Damned United spans the career of Brian Clough( Sheen), touted as the best soccer manager ever to have not coached the English National Team. The movie traces his path as starts out by managing a small-time second division club and from there on his journey to managing Leeds United - the most feared club in those days. His partner-in-coaching is his long time ally Peter Taylor ( Timothy Spall).

Based on Clough's coaching years from 1968 to 1974, the movie takes it's viewers through a whole range of emotions. The character of Clough and his partnership with Taylor is the foundation of the movie. That camarederie is neatly built upon to show an interesting conflict later that makes for a riveting story. The team of Leeds United is another critical character in the movie whose dominance of the EPL runs parallel to Clough's ascent as a coach. Director Tom Hooper stays away from any temptation to focus on the action of soccer instead keeping the story solely based on Clough's characterization. Needless to add, Michael Sheen nails the character.

Few of the scenes in the movie are moments of magic. There's one where Sheen asks for an unreasonable sum of money to do something and another manager disgusted with Sheen's expectation asks him: ' Who the f**k do you think you are ?'. Just for that one reply from Sheen (saving the spoilers), the movie will be well worth your time.The Damned United is one sports movie that I've never seen mentioned in any list of top sports movie compilations. Simply put, it belongs right up there with the best.

Rating: 8.75/10

Sunday, December 19, 2010

#8: The President is Coming

It's probably the only movie in it's genre atleast all through this year. Taking the route of what is know as a mockumentary, The President is Coming is an earnest effort by Anuvab Pal.

Featuring an impressive lineup of actors ( read impressive not popular), the movie has a unique screenplay. While the story moves forward in a linear manner, we often see characters speaking directly to the camera and giving an insight of what they've gone through in their childhood or in the past. Anuvab Pal has always listed Woody Allen as one of his major influences and this is clearly one instance of that influence.

The plot surrounds the visit of George Bush and a PR company's attempt to select one Indian who would be fortunate enough to shake hands with him. With an ensemble cast led by Konkona Sen Sharma and a veritable group of reliable actors from theater, the movie has it's moments of joy. Among the characters those played by Anand Tiwari, Namit Das and Ira Dubey particularly stand out. The film could've been a tad quicker with it's pace and does somewhere becomes predictable after the first half. A couple of sub-plots ingrained in the story fail to make the movie any more interesting too and could've been easily done away with.

Where the movie does score is it's interesting main plot and some of the conflicts as displayed amongst the other characters and good performances by it's cast. The President is Coming is not a class act and it doesn't pretend to be. It is that fun flick that could be caught on DVD on a Sunday evening over popcorn with friends.

Rating: 6/10

#7: The Wild Bunch

If they move, kill 'em, thus begins The Wild Bunch. Freeze frame as a sketch of William Holden's face takes over the screen and the music peaks. Riveting !

William Holden as Pike and Ernest Borgnine as Dutch strike you instantly as characters with a mission with guns.Yet one can't help but feel a certain sympathy for them inspite of them being shown as outlaws. As the movie progresses, you come to know of the good times Pike has been through and how he fell through with Deke Thornton played by Robert Ryan. Little incidents etched in the past are shown to the viewer through a simple yet hugely effective screenplay which make you come closer to Pike and his team.

Based on the tempting premise of 'one last score', you certainly wish Pike and his team get to retire with enough money on their hand because Pike is essentially not a bad guy - he's just someone who wants to make a living and the only way he knows is to use his gun. Age though is catching up with him - one particularly poignant scene is the one where Pike rides on after falling off his horse leading his comrades to comment - 'How could you side with anyone, if you can't even ride a horse.' It is a scene beautifully crafted to show Pike's declining aura and ability yet you know that Pike won't ditch on his friends.

The movie from there on is an interplay of Deke chasing Pike and his gang and how Pike strikes a deal with a Mexican warlord for that one last score. It is not apparent at any point of time as to who will have the last laugh as director Sam Peckinpah gives that showdown a nice balance.

The Wild Bunch is considered to be a classic western movie because of it's relevance to the era of 1910s it is supposed to be set in. What I found immensely interesting is this movie is unlike a lot of caper movies where the gang falls out after the loot is captured, this is one movie - where the gang stays loyal to each other. The camaraderie between the robbers is so rare and so special. A noteworthy performance is that of Sykes played by Edmond O' Brien, the affable robber who can dissolve any heated situation with a light-hearted comment. It's the depth of such characters that make the Wild Bunch the enigmatic classic that it's come to be known as. It is indeed a fine fine western.

Rating: 7.55/10

Friday, December 17, 2010

#6: Anjaana Anjaani

I caught this movie on the basis of a couple of recommendations from friends who said that it wasn't a bad movie. 2 hours, 25 minutes after having sat through Anjaana Anjaani, I must confess it wasn't a bad movie at all. It was atrocious!

The movie's about two characters who wish to commit suicide at the beginning of the movie - Akash and Kiara played respectively by Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra. If the reason for both of them to get to that point itself was a bit of a stretch, what unfolds from there on mercilessly tests the patience of the viewer. So there are no other major characters- just these two lost-in-life souls trying to take the movie forward in what is a completely idiotic story. If Geoffrey Boycott were in Bollywood, you would've surely heard how even his Mum could've written better.

If I do meet Siddharth Anand some day I really want to ask him why did he waste so much money in shooting the movie abroad? When the movie ends how does Akash actually get rid of the $12Mn dollar loan he had taken ? What does Kiara's character actually do in the movie ? All questions that the director assumes the viewer is idoitic enough to overlook. Ranbir is listless as Akash and Priyanka inconsistent though she's done the best she could to salvage the movie - with some spunky acting.

I've barely written anything in this piece and I am at a loss of words as to how to trash the movie. And that is the best thing I could probably say about Anjaana Anjaani.

Rating: 1.5 /10 ( Its actually .5 for the movie and 1 for the songs)

P.S: Ratings have also considered deduction of 1 point for copying the poster for An Education

Thursday, December 16, 2010

#5: Whatever Works

Since 2006 when I first encountered a Woody Allen movie to this day, I've seen 33 of his movies. A greater part of my life beyond working hours since that day has been spent on finding more about his movies, his life, his inspirations, his books and everything else around him. Suffice to say that, I would count myself among the top 5 fans across the world notwithstanding the fact that I am always speaking ahead of time and turn.

With that background in place, I set out to now review 'Whatever Works' - his directorial work of the year 2009. The most striking element of the movie is that this is a movie without Woody as the lead but very much with someone ( Larry David) who knows and attempts to display on-screen every mannerism that Woody has displayed in his earlier movies. So much so that if know your Woody Allen, you're almost irritated as to why Woody himself didn't essay the role.

The plot is a familiar one - of a relationship between the protagonist who is a physicist genius Boris - played by Larry David and a young girl who hasn't seen much of the world. That being the core, the supporting cast of the girl's parents join in along with Boris' friends and attempt to cook up a 90 minute drama that fails to impress. Compared to some of Woody's earlier movies which are based on similar themes of infidelity like Husbands and Wives or Hannah and Her Sisters, Whatever Works is a pale imitation.

The highlight of the movie has to be Larry David and some of the lines, that Woody Allen the writer, has conjured for him. Larry David tries to do justice to the character of this mildly eccentric physicist, Boris who once almost won the Nobel Prize. The movie is told from the eyes of Boris and viewer is led through the time from when he meets a young girl. The absence of any sort of conflict and a weak supporting cast of characters do not help the movie in overcoming the monotony that touches you after the first 15 minutes.

I've always held that every movie offers something new, something that will stick the movie in some corner of your memory or something that you'll be able to talk about in a conversation. Whatever Works just doesn't work in even this modest regard. It is at best a watch for those who just will watch anything for Woody Allen and yet will stand out from his filmography as one of his weakest movies, if not the weakest movie.

Rating: 5.5/10

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

#4: Phas Gaya Re Obama

On a Tuesday night, if a movie is running to a packed house in Bengaluru, it says something about the movie.

In one line Phas Gaye Re Obama is a new age variant of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. It's a two hour scathing satire that uses humor to highlight the effect of recession on a bunch of small-time kidnapping goons. The last cracking satire I had seen was Well Done Abba and even then it wasn't hard to ignore certain actors (read Sonali Kulkarni) that could've been done away with and in this regard PGRO is an outright exception. Each and every character plays their part to the T. You want to believe when Neha Dhupia enters that this won't be such a good idea. To let her play Munni, the female goon and nothing else was just one of symbols of restraint that writer-director Subhash Kapoor brilliantly uses all throughout to keep the script above all else.

Sample this:
1.)This is an entire movie about goons, robbers and the politic-criminal nexus and yet no bloodshed is shown.Except one funny scene where a guy accidentally shoots himself in his hand.

2.)Rajat Kapoor is returning from America after a number of years and thankfully no accent to exaggerate the fact that he's been a US Green Card holder for very many years.

3.)Equally refreshing is the fact that Rajat Kapoor doesn't get any last minute pangs to stay back in India and call his family back.It takes a highly evolved director to not give into any of these temptations and the director does just that.

The entire plot is actually a dexterous mirroring of the collapse of American financial institutions through a passing-the-buck kind of a kidnapping of a supposedly rich Indian American who himself is bordering on the brink of bankruptcy. (To explain, what I just wrote is to give away the movie- so...) Rajat Kapoor, Sanjay Mishra, Manu Rishi excel in their respective characters and neatly blend with their accents, dressing and mannerisms in the milieu of western U.P . Whether it's the movie's stunning one-liners such as 'Itne ki toh thukaai bhi nahi huyee hain, jitne ka lahanga phat gaya...' or the absolutely hilarious 5 minute appearance by an English teacher reprimanding Manu Rishi for his bad behavior in class, every minute of the movie has the audience glued to the screen.

To make the script of a good comedy movie great, the element of wit has to shine through and it is in this department that PGRO exceeds itself. I didn't think the year would end with any movie surpassing Well Done Abba as the best comedy of the year. The fact is Phas Gaya Re Obama does.

Rating: 8.2/10

Monday, December 13, 2010

#3: Leatherheads

Sometimes a movie is just plain good. It isn't more, it doesn't pretend to be and it isn't in anyway disappointing because you had a good time watching it. It won't feature in your top 10 recommendations but you will also not dissuade anyone in case they happen to pick the DVD in your presence - Leatherheads is that movie.

A rare comedy centered around an American professional football team set in the 1920s, the movie begins with a memorable sequence. A bunch of players dash across what appears to be a green field and as the camera pans ( or zooms out, can't remember exactly), the viewer sees a couple of cows grazing on the very same field. From that moment on you know, there's something pleasantly quirky about this movie.

George Clooney directs himself and Renee Zellweger in the lead with John Krasinski as the able supporting actor. While the movie primarily focusses on George Clooney's attempts as Dodge Connelly to revive his teams fortunes, it also has a couple of interesting sub-plots that take the movie forward. One of those being journalist Lexie Littleton's (Zellweger) prying attempts to manufacture the scoop of the year for her newspaper Chicago Tribune. The chemistry between Dodge and Lexie is one of the highlights.

A definite flaw with the movie is that it isn't able to decide whether it's a screwball comedy - the premise with which it begins, or a serious sports movie based on facts of the 1920s, or a plain romantic comedy set against the backdrop of professional football. In the process, the movie ends up being a tad too long.

All in all Leatherheads is a commendable effort by George Clooney- a man who increasingly is straddling the worlds of being a director and actor with consummate ease. Watch it because when your friend is picking up the DVD, you really want to say - "It's a good watch."

Rating: 6.7/10

Sunday, December 12, 2010

#2: Band Baaja Baarat

I was sceptical of it as I entered the hall. No reliable actors, a movie about wedding planners, based in Delhi- it had a few too many factors against it to go for it. But there I was with the popcorn in hand sitting on a Saturday night with a couple of friends.

Pleasantly surprised- just about begins to capture it as it turned out to be one of the most refreshing new-age love stories to come out of Bollywood. Indian film-makers have often resorted to a flat storyline of a boy-meets-girl and lately there've been a slew of movies that tried to replicate the in-college infatuation of the Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na... ilk that eventually turns out to be love for the protagonists in the climax. I guess it all probably began with the eminently forgettable Neal-n-Nikki and lately went on to afflict movies like Pyaar Impossible, Break Ke Baad and I Hate Luv Storys.

Whats different about BBB is the setting. To weave the story of the lead actors against the consistent thread of a wedding planning agency is what does the trick for the movie. Both the actors emote well and with the help of some smartly written quips evoke laughs all throughout. While I've been told this is the remake of a Malayalam movie, the fact that the Delhi-ism of the movie itself is a character that stands out through the movie should be noted as a credit for the director Maneesh Sharma. Although the movie could've had quickened it's pace a bit in the second half, an investment of 2 hours and 20 minutes wouldn't be a waste on this movie. Just before the first half, there's an intimate scene between Ranveer and Anoushka that should rank right up amongst one of the best on-screen kisses in Bollywood.

Often in a theater it's not hard to see when the audience starts getting fidgety with the on-screen fare. The fact that such moments were few in this one speaks a lot for this one.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Here we start #1 - Julie and Julia

So I am back tonight to write. Maybe this is a start to some discipline to begin with.

In recent times, I haven't seen a movie as special, as fresh and as endearing as Julie and Julia. Recommended by Viggy as the most delightful movie she'd ever seen, it often peeped at me from the shelves of Clixflix but somehow I stayed away from it. And then one day I just felt like picking it up. The next 2 hours actually turned out to be the most delightful time I've ever had watching a movie. Movies evoke different kind of emotions but this movie through and through is all about how far one would go to fulfill a passion.

Meryl Streep is so above everybody else, they should make a Statue of Streep ala Liberty in every little province in the world. Amy Adams does her part incredibly well. I'll some day write about this other movie in which Adams and Streep act together Doubt which in itself was a fantastic movie. And then there's the ever reliable Stanley Tucci. During the director Nora Ephron's commentary on the DVD she also mentions how Meryl Streep actually insisted that no one else other than Tucci should play this part. In short everything about the movie is perfect - even the tagline that I think is one of the best taglines ever - Passion. Ambition. Butter.

After the movie, I checked out Julie's famous blog, Julia Child's videos, read up on the real Julie Powell and what not. That's what a great movie will always do to you as a viewer, make you dig deep about the background of the movie.

And sometimes a greater movie will also inspire you to replicate what you see in the movie in real life and that's what I'm trying to do with this attempt of one review every day. Let's see how far we go !

Overall Rating: 9.05/10

A decent after-life plan for a dead blog

It had been so long I thought I must've forgotten the password to the Blogger account until the familiar Gmail window popped up. Am going to try something new from here on to save this blog. Actually I can't say I can save this now- this blog has been dead for quite sometime. So let's say, this is my shot to give this blog it's own shot at having a decent afterlife.

It's been over a year since I moved on from HT to a sports marketing startup in Bombay from Fever. But few things have changed really except the fact that I travel a lot these days, not to any fancy foreign destinations but the familiar usual suspects of Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chandigarh and the like. This has meant the modest beer belly I had managed to keep in abeyance over the last couple of years is increasing with an onslaught of food from hotels and pubs. Now this has also meant that time's at a premium because of which this blog got sedated since March and has been on life-support since then.

Consider my life in numbers over the last 14 months.

a.) I've met 247 new people with regard to work. In the same time, I've met 4 new people for leisure.

b.) Since August I've taken 36 flights for work. That's an average of 7 flights every 20 working days. It has led me to believe that I could be the Indian-ized version of Ryan Bingham am except that I seldom bump into anyone like Alex Goran. (But I do have access to KF Lounge at all airports now and about 15,000 miles to redeeem!)

c.)I began the year with a 150 GB drive laptop from office. I have 19 GB free space left. I just deleted 15 GB just so that I feel better about this.

d.) My gmail operates at 97% capacity. I have to constantly delete all CDR's and Pdf's to keep it going.

e.) My post-work activities have taken a hit. The sports viewing has come down drastically, so has my writing. This is my first post in 10 months.

Yeah, I know. With my exagerrated sense of writing, I could give you the sense that I'm busier than Ratan Tata which is not so true. I've still found time for the one thing that at this stage of my life I depend a lot on in times of joy, anger and anguish- the movies! According to records at my rental store Clix Flix, I've rented 108 movies since August - that's an average of 21.6 movies per month. And this doesnt include gems like Radio, I Hate Luv Storys and Break Ke Baad and numerous others that I've caught in the theaters.

So there, maybe it's not all bad. And it is an inspiration from one of the recent movies I saw that tells me there's a way to give this blog the decent after-life for which I began this post. Let me see if I can come back tonight and find time to post about the movie and the plan. If I do, maybe we're in for one post every day of the year from now on. And maybe if you're movie-goer yourself, you already know the movie in question !

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Best of IPL Trilogy - Batting

So the news is on the front pages every day now. First the player auction, then the snub, then the excitement for the 2011 season, then the Youtube deal and surely by now, you would’ve also caught one of the teaser ads from Sony Max. Yes it’s here. And if the build-up itself has been such a cracker, one can only imagine the mania that awaits us from March, 2010.

Imagine having the comfort of knowing that post-work you can sack back at home or outside with friends or family or just with your dog or alone and have some cracking cricketing entertainment played out on your television screen for over 40 days at a stretch and all you will pay for it is your cable fees. The marketing packaging of the whole circus is that of entertainment but make no mistake, its cricketing skill in its rawest form. A lot of it is superhuman and somehow the frequency of brilliance is so rampant that one can hardly remember all of it at once. And that is quite a pity, considering that the levels of skill on display aren’t any different from that of an international match. A diving catch, a late in-swinger or a last-ball six against men of caliber and repute must be preserved in memory- whether in a test match or in a T20 game. However, the circus around the whole affair does take away the cricketing part of the tournament. More so often, when one doesn’t have any choice but to just grin-and-beer the Shettys and the Zintas of the world giggling right back at your face in the midst of all the action.

Last week, the Martin Scorcese tribute video for the 2010 Golden Globes ended with a quote from the man himself, “Movies are the memories of a lifetime. We must preserve them.” Similarly for cricket fans, the IPL is a wonderful basket of memories of joy. We must remember them. Starting this trilogy, is an infant-step towards that end.

I begin with batting performances.

Andrew Symonds- 117*(53) V RR, Hyderabad (2008): In what is till date, the best innings in IPL in a losing match, Andrew Symonds scored runs at a blistering pace coming in at 32-2 on a lovely batting track in Hyderabad. Warne brought himself on to stem the flow but to no avail – the contest between bat and ball was at its peak and Symonds was winning it hands down against his ex-team mate. Warne gave away 47 in 4 overs. Symonds took 35 of those. Ironically though, Warne had the last laugh in a stellar batting display off the last over bowled by none other than Symonds himself.

Adam Gilchrist- V MI, Mumbai (2008): I will leave the scorecard summary for this one.
Mumbai Indians: 154/7 - 20 overs: Bravo – 34(18), R.P. Singh -2-15
Deccan Chargers: 155/0 -12.0 overs: Gilchrist 109* (47)

Ten sixes! The highlight was the one that took him from 94 to 100.

Virendra Sehwag – 94*(41) V DC, Hyderabad ( 2008): Whatever you were upto on 22nd April, 2008, I hope you weren’t cheering for Deccan Chargers on this date. Because if you were, I doubt if the scars left by Sehwag’s blazing willow on your emotions have still healed. Mine haven’t. Rohit Sharma had played another one of his umpteen T20 gems and got DCto a respectable 142 for 8. He had taken 26 off one Maharoof over and I was left wondering, who else could beat this record.

I didn’t have to wait for long. Sehwag took 30 off one Symonds over barely an hour later. The scoring sequence: 4, 6, 4, 6, 4, 6. Can you feel the rhythm of that sequence?

Saurav Ganguly – 86*(53) V KEP, Kolkata (2008: If ever a captain took over an innings only for the sake of pride in front of a packed crowd, this was it. KKR were down and out by the time they played their last match of the 2008 season. Though they had begun the season with a thunder, their campaign soon fell on rocky terrain. By the time they came into this game, it was known that they will not make it to semis yet Ganguly played a lone hand in what to this date is his best innings in a T20 game. When Umar Gul had fallen at 155-7, KKR needed 20 runs of 9 balls to win the game. Ganguly’s next scoring shots were: 4, 1, and 6,2,6,1. Ganguly got those 20 in 6 and Ishant faced a delivery in between.

Shane Watson- 74(40) V DD, Jaipur (2008): In their home game, DD has decimated RR by 9 wickets but RR had made considerable progress by the time they got their home game against the Daredevils. By now, RR and DD were looking the most formidable outfits. The question was whether RR was just flattering to deceive. DD made a respectable 156 and were well and truly on top when they had RR at 15 for 2 at the end of 5 overs. At the end of 6 overs- they were at 21-2- the lowest score in the tournament till that time. And then Watson opened up in the seventh over taking 12 runs off one over. From then on, Watson maintained a cool head, hit 6 sixes, farmed or milked the strike as they say and brought up a very important win for the Royals- a win that made them believe they could easily beat opponents who had slashed them mercilessly just two weeks back.

Dinesh Karthik – 56*(32) V MI, Kotla: This is one of those innings that will just get buried in the sands of time because the man who played it isn’t headline material. What got him a lot of admiration on this one was because it was a must-win game for DD. The man came in to face a hatrick ball and a required run-rate of 9.66. And he won it for DD, with all leading names back in the pavilion and Maharoof at the other end. A six off Andre Nel in the 19th over – the piece de rĂ©sistance!

The Jacques Kallis and Robin Uthappa Show V MI, Wanderers (2009): All said and done, Uthappa’s walk-down-the-track -six is a lovely sight when it comes off. And so are Kallis’ textbook cover drives. Now combine both of them and there’s a sight to behold. More so, when the partnership lasts for over 15 overs and results in a win for RCB in a do-or-die situation

Rohit Sharma 32*(13) V KKR, Wanderers (2009): This deserves the title of the best cameo till date in IPL. Again a chase brought down to the last over that saw Mortaza taking on Sharma in what was a critical game for DC. 21 were required off the last over. Rohit hit the first ball for four and unexpectedly got a no-ball benefit as well. Then one more six and four followed. 1 was needed off the last ball. That delivery landed at least 15 rows back.

Ross Taylor 81*(33) V KKR, Centurion (2009: So the situation is a must-win for Bangalore and they’re down at the deep-end chasing 173 against KKR. After 12 overs, the required run-rate is 11.75 and RCB are delicately placed at 80-3. Ross has scored 11 off 7 by now. By the time RCB won, Ross had scored 81 off 33 balls. You do the math!

It works out to a strike rate of 269. What can’t be measured is the impetus this single innings gave to RCB’s campaign thereafter.

Adam Gilchrist – 85(35) V DD, Centurion (2009: Indisputably, the most important innings in IPL till date. There won’t be another that can surpass this innings. In due course, it’ll get matched, the strike rate will be overtaken but what no one will be able to take away from this innings is the fact that it came in a semi-final, in a winning chase and against the best bowling attack of IPL. Nannes was on fire all through IPL-II; in this match he was on-fire, if you can sense the difference being hinted at. I’ll leave only one other stat to refresh your memory on this. Nannes opened the bowling and Gilly opened him up with 5 successive fours in the first over. The game was over!

This list is by no means meant to be exhaustive, just memorable.

P.S. Memorability of innings mentioned above is defined as a complex function of (match situation, bowling attack, chanceless nature of batting and tournament context and a sprinkling of personal bias)