Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#264: Don 2

The legend of Farhan Akhtar was perhaps beginning to be too good to be true. Here is a man who could lay claim to being the modern day Gurudutt. Writer, Actor, Director and even a singer. If Luck by Chance was just chance, Rock On wasn't. And ZNMD surely wasn't. These were all films that Farhan was making a mark with just his acting and we all knew his first and foremost skills lie in being a a director. So how good was he going to be ? Better than Dil Chahta Hain ? With the slick first edition of the new Don he kept us guessing as to how good the second edition could potentially be. The key operative word there being 'potential'. Because nothing in Don 2 lives up to that potential and that is just to put it mildly.

Essentially a heist film, Don 2 is written by Farhan Akhtar and two enthusiastic fan writers as Farhan calls his team comprising Ameet Mehta and Amrish Shah. In an article on Wiki, Farhan expresses how this story is about 3 fans of Don moving the story forward and having fun doing so. Point is when you're watching the movie, there's no fun for the viewer. Meant to be a cutting-edge thriller, the film's fancy production values are not enough to keep you glued to the screens. It is also one of those movies where the different departments don't seem to have clicked in unison.

With a sloppy storyline and unimpressive performances, the Don 2 does little to capture let alone take your breath away. In hindsight, one couldn't help but feel that the trailer was so much better than the film. Where one felt sympathy for Roma (Priyanka Chopra) in the first edition, here one is stupefied to her fall in love with the same Don (Shahrukh Khan) who killed her brother not so long ago. And that was still pardonable but what flies right in your face are some glaring loopholes in a thriller film that should've been a watertight plot. While the second half is miles ahead of the first in terms of the action quotient, it still leaves a lot to be desired. The only convincing performances in the film come from Boman Irani and Shahrukh himself who seems to have put in a lot of effort towards his character. Alas, it still is not enough to save the film from being a disappointment.

Overall, Don 2 has few things going for itself. It is Farhan's weakest film as a director. There is an inherent lack of conviction that is as startling as pissing off about Don 2 and that makes this no more than a mediocre piece of cinema. And what a pity that is because there was one thing Don 2 had which very few sequels inherently do and that's 'potential'.

Rating: 4.6/10

Friday, December 23, 2011

#263: Jewel Thief

I couldn't let Johnny Gaddar have it, it needed an explanation. I couldn't let The Insider have it, it demanded more. I don't remember now if I will let Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron claim it but I definitely want to place this one line review Jewel Thief.

An unshakeable, incomparable and a timeless classic- watch it before you even think of dying. It has the coolest Hindi villain ever. Just for that last scene of him sitting in a flight, I could see it everyday after waking up and before going to sleep.

Rating: 9.4/10

Thursday, December 22, 2011

#262: Race

The thing about an Abbas-Mustan movie is that it is going to be full of thrills. Some hot women will keep the glamor quotient high and a high-voltage or a surprise ending will make it worth your time. Sometimes they get it absolutely right like they did in Khiladi and sometimes they're all over the place like 36 China Town . But what's beyond a doubt is that owing to lack of competition in this genre, Sriram Raghavan being the sole exception, they at least push the boundaries in this genre. Race is a similar attempt in the same genre by the duo.

It stars Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna who play two rich brothers wooing two attractive women, Bipasha Basu and Katrina Kaif. A murder takes place and an investigation officer (Anil Kapoor) steps in with a dumb but glamorous assistant (Sameera Reddy). The film thereafter weaves through twist after twist towards a high-octane climax. By itself, there's nothing impressive about the film but these twists themselves carry the movie forward. Saif and Akshaye Khanna are diligent in their performances but little beyond is interesting about them. The saddest element is Sameera Reddy's role that's a caricature of a character while Anil Kapoor makes a few poor attempts at comedy. The music by Pritam is a sure shot highlight and some of the songs and action sequences are stylistically shot by Ravi Yadav.

As a whole, Race is one of the more average attempts by Abbas-Mustan that's only pepped up in parts. At 165 minutes, it is also at least 20 minutes extra long and a whirlpool of twists towards the end really make you wish the film ended sooner. What's commendable though is the fact that it has still spurred the director-duo to come up with a second instalment in 2012 titled Race2. Sometimes such an unflinching belief in a genre sees people come up with a gem. Its clear that Race wasn't it, maybe Race2 will be.

Rating: 5.8/10

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

#261: New Year's Eve

A set of eight stories, an ensemble of actors a range as wide as perhaps the Himalayas themselves in magnitude, a festive theme and released around New Year- yes it's a formula and yes it's worked before and yes it almost works yet again in this 2011 release.

First let's dwell onto why it works. Its a compilation of eight stories so it had to move pretty quickly from one story to another. New Year's Eve does that- the stories are interwoven seamlessly and cut back and forth without causing you to strain your senses. The actors don't really have anything demanding to perform so that way the performers don't cause too much of a mayhem. Most actors don't have a screen presence of more than four to five minutes so before they get on your nerves, they're out of the way. The music's mediocre but the fast-paced editing by Michael Tronick makes up for it and director Garry Marshal's marshaling of these eight tracks is swift.

And now why I say it only almost works. First because its all predictable- to the T. It is a formula film and it works like one. Some of the surprise scenes have no punch because of that very reason and if you've seen Love Actually, this would be nothing more than a deja vu. And is there a standout performance among the multitude of actors here- well that's a resounding no. So the film ends up being like a bottle of Coca-Cola from which you know what to expect but when there's no fizz in the bottle, it only excites you that much.

All in all, this is a film that's warm but lacking in warmth, that's sweet but it's got more sucrose than necessary and most importantly a film that had a heart but little in terms of soul. You can at best watch it on DVD and buy one of those cheap roadside ones. You'll more than get your worth even if the print's a bit awry.

Rating: 5.4/10

Monday, December 19, 2011

#260: Bodyguard

Yawner and a
Rotten and

I don't even know if the above makes sense. But if they can get away with an entire film that doesn't, why can't I with a review ?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

#259: Planet Terror

Planet Terror written and directed by Robert Rodriguez is one half of a double-feature movie called Grindhouse that featured Death Proof (directed by Tarantino) as the second film. The two filmmakers known for their unique brand of filmmaking go back a long way as friends and this was their combined effort plugged as one. As filmmakers even in the past, the two had collaborated in various capacities on each other's films but this was the first co-production. It does sound like a dream thing to happen - two friends making one common movie and selling it together. Except that the movies themselves didn't do too well and Grindhouse till date remains one of Tarantino's least successful ventures.

Planet Terror had a good idea going for itself - with the look of an 80s film- it takes you through events in a small-town in Texas when three mutants escape from a military base and create havoc turning ordinary residents into ugly blood-thirsty zombies. But if you don't have patience to go through it, the film can become a tortuous experience to go through. For example, 281 people are killed in a movie duration of 105 minutes and as you can see from the poster- bizarre will not even begin to describe some of the events in the film. But that's what Planet Terror is all about- celebrating the ridiculous and making a parody of it. In a strange way, the very things that work for the film are the things that might irk you after a while - the over-the-top coolness quotient of the characters especially Freddy Rodriguez, the silly sequences towards the end by Rose McGowan and an overall kitschy feel of the film. This is a medley or almost a tribute of the action, slasher and horror films of the past and if none of these three appeal to you, you should steer clear of the film.

The story also written by Robert Rodriguez is simple but treated quite inventively. But even after the style and mood is set, you don't quite get absorbed into this parallel universe. Rodriguez trusts this mood to carry the film through but beyond a point it doesn't. But you must watch Planet Terror if you have a feel for movies that push the boundaries beyond the ordinary. For that, Rodriguez deserves more than just a passive applause and you can consider that my rating below here accounts for a large percentage for that leap that Rodriguez takes as a filmmaker.

Rating: 5.9/10

Saturday, December 17, 2011

#258: The Manchurian Candidate

So much of the premise of The Manchurian Candidate is like Courage Under Fire, it is hard to avoid a comparison. Both films are about a medal of honor that's awarded to a soldier in a tough battle fight and the film then unravels if the honor was well deserved. There had been an even earlier film based on the same 1959 Richard Condon novel of the same name. While the premise is undoubtedly intriguing and the peeling of layer by layer of what exactly happened holds viewer attention, what happens in the 2004 version of the film is definitely notches below Courage Under Fire.

Denzel Washington plays Major Ben Marco who was the leader of the troops that were surrounded by enemy fire on a night in the Kuwait War. What happens next is very sketchy in the memories of all the survivors of that attack. What emerges though is that it was Seargent Raymond Shaw (Liev Schrieber) who led the soldiers through and took on the enemy single-handedly. The episode got christened as the 'Lost Patrol' event of the war and Private Shaw went on to win the most coveted honor bestowed by the US Army - the Congressional Medal of Honor. Years later, delivering a speech at a convention, Washington is coaxed into realization by a fellow survivor that something about that event wasn't right. And there begins the central plot of The Manchurian Candidate.

The other key characters that emerge on this journey are Senator Eleanor Shaw, the power-hungry mother of Raymond Shaw, played with elan and conviction by the timeless Meryl Streep. Jon Voight plays the vice-presidential nominee against Raymond Shaw. The suspense as it unravels is tempting but only till the time the reason for the anomaly in the 'Lost Patrol' episode emerges. That hook is not something that is quite convincing and that's the first time where the film begins to lose its grip. What director Jonathan Demme, however manages inspite of that is extracting a couple of brilliant performances from Liev Schrieber. The cold steely character of Raymond Shaw being manipulated by his wily mother is the highlight of the film. The mother-son combination is brilliant and are magnetic to watch especially when together. Denzel Washington as the wronged General is purposive but not quite at his best.

Once the screenplay loses its grip somewhere in the middle, the movie struggles to justify its length at 130 minutes. Its most redeeming feature Meryl Streep can only stem the movie from becoming a bore with her electric presence. But little is achieved in terms of dramatic tension apart from her. To sum it up, The Manchurian Candidate is a promising affair that goes awry and by the time it recovers, it is of no relevance.

Rating: 6.2/10

#257: MI4 Ghost Protocol

There's something called a set-piece in football. Which means that the ball will be stationary before the next action kicks in. So either a free kick or a spot kick whereby players get to choose who should be their preferred striker. This allows the team to prepare well in advance and once the strategy comes off right, it looks quite good. The thing about set pieces though is that a team cannot sorely rely on it to pull through every match. The team still has to still have a solid defence line, a midfield that wins plays at crucial stages of the match and a couple of a dynamic strikers. The thing with Ghost Protocol is that it tries to rely solely on set-pieces to see it through and in the process comes across, carrying on with the football analogy, a team that is pretty ordinary overall.

Ghost Protocol begins with an interesting premise where Agent Benji (Simon Pegg) and Agent Carter (Paula Patton) along with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) infiltrate the Kremlin. Predictably, things don't go to plan and the team is disbanded with no authorizations for future actions. This leaves Hunt and team on their own to set about a mission that could avert a possible nuclear war between US and Russia. Yes, you heard that right- the oldest cliched trick in the book- avert a nuclear war. And that's just about the start of things that's unimpressive about Ghost Protocol. The writers have nothing special to offer in terms of surprises. What comes through as a winner are those set pieces- some gravity-defying action scenes that get your pulse racing along with a sequence of mistaken identity that is crafted like a true blue espionage mission. On the performances, Simon Pegg pulls his weight through in an otherwise serious film with his comic timing. Paula Patton is a welcome visual relief in a film all about men and action and Jeremy Renner makes a solid appearance in a supporting role. Cruise is convincing once again as a blue-chip agent while Anil Kapoor does little of note playing a caricaturish rich Indian billionaire.

Director Brad Bird doesn't quite stitch all the elements well enough to keep you glued to your seats. Even if you leave the multiple cinematic liberties aside, no single scene or character touches you enough to think about the film. An action film can attempt to become a classic if the bad man is really bad, like we saw in The Dark Knight or even Terminator2 and this film's antagonist is hardly brutal. It goes back to the set-piece theory because the characters are not quite etched out well. The background score by Michael Giachino and Lalo Schifrin however is as good as any of the previous editions and is one of the redeeming features.

Overall, Ghost Protocol has little in terms of ingenuity or appeal, at best perhaps a home DVD watch. To call it anything more would be an exaggeration.

Rating: 5.3/10

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#256: Man On Wire

Man on Wire is a gripping documentary about one man's obsession with literally walking the thin line. Philippe Petit is a man who has over the years built a reputation from rope-walking on great heights. The film in particular deals with Petit's clandestine wire-walk between the Twin Towers of WTC and derives its source material from the book 'To Reach the Clouds' that Petit wrote capturing his adventures over the years.

There is no doubt that Man on Wire is an interesting story to tell and it must've taken some deliberation to decide whether a documentary was the best way to tell Petit's story. The movie which eventually won the best documentary honors at the Academy Awards works cinematically even in a documentary format because it is singularly and consistently about one mad pursuit. Sometimes it seems unnatural that someone would go to such great lengths to do what the protagonist does but that's exactly what makes the film an engrossing watch. The narrative is peppered with multiple interviews of Petit's friends and well-wishers interspersed with some beautiful still photographs. At little under 90 munutes, these devices work well cohesively to tell an unconventional story. The other parallel track about Man on Wire that's as interesting as the chase for the top of the summit is the personal connections and stories that gives the storytelling an added dimension. The nervous but energetic narration by Petit himself succeeds in capturing much of the drama preceding the climax.

Director James Marsh employs a Zen-like background score by Michael Nyman and a similar minimalistic photography by Igor Martinovic complements the mood of the film. But at the end of it, most of the film's life is derived from Petit himself and his incredible passion for what he loves. Released seven years after the WTC crash, the film also has a fine sub-text of the WTC towers themselves that are as much of a part of the story as the protagonist himself. All in all, Man on Wire is a dish served hot and made so well you can't help but go for a second round.

Rating: 7.6/10

Monday, December 12, 2011

#255: Cars

Ka-Chow, the Lightning McQueen celebration cry sums up the experience of watching Cars- a movie about a parallel universe of men and women whose appearance resembles that of everyday cars. So whether is a Porsche or a Ferrari, each car has an accent, a mannerism, a look that sums up the identity of the person. It is sheer brilliance of imagination of the people who thought that they conjure up this parallel universe and keep us interested for a duration of close to two hours.

The more I think about it, I have reason to believe that Cars is the animation equivalent of Lord of the Rings. Here's a world that has been conjured from a concept and then blown up to the extent that it is human emotions that eventually rules the concept and the characters within it. The protagonist here is Lightning McQueen a rookie car driver aiming for the highest honors called The Piston Cup. Mcqueen voiced by Owen Wilson is a good-hearted but ambitious driver looking for his next big sponsor on the circuit. True to any sport film formula, he has his arch rival on the circuit but when a close finish pits him against two other racers in a season finale, McQueen sees it as the perfect opportunity to make that big break. Except that when he is on his way towards the finale, he loses his way and finds himself in a little known town called Radiator Springs. Radiator Springs is a cosy place with nice people and McQueen's brashness finds few takers. His impetuousness sees him grounded to the town and the time he spends there brings him close to a stern Hudson Hornet and a pretty lady called Sally who steals McQueen's heart.

Mind you these are all cars who behave like people and that's the first and foremost reason why Cars effortlessly works its way through your heart. Human emotions rule these cars and love, friendship and honor are values that are on display as much as the technical brilliance of these marvelous vehicles. The climax is deftly put together to tug at those tear glands and boy does it work. The screenplay credits belongs to six people and I can assure you this is surely not a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. If anything, it makes the film richer. The only part that's not convincing enough in the film is the romantic angle between Sally and McQueen that seems too contrived and predictable from the word go. Having said that the animation in showing simple scenes of intimacy is top notch.

Cars is an invention of the mind that's done so well that it deserves an endless run. This year we had Cars 2 and it was as good as its predecessor. Because of the parallel universe of automobiles that the film has created this can be one timeless franchise. Its got everything in place towards that end. Most of all, a first film that sets the tone and a standard so high that its going to be a pleasure just anticipating what's coming next.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

#254: Crush(Short)

Crush was nominated for honors for best film in the short live action category at the Oscars in 2010. It is about a student who falls in the love with his teacher. Yes this is an oft-repeated plot but something's quite right about this one. Apart from the student and the teacher, the third character in the film is the teacher's boyfriend. This is a story well told and enacted with a thriller sort of a climax ingrained in a film about an innocent crush.

Crush didn't win the Best Film but its writer-director Michael Creagh surely makes a mark and is one to watch out for in the days to come.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

#253: Om Shanti Om

Om Shanti Om was made at a time when Farah Khan hadn't got the better of herself in thinking that she can do well enough without Shahrukh Khan. Starting from Main Hoon Na, Farah Khan established her name in a particular genre that can only be described as 'glorifying-the-masala-of the-Bollywood-80s'. So there's a heroic hero, a bad bad man, multiple songs, a svelte leading lady, numerous song and dance sequences and the most important element of them all - revenge.

Om Shanti Om rehashes that formula and puts together a montage of the above mentioned. The hero is Shahrukh Khan, the leading lady Deepika Padukone, the bad man Arjun Rampal and so on and so forth. In a script that's heavily borrowed from Karz, Farah lets loose her imagination in extracting multiple cinematic liberties from the script. The movie's best feature is the first half where Farah takes digs at Bollywood itself. She's obviously grown up on a diet of those stereotypical movies and she brings her treasure trove of knowledge to the fore and makes the first half an immensely entertaining watch. That apart the music from the duo of Vishal-Shekhar is quite catchy and keeps your toes on the move while you're watching the film. Deepika Padukone, a newcomer in 2007 when the movie release, shows potential with a refreshing on-screen presence.

Where the movie slithers away frame by frame is the second half where melodrama in script and acting excesses pretty much spoil the good work done in the first half of the film. Arjun Rampal does the best he can to portray evil but isn't a shade of the shady villiains we used to have back in the 80s.

All in all, Om Shanti Om still makes for a watch worth your time because of one simple reason- it doesn't take itself seriously for most of the time. The moment it does, it miserably fails. This is one of those movies that's a story of two halves- a good first half and a nearly forgettable second.

Rating: 6.1/10

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

#252: At The Circus

Its difficult to review a Marx Brothers movie. In my book, it is always going to be about there being a Duck Soup and then the others. And among the others the first among the equals is 'A Night at The Opera.' So where does this fare ?

Suffice to say that this is as good as any of the others. Nothing more, nothing less. I mean still, how does one still review a Marx Brothers movie? I have done it before but then something doesn't seem right...

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, December 04, 2011

#251: The Ides of March

Do me a favor. Shut your eyes and picture these names one after the other.

Marisa Tomei. Evan Rachel Wood. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Paul Giamati. Ryan Gosling. George Clooney.

Its quite possible that everytime the name came to your mind you immediately related the particular actor with a particular movie. You know why ? Because each of them on their own are good enough to carry a movie on their shoulders. And now imagine all of them in one movie. Too much to ask ? Expect ? Well, not quite because The Ides of March combines all these actors and ekes a film that's so superior that you don't think about any of these actors individually but what the film did to you and the answer in one word is- breathtaking.

The credit for the film should actually go to the original playwright. This is a film that's all about it's story - its wicked twists and turns, power struggles and larger themes of loyalty and friendship and in many ways simply about someone being in the right place at the right time. Adapted from a Beau Wilimon play, the film was written for the screen by Grant Heslov, Wilimon and Clooney himself. We all know Clooney as a director has a nose for films. All his previous films leave you wanting for more and this is no different. What is remarkable is once again as in Good Night and Good Luck, Clooney lets someone else play the lead. And that someone in the case of The Ides of March is Ryan Gosling.

Gosling owns the character of Stephen Myers, a campaign manager for Presidential Candidate Mike Morris (Clooney) in the film. He is a bright and diligent manager with a sharp but principled boss (Hoffman). This team is contesting against a candidate named Pullman whose chief campaign manager is a wily Tom Duffy (Giamatti). The film takes place in a period of seven days in Ohio where the stakes are getting higher by the hour.

An excellent set of performances by the actors round up a tight plot. Clooney as the director seems to be simply conducting an orchestra of accomplished musicians. This is a nearly flawless film where every department makes a mark. The background score ranges from the hopeful to the haunting, the editing from slick to conventional and the cinematography from being scenic to poetic. There are those movies which are very good and yet a false note here and there sometimes jars the experience. Well, this isn't one of them. The screenplay works at a fast pace and is nothing short of electric. An case in point being the dialogue exchange between Hoffman and Gosling, that even towards the fag end is still as riveting.

To sum it up, I can only say this. I have seen The Ides of March twice in the last month and I think I am good for more. I don't think I can pay a film a bigger compliment.

Rating: 9.3/10

#250: The Dirty Picture

The Dirty Picture from the house of Ekta Kapoor is a departure from the average Bollywood flick in many ways. For one, its central character is a lady. And then it's a biopic- another rarity and then there's a thorough lack of starpower- the big guns that is. And yet the theater I saw the film in seemed to be bowled over by the film. Perhaps, that's why they always say if there's a good story to tell, there's always an audience.

The film stars Vidya Balan as its lead who pays a character named Silk - an ambitious small-town girl who runs off to Chennai to become an actress. Silk takes time to warm up to the ways and methods of tinsel town but a five minute sensual appearance opens the doors of fame for her. And once she's there she doesn't hesitate to give physical favors to the number 1 star Suryakanth played brilliantly by Naseeruddin Shah to extract more roles. Surya is maried but is known to have extra-married liaisons and for sometime one can't make out who between the two is taking the other for the ride. These are the portions of the film that are most interesting for their risque but effortlessly witty dialogues. The screenplay by Rajat Arora scores point after point till the interval. Milan Luthria brings the period of the 80s alive through some masterful direction and etches out the characters of both Silk and Surya with tremendous conviction.

Enter the second act of the movie and making a mark is Emraan Hashmi who plays Abraham, an arty director who doesn't have any friends in the industry who support his kind of filmmaking. Abraham doesn't approve and openly declares his dislike for Silk. Abraham is a character that comes alive in the second half and also allows Luthria to add an interesting sub-plot of conflict between Silk and Abraham. Tushar Kapoor the third male lead, with his weak acting skills once again raises the dirty question if he would've got acting offers if not for his sister. Rajesh Sharma on the other hand delivers a key supporting part with susbtance. So far so good but where The Dirty Picture loses its plot is a melodramatic last fifteen minutes. The slow motions and the heightened depression do nothing emotionally for the audience.

That said, The Dirty Picture is one of the better Hindi films of the year. It is flamboyant filmmaking with substance. At its core lies Vidya Balan who glitters in a challenging role and almost steals the show from Naseer. The film in itself doesn't have too many moments of slack and is largely entertaining. Take a bow - Rajat Arora and Milan Luthria, you dared to be different and have clearly made a film that people won't forget in a hurry.

Rating: 7.1/10

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#249: The Insider

All fans of the movies have one big movie that did it for them. The Insider it is for me. I first saw the film as a part of an learning beyond academics sort of a workshop during my MBA. And for the next month, I saw it once every day and that is no exaggeration. These were days when true gritty stories meant more than fairy tales like Finding Neverland which was another hot favorite on campus. In fact in the genre of hot campus favorites, I am not sure if The Insider would ever figure in my friends' list but somehow it moved me immensely.

First, the fact that this was a true story. Then the fact that this was a whistleblower story. Then the fact that it had Al Pacino. And that it wasn't even a lead. That it even had Russell Crowe. That the cinematography in a movie seething in pessimism and wrong-doing could be so poetic. That even the music enhanced the frame every time it came on. That Mike Wallace's words pierce you even if they're directed at Gina Gershon. That it still didn't win any Oscar - the irony and ecstasy of a whistleblower film falling short of a symbol of the pinnacle of achievement in films. Isn't that in itself something ? Or am I beginning to make this up ?

As you can see, the list is endless. But enough of praise here, let me take you through what the film is about. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) is a research head in a big tobacco company. He has enough reason to believe that nicotine is addictive and when his seniors get to know that he might let this fact out in the media, they fire him and in a typically high-handed and predictable manner threaten his family's well-being. Enter Lowell Bergman (Pacino), producer of the high-profile CBS show 60 Minutes. Bergman senses Wigand could talk and spill some hefty beans here and he draws him out. Wigand struggles with the right thing to do as does Bergman in his role as a producer who has to convince his owners to air a potentially damning episode. So effectively, it is a story of two men in a moral war in different battlegrounds. The Insider steadily builds up momentum and before you know it takes you through a tantalising ride for 157 minutes. Superbly written by Marie Brennan, Eric Roth and Michael Mann, it takes the struggles of these two men fighting for their right to speak the truth, to an ultimate high and sustains the thrills with incredible alacrity. Michael Mann with the directorial reins doesn't have a moment in here that isn't arresting enough to keep you glued to your seat. Some stunning photography by Dante Spinotti supports the director's vision to the T. And the acting- perfect. Just perfect - there's more to say here.

There are films that intoxicate you, shake you from inside and brew inside your head for a long time. Today as I write this review 6 years after I first saw the film, I am not referencing or cross checking the names of the characters from Imdb or Wikipedia. The names, the costumes, the sets, the supporting characters- they're all fresh in my mind and every scene is well set in my imagination. I even remember the dialgoues word by word. That's what The Insider meant to me then, means to me today and will mean to me forever: an emphatically indelible impression. After all this is not a film, it is a life-changing experience.

Rating: 10/10

Monday, November 28, 2011

#248: Bodyguard.

Technically, it's not correct to review a movie that one hasn't seen completely. But what if a movie was so bad during the first fifteen minutes of watching it that one considers it his/her moral obligation to caution the world that such a movie is nothing more than a garbage can filled with the a load of trash.

I am that one person and Bodyguard is that one movie.

Rating: NA

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#247: Help

Help is a 2011 movie based against the background of the American civil war in the 1960s. Adapted from a Kathryn Stockett novel of the same name, the movie traces the relationship between a young journalist Skeeter (Emma Stone) and her family in Mississippi. The families around her neighborhood are all used to having black maids and right after the civil war, Skeeter's thinking represents a more liberal outlook towards these helps. Her immediate society, on the other hand discriminates against these helps to the extent of having seperate baths for the maids and thereby lies the core conflict of the movie.

The focus of Help is a black maid called Abeleen (Viola Davis). When Skeeter approaches Abeleen to let her tell her side of her story for a journalistic assignment, Abeleen isn't very forthcoming. After all, in the new environment being seen as someone speaking up for the blacks might be detrimental to her safety. Skeeter though is unrelenting and gets Abeleen to open up. Seeing Abeleen's stance, her friend Minny Jackson (Olivia Spencer) too joins in and the two take Skeeter through their experiences of having served in all-white families for all these years. Some of the revelations are funny, some distressing and some utterly disgusting. By the time, Skeeter has got all her material from these two maids, she ventures to write the last chapter- the relationship between an old black maid who brought her up during her childhood. Skeeter gets very little in way of assistance from her own Mom (Allison Janey) but with her persistence eventually gets to the what actually happened. Help is a sensitive telling of a tale about these three women in an insensitive environment.

The film is written and directed by Tate Taylor, Kathryn's Stockett's close friend and together their upbringing in the Jackson area lends the story a very real touch. From the costumes to the art direction to the speech patterns and dialogues in the film, Taylor transports us to an alternate universe that is very different from the times we live in. The characters of Abeleen and Minnny are triumphant sketches of ordinary people for whom respect and acceptance in the society they live in is a luxury. And both Davis and Spencer are nothing less than brilliant. Emma Stone's zealousness in bringing their story to life is commendable but not entirely inspiring. The screenplay tends to stretch towards the end and the last 15-20 minutes could've been dealt differently. A moving background score by Thomas Newman provides a neat finishing touch.

In the end, Help is a strong effort by Tate Taylor. Although not very powerful in it's final message, it does take you back to a time when discrimination was an in-your-face part of the society. It is a film that has it's heart in the right place and does everything to stay true to that. Sometimes, you can't ask more from a movie than that.

Rating: 7/10

#246: Kidnap

Kidnap is about a rich man's (Sanjay Dutt) daughter getting kidnapped by someone (Imran Khan) who nurses a grudge against that rich man. Rich man calls for a probe led by part-cop part-investigator Rahul Dev who is always missing a trick when chasing the kidnapper. I don't even want to go into how this unfolds because if you thought the above was cliched and uninteresting, the rest is history.

Let's begin with the casting. Vidya Malavade plays Minisha Lamba's mother. Now the music, there's an item kind of a number in the beginning that introduces Minisha but it is a bad song. Imran Khan coming off Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na barely fits the sinister designs of a kidnapper out for revenge. The plots for some absurd challenges set by the kidnapper for the rich man are nothing short of peaks of idiotic writing. Even a Dilip Kumar acting in a script as laden with loopholes couldn't have done anything to help.

So if you get the picture- Kidnap has bad acting, bad casting and bad music to back up a bad script. How good can it get ! Sanjay Gadhvi, you have to be kidding or napping about the movie !

Rating: 1.1/10

Friday, November 25, 2011

#245: Short Films (Vol. 1)

No, this isn't a single filmed called as such. But writing today got me thinking, I have so far on this blog reviewed multiple genres, and languages. I have reviewed TV movies, documentaries, animated films and even a DVD. However, the short film category was conspicuously missing. So here's a review, actually more than a review- a recommendation perhaps on a set of few short films that make for great viewing. Also mentioned for each of the films is a one line synopsis.

10 Minutes by Ahmed Imamovic: A triumph of filmmaking technique set against the background of war. Guaranteed to have your jaw drop.

Snap: A crackerjack of a film about a man whose camera is robbed of his camera broad daylight. Edge-of-the seat stuff.

The Man Who Walked Around the World: Well, technically an advert for Johnnie Walker. But what a FILM !

#244: Paths of Glory

Scathing irony, valiant soldiers, a courageous leader, an inglorious setup, a selfish general, a terse indictment, a judgement so insensitive, an ending so powerful and a film so poignant.

I need to only mention one line to sum it all up: "The men died wonderfully well..."

Thank you Humphrey Cobb, Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas.

Rating: 8.8/10

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#243: Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino has said in quite a few interviews that the thought to make a heist movie first came to him when he was working in his DVD rental store. Looking up the column of heist movies, it occurred to him that it had been a while since anyone made a heist movie and that set him about thinking what a good screenplay in this genre might entail. I guess he first went about sketching a good set of characters, weaving a desperate angle for each of them to get motivated to be a part of the heist and then let things go horribly wrong and see if things resolve themselves. Some say, he simply copied Ringo Lam's City of Fire. Whatever that source have been, the point is, did he make it work ? The answer to that is "Oh hell fucking yeah!" ( This is a Reservoir Dogs review. Can't do without it!)

Reservoir Dogs is the story of a bunch of guys out to take out a bank. Someone comes up with idea in the group that they should be named after colors so we have Mr. White, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink and Mr. Blue. And while they're going about discussing who gets what color, you sitting across the other end of the screen watching these guys sip coffee think, 'What a cool bunch of guys...'. Well, Reservoir Dogs is bathed in cool from start to finish. There are cool dialogues, cool characters, cool insults and cool bosses. What's not cool is that there's a suspected mole among the men. But then that is also the trick QT has up his sleeve till the very end. The movie, practically half of which is shot in a warehouse hinges on the audience guessing who is the mole.

Apart from a slick sequence of the bank robbery, Reservoir Dogs derives most of its brilliance from the work of three key men - Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel and Michael Madsen. Between the rational and statemanly Keitel and the panicking Buscemi lies the calm but maniacal act by Madsen. The three jostle for the audience attention and while Keitel and Buscemi get your sympathy, Madsen provides the shock value. The editing by Sally Menke is razor-sharp in a non-linear narrative and Tarantino is not only controlling the key moments of the story but keeping the energy levels really high through the movie. Roger Avary his co-screenwriter is due his credit for making some scenes leap out of the screen with their latent intensity in this 1992 Cannes Palm D'Or winner.

Reservoir Dogs is my go-to movie in times of depression, anger and happiness. I can watch it any number of times and I know loads of people like me who think the same. Most filmmakers in their lifetime don't get to make a film as emphatically outstanding as this. Tarantino got it right with his first. That's the genius of the man.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

#242: Raavan

Raavan is one of those rare films in Hindi cinema that's named after the antagonist. The movie stars Abhishek Bachchan, called Beera in the movie, playing the title role based on the legend of Valmiki's Ramayana. However, if your impression of Raavana as a character from the TV serial of the 90s was that of cruel, lustful king, Mani Ratnam's is anything but. Released in 2010, Raavan tells us the story of Beera set in contemporary India.

Here Beera is a nice guy staying somewhere in the forests with his own following. He is just and if he's cruel, it is because someone else isn't letting him rest in peace. That someone else is Inspector Dev Pratap Sharma (Vikram), who is on Beera's hot trail because of a looting spree that Beera undertakes. That Beera distributes what he collects from the rich to the poor is immaterial for Dev. Knowing that Dev loves his wife dearly, Beera sees the kidnapping of Dev's wife Ragini (Aishwarya Rai) as one way to thwart Dev's advances. The plan backfires, enrages Dev even more and now with the intention of killing Beera, he unleashes his entire police force in Beera's pursuit. The story moves rapidly thereafter and brings us to the climax.

There are two clear areas that the films nails as far as cinematic delivery is concerned. First, the cinematography and art direction. The former spearheaded by none other than Ratnam loyalist Santosh Sivan and Manikandan. The visual appeal of the movie is enhanced by some utterly breathtaking locations and has many shots that could be framed for posterity. The second exceptional thing about film is its music - whether it is the wonderfully layered background score or the songs- the music adds an extra dimension to the proceedings. What ails Raavan is a a shoddy screenplay that meanders with quite a few unnecessary characters thrown in from time to time. It loosens the grip that it so badly required in a story that's well known to the average Indian audience. While Aishwarya Rai impresses, Abhishek Bachchan is blow hot blow cold in the all-important role of Raavan. The third key character Vikram barely does anything important apart from being loud. The best moment of the film however is with Priyamani who is Beera's sister. The one scene with her after a police carnage is the closest the film comes to pinching the viewer with emotional impact.

Raavan is a fairly passable attempt by Mani Ratnam. It is shot with a lot of care and the aesthetic benchmarks are set quite high by the director. It doesn't quite click yet because of a screenplay that wasn't watertight. Eventually it becomes a film that's as middle-of-the-road as it can get. Can't enjoy. Can't walk out.

Rating: 5.9/10

Monday, November 21, 2011

#241: Beneath The Waves

Beneath The Waves is a gripping BBC documentary based around the dubious legend of The Bermuda Triangle. Made in 2004 by documentary specialist Nigel Patterson, it gives an account of the ill-fated Flight19 led by a commander that in 1943 after taking off from Fort Lauderdale never returned. The commander was in charge of a group of five other airborne fighter crafts and was in close contact with the base radio station at Fort Lauderdale on their way back. However, what was a routine recci turned out to be a nightmare for the five aircrafts as they soon lose contact and struggle to find their way back.

Patterson takes an interesting approach to narrating the incident as he dramatizes the incident of disappearance and simultaneously in the present takes the conventional route of interviews with naval physicists and other experts to explain the vanishing act. The documentary keeps going back and forth between these two settings and arrives at a firm conclusion. With a keen sense of intrigue, the film absorbs you with its mysterious tenor. The best thing about the film being the fact that some of the findings about Bermuda Triangle are shown to the audience as and when the experts came across them. This made the viewing experience eminently engaging.

What's a pity though is that in spite of mentioning repeatedly in the film that the Bermuda Triangle was the seat of an ominous spell of sorts, it goes little beyond explaining that one incident of 1943. Watching it one couldn't help but think how interesting it would've been to know more about the Bermuda Triangle. Nevertheless, Beneath the Waves is a brave attempt and deserves every minute of it's short running time of less than an hour.

Rating: 6.7/10

Sunday, November 20, 2011

#240: Rockstar

Writer-director Imtiaz Ali's story about a talented musician begins with protagonist Jordan's fascination and pursuit of his dream of being a rockstar. Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor), is introduced to us as a starry-eyed fledgling college guitarist who has his wall covered with posters of Jim Morrison and Led Zep. Studying in Delhi, he is carefree enough to sing to people waiting in a bus stand. Such is his passion that when his canteen owner tells him that Jordan must get his heart broken to create outstanding music, he attempts to woo the prettiest college Heer (Nargis Fakhri) in the campus. Except he doesn't fall in love with her but becomes good friends. That is first cinematic liberty that Imtiaz takes in the film. It is a funny scene when it happens but it is a weak moment indeed when Heer who is this prim and proper girl from Kashmir decides to take Jordan for a B-grade Hindi movie. We buy it in the flow of the movie but Imtiaz keeps stretching these liberties from time to time and what we eventually end up with is a half-baked cake with all the flavors in place but just not completely done.

From a story of Jordan's dream, Rockstar by the second half becomes a story of unrequited love. There's pain and pathos thereafter and hope that somewhere in between we will arrive at a fulfilling conclusion. The bridge that Imtiaz covers with his co-writer Muazzam Beg, to make this a story of Jordan and Heer from a story of Jordan is remarkable. It happens over a period of three years and it is a journey that has Jordan's character transformation at it's core. The narrative is peppered with flashbacks and cuts back and forth that work seamlessly in taking the story forward. But Rockstar is all about Ranbir Kapoor. If ever with his past choices of movies, there was any doubt about the man's talent, he shatters them all. His Jordan is passionate, quirky, uninhibited, sensitive and flagrant and Ranbir owns the character as much as he owns the film. The other element which works equally well for the movie is the music. These are not songs simply based around context of the movie but they're also laced around concepts and character motivations. Mohit Chauhan as the lead singer for Jordan provides a soul to the songs that make them come alive. Some stunning lyrics by Irshad round up the music wonderfully well. A supporting act by Kumud Mishra, as Jordan's manager is nothing short of a gem as is a cameo by Shammi Kapoor. To see the grandfather-grandson duo in one frame is a privilege for any one of us who grew up on Shammi Ji's films and songs. On the technical front, editor Aarti Bajaj seems to have had an open canvas to experiment and she delivers.

And now about the lacunae - films which weave around the personal journey of a character need to conclude with an impact towards the end. Imtiaz employs a finale concert as his cinematic device and it works at a certain level but doesn't really touch you. If it had, Rockstar would've been the 'wow' movie that it eventually didn't turn out to be. Nargis Fakhri, unfortunately inspite of a meaty role, doesn't connect with her stony acting skills. She's pretty and that's all there's to it. A Priyanka or a Kareena in a role like this would've enhanced Imtiaz's offering considerably.

Rockstar is surely one the year's better movies and its enigma pulls you towards a film that is Imtiaz's and Rahman's labour of love and music. The movie thrives on the individual strengths of both coupled with a virtuoso by Ranbir Kapoor. However, it lacks a punch because by the end of it, you go back thinking of the songs and Ranbir Kapoor and not about any moment that moves you. If Imtiaz had nailed that, we would've had a classic.

Rating: 6.3/10

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#239: Pulp Fiction

There's that spunk in Tarantino movies. I don't what else to call it. It's a bundle of latent energy just waiting to explode but waiting for that finale to happen, you know it's there and about to hit you. If you look at his filmography as a director and see the interviews he's given, he's admitted to consciously looking for that edge to infuse his movies with. In Kill Bill, it's the entire warrior piece, in Reservoir Dogs, it is the character of Michael Madsen, in Death Proof it is the car chase and so on and so forth. But no movie of his has as much of spunk as Pulp Fiction.

To begin, with Tarantino gets the name right. This movie is as pulpy-fictionally that it can get and like a true Bollywood masala movie it has everything. There's love and romance between Butch, the fighter (Bruce Willis) and his muse, there's a paternal affection angle handled delicately by Colonel Koontz (Walken), there's crime and murder perpetrated by two purposeful hitmen (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) and there's something that everyone else is chasing without the audience never really knowing what it really is. Nothing however beats the zig-zag storytelling of the Academy Award winning screenplay written by Roger Avary and Tarantino. Divided into three distinct stories, Pulp Fiction begins in the most sedate fashion with Tim Roth over a coffee table explaining the difference between a robbery in a bank and that in a small store. And that is the thinnest tip of the iceberg that the movie really is. Without notice, the film explodes through a mix of oddball characters that include a crime boss, his pretty wife (Uma Thurman), junkies, a boxer and those two hitmen called Vincent Vega and Jules. Tarantino gives the actors a different universe altogether to play in and with the actors with their signature understated, casual way of speaking subscribe to those rules of that universe. The only exception being the alternative brilliance of Samuel L. Jackson and a neat cameo by Harvey Keitel. Then there's also the background score of the movie, handpicked by Tarantino himself and like most of his other movies vying for the honors of best OST ever.

The special bit about Pulp Fiction is that whenever there's a wow moment, there isn't much notice for the audience to prepare. Stories interconnect seamlessly and it takes a while to tie some of those loose ends in your head. This is a film that improves with every repeat viewing because there's something in it that makes you fall in love with it every time you watch it. Clearly, this is a Tarantino special. It is his unhindered vision that makes it such a special film. If there's one part that I didn't enjoy much in the movie, it is Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) ending part. Watching it even today doesn't arrest my attention. T

Oddly though, this isn't my favorite Tarantino flick and yet it is one I have seen most number of times. I guess it goes back to the spunk-quotient of this film. I love the drooly pace at which things proceed and then suddenly explode. It is something Tarantino has now made his trademark in his other films. But this is where it all began and this is special indeed.

Rating: 7.9/10

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#238: Cinema16 European Short Films (U.S Version DVD)

Like a lot of good things, I came across Cinema16 by a stroke of luck in a DVD parlor. In the section that hosted world films at Clixflix, my regular DVD joint, the cover of this DVD was jutting out among a pile. My first instinct was to push that back right in the slot but that something which clicks sometimes in your head with respect to a DVD clicked and I found myself holding the DVD cover in my hand. And I am mentioning a few names that I came across on the cover: Christopher Nolan, Lars Von Trier, Jon Svankmayer.. And mind you these were 'some' of the names. The decision was easy by now and by the time I returned the DVD, I had already googled all the versions of Cinema16 available online.

Cinema16 is an excellent collection of short films from the world over and to my knowledge at least 4 other such DVD's exist. Film as a medium, as the gurus tell us only need a beginning, middle and end and the duration of a particular film in that sense is secondary. Cinema16 fundamentally plays on that basic premise and offers a colorful canvas of 16 short films ranging from anywhere between a minute and a half to fifteen minutes. The publishers have got their collection spot-on with almost every film guaranteed to leave you with a 'wow'. It was hard to pick out a stand-out film because while some impressed because of their technical audacity, (you have to watch Copy Shop to know where the word audacity is coming from), some simply because of their storytelling (Election Night). Some because of the format (Wasp) and others simply because of the imagination of the filmmaker (The Man without The Head).

I never got to pick up another Cinema16 DVD because my regular joint didn't have the other DVDs in the series. For me, it represents the joy of cinema in its rawest form. And the fact it has some heavyweight names sitting on the DVD cover, doesn't hurt one bit. This is one DVD series that I am hunting for to add in my collection. What more can I say !

Rating: 8.4/10

Monday, November 14, 2011

#237: Golmaal

Laugh-a-minute: the phrase should be listed in the thesaurus with name of Golmaal (1979) for nothing since or after has been funnier in Bollywood.

Yes Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron too but then that was a satire. How about a comedy ? Anything else springs to mind ?

Some people say Andaz Apna Apna. And I tell them this- even today Golmaal is still as funny as it was way back in 1979. How many films are as timeless ?

There are movies where sometimes the supporting character becomes so dominant with his performance that the rest of the cast seem like also-rans. Utpal Dutt shows us how that's done.

Amol Palekar- the earnest middle-class working male has a field day in the movie. A perfect example of perfection in casting by Hrishi Da.

Sachin Bhowmick- the versatile grand old writer's acme in a career spanning over 40 years.

R.D. Burman's musical genius at play coupled with some genuinely sweet supporting acts David, Dina Pathak, Bindiya Goswami and Deven Verma round up a perfect film.

It is a pity that for a majority of today's youth 'Golmaal' would be equated to Ajay Devgan, Rohit Shetty etc. etc. For Golmaal is one of the reasons that makes you feel good about the era you were born in because then there was only one Golmaal. And that's the way it really should be.

Rating: 8.7/10

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#236: The Adventures of Tintin (3D)

I don't know what forms a wishlist for an average 15-18 year old celebrating his birthday today but I can tell you for my generation, getting a Tintin as a gift used to be a big one. Herge's adventures spread from Tibet to imaginary countries like Borduria to the more conventional cities of Rome and London and these stories would captivate our impressionable minds. There was something intelligent about reading a Tintin compared to a MAD or a Phantom and that intelligence, that world-view that Tintin brought into our lives was much sought after. Now that Tintin comes alive on-screen, we can now compare notes with friends and family who have read Tintin in those days and have our answers ready to that inevitable question- What's better - the movie or the book ? We will come to that soon but first things first.

There are certain elements that one shouldn't tampered with when adapting such an epic series and Spielberg and Peter Jackson have nailed that part alright. The characters are uncannily similar to their on-screen versions to begin with- Snomy most of all- and that's a great relief. The characters sit easy on the eyes and with a delightful set of opening credits take charge of a rollercoaster of a storyline. Screenwriters Cornish, Moffat and Edgar Wright put together three stories- the core of which is The Secret of The Unicorn book and weave them seamlessly to serve an edge-of-the-seat thriller. If anything, it made me wish I didn't know what was to come because I suspect the fulfilment might've been higher. And in that sense Spielberg had a difficult task on his hands- does he put in a new spin like Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock or does he stay faithful to the original ? For most parts, Spielberg goes with the former and pulls it off with elan. The additional spin comes in the form of some nail-biting action in the second half that leaves you gasping in your seats. So much so, that you almost feel let down by a denouement that could only be described as tame or rather the only lacunae in the movie.

The tehnology of live motion capture works wonders in bringing the characters to life and there are parts that seem to leap straight out of the pages of the original comic books. The Red Rackham sequence, for example, is delectable stuff and nearly every frame is dynamically shot by longtime Spielberg collaborator DOP Janusz Kaminski.(I tried counting this bit for a sequence of 10 minutes and could point out one still shot). Some of the shot transitions swim with one another thanks to a highly skilful hand like Michael Kahn (most nominated editor ever)who seemed to be having most fun. The action stunts are choreographed with the minutest of detail and overall the movie is nothing short of a cinematic achievement.

So is it better than the comic books? A no from my side. But could anyone have made it any better on film? I seriously doubt that. So go ahead, folks, dive in and soak yourselves in this breathaking piece of film. This is as good as movies can get. With or without live action.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, November 10, 2011

#235: No Entry

There are some movies that you go for that can give you a headache to the extent that you wish you weren't in the theater hall, with your head pounding like that, but somewhere outside where you could take refuge in the fact that you at that point of time only wished to see the movie when you first saw the poster outside the cinema hall because the movie had an actor of Anil Kapoor's caliber and a seed of trust seeped into your imagination that triggered you to make a mental note of wanting to watch a movie like that but then that such a movie also had another lead actor in Salman depressed you and that's exactly when a little push from your friends made you choose to go for that movie which while watching it in a dimly lit theater hall you discover, not only has the most puerile sense of humor going around for over two and a half hours but is also the most vulgar skin show on display in a film and it occurs to you that the same amount of time if utilized in making an endless sentence like this would've contributed far more to your own sense of fulfilment than watching any single frame of this garbage can called No Entry.

Rating: 0/10

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

#234: Wake Up Sid

Wake Up Sid is a story about a lazy, desultory college teen Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) who is coming to terms with a particular phase in his life. The phase happens to be one where his parents no longer want to provide the financial backing he has had all these years because of his aimless pursuits. The first half of the movie unquestionably reminds one of Laqshya. And Ayan Mukherjee, the writer and director uses very similar narratives to show the protagonist's dilemma. The first just about manages to keep you awake but nothing in it is any different from Laqshya. For that one reason alone, Wake Up Sid had me fidgeting in my seat by the first half an hour.

I sat through the movie however because it kept promising to come good any time and that's some credit to Ayan here who does well by adopting a simplistic style of storytelling with a 'no-fuss' air about it. The bond of friendship between the supporting act of Namit Das who plays Rishi, Sid's best friend doesn't have any sense of heroic or unnecessarily dramatic element and that works for the film. The boy-next-door treatment for both these characters was a spot-on characterization that lent to simplicity of the film. Konkona Sen Sharma provides depth with her character of Aisha, a columnist writer who has newly moved to the city. Their platonic bond that sees a few swings becomes a focal point of the story along with Sid's efforts to struggle for his own identity.

The problem, however with this particular piece was the struggle that Aisha faces in her job in writing a single article for a city-based magazine. It was hard to relate to a character who was having such a huge problem in writing one simple article in a city that's bristling with talent 366 days out of 365 in a year. In terms of performances both Ranbir and Konkona's characters' earnestness is something that as an audience one could clearly see but unfortunately both fail to evoke the required empathy. Yet another character Kabir (Rahul Khanna) who for a short while has a romantic liaison with Aisha too falls short on this count. Like the film's story, the music too promised from time to time but lacked a punch in delivery. There's a new age look to the film and that perhaps qualifies it as being fresh but without much substance unfortunately.

Around the time Wake Up Sid released, there was a concerted effort by Dharma Productions to position it as a path-breaking coming-of-age film. There was nothing wrong in what they were trying to do except that the film's storyline promised much and delivered less. It has very few moments of joy or shock and ironically by itself struggled to keep me awake for the most of the second half. It is a journey that's fulfilling, if at all for only the die-hard Ranbir or Konkona fans. There's nothing more to it.

Rating: 4.7/10

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

#233: Sarkar

To have your first screenplay directed by RGV is itself no mean achievement. And mind you, we are talking here of the RGV of 2004-2005, not yet banal, kitsch or mindless entirely. And then to write your first screenplay as an adaptation of a movie no less than The Godfather must've been outright daunting. But if anything Manish Gupta , the screenwriter of Sarkar comes out flying in all colors. For Sarkar is nothing but a fine film that's extremely well-written. Manish's next three projects with RGV turned out to be D, James and Darna Zaroori Hain but that is something should not be held against the duo.

Sarkar has Amitabh Bachcan playing Subhash, a greying patriarch of Mumbai, a dispenser of justice for masses and in his own words someone who doesn't toe anyone's line. Subhash Nagre is known to adopt extra legal means to have his way around the government and settle disputes but he never indulges in anything harmfully illegal. That distinction is not clearly defined but as an audience Gupta let's us believe that Sarkar is a good man. When Rashid, (played by the supremely menacing Zakir Hussain) a smuggling Don wants to use Subhash Nagre's goodwill to have a shipment delivered to Mumbai, Nagre refuses to partner with him. This greatly upsets his elder son Vishnu (KK) who saw this as a good business opportunity to make a commercial gain. This further strains the relationship between Vishnu and Nagre and very soon we see them both opposed to each other's means. A dinner table scene bringing out the differences in opinion between the two is bathed in searing conflict and makes for a great cinematic moment. Things turn worse when Nagre gets arrested on a false charge and is jailed. It is here that the younger son Shankar (Abhishek Bachcan) steps in to save the family from disgrace as he undertakes his own crusade to prove his father's innocence. Sarkar, the film's anatomy has the heart of a family drama with the mind of an crime thriller and it works on both counts due to the fabulous adaptation of the script.

The dark and looming sense of gloom is back in its hues through the imaginative camerawork of Amit Roy. I would even go as far as saying that this was clearly the last RGV movie that had a visual consistency and a compelling shot composition in nearly its frames. Amitabh leads the cast with a powerful performance and for once Abhishek holds his own with his father and at times even carving a space potentially on par with Amitabh. The climax scene being a case in point. KK as the volatile elder son plays his part to perfection. The other supporting cast of Tanisha, Supriya Pathak and Anupam Kher chip in with strong performances. A lacunae if anything was Katrina's stony presence in the film but then again these were early days of her career.

And finally, a word for the director. Sarkar is indelible proof that RGV at one point was among India's best directors. In terms of filmmaking craft, he combines the best of human emotions and crime in Sarkar and leaves you wanting more by the end of it. That is a rare gift for a filmmaker to have and RGV possessed it right in the palm of his hand. Even today, six years after I first saw the movie, I still stay glued to the TV screen whenever the film plays because it is soaked in brilliance. It might not be as insightful of the grimy Mumbai underworld as Black Friday Company or Satya but it still is every bit as dazzling.

Rating: 7.6/10

Sunday, November 06, 2011

#232: Kiss Me Deadly

Black and white frame, a lonely woman is walking on a deserted road wearing only a trenchcoat. From the distance, we see headlights and a car slows down. A handsome man, there is, and he offers the lady a lift. They begin a conversation and the lady seems to be have secretive streak about her. Soon, the couple are attacked by some goons who knock the man out cold. When the man regains consciousness, the woman is gone.

Although, this seems the plot of a brooding average 50s noir, mind you, there is something timeless about the story. And what's interesting is that when the protagonist is none other than Mike Hammer, you know there are thrills galore to be partaken. Kiss Me Deadly, is exactly that kind of a movie when you just about can guess everything that's going to go wrong and yet not fathom how is it all going to come together in the end. Screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides most famous work is adapted from a Mickey Spillane novel of the same name and the screenplay is not exactly a plain vanilla adaptation. Bezzerides adds an intriguing Cold War angle to the main plot and transforms the classic story of a detective deserted by a girl into something far more substantial. Detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is intrepid, sarcastic and a risk-lover. His persona is nearly self-destructive but he latches onto a big clue and that becomes Hammer's motivation to find out where Christina (Cloris Leachman) that lady in the trenchcoat disappeared. Ironically, while Hammer is chasing this girl who has betrayed him, he is the apple of his own secretary's eye. This sultry lady, Velda (Maxine Cooper) is Hammer's woman-Friday with an unmistakeable physical chemistry with Hammer and that makes for some nifty exchanges between the two.

The main story, however, is thankfully much above these physical equations. Director Robert Aldrich has all those elements in place to keep the story ticking with a furious pace. Albert Dekker, Gaby Rodgers and Paul Stewart act as pivotal plot-twisting supporting characters in the main story and by themselves perform incredibly well in roles than don't stretch for more than five to ten minutes each. The star of Kiss Me Deadly is unquestionably Ralph Meeker who in his most memorable role carries the film on this shoulders. His character's dry wit, presence of mind and daredevilry entices us to root for him. Ernest Laszio's dim photography keeps the mood of suspense alive and kicking, giving us more and more reason to predict the next twist in the story.

There was an a time back in the 50s and 60s where noir as a genre had captured the imagination of the masses. It was a good time to be making films around characters with shades of grey, femme fatales and the all-important MacGuffin. Kiss Me Deadly has them all and has them in style. Ultimately, it is a Ralph Meeker and Bezzerides show at the end of it but it is a damn good one.

Rating: 7.1/10

Saturday, November 05, 2011

#231: Johnny Gaddar

A classic of our times. And timeless.

The best crime thriller in Bollywood since it's inception. And before.

A film for a connoisseur. And atheists.

A writer can't possibly conjure a better set of eight characters. And a storyline.

Sriram Raghavan, the genius wrote and directed. And nailed it.

Dharmendra has a cameo to die for. And so does Vinay Pathak. And Zakir Hussain.

Even an actor like Neil Nitin fits the part. And Rimi Sen.

A peach of a DOP in C.K. Muraleedharan. And 'peach-er' editing by Pooja Ladha Surti.

Loads of trivia for aficionados. And joyful references to movies past.

Inspired from a the French thrillers of the mid-50s. And yet bloody orginal !

I want to do enough good in my lifetime to able to see this movie when I am breathing my last.
And after...

Rating: 9.5/10

P.S. 1: Why is it still not a 10 on 10 you must be wondering. It merits a discussion sometime for which I would be happy to host. Johnny G deserves it. And commands it.

P.S. 2: I sat down to write a review but it reads like an ode. And I am happy about it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

#230: The Stoneman Murders

The Stoneman Murders is a taut and a grippingly dramatized version of the spate of murders on the streets on Mumbai in the 1980s. Each murder was gruesomely committed in the middle of the night with a large stone and had the police confounded with no leads to follow. The film takes commences from the time the first murder takes place. Around the same time in an unrelated incident, the protagonist Inspector Shekhar Shelar (KK) gets suspended from the police force for an accidental custodial death. Shekhar, eager to regain the trust of his superior AIG Satam (Vikram Gokhale) offers to solve the killings that start recurring. Satam agrees but also wants this parallel investigation to be under the wraps because Shekhar's peer Inspector Phadke is given the official reins to lead the investigation on paper.

The Stoneman Murders is written and directed by Manish Gupta (whose previous claim to fame was the story and screenplay of Sarkar) and Manish's painstaking research of the subject pays rich dividends in the narrative. Gupta paints a grim and a stark picture of the Mumbai of the 80s and extracts extremely convincing performances from his actors. KK as the short-tempered but zealous cop soon finds himself embroiled in a Hitchcockian plot where his quest to prove his innocence becomes an attractive fulfillment for the audience even as we close on the heels of the murderer. With smoldering intensity, KK's character makes us champion for him by the end of the climax. Arbaaz Khan and Vikram Gokhale play sincere second fiddles and it's a surprise that we don't see Arbaaz in similar roles more often on-screen. The only angle that didn't work well enough in the movie is the relationship that KK shares with his wife Rukhsar. There wasn't enough depth in that relationship for it to have any impact on the storyline even if the wife's character wasn't there in the movie. A better background score could've perhaps also heightened the overall tension of the movie.

The Stoneman Murders is unique for a number of reasons. For one, this is one of Bollywood's very few whodunnits. Secondly, nearly 80% of the movie is shot at night and thirdly it is in fact a period movie set in the Mumbai of the early 80s. The second and third points here, may I add place tremendous restrictions on the technical team of the movie and the filmmaking team here didn't miss a beat on both those counts. Watching the film on DVD, I couldn't help but get the feeling that its one of those releases that didn't get its due at the box-office. An overriding solace of course being that this is undoubtedly one of the best Hindi DVD's money can buy in recent years. In other words, it is what I call a goooooood film !

Rating: 7.4/10

Monday, October 31, 2011

#229: Soundtrack

I happened to meet Neerav Ghosh recently and I asked him how much of a music lover he really was because Soundtrack is very clearly a movie made from a musician's point of view. It takes us through the journey of a musician named Ronak Kaul (Rajeev Khandelwal) who comes to Bombay in the hope of proving to himself that he has got the gift to become a top class music composer. Neerav modestly said he had some formal grounding in music but that only allows him to understand what works and doesn't work from a music point of view in a film. I suspected that was only half the story because if anything Soundtrack is a musician's delight. And what's more, it is such a well made film, it will touch you even if you aren't one.

The movie begins when Ronak comes to Bombay to stay with his uncle who runs a resto-lounge. Impressed with Ronak's passion to join the music industry, his uncle (Yatin Karyekar) gives him an opportunity to become a DJ at his pub. Ronak grabs the chance with both hands and goes from strength to strength until things become too good to be true. He gets a chance to compose for an Anurag Kashyap film, lands himself a hot girlfriend and also gets a rich promoter Charlie (Mohan Kapoor) who gives him a free hand to run his own studio. But then there had to be a hitch and Ronak encounters a big one - he turns deaf. Soundtrack based on the Canadian movie called It's All Gone Pete Tong, is a riveting journey with Ronak the musician over the course of a 130 odd minutes.

What works for Soundtrack simply is the inspirational story about its protagonist. Told with conviction by Neerav Ghosh, it is helped with a very strong performance by Rajeev Khandelwal who is an eager beaver one moment, a maverick musician the next and a repentant soul all in course of the movie. For some odd reason, Neerav uses a graphic equaliser bang in the middle of scenes to convey the mood of the protagonist from time to time in the first half. Thankfully, he lets go of it in the second half and that's where some of the best scenes of the movie lie even as some memorable songs keeps the intensity alive and kicking. The scene preceding the interval, perhaps is the acme in a movie that had a frenzied pace about itself. Ably supported by Soha Ali Khan and Mohan Kapoor, the film works because of their sharp characterizations and because they gel seamlessly with the storyline. Consequently, nearly every frame takes the story forward. An interesting device employed during the narrative is that of a character named 'Johnny Joker' who is Ronak's alter ego. It is the sort of thing, if done even slightly differently, could've fallen flat but the filmmakers employ it well enough to make it stand out. The only lacunae I found was a loud character of Ronak's girlfriend Shonali (Mrinalini Sharma) who appears as easily as she disappears in the film.

2011 has more or less year of drought for Hindi cinema and the pity is that even a good movie like Soundtrack didn't earn enough money at the box office to break-even while a sub-standard flick like Rascals opened to a 20-cr weekend. I don't know how as audiences we can even begin to correct this wrong but I would seriously urge you to make a start. Buy the DVD today ! And I give you my word, it will be worth it.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, October 30, 2011

#228: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

The reason why a lot of Woody Allen movies work is because of a charming symmetry that runs throughout the storyline. Something inexplicable but significant enough to amuse us as we go along, so much so that we're willing to forgive him for those recurring characters- a failed writer, nagging wife or that handsome intruder in a family that leads to a rampaging affair. Nearly all the three characters repeat themselves in Allen's 2010 offering You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and yet because of a complete lack of charm, the film fails to impress.

YWMATDK is about Roy Channing (Josh Brolin), a down-on-his-luck novelist struggling to find a publisher and his wife Sally (Naomi Watts) who is empathetic but is also becoming intolerant of the instability that being a writer's wife brings to her life. Sally's mother is Helena (Gemma Jones) who has been divorced after forty years because her husband Alife (Anthony Hopkins) chose a younger woman as his partner. In terms of the narrative, the story is all over the place because the lead actors in Josh Brolin and Anthony Hopkins are poorly cast in roles that typically required vulnerability to come to the fore and neither Brolin nor Hopkins seem vulnerable at any point. These are roles tailor-made for Allen himself but in light of these poor casting choices both characters are rendered pretty much lifeless. The script consequently appears sloppy and wafer thin. What also ails the film is the absence of anything remotely funny. With the lack of that comic relief, the movie only drifts aimlessly which is a shame because Allen's forte in nearly all his previous dramas has been generous helpings witty lines and quick comebacks.

Among the other actors neither Frieda Pinto nor Antonio Banderas are able to put any soul into their characters. In fact among all the actors, only Naomi Watts and Gemma Jones could hold their own in this weak script. Shot in London, YWMATDK misses all the romantic tension that made a Match Point or even a Scoop interesting. The most interesting plot incidentally is of a theft committed by Brolin's character. That's the one part in the movie that is going to make you stand up but that too becomes a case of good things coming in small measures.

As a staunch Woody Allen fan, I have always defended the criticism leveled at Woody Allen in my friends circle. I am afraid to say, I can't find any reason to defend this film if this comes up in a discussion. All I can say is, you can give this one a miss even if you're a Woody Allen fan.

Rating: 4.2/10