Monday, February 28, 2011

#70: Never Talk To Strangers

Antonio Banderas and Rebecca De Mornay star in this 1995 movie made by Peter Hall. Dr. Sarah(Rebecca) who deals with hardened criminals as a police psychiatrist runs into Tony (Antonio) at a mall who asks her out. Dr. Sarah takes time but does say yes to the persisting Tony who is portrayed as a smooth and suave worker who knows his red wine from white.

In a predictable turn of affairs, Tony's seductive wares become too strong for Sarah to resist and she gives in. Soon enough, she starts receiving threatening anonymous phone calls and letters and her pet cat is also murdered. The disturbing trend hits a peak when her own obituary is placed in a newspaper. The movie is about how Dr. Sarah comes to terms with this anonymous person who seems hell bent on throwing her life out of order.

It is a plot that has been done to death and only a brilliant climax could've saved the day for Never Talk to Strangers. As a viewer though, you knew it wasn't going to happen. And so the movie just about goes into the drain. Antonio has played a character like this in many movies before and while I knew little about Rebecca De Mornay before this, she is the only saving grace of the movie. Her fears are genuine and you do empathise with her harmless character who is being harrowed.

One could refer to Never Talk To Strangers as a bankrupt man's Roman Polanksi thriller. It's got all the elments there - anonymity, murder,femme fatale- but none so well-placed to thrill you. It is a movie so average, it could make average movies seem brilliant.

Rating: 3.5/10

Saturday, February 26, 2011

#69: The Fighter

The Fighter is a story about boxer Micky (Mark Wahlberg) and his trainer and half-brother Dick (Christian Bale) who had been a one time aspiring boxing champ and a local legend in his home town of Lowell in Massachussets. As the movie begins, we learn of Dicky's drug addiction that often plays truant with Mick's practice sessions. The other key member in Micky's support staff is his mother Ellis (Mellisa Leo)- a self-appointed manager of Micky's affairs who isn't exactly the epitome of a sports marketing shark who would be out there selling his career prospects. Instead she prefers to run her business from the confines of her home with her husband George (Jack McGee) while taking care of their 7 daughters. The lack of professionalism that is missing in Micky's boxing career is disturbing for him even as he chooses to live with it. While the family loves Micky and hopes to see him as the champion boxer he always wanted to be, what he gets from his family is talk and errant practice sessions.

Enter Sharleen (Amy Adams)- a neighborhood bartender who is too attractive for Mickey to ignore. In a scene that's laced with as much innocence as cheekiness, Micky asks her out and gets her phone number. Sharleen soons starts taking interests in Micky's career and it doesn't take her long to figure out that she has to get him out of the clutch of his family for him to fare any better. She knows Dicky self-destructed as a boxer and she is not going to allow for a repeat of this pattern in Mickey's career. Even if she comes across as a bitch to his family. That doesn't take long for her to achieve. Thus, The Fighter becomes a story of not just Micky's boxing career but his fight to stay close to his loved ones and yet aspire to be a champion. The movie's advancement as a drama derives much of it's content from this personal conflict in Micky's life and that is one of the three reasons why The Fighter is a strong movie.

In Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Mellisa Leo, the movie's support cast is as solid as any ensemble cast and their brilliant performances holds the movie cohesively. A special mention for Christian Bale who with his extra lean look will remind you of his frame in The Illusionist. Just like in that role, Bale put himself through another phase of abstinence from eating to lose the extra pounds. And that is just the physical appearance part of it. His character Dicky makes you laugh with his antics, amuses you with his hollow lectures to his brother and yet when he decides to take the rein of Micky's last fight in his hands, his resolve will move you. His goofy but well-intentioned performance actually steals the show from Mark Wahlberg and that is exactly the kind of character Dick Eklund was in real life. A scene in which Dick is on the telephone in a prison while waiting to hear about the outcome of his brother's match is so spendidly done it will leave a lump in your throat. All this with just the accompaniment of a stirring background score. We all knew Amy Adams could act but having seen her as a nun in The Doubt and the sweet Julie in Julie and Julia, it was a revelation to see her as the tough-as-nails Sharleen.

The third reason why The Fighter will in a manner of speaking knock you out is the way the boxing fights have been shot. Mark Wahlberg who was also a producer on this project had mentioned in an interview as early as 2007 that he didn't think the fight scenes seemed real even in great boxing movies like The Raging Bull and The Rocky . Well, let's just say, Mark along with David O. Russell, cinematographer Hoytema and the screenplay writing team of Tamasy, Johnson and Silver have set a new benchmark in filming boxing bouts. There's is nothing to say except that when a fight is on in the movie, the viewer is transformed being in a seat in a theater to that of a ringside seat in a boxing arena. Truth be told, it is a bit surprising to not see D.O.P. Hoytema to be not nominated for the Oscars.

To finally cut to the chase now. If you're sports movies nut, you have to see this before you die. If you're a movies freak, you must see this to know how much more can be achieved from a sports movie. And if you are not into movies at all, The Fighter would be a great place to start.

Rating: 7.7/10

P.S.: The Fighter has been nominated for 7 Oscars. With strong contenders like The King's Speech and The Social Network, the Best Picture, Editing and Director ones are practically ruled out. The best it can do is pick up Oscars for Amy Adams and Christian Bale - the former is a favorite in my books and latter, a the dark horse.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#68: The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me is a story set in Texas is about a local sheriff Lou (Casey Affleck) who is a compulsive lady killer. He woos women and just about when he has to commit to them, he kills them. Adapted from a 1952 Jim Thompson novel of the same name, the movie is a weak tale of a psychopath's obsession with women.

The movie is so short of substance I've little else to add to what I have said in the first paragraph. To make matters worse, inherently weak movies like these have something cool about them - maybe the cinematography, one mind-numbing performance or maybe just any one single scene. The Killer Inside Me has nothing.

For a movie that's about sex crimes, even the sex is underwhelming. Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson sleepwalk through their roles getting spanked even as the movie drags from one murder to another. Stanley Kubrick had mentioned once that the story of The Killer Inside Me 'was the most chilling and believable first person story of a criminally warped mind' that he had encountered. Well, let's just say for his sake we all should be relieved that he didn't live to see what director Michael Winterbottom dished out under the garb of a movie. Some of the violence that is unleashed on women in the movie is downright contemptuous. The only thing that soothes your senses as a viewer is the bunch of the good old country tracks that the movie's soundtrack consists of. I can't help but mention here that as I am writing this Faron Young's Shame on you... in wafting through my head.

The movie actually does have a story that once had even Quentin Tarantino interested in leading the project but it got shelved. The sad thing is Winterbottom's version leaves us to wonder about one simple question - If the story of a novel is so good, how can it be so bad on film ? This 2010 version might not answer the question directly but does signify how bad it could get.

Rating: 2/10

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

#67: Death and the Maiden

I had briefly mentioned in my review of The Ghost Writer on this blog about the longevity and the endurance of Roman Polanksi as a filmmaker. Death and the Maiden is a 1994 Polanksi thriller (his preferred genre) and is based on a 1990 Ariel Dorfman play. The movie serves yet another example of Polanski's rich body of work. The unique thing about the story is that it has all of 3 characters and is set in a single location.

The story begins as a fascist regime in South America comes to an end and a famous lawyer Gerardo (Stuart Wilson) is handed the reins to investigate war crimes on the country's citizens. His wife Paulina (Sigourney Weaver) has been one of the victims herself and still hasn't come out of her fearing self. On a stormy night, Gerardo and a visitor Dr. Miranda (Ben Kingsley) casually start talking. This strangely upsets Paulina as she recognizes the Doctor as someone who had tortured her during the days of the regime. Paulina now wants her revenge. Dr. Miranda pleads innocence and Gerardo is stuck in between as the confused husband who has to figure out what the truth really is. The movie has a steady buildup that escalates to a point of immense dramatic tension. Paulina is obstinate in her demand for justice and uses Dr. Miranda's unpreparedness as a guest to her advantage to extract the truth from him at gunpoint. With one staggering revelation after other, she lays down all the information on the table that seems to indict Dr. Miranda. Gerardo, however, as the rightful lawyer wouldn't let Paulina have her way without sufficient evidence. The suspense of whether Paulina is right or wrong is what makes Death and The Maiden an arresting watch.

Stuart Wilson as the helpless husband who has been confronted with painful stories of Paulina's tortures performs credibly. Sigourney Weaver, though a bit stiff, does reach out to a viewer with her pain and her need to dispense justice. She has been wronged is out to scorn Dr. Miranda and has the right level of vengeful attitude in her turn. The performance of the movie, though clearly comes from Ben Kingsley. He is erudite and polished and his body language and dialogues only add to his persona. The mystery and intrigue that is so much a part of Polanksi's films finds the perfect springboard in the character of Dr. Miranda who is the proverbial tough nut. With all the action being filmed inside a house on a stormy night, the movie has the right ambience to keep you hooked. The action is purposely claustrophobia-inducing and keeps you glued till the denouement. The last ten minutes however might just puncture a bit all the tension that had been built up till then and is probably the only weak spot in the movie.

But be that as it may, Death and the Maiden has got all the right ingredients for a time well spent. It's biggest strength of this movie that plays out like a symphony is that it has a master conductor like Polanksi as it's guide. He sculpts an unyielding film out of an already impressive story whose suspense will keep you guessing until the final credits start rolling.

Rating: 7.1/10

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#66: The French Connection

Touted to be a classic, The French Connection is the true story of the New York Narcotics Bureau and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics busting a case of heroin trade in 1962. While in real life, there were a number of investigative agencies involved over a span of 2 years, the movie focusses on the role of these two agencies. In particular, the movie narrates in under two hours how two cops assigned on the case finally managed to crack the French Connection with regard to the trade. Incidentally, both the divisions shown in the movie are no longer operational.

Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) are regular undercover cops on the lookout for drug stakeouts. In a chance drink over a bar, Doyle notices something unusually extravagant about the lifestyle of Sal Boca - a bakery owner and coaxes his partner Russo to trail him, Elsewhere in Marseilles, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey)- a rich French shipyard owner has got an undercover cop killed through his henchman Nicoli. In a seperate meeting with a TV star who is on his way to US, Charnier convinces the star to take his Lincoln along with him on the ship to New York. Both the stories run alongside for a while until a thread connects Sal Boca to Charnier in New York and Doyle gets additional manpower to tail them all. The movie is a taut and a tense account of this surveillance that has been unleashed by Doyle on Charnier and Sal Boca and what it eventually leads to. In terms of a plot, there is a constant feeling that a big clash is inevitable between the law enforcement agencies and Charnier's men and that justifiably serves as the catalyst for the climax.

Gene Hackman is uninhibited as cop Doyle- someone who sleeps recklessly around with women and yet always has an eye out for his partner. Roy Scheider's calm demeanor, on the other hand, contrasts but blends well as Doyle's assured partner. The fact that Gene Hackman won an Oscar for this is apt reward for his portrayal as a merciless cop and gives you your monies worth. The other high point in the movie is of course the much celebrated chase scene. For six minutes and fifty-three seconds, you can be assured that you won't move an inch from your seat as an old Pontiac, battered and bruised along the way, gives an elevated city train a maniacal chase in an extraordinary exhibition of filming. You can carve this sequence out and pit it against any other car chase scene you've seen in recent years and this one will still take the cherry.

For the story, director William Friedkin does really well to keep the account as close as possible to the actual events. He even had the two real cops supervising and giving their inputs on the movie on the sets. A particular scene that has a Lincoln being torn down uses the same car mechanic who tore the car down in real life. Such resemblance to real-life events keeps the movie's atmosphere extremely gritty. Whether it's the tailing of Charnier or the eventual bust, Friedkin succeeds in building a very taut screenplay that is brimming with pressure in spite of minimal dialogue.

Simply put, The French Connection is an intelligent crime thriller that will have you hooked from the word go. It is a tantalizing account of a true story whose storytelling is accentuated by some brilliantly tense background music. What you get with it is paisa-vasool action, commendable performances and the satisfaction that you saw something that actually happened and is not fabricated. For all those for who believe in the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction, The French Connection is just about the perfect cop movie.

Rating: 7.5/10

Monday, February 21, 2011

#65: This Film is Not Rated

This Film Is Not Rated is 2006 documentary based on the ratings system that the MPAA accords to any movie released in the US. Kirby Dick who is an accomplished documentary filmmaker in his own right made this movie after his more popular Twist of Faith that got nominated for the Academy Awards in 2005.

It is a narration of how the MPAA functions like an autocratic body without any accountability. At one point, it mentions that the sense of secrecy is so high that apart from CIA there's no other organization that could match it's veiled authority. The movie begins with a nice set of opening credits with some of the controversial scenes in movies playing as the credits roll out. The point it tries to make is established very clearly in the first ten minutes of the movie and as a viewer I bought into it completely. What t does from there on is a bit 'filmy' as we call it here in India- Kirby Dick hires an investigative agency to find out who the people behind the agency really are. So we end up sitting through the movie until we get to know that. And that's that. The same point is repeated to be drilled into our heads until kingdom come.

Where the documentary also fails is the fact that in spite of such a universal topic that affects practically every filmmaker in the US however big or small, the movie doesn't take opinions of any stalwarts. Through the movie, it doesn't speak to more than 3 filmmakers, does it's own snooping around and indicts the system. While it's absolutely right in it's verdict, the journey is less than fulfilling. Kirby Dick also isn't the smartest guy around. In a shot where he has to react spontaneously to a lawyer, he fumbles miserably.

This Film Is Not Rated is a weak attempt at unearthing the ills of a system that was established first in 1968. It takes off beautifully, stutters midway and makes a landing that's far from smooth. It tackles a highly relevant topic for filmmakers and serves it so half-heartedly that you will miss Michael Moore. And that's not always a good thing.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#64: How Do You Know

In this James L. Brooks 2010 comedy, protagonists George (Paul Rudd) and Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) find themselves in two difficult professional situations and try to work their way out of the mess. While George is being targeted by the US Govt. for inflating his company's accounts, Lisa who is a national softball player is dropped from the team in favor of some fresh blood. In an unrelated incident, Lisa's friend sets her up with George for a date and the two make some sort of a connection over a dinner without being explicit about it.

Enter the smart and popular baseball player Matty (Owen Wilson) who is seeing Lisa. Matty is the guy who is looking to settle down, be 'monogamous' and sees in Lisa that someone to go the distance with. Lisa, on the other hand is still trying to come to terms with her recent disappointment. In Matty, she finds someone she can sleep her worries with but his constant approval-seeking behavior isn't comforting for her. Meanwhile, George has to figure out the source of the financial irregularities being investigated against him even as his father (Jack Nicholson)constantly keeps reminding innocent George to own up to the crime. With a simple linear narrative, we go through these issues in the lives of these four characters.

With a steady progression, the movie entices you towards the problems of Lisa and George, particularly the latter. As a viewer, you stay interested to know how the situation is going to get resolved and in that lies the movie's strength. James L. Brooks who in the past has made some delightful gems like As Good As It Gets, nearly gets it right with a subtle handling of the issue of relationships between mature people and a father and a son. Paul Rudd is entirely believable in his character while Owen Wilson as the zealous boyfriend will irk you with his mannerisms which means that he has done a good job. Reese does what she does best and that is to bring sincerity to her role. It is a pity though that Jack Nicholson has been wasted in his role as George's conniving father.

The movie doesn't bore you because it has enough warmth to keep you engaged. It could've been easy to fall to a cliche in resolving some of the conflicts in the movie but James L. Brooks' typically nuanced writing will see you through satisfied by the end of it. That said, the movie could've been 20 minutes shorter to make it crisper instead of the drooling pace it operates at. Also, I didn't find anything exceptional for the movie to justify a $120mn budget. Did it need a Jack Nicholson or a Reese Witherspoon for these characters to drive home the point- surely not.

How Do You Know is a different but not exactly a fresh look at a love triangle between three characters with an additional sub-plot. With a few smart lines sprinkled to tug your heart and some tidy performances, it makes an honest attempt to win you over. But since it's nothing new, you won't exactly be bowled over by it. It still deserves a watch because we all know what James L. Brooks can do when he nails it. Well, this one got away but it still has got his special touch.

Rating: 6.6/10

Saturday, February 19, 2011

#63: Peepli Live

A satire based on the media frenzy that can engulf a topic as serious as farmer suicides, Peepli Live is a wonderful tale of wit and irony.

Set in the fictional state of Mukhya Pradesh, it tells us the story of Natha (Omkar Das) whose family comprising his wife, mother and brother Budhia (Raghubir Yadav) are on the verge of losing their land due to non-repayment of loan they had taken from a bank. A meeting with a local politician makes Natha realise that if he commits suicide the loan will be waived off. In a scene that manifests Budhia's deft conniving skills even as the brothers discuss the best way to save their land, Natha volunteers for the suicide. A local reporter Rakesh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) gets wind of this news and becomes the first to report this in the press. This sets off a wildfire in the media community as national channels descend on the non-descript village that Peepli is and start broadcasting state of affairs from Peepli live for their viewers. Local politicians, central ministers, Natha's neighbors and his immediate family become the source of immense entertainment as each gives their take on the subject of Natha's suicide.

It is the kind of story that doesn't come too often from Bollywood's stable- realistic, humorous and didactic. While the focus of the plot is Natha's imminent suicide, it plays up the media circus in the country that has truly descended itself to absurdist levels. With liberal doses of humor, writer-director and debutante Anusha Rizvi approaches the subject with the manner of someone who has seen it all. Her background of having been a journalist helps her bring the inside-goings of a TV channel in an era of cut-throat competition to the fore. While taking digs at these channels and the politicians, there is always a subtle undertone that actually magnifies the irony of the situation. The performers are brilliant in their roles. Omkar Das, the sacrificial lamb, barely speaks ten lines in the movie but his expressions alone reflect the mood of any scene he's in. The supporting cast rallies around this central character. Their oddities are enhanced by some sharp dialogues and make the movie an absorbing watch.

There are no two ways to say this- Peepli Live is a fantastic movie. A movie like this can renew your faith in Bollywood- a lesson that good cinema is not a destination beyond us. It was India's nomination for the Oscars that saw some needless rants from Anurag Kashyap about how the movie's in the spotlight because it is an Aamir Khan production.

If you ask me, it was India's best bet in 2010. And I would've said the same thing even if it came from the production house of Manikchand Gutka.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#62: After Hours

Scorcese ! One of the most versatile, enduring and awe-inspiring directors of our times had a terribly tough time in 1985. This was when his project, The Last Temptation of Christ wasn't getting off the ground because of the controversial subject it was tackling. He wasn't finding any financiers for the project when he was approached with the script of After Hours. It was a tough time for Marty particularly because this was a subject very close to his heart and letting it go nearly brought him to depression.In an extra feature on the DVD, Marty expresses how After Hours came at this opportune time and helped him focus his energies constructively.

It is the story of Paul(Griffin Dunne) a word processing executive whose life beyond work is as banal as it could get. In a chance meeting, when he's dining alone, he strikes up a conversation with Marcy(Rosanna Arquette) in a restaurant. A natural chemistry results in Paul soon finding himself in the company of Kiki (Linda Fiorentino), Marcy's room-mate in an apartment. It's the story of how Paul survives a night that has full of surprises packed for him.

The movie is extremely engrossing to begin with building a sense of intrigue about the characters of Kiki and Marcy. All you know by the first 20 minutes is that Paul is a simpleton looking to have a good time. As the story unfolds, Paul senses that things aren't turning out the way they were supposed to be and wants to get back home. But a series of incidents start paving the way for a hellish night for Paul. The movie is a heady concoction of eccentric characters in realistic situations working in unison to prevent Paul from heading back home.

At 97 minutes, After Hours is a mix of some neat performances stitched together by some tight direction. A scene of a bunch of keys falling from the top floor of a building right onto Paul's feet is a sign of dexterous minds at work and is one of the many scenes that will leave a lasting imprint on your memory. The ending of the movie though is a tad underwhelming and might leave you disenchanted.

Made at a fairly restricted budget, After Hours is undoubtedly a reliable movie. It's strength is the constant stream of surprises that keep coming at you. What we should be really grateful for is that more than anything else, the movie kept Marty alive and kicking. In his own words, this was the cinematic equivalent of hope and resurgence of faith in his career. And sure enough, he did return with The Last Temptation of Christ,just three years later.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#61: My Name is Khan

I will review this but like Vijay Verma in Deewar, I want some answers. And uske baad tum jis kaagaz pe bologe, main us par apna review likh doonga.

If his name is Rizwan Khan and in a normal world when we all address each other by our first names, why does he insist on calling himself Kkhhaaan or Ghhaaan or Kaaahn or whatever it is. How about simply Rizwan?

Why does looking down through the movie a symbol of excellent acting? Is there any other mannerism that you remember that he tried to inculcate? Now think of Dustin Hoffman in Rainman or Sridevi in Sadma.

Seriously, if you want to watch the after effects of 9/11 on the lives of normal people why not pick up a Khuda Ke Liye? Or Shoot at Sight or even New York ?

How much does the flood sequence contribute to the story ? Why is it there ?

This one's for all Bollywood movies shot abroad - how come the psychologist, the reporters who want to save him and their boss all turn out to be people who can speak perfect Hindi?

Why is Jimmy Shergill there in the movie? One good reason will suffice.

If any other director had made the same movie with any other actor, would Times of India still have given it 4 stars in it's review? Or was it 5.

What specific scene between Kajol and Shahrukh made any viewer feel there was any of the so-called electric chemistry between the two?

Couldn't they come up with any better than 'Mama Jenny'?

So Rizwan Khan ends up meeting Barack Obama in the end. Who does he think he is- Forrest Gump?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#60: Mirch

Vinay Shukla writes and directs this 2010 drama that is a collection of four stories centered around the theme of women sexuality. With an ensemble cast and an innovative narrative style, the stories come at you one after the other in entirely different contexts. However, in what is a departure from common anthologies of this genre, the stories are not inter-related.

The freshness of the narrative will keep you interested as the stories unfold. The 'sutradhaar' is Maanav (Arunoday Singh) a struggling script writer who in the course of convincing a producer about his script takes us through these stories. What veteran Vinay Shukla manages well is to put together a veritable lead cast, most of whom can carry a movie on their shoulders going solo. Boman Irani, Shreyas Talpade, Konkona Sen Sharma, Raima Sen, Saurabh Shukla, Rajpal Yadav, Sushant Singh and Shahana Goswami are formidable in their roles in these stories. Two of the four stories have excellent plot twists towards the end and make for enjoyable viewing. The fact that a couple of the stories are also set in different ages adds to the freshness of the movie.

At 105 minutes, the movie never tends to bore you though seeing Arunoday Singh in between each of the stories is a bit of an eyesore. The lad easily has the best wooden expressions in town going for himself. In a scene in which he loses his cool, he manages to startle you not with his anger but the inept nature of his acting skill. The weakest link in the story is infact his meeting with the producer - the course of which is as predictable as the days in the week.

Mirch is excellent in parts and mediocre in patches. It might not be a rock solid movie but is surely an entertaining watch. It is nice to see Vinay Shukla tackle a serious subject with a dose of humor. Watch it for the liberal idea that it wants to stand for and some good old natural storytelling.


Monday, February 14, 2011

#59: Good Luck Chuck

Made in 2007, Good Luck Chuck is the story of Chuck (Dane Cook), a dentist who gets cursed by his school mate about never finding true love in life during a game in his childhood. If this sounded bizarre, try gulping down this- the extension of the curse is that any girl Chuck lands up with is guaranteed to find true love in her next relationship.

At first, Chuck is a bit bothered about the effects of the curse but goaded by his horny best friend Stu (Dan Fogler), he decides to make the most of it. So all he does is sleep with women beyond, before and after his working hours. All is fine until he runs into Cam (Jessica Alba) a penguin lover, so passionate, her only ambition in life is to meet Howard, a world renowned penguin expert. While Cam takes no initial liking to Chuck, it is only a matter of time before they start seeing each other. Chuck, convinced that this is the girl of his dreams wants to do everything right in this relationship and tries his best to ward off the curse with help from his friend Stu. A misunderstanding then leads to a supposedly comical situation that eventually leads to the climax. I can assure you this is not a script written by sane minds at work. Mark Helfrich, the director was a primary editor on movies such as Rush Hour, After the Sunset and Red Dragon. How and why he came about directing a movie as inferior as Good Luck Chuck is anybody's guess.

Dane Cook's macho demeanor and expertise in bedding women is very ordinary acting fare. The charm that typically exudes such a character is missing. Instead, what we have is crass lines being substituted for wit and some below-the-belt humor being flogged around by Stu. Jessica Alba, though, is a saving grace. Her smile and natural screen presence as the vivacious and accident-prone Cam is the only stuff brings a smile to your face. What would've worked better is if the pair had some natural chemistry going like Dane Cook and Kate Hudson did in the 2008 flick - My Best Friend's Girl. .

Looking back at Good Luck Chuck, there's little else to write home about. Some of the gags are in such low taste (such as the Stu's girlfriend who has three boobs) that even a cringe is not good enough to help you get rid of it. The best you can say about Good Luck Chuck is that while you're watching it you feel happy that they cast Jessica Alba in it; everything else will give you a sore eye.

Rating: 2.8/10

Sunday, February 13, 2011

#58: No Strings Attached

I find it remarkable that Jason Reitman who has written and directed delightful movies like Up in the Air, Thank You For Smoking and Juno is the son of Ivan Reitman - who is better known for his average comedies. If you consider their contrasting movies, Jason Reitman is actually a clear case of a sequel being better than the original in real life.

Where Ivan Reitman surely deserves praise is his role as a producer in Hollywood. Again, he has not made any groundbreaking movies with his production house outside of Up in the Air but it is nice to see someone taking over the challenging mantle of being a producer after beginning as a director. I say this because at his age he really should give up as a director. Because his last two movies were the passable My Super-Ex Girlfriend and Evolution and his latest release of No Strings Attached is yet another shining example of his mediocrity.

It has one of the most random beginnings - that spans 15 years in 10 minutes during which the lead characters Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) meet thrice. There is no apparent connection and yet in their fourth meeting they end up having sex. Emma is an unemotional but intelligent doctor while Adam is a struggling script writer. For no rhyme or reason they conveniently decide to be sex friends. Adam's dad Alvin (Kevin Kline) meanwhile hooks up with Adam's-ex and that becomes a source of major grief for Adam. While his sex with Emma is going great, Adam does see a future with her without being explicit about it. Emma, on the other hand, sees no reason to take her sexual liaison with Adam to another level. How they reconcile this difference is the central plot of No Strings Attached.

It is a plot that conjures itself out of thin air and struggles to keep pace with itself in spite of the liberties it takes. Kevin Kline is a joke in the movie and it was stupid on his part to take on this facetious role. A man who was a part of a classic such as A Fish Called Wanda should've known better. Ashton Kutcher is nothing more than a robot who can't emote to save his life. Natalie Portman is the only sight of relief in this movie that fails to get any laugh-out-loud moments going in what is a supposed to be a comedy. The story is as flat and predictable as it could get. You'll find it harder to predict second Saturdays in a month.

For the clumsy effort that it is, No Strings Attached deserves to be denounced no-holds-barred. Shut off the projector, bring down the curtain and close the entry gates to the screens that is showing the movie. Don't be lured by Natalie Portman's perfectly curvy legs in the promotional poster- it's an example of how one should never judge a movie by it's poster. This is nothing more than a tale that is as uninspiring as insipid. Use it as a pill if you have trouble sleeping at night - nothing more, nothing less.

Rating: 3.5/10

Saturday, February 12, 2011

#57: The Kids Are All Right

Two lesbian moms, their sperm donor and their kids come together in The Kids Are All Right to create the proverbial magic of the movies. The kinds that sweeps us off our feet, evokes myriad emotions and makes us wonder what is it that makes a flawless movie. Does it take fabulously written characters, does it take brilliant actors to enact those characters or does it take a refreshingly innovative script? Well, the fact of the matter is, when all three work in unison, what you have us is a movie like The Kids Are All Right.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) play a middle-aged lesbian couple, as their kids Joni and Laser live the typical teenager life, who furtively dope and have unexpressed crushes. Being 15 and 18 respectively, a sense of rebellion is building up in them towards their Mums and specifically towards Nic. Between Jules and Nic, the latter is presented as the partner who wears the pants in this family; the assertive Mom who doesn't miss a chance to remind her children about simple things like writing Thank You notes. Nic likes being in control and wouldn't yield any of it- whether it's to her children or Jules. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), whose sperm the couple had used eighteen years back to have their kids. Prodded on by her step-brother, Joni gets in touch with Paul and thus begins a new chapter for their family .The kids take a liking to the smooth and suave Paul who runs his own restaurant and rides a bike- things their Mums would never agree to. The newly formed bond between the kids and Paul begins to irk Nic but things take a turn for the worse when Jules takes up a landscaping assignment for Paul's restaurant. The story is the progression of the changing dynamics of the relationship the 5 of them share.

Annette Bening with her act as the domineering Nic is fabulous. She's perky, emotional, rude, affectionate, possessive and more, while delivering what should count as her best performance ever. When she is hurting, you feel the pain. Her protective aura around her family is the most definitive trait of her character and the story uses this as the fulcrum to build drama. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo round up an immaculate performance by the cast whose company you'll thoroughly enjoy. Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wachikowska are equally adept in their roles as the teenage 'kids'.

A word for the writers - Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Bloomberg- whose brilliant screenplay beautifully brings out a few subtle nuances in the beginning of the story that later go on to become critical plot determinants. The character traits are etched with such precision that I will be mighty surprised if this doesn't win the Oscar for Best Original Writing. Here's a trivia- Lisa had put off working on this movie as she herself had got pregnant through an anonymous sperm donor in 2006 and eventually resumed work on the project only in 2009. Maybe this break did her good because this is actually the kind of script for which the phrase - 'no praise is enough' was originally coined for.

I am finally going to cap this one off with a confession. In the last 10 years, only 4 Hollywood productions have touched me to the point of breaking down while watching the movie. The Pursuit of Happyness, Julie and Julia, Up in the Air and Up. The Kids Are All Right came very close to being a very worthy addition to that list.

Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, February 11, 2011

#56: Grown Ups

Grown Ups is a 2010 Hollywood comedy about 5 childhood friends who meet many years later on the occassion of the funeral of their high school basketball coach. They extend their reunion to spend some time over a weekend with one another and their families.

Big shot Hollywood agent Lenny (Adam Sandler), furniture store owner Eric (Kevin James), dutiful husband Kurt (Chris Rock), the jobless Marcus (David Spade) and Rob (Rob Schneider) play the five friends all of whom were on the school basketball team and have an old bonding going between them. The fact the guys were meeting those many years later has no impact on their interactions as each pulls the other's legs like they've never been out of touch. As they go about drinking beer and talking, we learn more about these characters and the lives they've been leading. Lenny's wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek) has a fashion show coming up for which he has to leave with his family sooner than anyone else from the lake house that he has rented for the weekend. Kurt is clearly the wife in the family as it's his wife who earns the bread for the family. Eric has issues with his furniture store back home but he wants to come across as someone who is financially secure. Rob, on the other hand, is married thrice and yet is not sure how to deal with his wife.

Director Dennis Dugan who is a favored Sandler collaborator ( they also worked in You Don't Mess With The Zohan, Big Daddy and just finished Just Go With it) deals with these pent up feelings of his characters with a liberal sprinkling of banter. The humor reflects in some superbly written lines and comebacks that the friends use while they're either nostalgic about their school or while they're taking digs at each other. The best ones are reserved for Lenny, Eric and Marcus. The low point of the movie though are the few parts where situations are forcefully contrived to to give way to humor of the slapstick variety. A breastfeeding scene and a loud Steve Buscemi guest appearance are completely needless. Inspite of these what saves the movie is a final basketball game between these friends and their old school nemesis' team. The climax is all about Sandler and he shows exactly why he's a special actor and a notch above the rest of the cast. With his typicaly casual demeanour he takes the lead in this final game and performs his part with an ease that reflects as much of nonchalance as brilliance. In the process, the movie's comes out a winner.

If you ever been in a school team and have bonded with your mates years after that. this is an unmissable flick. The camaraderie and the humor is such situations is meant be drive nostalgia and the movie will surely transport you back to those days. This also means that the humor which at times comes across as crass isn't univerally appealing. But that doesn't take away anything away from this comedy about buddies. It is meant to be just that and delivers the laughs to make it just about a memorable watch.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

#55: Aisha

Aisha is a 2010 rom-com about Aisha (Sonam Kapoor), her elite lifestyle, her tryst of romance with her childhood friend and the relationship she shares with her loved ones.

Set in Delhi, the movie captures a phase in Aisha's life who is in her early 20s. A simple match-making exercise that she undertakes to hook up a distant relative's daughter Shefali (Amrita Puri) with Randhir (Cyrus Sahukar) lands her into an emotional turmoil. During the course of this exercise she ends upsetting the very few people who were close to her. Her best friend Pinky, played by the spunky Ira Dubey falls out with her even as Aisha's childhood friend Arjun (Abhay Deol) tries to explain to her the mistakes she is making. While she goes through these changes in her relationship with her close friends calmly in the beginning, it soon dawns on her that she has to change something about herself to bring back the magic of the good old times. Aisha is the story of that transformation in her character.

One has to commend Aisha for that specific chick-flick look and style it adopts uniformly throughout the movie. Whether it's Sonam's head-turning-rich-brat-symbol of the Yellow VW Beetle that she drives or the designer shops that the characters visit, it doesn't take more than a couple of frames for the viewers to realize that this is a story set in the creamy echelons of South Delhi. Ira Dubey and Sonam Kapoor could give many a girl a sleepless night with those perfect waistlines, impeccable dresses and fancy paraphernalia of ladies bags and the like. Midway, through the movie, I hoped this was a movie made by a lady, for anything towards the contrary would've given me a sleepless night.

Apart from the packaging, director Rajshri Ojha manages to extract worthy performances from Abhay Deol and Ira Dubey in this story that's loosely based on a Jane Austen novel. While the Abhay Deol is in a league by himself, he is undermined because of a lack of depth in his character. Ira Dubey pleasantly surprises us with her sparkling screen presence. Her mother's natural grace that's reflected in her manners is not to be missed. Sonam Kapoor and Arunoday Singh, who plays Dhruv, Aisha's brief love interest, are wooden and have a long way to go before we could even begin to write anything about their acting skills. Between the two, while Sonam is the perfect example as to why star kids continue to be the butt of jokes in the industry, Arunoday is a bit of a shame considering he can't act even though he's got a politician's genes in his blood. Amrita Puri and Cyrus Sahukar, however, are likable as performers with both displaying adequate ease in slipping in their respective characters. Amit Trivedi's music is refreshingly apt for the milieu and Javed Akhtar's words are the proverbial cherry on the cake. The absolutely soothing Shaam bhi koi, jaisi hai nadi... was probably the year's best song in Bollywood.

After the first half, the story meanders a bit too much that and by the time the climax arrives, you're left wondering if the movie could've been 15 minutes shorter. While all the story threads are fairly addressed, the evident lack of chemistry between Abhay Deol and Sonam Kapoor fails to capture your imagination towards the end. In the final scene, there are traces of a copybook imitation scene from Pretty Woman that will surely disappoint you. Aisha succeeds in laying claim as Bollywood's first indigenous chick-flick and to that end it is a respectable effort by Rajshri Ojha. It could've set the benchmark for movies in this genre with a far better performance from the lead actress and a more lucid storytelling approach. What it lacks in substance, it tries to make up in style and we all know that's never enough in the craft of filmmaking.

Rating: 6.1/10

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

#54: A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire is based on the 1947 Pulitzer-prize winning play of the same name. The producers tried to retain as much of the core team from the play to work in the movie. As a result, playwright Tennessee Williams co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar Saul, Elia Kazan directed the movie as he did the play and the cast members had all worked either on a Broadway or a West End production of the play.

The fulcrum of the story is the life of the emotionally unstable Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who visits her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). The apparent reason for her visit is the loss of her apartment to moneylenders that ends up mentally disturbing her. Stanley suspects that Blanche is only trying to fib her way through the money that she might've made by selling the house. This leads to an uneasy confrontation between the two but with the moderation of Stella things do not escalate. But this was just the tip of the iceberg. In the days to follow, Stanley grows increasingly suspicious of Blanche's ways and never misses a chance to confront her with references to her character in the past. This even while Stanley's friend Mitch (Karl Malden) takes a liking to Blanche and wants to marry her. The story is about how Blanche DuBois' life eventually shapes up during this stay at her sister's house.

The higlight of the movie is Marlon Brando's animalistic portrayal of the character of Stanley. As the short-tempered factory worker, Brando is a fire-cracker waiting to be lit with a matchstick. He explodes without warning and is rude without getting provoked. His ill-mannered, drunk and abusive ways have become a way of life for Stella - his meek and ever-forgiving wife. Some of the scenes in which Brando takes off on in anger seem like outbursts so natural, you could sense the trepidation of the recipients- including his wife Stella. As a character Stella is wedged between love for her sister and the inherent submissiveness she's built towards her husband. Kim Hunter performs her part commendably as the doting sister and wife often making you feel as to what wrong she has done to deserve what she goes through. Vivien Leigh is equally convincing as the distraught and disturbed Blanche - her mood swings and eccentricities and revelations at different points of time is what keeps you hooked to the story. In an Oscar- winning performance, she nails her character by bringing out her fears both through her body language and her speech. Her underlying need to be attracted to strangers is whimsical but a necessary part of her character and this eccentricity adds depth to her portrayal. Karl Malden who also won an Oscar for his role as Blanche's comforting friend Mitch comes across as a nice guy who is purposeful but not exactly admirable.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a fascinating watch for the performances of each of its leading characters. I am not sure if Karl Malden was in the same league as the others but Brando, Leigh and Hunter put in exemplary turns. As a story, it might've outlived itself but it does absorb you. What was lacking in the movie was that the whole mystery that was building around Blanche DuBois was never exploited fully. So when one finally gets to know what had happened to her in the past, it doesn't work as a 'wow' moment and that to me was a failing. A Streetcar Named Desire is hailed as an all-time great movie. It surely didn't do that much for me as a viewer but it did hover around comfortably around the periphery of greatness.

Rating: 6.8/10

Monday, February 07, 2011

#53: Inside Job

Inside Job is a 2010 documentary about the US financial crisis that shook the western markets that evenutally led to dreadful repercussions all around the globe.

It begins with an example of Iceland's economy being in doldrums and how it got there in the first place. This intro works as an apt aperitif for the sumptuous main course that is to follow in the movie that describes the events that paved the ill-trodden path towards the disastrous sub-prime crisis. Shot in a slick style, the movie consists of 5 parts- each telling us the origins and the hows and the whys of the crisis. The chronological order of narration works brilliantly as far as assimilation of information for the viewer is concerned. Director Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) manages to get some of the best names from fields as diverse as international politics, bureaucracy and academics to lobbyists, prostitution (this is not a typo in this review) and corporate honchos. These include people with impressive titles such as the Finance Minister of France, US Secretary of Treasury, the Singapore PM and the Dean of Columbia School of Business. Ferguson then manages to break it down all for us by simplifying the meaning of arcane financial terms such as CDO's and Derivatives with the patience akin to that of a teacher.

In doing so, he is exemplarily transparent in analysing the ills of the financial system and lays down all his cards on the table with panache. So whether he's taking on Alan Greenspan or Barack Obama, he makes it a point to pull back no punches. With the help of the smooth voice of narrator Matt Damon, he creates an universe that explains all the machinations of the crisis, particularly focussing on two critical segments those about the corporate lobbying that influences policy-making in the US and the nexus between Wall Street and the field of academics.

The Inside Job is a brilliant documentary because of two main reasons. First, it takes a contemporary subject that affected us all in some way or the other and that makes it very easy to relate to it. It then takes a simple route to play out the movie, that of taking interviews. So unlike Michael Moore's documentaries that have his inferences splattered through the movie along with the interviews, the narrator here tells you a fact through an actual interview with a person and then lets you make your own conclusion. The latter is what makes the Inside Job an extremely engrossing watch.

To sum it up, if ever a documentary called a spade a spade, this is it. If ever you shouldn't miss out on a documentary, this is it.

Rating: 8.2/10

Sunday, February 06, 2011

#52: Hum Dono - Rangeen

First up- Color restoration is a blessing. May their tribe increase.

'Evergreen Dev Anand' was only living up to his name when he re-released the 1961 black and white classic - Hum Dono this weekend with the new title of Hum Dono- Rangeen. So at very beginning, before the opening credits play out, Dev Anand, who is 87 years old now, tells us that the viewers can now cherish this movie in color and on wide cinemascopic screen with Dolby surround sound. It is a brief introduction and the theater that was nearly packed on a Sunday afternoon with elderly people gives him a warm applause. You can sense the nostalgia in the air.

The movie is the story about Anand (Dev Anand) who is in love with Mita (Sadhna). Anand's unemployed status irks Mita's dad when he goes to meet him to present himself as a suitor for Mita. Spurred by an emotional taunt, Anand leaves his mother to immediately join the Army- a decision that's taken in haste but to prove a point to himself that he can be an able breadwinner. While in the army, Anand meets his lookalike Major Verma - who has left a newly wed wife Ruma (Nanda) and his old mother, Lalit Pawara- to shoulder the responsibility of a front line officer in a war. Anand and Major Verma soon strike a warm friendly note with each other over glasses of army whiskey and the soulful number of 'Kabhi khud pe kabhi haalat pe rona aaya...'. The story then progresses with what happens in the war and how it affects their lives back in their homes.

You don't take time to absorb the fact that this is a movie with Dev Anand at the peak of his acting prowess. But that's not all- he completes the good boy look and with his trademark mannerisms - the shirt with the collar button tied without a tie, the wavy tuft of hair on his head, his persistent nodding and swaying of the neck as he is speaking a dialogue- all pointers that this is a movie that's woven around an actor par excellence who invented a debonair style of his own in tinsel town. So whether it's the restraint and humility of the character of Anand or the elan and poise of Major Verma, Dev Anand is hitting all the right notes as a performer. The confrontation between these two characters in the climax is the highlight of the movie. As the romantic Major Verma, Dev Anand portrays an effortless charm and nonchalance that's missing in art of acting these days. So when Hrithik or Shahrukh play the charming lead today, they need perfectly toned bodies, not a hair out of place and expensive costumes that are designed to make them look good. Dev Anand, on the other hand in Hum Dono looks dashing in a khaki army uniform. Peppered with an outstanding soundtrack that has some unforgettable melodies woven by composer Jaidev and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, Hum Dono works as a lazy pleasurable watch. It won't be an exaggeration to say that Mohammed Rafi when he's rendering Main Zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya is probably miles ahead of any other singer of his time.

Lalita Pawar plays the traditional mother's role replete with the sadness of the woman whose son has gone to serve in the army while Sadhna and Nanda just do what actresses did in those days - act coy, cook food and weave sweaters in their husbands absence. Sadhna though strikes as being extremely pretty and her famous haircut is not to be missed. At 2 hours and 40 minutes, the movie does get a bit boring and given the melodrama that was such an integral part of the 60s and 70s, the producers (this was an in-house production from Navketan Pictures) could've considered editing certain parts. After all, this was a movie released in 1961 trying to woo audiences in 2011.

But be that as it may, Hum Dono- Rangeen is definitely worth a watch for Dev Anand and the brilliant melodies it brings back to life. It will transport you back into a time when filmmakers were not so market savvy with their research and marketing and yet knew what the audiences loved and indulgently served it all on a platter.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, February 05, 2011

#51: Yeh Saali Zindagi

It's a credit to the marketing team of a movie with no big stars when it goes housefull on a Friday night. The promotions, as is the custom, began with the first look of the film in the theaters and Yeh Saali Zindagi did really well on that count. When I first saw a doddering Irrfan Khan saying, "Log sunenge toh kya kahenge, aashiqui mein chootiya mar bhi gaya aur laundiya bhi nahi mili' towards the end of the promo, I ended up sending a flurry of messages to friends proclaiming YSZ as the next big one to look out for. There must've been many people in the same theater passing this on as YSZ filled its seats for a 9:45 p.m. show at 8:30 p.m. on the opening Friday night and the 10:55 p.m. show that I eventually ended up going for also went housefull. In the week before the movie you could also see enough promotions in the city and this momentum will ensure that a low budget movie like YSZ would recover it's cost. In that much, you would have to say that it's a smart business decision to make a movie like this and back it up with enough marketing muscle.

YSZ begins with a brisk introduction of it's characters going about their daily lives. So we have hustler Arun (Irrfan Khan), small-time criminal Kuldeep (Arunoday Singh), his wife of 8 years and mother to his child Shanti (Aditi Rao) and bar singer Priti (Chitrangada Singh). No sooner have the leading cast members settled, that practically in the same breath, you are also introduced to Arun's boss Mehta (Saurabh Shukla), dishonest cop (Sushant Singh) trying to strike a deal with two hardened criminals Bade (Yashpal Sharma) and Chotte (Prashant Narayanan). With this introduction, we know that Sudhir Mishra's handpicked sturdy cast is not going to disappoint you. The problem is, from here on he just tries too hard to extract something meaningful out of a story that's more convoluted than a bowl of fusili. The good thing about fusili though is that if it's made well, it makes for a great meal. YSZ, on the other hand is disappointingly unappetizing.

The story is essentially about Arun and his unwavering attraction towards Priti. This central thread spins across the other sub-plots of Kuldeep's one last big score before he hangs up his boots on his criminal past, Priti's relationship with Shyam (Vipul Sharma) who is about to be married to a rich politician's daughter and the rivalry between Bade and Chotte. Strangely while Irrfan is the lead character, his presence is barely noticeable in the first half as Sudhir Mishra takes his time to set up all the other stories simultaneously. In doing so, he ends up undermining each story's individual resolution in a weak denouement. What should've been a dynamite of a climax ends up being clumsily trite. But even in the build-up to the climax, a veteran of Sudhir Mishra's stature leaves quite a few gaping loopholes in the story. What he also leaves intact is Chitrangada Singh's perfect lipstick and makeup through the second half even after she's been beaten up by a hoodlum in the dust of Purani Dilli.

Irrfan Khan however, does nothing wrong. His quizzical and helpless expressions towards the second half is stuff budding actors aspire for in their training classes. His dilemma about saving a girl's life who might not be his, makes for the one interesting thing in the movie that you look forward to. While Chitrangada Singh is her natural smoldering self, something about her acting suggests she's not in top form. Debutante Aditi Rao ( I know she was there in Dilli 6 but that's how the opening credits went) is a breath of fresh air with her looks but she's got little else to do apart from some frantic making out with Arunoday Singh who is just about passable. The music surely is a winner though. That coupled with some smart dialogues from Manu Rishi and Sudhir Mishra make the on-screen action fall in the ballpark of what could count as bearable viewing.

From the way it began, YSZ promised a lot. It could've been the strong Indian version of Fargo where a mock kidnapping goes wrong or a more popular variant of our own Sankat City. Instead, it becomes a potpourri with so many ingredients, you're left with no flavor that would tastefully linger after the movie.

Rating: 4.6/10

Friday, February 04, 2011

#50: The Awful Truth

The Awful Truth released in 1937 had many firsts going for itself. Adapted from a 1925 Arthur Richman play, it was written for the screen by Vina Delmar. The movie served a template of a story- that of a couple on the verge of breakup eventually reconciling their differences-that would later be used repeatedly in many movies. In what should be considered a turning point of Cary Grant's career, it was also his first light comedy- a genre Grant would later become synonymous with over the next 2 decades. And it also won director Leo McCarey- of the Duck Soup fame, his first and only Oscar.

The Awful Truth is a story about a young couple - Jerry (Grant) and Lucy (Irene Dunne)- who are at a stage in their marriage where suspicion about the other's liaisons is transforming into a way of life. The first thing the director lets us know about Jerry is that he's lying to his wife about a vacation he had undertaken. Once he comes back home, Jerry's suspicion about Lucy's whereabouts the previous night snowballs into a fight that ends in the couple mutually consenting for a divorce. The entire showdown appears flimsy as the conflict doesn't really escalate to a level for a viewer to convincingly buy into it. The good thing that happens from here on is that the movie only becomes better. The plot turns effective with the introduction of the character of Ralph Bellamy, who plays Dan Leeson- a neighbor Lucy gets engaged to within months of her impending divorce to Jerry. The character of Alexander D'Arcy who plays Armand - Lucy's handsome music teacher brings another layer of comical confusion that makes The Awful Truth a delight to watch

With the help of a breezy screenplay, Cary Grant completely becomes a show-stealer in every scene that he's in. A couple of funny accidents that he's involved in towards the middle of the movie are laugh-out-loud moments. Cary Grant's ease at pulling off this natural self-deprecating humor would later become his trademark in movies like His Girl Friday, Arsenic and the Old Lace and The Philadelphia Story. In fact His Girl Friday is one of the movies that later heavily borrowed from the template of The Awful Truth that I referred to in the beginning of this review. The similarities are uncanny. Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy, in a manner of speaking, reprise their roles while Irene Dunne is replaced by Rosalind Russell. The Awful Truth however ends like how it begins- weakly. At a party, Lucy upsets Jerry's to-be-bride and his family acting as Jerry's scandalous sister. The situation does turn out to be funny but seems contrived.

As a movie, The Awful Truth hits the right notes and warmly tugs your heart towards an estranged couple. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne blend neatly in their characters and captivate you with their squabbles. Grant's charisma is the perfect complement to the smart and witty character that Dunne portrays. You will probably have seen and liked many more similar movies. But you must spare time for this original- it's worth it and more.

Rating: 7.3/10

Thursday, February 03, 2011

#49: Sicko

Closing in on this mini-milestone of 50 movie reviews in as nearly as many days and looking back on the 48 before this, I realised I was yet to review any animation or documentary. Since the latter genre is a more personal favorite, I picked up Michael Moore's Sicko.

Released in 2007, Sicko is a scathing attack on the health welfare issues in the US or more specifically the modus operandi of the private-owned Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). As is his forte, any Michael Moore documentary will be narrated by himself, have lots of stock footage, comprise elements of some serious secondary research and oodles of sarcastic wit. Sicko is no different. What's good is that, it's even more. For one, it is not a uni-dimensional topic. Moore smartly extends the topic of healthcare to a subject about standard of living and gives examples from countries as different as France, Great Britain, Norway and Cuba to drive home his point. This helps the viewer grasp the substance of the documentary quite effectively.

The issue of health care has been a US national debate for donkey's years. So whether it's Hillary's outspoken 'socialized medicine' efforts that never really took wing or Barack Obama's recent health care bill, the issue always made news but no one really knew the bearings of it. What Moore succeeds in doing is breaking down the nuts and bolts of the entire system of healthcare down to it's bare essentials. In doing so, he not only takes a route that's educational for a layman but also entertaining. So while there are quite a few grim moments, you don't sit in shock and awe as you probably did during Fahrenheit 911 or Bowling for Columbine. In character and the route it takes to making the point, the movie's closer to the style of the causal but no-nonsense Roger and Me. More than the real people who have been adversely affected by the vagaries of HMO policies, the movie's biggest strength is the research and the statistics it uses to explain the difference between health care policies in the US and elsewhere in the world. Each patient who has been depicted in the main feature has a poignant story to tell and Moore uses his wit to devastating effect in making a harsh indictment of the whimsical and the wayward approach of the HMOs towards it's patients. One particular segment about the treatment meted to old-age poor patients by private hospitals is deeply moving and will dampen your eyes sooner than you will ever know.

The only fault I could find with Sicko is this tiny sub-angle towards the end whereby the movie indulges in an over-the-top approach in showcasing how relations between Cuba and US should've been better. The seems completely out of place as it indulges itself in a bit of emotional jingoism instead of staying sensitive to the key theme of the movie. There's also another part whereby Moore showcases his own altruistic nature towards a critic that works as the equivalent of giving oneself a handsome pat on the back for a job well done.

Having said that, one can't take anything away from Moore for making a documentary that highlights several burning issues that a government really ought to take care of. He doesn't play safe and goes all out against some of the biggest names in the current US political system and because Bush is not his only target, it is also fun to watch. All in all, Sicko is worth every minute you spend watching it. But what makes it even more remarkable is the fact that it's also worth every minute you think about the movie days after you've seen it.

And that is always the indelible mark of a very special piece of filmmaking.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

#48:My Darling Clementine

The first thing about My Darling Clementine that will favorably incline your interest towards this movie is the title track. As the opening credits of the movie start, you hear the chorus singing the song like a perfect smattering of butter over some fresh bread. O my darling, O my darling, O my darling Clementine..., it goes. You presume, this is going to be a romantic flick and are prepared for the movie to take shape accordingly. It all seems fine except that 5 minutes into the movie you also realize that the movie is not just going to be about only Clementine.

It is the story about Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) who in the sleepy town of Tombstone becomes the town marshall after witnessing the lawlessness of the land. His partner is Doc Holiday (Victor Mature) who is fast succumbing to the fatalities of too much alcohol. While his love interest, the graciously disarming Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) arrives in town, Doc has already made his decision to leave her. The other plot that runs parallel to this is the mysterious disappearance of some cattle and the murder of one of the younger brothers of Wyatt. The suspects are the brash and the savage Clanton brothers. However, with no proof, Wyatt and his brothers are helpless to take any recourse to justice. Walter Brennan plays old man Clanton. As the leader of the Clanton brat pack, Walter is magnificently uninhibited, uncouth and unruly. The people of the town are scared of the Clantons and no one dare speak anything against them but under the supervision of taskmaster Wyatt, the town regains a semblance of sanity. But with these winds of change we also know a showdown is around the corner and the movie culminates with famous Ok corral shootout between the Wyatt and the Clanton brothers.

Henry Fonda with his no-nonsense approach is stern but plays the character of Wyatt with a lot of warmth- his friendship with Doc being one of the show stealers of the movie. The conversations between Doc and Wyatt are laced with some lovely bits of humor and these maintain a nice contrast to the overarching theme of revenge that runs across the movie. Victor Mature is effortlessly stylish as Doc Holiday and it's a pity that Victor wasn't known for too many other major roles during his career. Linda Darnell as the playful Chihuahua (her name in the movie) wins your heart with a performance that might be short in duration but doesn't fall short of being memorable. The subtle humor in the movie gels well with the characters- all of whom are dealing with a sad memory from their own town even as they go about their daily chores as if life's normal.

My Darling Clementine is just another shining proof that John Ford could direct anything western and make it a timeless classic. The movie will continue to charm generations to come because of the enduring themes of friendship, justice and love- all of which are showcased superbly in a movie as short as 97 minutes. With a smart and pacy screenplay, wonderfully memorable characters such as Old Man Clanton and solid performances that will win you over, My Darling Clementine is one classic you just shouldn't miss out on.

As an aside, it was Sam Peckinpah's favorite western. It has to be something, doesn't it !

Rating: 7.7/10

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

#47: Break Ke Baad

If you could get past the sheer charm that Deepika Padukone exudes in her role as Aaliya, if you could breathe even after seeing her back in that sexy saree in the opening song and if you needed to stare at anything else beyond her in the movie, ladies and gentlemen let me break this up for you in the very beginning- this movie is not meant for you. And I know reading this (if you are amongst those select tasteful few) review, you're wondering if the author is a school teenager smitten by Deepika rather than an unbiased movie critic. But let me assure you, with a hand on my heart, if you're not a Deepika Padukone fan, there are not too many other reasons for you to be watching this movie.

It has to be choices of roles in movies like this that saw Aamir Khan recently going on record to say that Ranbir is a better actor than Imran Khan. Barring Kidnap, you can take any of the movies that Imran has done and you can conduct this interesting experiment in your head. Interchange Imran's character in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na to Imran's character in I Hate Luv Storys. Now interchange that with Imran's character in Break Ke Baad. You could run this as a Spot the Difference column in a newspaper for a year and you won't have anyone coming up with any difference. And that is just one of the pitfalls of Break Ke Baad. This is not to say that the movie is bad. It's just predictably boring- just like Imran's character.

Deepika plays the free-spirited and ambitious Aaliya while Abhay (Imran Khan) plays her protective boyfriend reluctantly managing his Dad's business. Aaliya leaves for Australia to pursue higher studies and the relationship starts experiencing strain with the distance between her and Abhay. Whether their relationship survives this equation forms the crux of the movie. A couple of hummable numbers in Adhoore Hum and Dooriyan keep your senses kicking but again Vishal-Shekhar only repeat that familiar sound of music that we're so used to since their Dostana days. While Yudi plays a smart and funny common friend, an actress of the caliber of Shahana Goswami is wasted in an eminently forgettable role that only sees her making appearances in skimpy sports bras.

Break Ke Baad is a good reminder in asking ourselves the question as to why do we watch movies? If you ask this question to ten people at least a few would answer that we watch movies to see things that we haven't seen before and relish the new and the unpredictable. A few more would say for good actors - actors who evoke the same emotions in us that the characters are going through. The remaining would then probably say- for a great story. I just didn't think a movie like Break Ke Baad could qualify as a movie to watch on any of the above parameters.

Rating: 3/10