Sunday, July 31, 2011

#169: Singh is Kinng

If you are
a. sane
b. not a Punjabi
c. someone who might get a stroke because of lowbrow humor and songs like 'Bhootni Ke..'

Singh is Kinng is not for you.

The rest may please proceed to watch this supposed blockbuster.

Rating: 1/10

P.S.: Yes, I know Katrina Kaif and Neha Dhupia looked super hot in the title track and it was a catchy title track indeed but why go through the whole movie for a single song.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

#168: Once Upon a Time in Mumbai

Milan Luthria, the director is the kind of cricketer Ajay Jadeja used to be. They were both quite accessible to the mass, they provided good snappy entertainment and overall when you look back at them as entertainers, you'll tend to think that they were not bad at all. Luthria's filmography makes for a passable lineup with movies like Kachche Dhaage, Deewar and Taxi No. 911 to his credit. Once Upon a Time in Mumbai was a picture Luthria directed in 2010 that was written by Rajat Arora and was based on the Mumbai underworld that flourished in the 1970s.

Ajay Devgan is Sultan Mirza, the Don Corleone among upcoming gangsters of the Mumbai of the 70s. He is upright, fair and empathetic towards his ilk and the general public. In a dialogue that must've sent temperatures soaring in the single screens up north, he sternly reprimands a smuggler saying 'Main un cheezon ko karta hoon jinki sarkaar ijaazat nahi deti, un cheezon ko nahi jinko zameer ijaazat nahi deti...'. His imagery is understandably larger-than-life and he starts courting a Bollywood actress Rehana (Kangana Ranaut), a love story that is most likely inspired from the Haji Mastan-Parveen Babi liasion. As Sultan Mirza's ascendancy touches it's peak in Mumbai, an upstart Shoaib Khan (Emraan Hashmi) starts working for him and becomes his loyal confidante. Shoaib is arrogant and flashy in his manners and it not before time that differences in styles of the master and disciple come to a clash.

The two part ways and how their clash pans out is the primary conflict in the movie. With as decent a premise as this, Once Upon... has all the pieces set well in the first half. Ajay Devgan is extremely credible in yet another role as a gangster, something he delivered flawlessly in the peerless Company. and almost matches that performance for it's intensity. Emraan Hashmi, on the other hand is the lousy actor that only he can be in a very serious role. It was shocking that Balaji Pictures, a team whose cinematic sense is not that bad, would opt for him as the ruthless criminal that his character required him to be. Prachi Desai and Kangana Ranaut are simple yet sincere in their respective roles as leading ladies here. Unfortunately at any point, if Ajay Devgan raises the scale of drama through his acting, you can be rest assured that Emraan will step in to make a hash (no pun intended) of it. And that void is felt more so in the couple of scenes in which Sultan and Shoaib confront each other. The Mumbai of the 70s is captured well through the eyes of Aseem Mishra and a special mention for the costumes by Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma that made it seem like a genuine period movie.

Once Upon... is a movie that will never bore you and yet it will not make you believe that it is anything special. The moment Ajay Devgan goes off screen the movie loses its tempo. As a result, this becomes your average thriller that will only be remembered as a movie that had a very good actor shouldering the bulk of the movie's journey.

Rating: 6.2/10

#167: Prince

I know some of you will go - 'Yikes, this dude watches movies like Prince!' but like I always say, every movie is like a day in your life. It might be bad, good or ugly but one should never turn away from it. So that's my disclaimer to Prince, the 2010 movie starring Vivek Oberoi in the lead.

To be fair to Vivek Oberoi, he is not a bad actor. In Saathiya for example, he played the romantic lead as seamlessly as the wronged gangster Chandu in Company. And while he did make a few bad choices thereafter, potentially he could've been one of the most bankable stars in Bollywood even today. Prince was a comeback of sorts for Vivek because this was his first solo lead role after his 2005 debacle Kisna. The premise of that of an action hero who forgets his memory and has to trace his past in the midst of the 3 beauties was loose to begin with but if Jason Bourne can become a legend, why can't we have our very own Prince.. Well, the answer is that the Bourne series is written by someone as accomplished as Robert Ludlum.

While it might not be fair to cast aspersions of imitation on Shiraz Ahmed the writer, who I think has established himself as the greatest writer of 'thrillers-with-loopholes' in Bollywood, his work has been indubitably shaky in the past. These include duds like Naqaab and some mediocre fare like Race. It also didn't help that the directorial reins of the movie were vested in the hands of debutant Kookie Gulati. So here you had comeback man Vivek Oberoi with a story that was no great shakes in the hands of a rookie director. The overall result as you all would've guessed by now is unimpressive. What works for Prince (if there's such a thing) are the couple of foot-tapping numbers that will have you interested in between some eye-catching slick action sequences.

Vivek Oberoi does whatever he can do redeem this feature without much help from the three beauties serenading him. In terms of acting, Nandana Sen is the only one who comes close to the definition of talent amongst the three. Prince suffers from a weak storyline that doesn't excite you for more than five minutes at any one go. It does remind us in patches why Vivek used to be a reliable star not too long ago. But apart from that it's simply below par for the course.

Rating: 4.3/10

Thursday, July 28, 2011

#166: 2001: A Space Odyssey

I have no doubt that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most captivating movie of all-time because:

every single frame, and I can't say this for any other movie so confidently, can be admired for eternity for the shot composition.
the music speaks in this movie.
it makes you wonder if you are getting the drift of it all and yet you don't get bored for a second.
the visuals, and here I mean the vagueness of some of it, doesn't irk you but astounds you.
this is a movie made in 1968 and till this date I don't think it has been bettered as far as the genre of science fiction is concerned.
of the minimalistic use of dialogue.
it's a true canvas of why filmmaking is a director's medium and actors can belong to it but not own it.
in a lot of scenes you'll wonder 'how would they have shot this?'
it teaches you that the abstract can also be appealing.
it tells you that terror can be invoked in the mind of the audience without even as much of a hint of violence.
it is timeless poetry in the garb of a motion picture.
it is Kubrick. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Rating: 8.8/10

Monday, July 25, 2011

#165: The Producers

The plot of The Producers that is set very firmly no longer than fifteen minutes into the movie makes for a hilarious premise. When Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), a down on his luck producer conspires with his accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) to make the world's worst flop on Broadway, the outrageousness of their goal is enough to prepare you for the subsequent laughs.

The screenplay that won Mel Brooks his first Academy award in his debut film is strictly linear but replete with funny lines. With Zero Mostel essaying the part of the loveable rascal Bialystock, the movie adds a playful charm in it's execution. It gets even better when a couple of more oddball characters join Springtime for Hitler, their proposed flop play premieres on Broadway. That section is a musical where the story of the play progresses through a series of songs and in the whole scheme of things is the least appealing part of the movie. Towards the end however, you're willing to forgive that transgression because of an interesting manner is which the story winds up.

Mostel is disarmingly adorable as Bialystock while Gene Wilder plays the simpleton forced to comply with a tricky situation with generous sincerity. What lacks The Producers is a surprise punch that could have elevated the ongoing comic plot. From the first scene itself, we know that the play is going to turn on it's head and the story plays out predictably for the next hour or so.

That said, there are no two ways about the fact that this is a timeless comedy that will deliver the laughs. Mel Brooks is one of the few people who have an Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy to their credit. With The Producers, we see more than just a glimpse of why he was that good.

Rating: 7.3/10

Sunday, July 24, 2011

#164: Casino Jack

Director George Hickenlooper's final film before his departure is a movie based on true events that will interest you with it's brisk start. In this 2010 release, Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) portrays a lobbyist in Washington D.C., well known in the political circles whose perimeter extends even upto the U.S. President. In it's essence, it might remind you Thank you for Smoking because of it's storyline that revolves around this flamboyant lobbyist.

Abramoff prides himself on his vocation and makes no bones about his connections. If anything, he is boastful. With his partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), he's makes one big investment bet on a casino that seems too good to be true. His upside is immense but he doesn't cover his risks, gets in a lousy partner in Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz) for the venture and on the way to the top brushes a particular Indian tribe the wrong way. All the hard work Abramoff had put in to reach the stellar heights in Washington come to nought when due to his partner's carelessness, the FBI gets wind of the wrongdoing and from there on it's all downhill for Abramoff.

It is a character arc oft-repeated in many movies and in the case of Casino Jack, it seems a bit too predictable. The supporting cast of Abramoff's wife that could've been used as a device for the audience to sympathise with Jack suffers because of lack of intent. Kevin Spacey is an actor par excellence but as Jack Abramoff he doesn't have any magic moments. The actor's found playing catch up with a script whose rhythm never missed a beat but lacked the right note. In spite of some dynamic scenes, the writing is broadly staid and as an audience it only makes us react and doesn't go all out in involving us with the protagonist's feelings.

Where Casino Jack scores is the first half an hour as the story is being setup. As Jon Lovitz's character arrives, the movie is positioned for an interesting denouement but it fails to capitalize on the first act of the movie. In the end, one doesn't feel sympathetic towards Abramoff and that I suspect must've been one of the objectives of writer Norman Snider- something that failed to cut ice with me as a viewer. Kevin Spacey earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance eventually losing to Paul Giamatti for Barney's Version. In an almost uncanny way, it resembles the story of Casino Jack's life as a movie.

Rating: 5.7/10

Saturday, July 23, 2011

#163: Naked Mile (American Pie)

The good
The name American Pie - it makes you pick up the DVD from a store.

The bad

The ugly
From a cliched storyline to abysmally depressing performances to the most idiotically bizarre gags- one of which include a grandmother dying from the shock of a cumshot, everything about this movie is ugly.

Yes, it is not bad, it is downright ugly. I think any one us would be funnier in our sleep than the Naked Mile ever is through it's 97 minute duration.

Rating: 1/10

Thursday, July 21, 2011

#162: Luck By Chance

Luck By Chance written and directed by Zoya Akhtar is a story of dreams and ambitions that the millions who inhabit Mumbai cherish and that is to make a mark in the big bad world of Bollywood. The story is about three characters - Vikram (Farhan Akhtar's acting debut), Sona (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Abhimanyu (Arjun Mathur)- all of whom nurse a desire to become a lead actor in a movie and are struggling to get auditions. It is only a matter of time before the three of them become good friends and their destinies get interlinked.

Vikram, essayed with a nonchalant charm by Farhan Akhtar, is the first one to the get the big break and becomes distant from his friends. Coupled with his new found fame, his imminent attraction towards his pretty and rich leading lady Nikki (Isha Sharvani) sours up his relationship with Sona. The story follows the character of Vikram and Sona and their transformation over the course of the movie works as one of the most enduring things about the movie. To traverse the character arcs of the innocuous Vikram becoming a sly cat and a confident Sona losing faith in herself as an actress makes for fabulous viewing. There is an easy chemistry between Farhan Akhtar and Konkona that's seldom seen in Bollywood and lends itself seamlessly to the movie's brilliance.

Add to that an ensemble cast as varied as Rishi Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, Dimple Kapadia and Shahrukh Khan and the movie is nothing short of a dramatic potboiler. The cameo by Shahrukh where he plays himself is one taut act and is perhaps better than most of the full-length roles in the movies he has acted in. The movie celebrates the stereotypes of Bollywood unabashedly and in doing so doesn't make a mockery of itself. Instead, it educates the viewers about the embellishments that go along with the circus of Bollywood.

Without a shade of a doubt though, Luck By Chance belongs to Zoya Akhtar and a number of scenes have a mischievous stamp that must belong to none other than the director. MacMohan's appearance, the first scene of the film (saving it for those who haven't seen it) and the unforgettable opening credits- perhaps the best ever in the history of Indian cinema- are all touches of a woman who is in awe of Bollywood and is serving up a platter of a tribute to the working of Indian cinema. Yes, it is not the most professional setup but an industry that churns out more movies than any other in the world sure has got a unique flavor of it's own and Zoya leaves that indelible imprint on your mind for you to savor. It has some shades of a previous Nagesh Kukunoor movie Bollywood Calling that spoofed the industry. To call Luck By Chance a spoof would be short selling it but the approach the movie takes to proving it's point is, to draw a parallel, not a matter of chance but an intelligent and mature design. I should think you will love every minute of it.

Rating: 7.7/10

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#161: Arranged

Indie- the word in filmdom that sounds so cool and yet is such an arduous journey for any filmmaker. It simply means the making of movies without any major studio backing the production of the movie. So the filmmakers,(the writer-director team primarily) get together like a group of friends and more often than not struggle to rustle up the funds and the technical support required to complete a movie. If they're lucky and their movie hits gold at film festivals, the distributors automatically chip in to market the movie and the movie gets a mainstream release. If not, we never hear of them.

Arranged, a movie made in 2007 is an example, as to why the indie movement needs to grow. For if it doesn't and the studios continue to have their way around, as an audience we will be bereft of many such gems that will get buried in some remote corner of a studio. Made under their own banner of Cicala Filmworks, Diane Cresper and Stephen Schaeffer tell us the story of a friendship between two teachers at a school in New York city. The protagonists are Nasira (Francis Benhamou), an Orthodox single Muslim lady and a simliar Jew spinster Rakhoul (Zoe Lister Jones, also seen in State of Play, Salt) who bond over their pending marriages and their controversial friendship of sorts in the school. The students, for instance ask them openly how could a Muslim and a Jew be friends and the school Principal thinks they dress up too tightly for a populist liking.

Without any major inflection point, the movie plays at a leisurely pace and of all things, the impending marriage of the two eligible single women, become the focal point of interest. Instead of taking a preachy route towards their friendship, Arranged takes a light-hearted and an extremely sensible approach with a message for the viewers that in the end, all human race is one. Francis Benhamou is a spark of joy in the movie with her charismatic on-screen presence. The contrast in Lister Jones' more inward-looking and shy Rakhoul works as a smart tool that enhances the mirth in the conversations between the two friends.

The playful approach adopted in veering around deep seated religious beliefs gives the storytelling a wonderful dimension and brings a smile even in the simplest of scenes. Arranged is a pleasing work of cinema that will have you absorbed throughout it's duration. At one level, Arranged is a simple story from the pluralistic multi-cultural playground of the city of New York. At another, it is a reminder that all that we need for world peace is for some of us to live with a modicum of tolerance in our society. In the world that we live, increasingly such reminders are becoming not just apt but essential.

Rating: 7.2/10

Monday, July 18, 2011

#160: Bullitt

Is most revered for it's car chase, made in 1968

Has guts-and-glory Steve McQueen playing the steely cop Lieutenant Bullitt.

Is based on the book called Mute Witness.

Is a political thriller in it's essence.

Has at it's center of action an aspiring-senator who wants a witness protected.

Director Peter Yates maintains a grim aura with little mirth around.

Builds droves of latent energy waiting to explode.

Which leads to this being a movie with two climaxes of sorts - one with the chase and the other actual end.

Can give quite a few detective led-stories a run for it's money.

Didn't see the attractive Jacqueline Basset being utilised much.

Would inevitably draw comparisons with the French Connection chase sequence.

Personally thought, French Connection chase was more critical to the story and played out more dramatically.

Having said that, the Bullitt chase couldn't have been tighter and is as engrossing.

Is a must if you're nuts about cars or Steve McQueen.

Should still watch it, if neither.

Rating: 7.4/10

P.S: Used this format as a precursor, or a thought, of what movie reviews might be in future, with our ever-shortening attention spans.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

#159: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Zoya Akhtar's cinematic sensibility shone in her debut Luck By Chance, which should rank as one hell of an underrated movie. As an insider's perspective into filmdom, she presented her story of a struggling actor with a heady mix of conviction, humor and elan. In her second feature ZNMD, which she has co-written with her friend Reema Kagti, Zoya approaches a genre where her own brother Farhan seems to have the Midas touch- that of a 'buddy movie'. And, like with Luck by Chance this time around too, Zoya comes out flying in all colors.

ZNMD is about three friends, Kabir (Abhay Deol), Imraan (Farhan Akhtar) and Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) who take a 3 week road trip to Spain, before Kabir's wedding to Natasha (Kalki Koechlin). Beneath a trip of bonhomie between the three friends, lie deeper demons that each of them is struggling with. Arjun is so busy making money as a financial broker, he seems to have little time for friends and relationships. Kabir is set back with Natasha's new-found possessive streak as the bride-to-be and Imraan has an ulterior motive on the road trip, that to meet his father who abandoned him as a child. The screenplay moves at a breezy pace in the first half and regales you with some typical moments of leg-pulling between the friends. The real issues to be dealt with start emerging in the second half where the fun factor takes a backseat and the camaraderie gives way to each coming to terms with their own dilemma.

The pace understandably drops but not the joie de vivre between the characters that the movie plays on smartly throughout. One particular scene of sky diving is shot beautifully and full marks to DOP Carlos Catalan and the writers for their vision in conjuring those magical couple of minutes on-screen. The bonding between Farhan, Hrithik and Abhay is mellifluos and though not as game-changing as DCH, ZNMD allows each of them to emerge strongly as both lead and supporting actors. With different character sketches, the writers makes us traverse through their backstories without boring you. For instance, you come to know of a major source of friction in the past between Arjun and Imraan within the blink of an eye. The emotional scenes also stand out for the impact and a sublime cameo by Naseerudin Shah jolts you out of your seat. If there's anything wrong with the movie, it's the duration which stretched at 15-20 minutes too long, Katrina's weak acting and a couple of needless songs that weave more of Spain into themselves than moving the story forward.

ZNMD has more than just slick packaging working for itself. You can be forgiven for thinking that this is the old wine of Rock On and DCH being served in a new bottle. However, it scores high in it's writing and direction departments, both infused with as much verve as substance. It is also served very well with the performances of it's lead trio. A special word here for Farhan Akhtar who has also penned the youthful dialogues for the movie, his talents becoming uncountable with every passing movie. It is hard to put a finger on any scene in the movie that lacked a sense of purpose or occassion and when that happens you generally end up with a neat and tidy movie.

And that's what ZNMD really is.

Rating: 7.1/10

Thursday, July 14, 2011

#158: The Long Goodbye

Raymond Chandler, if a teenager were to come across his works, I would doubt be described as anything but someone who in their lingo 'rocks'. That edginess in his writing should appeal to anyone but that lazy air of his characters, the incomparable style of his protagonist Philip Marlowe and the terse repartees are undboutedly the stuff that should get any young mind excited. Of course, his story plots would also go on to to have a far more universal appeal but to my mind Raymond Chandler would always be the guy whose Farewell, my Lovely beheld me with it's page-turning ability. The Long Goodbye is a novel had the good fortune to be directed by Robert Altman, so it was natural that I would lap it up in my mind even before I had seen it. And when you see a movie with such pre-conceived notions, the satisfaction is even more, if it delivers. The Long Goodbye did just that.

In it, the nonchalant detective Phil Marlowe is played by Eliott Gould, among whose credits count the recent Ocean's Eleven series where he played a supporting role in a stellar cast. To see Gould in his younger days, with a swagger, an inimitable style quotient and an inherent coolness factor was nothing short of a revelation. The murder mystery that it is, The Long Goodbye, has a fluid storyline that keeps you on tenterhooks from the very first scene. Also making an appearance is the screen legend Sterling Hayden, as Roger Wade, an old writer with a young wife. While Gould is trying to solve the mysterious death of his friend, he can't help but be curious about Wade's nubile better half. There's more to it than meets the eye as far as the Wades are concerned and Marlowe, being the cat that he is, isn't going to miss a beat.

With a pacy screenplay, Leigh Brackett (co-writer of acclaimed movies such as Rio Bravo, The Big Sleep and Hatari ) retains the skeleton of the book but gives it a new soul. On the cinematography front, DOP Vilmos Zsigmond succeeds in creating an atmosphere of stifling suspense. Zsigmond and Altman also partnered in McCabe and Mrs. Miller and this is a team that seriously knows how to go about it's business. Some of the visuals are nothing short of gems that should be framed for eternity, the last walk by Marlowe for instance. There is no doubt that you will see Gould in a new light once you've finished the movie. With the suave manner of a Bogart and the calm demeanor of a Michael Caine, he is the show stopper in a movie that's as glamorous as steely. Watch out for Marlowe's perennial cigarette-lipped dialogue delivery and you will also know one of the reasons why the role so deserved an Oscar nomination.

The Long Goodbye has an unmistakeable aura of intrigue around it like any great thriller. On top of that, it's got a tight story that's delivered through convincing performances. Little about it is banal or trite and that's why I would rank it as one of the best thrillers of all time from the Hollywood stable.

Do not miss it. This one's right up there.

Rating: 7.8/10

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#157: Wake up Sid

I don't know what the fuss about this one is all about. Especially about this being touted as the definitive coming-of-age movie et al. Wake Up Sid released in 2009 under the Dharma Productions banner and was directed by Ayan Mukherji, who makes his debut at 27 years in Bollywood. Now that is special. What else about this movie is, I am not so sure.

The movie opens with a wonderful scene of Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) waking up to study a subject for his college. The opening track along with the screenplay tells you all that there is about Sid in less than a few minutes. We then go on to meet his carefree friends and bump into Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma) who throughout the movie is only and only trying to piece one article together for a magazine that she works for. Sid's parents issue an ultimatum about his extravagant lifestyle and it is not before long that after a heated exchange with his father (Anupam Kher), he decides to move in with Aisha.

From there on, the movie drags on as we come to know of Sid's talents as a photographer and the writer tries to make us believe that Sid's struggle to find a job is the central piece of the movie. That part seems dreary and failed to find a connect with me because his struggle seemed too manufactured. The romantic angle between Sid and Aisha on the other hand is dealt in a most matured manner and right until the climax has a certain freshness to it. The movie's innocent sountrack with that brilliant number 'Iktara' is perhaps the highlight.

Wake Up Sid didn't manage to keep me away from sleep for long. In Ranbir and Konkona, it had two very efficient actors but little happens around them for their work to make an impact. It is a one-time watch strictly if you are a Ranbir Kapoor fan, I wouldn't know any other way to put this mildly.

Rating: 5.2/10

Sunday, July 10, 2011

#156: Charade

Charade is a movie I stumbled upon while going through Time Magazine's top 100 movies of all time. And while a lot of those movies on that list had their reputations preceding themselves, this was one I had never heard of before. A quick search revealed that this was a thriller with a billing no less than than that of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and that it was directed by Stanley Donen ( Singing in the Rain, Funny Face). I remember wondering how in many discussions about the best thriller movies ever, the name Charade had never sprung up. To put it simply, it's a story soaked in suspense, involves a murder mystery, with shades of espionage thrown in with a group of motivated evil men chasing a treasure- or in other words it's your median Hitchcockian plot.

The story in itself had an interesting back story about how the original draft of the movie when submitted to studios didn't receive any enthusiastic response but once writers Peter Stone and Marc Behm wrote it as a novel, the very studios evinced interest once again. Unfortunately, neither Stone nor Behm would go onto to make anything that came close to the sturdiness of Charade in the later years, but that doesn't take away the fact Charade has one of the most gripping storylines of all time.

Protagonist Reggie Lampert's (Audrey Hepburn) husband passes away at the beginning and three men start hounding her for what they believe is a substantial sum of money that the dead man must've passed on to Reggie. The three men are the formidable trio of Walter Mathau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. Around the same time, a dashing businessman Brian Cruikshank (Cary Grant) enters Reggie's life and becomes an emotional sounding board for the young lady but not for too long. Reggie suspects Brian himself to be one with the trio. From here, the story spirals into an intriguing cat-and-mouse game between these five characters. The game turns serious when people start turning up dead in their rooms and each becomes a suspect. Henry Mancini's outstanding soundtrack heightens the tension while the on-screen performances are near perfect. The chemistry between Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn is top notch and their conversations a sheer delight. Especially Cary Grant (who was 59 years at the time of filming and romances a much younger Hepburn) who is the example of that rare breed of actors enhance their craft to such a level in their lifetime that age tends to takes a backseat and what emerges on-screen is vintage fare. For such actors ageing is not a means of decline but a bonus a la Spencer Tracy.

The beauty of Charade is that you tend to forward guess the on-screen action. The audience till the last ten minutes are kept every bit in the dark as Reggie Lampert herself . The action moves at the rate of knots and the elements of surprise interspersed in the movie are either genuine moments of wonder or amusement. There goes a saying about Charade that fans refer to it as the 'best Hitchcock movie, Hitchcock never made.' The only thing I would add to this is that this is a movie, that would make even Hitchcock proud.

Rating: 8.2/10

Friday, July 08, 2011

#155: Bbuddha Hoga Terra Baap

At the end of BHTB, a still slide mentions how the movie was meant to be a tribute to the man we all once knew as the angry young man. That, in a way surmises more than anything one can write about the raison d'etre of BHTB. While this slide is not meant to be a disclaimer, for all those who struggled through this movie, it becomes one. And for those who enjoyed the movie, it is a reaffirmation that BHTB was an attempt to take us back to the glory days of Amitabh Bachchan.

Whether or not Puri Jagannath, a highly successful writer-director down south was able to capture the magic of the days of old is a matter of debate. What is redoubtable though is the courage that both the director and the actor showed in each other. Here is a man, going on 69, not afraid to make a fool of himself, take on a solo role, dance like there's no tomorrow, fight in his action scenes with more gusto than any present actor ( tell me that last time you saw a superstar manhandle a group of bad men and enjoyed it! ), sing a wonderful melody and with his sheer on-screen presence, no matter how garish, makes you stay glued to the screen. Well, that in a nutshell is BHTB for you- a movie where the story becomes irrelevant no sooner than you've seen Amitabh Bachchan, where villains have to eat humble pie from scene one to last and where all other peripheral actors are exactly that- peripheral.

Taking ample liberty with the story, Puri revolves the plot around a father-son (Sonu Sood) relationship pitched against a group of bad men who are killing people with bombs in crowded Mumbai markets for no good reason. Even if you want to laugh at the frivolity of the script, you are nearly disallowed because AB playing ex-gangster Vijju is playing his part very seriously. The effort to make AB extra cool was misplaced and a more understated approach might've had an even greater impact but Puri's ( of Pokiri/Wanted fame) preferred style of writing is to make his heroes larger-than-life and here he harps on AB being larger than all of Milky Way put together. The fact that Vijju is a character who doesn't seem affected with anything going around him seems a bit hollow and some diligence on Puri's part might've made this movie a real catch.

With some inane characters like Raveena Tandon and Makarand Deshpande thrown in for no good, BHTP still survives the heat because of AB, some sticky dialogues and because at 119 minutes it is about the right length before you stretch for that first yawn. An interesting subtext is how BHTB's Vijju has shades of the Vijay of old in his body language and mannerisms scene after scene. So if you've ever been a Bachchan fan, you must watch this. For that surge of thrill when Vijju describes how a bullet that leaves his gun is different from others, for that joy of seeing AB once again in slow motion and for those goosebumps when he croons Haal-e-dil. All of it is inexplicable but it's there for you to feel. If you've never been a Bachchan fan, this isn't a good place to start but what the heck, it must've been a while since you saw a Hindi hero bash baddies to pulp- watch it for just the fun of it.

Rating: 6.1/10

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

#154: Love Aaj Kal

Ten reasons why I love this movie
1. A neat romantic story with wonderful nuances. Jai(Saif) and Meera(Deepika Padukone) celebrate a breakup by inviting friends to a party, the two parallel love tracks, the last scene with Rishi Kapoor - all elements that bring a smile to your face.
2. Some unforgettably timeless songs (Read Aaj Din Chadeya and Chor Bazaari)
3. Saif's plays a Sardar with a natural elan.
4. A segment of Jai getting used to his life in San Francisco.
5. Giselli Monteiro - cute beyond description.
6. The video of Chor Bazaari - the liberating spirit of it- the fact that two lovers who went seperate ways can still have a whale of a time when they get together.
7. The chemistry between Saif and Deepika- like they say in northern India - 'Cut to cut match hain ji'
8. A climax that is memorable in spite of being a cliche. The location- a fort where Deepika is working on a restoration project.
9. A scene in the second half when Saif confronts Deepika- even melancholy can have a touch of spunk.
10. Imtiaz Ali, or what I like to call him, the closest filmmaker we have to Woody Allen in India

And two reasons why I don't.
1. Jai speaking candidly about his relationships to a stranger restaurant owner Veer was hard to digest.
2. An educated girl like Deepika leaving her husband on wedding night was drama for the sake of it. It could've been handled differently.

All in all, one of the best romantic movies to have come out of our stable. It's a coming-of-age love story that should touch your heart both with it's innocence and maturity.

Rating: 7.4/10

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

#153: The Postman Always Rings Twice

The movie is based on a 1934 book by James Cain and universally regarded as one of the best crime thrillers of all time.
Head, Blood and Wine and Five Easy Pieces are some of the other movies director Bob Rafaelson has made with Nicholson, the lead actor in this movie.
Earlier in 1946, a movie had been made based on the same subject.

Partly noir, partly romance, the movie is about a vagabond Frank (Nicholson) who comes to a wayside restaurant and falls in love with the owner's wife Cora Papadakis. (Jessica Lange)
On Cora's exhortation, the couple plan to murder the restaurant owner and elope to another city.
Set in rural California, the movie brings a brooding gloomy sense to the proceedings.
The couple's plan goes awry and they're consigned to their routine lives once again.
Much of the film's spark is derived from the chemistry between Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.
As the movie progresses, the tension builds up but never escalates to a boiling point.
Nevertheless, the screenplay does have it's moments.

An example is the first sexual encounter between Frank and Cora.
Living with the Papadakis, Frank was waiting for an appropriate moment to literally pounce upon Cora.
While her husband leaves for town one day, Frank's devilish instincts get the better of him.
And that leads to a scene of lust fulfilled - shot with the beastly Frank and beautiful Cora in the kitchen.
You would struggle to remember a similar scene.
Sven Nykvist, the DOP also brings a lot of character to this scene as he does with some of the other scenic night shots as well.

Rarely does a great book not produce a good movie.
In the case of The Postman Rings Always Twice, the intent is all-pervading to make a classic.
Nevertheless as a viewer, it didn't strike the right note with me.
Go watch it, only if you're a Nicholson fan.
Sexy Lange will also make your eyes pop with her earthly but smoky on-screen presence.

There isn't much to write home about.
What could've also helped was a better ending.
In the book it is different from what's shown in this version.
Check out also the 1946 version that's regarded highly.
Execution wise, this didn't botch up but didn't light bright either.

Rating: 5.8/10

Sunday, July 03, 2011

#152: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class is the fifth in the series of X-Men movies that date back to 2000. 11 years after thrilling the world with their first offering, this year's X-Men: First Class is the the prequel to all the four movies that have came so far- the Genesis, if you like. It is obvious that the franchise has a loyal following and the studios want to leverage every bit of history that can be thought of. What the producers / studios have very smartly done in this case is that while individual origins of the key characters can continue ( Wolverine, Magneto...), a version that preceded everything would not only increase the fan base immensely but also reduce sequel attrition that is likely to hit the subsequent versions.

So this one is not about any specific character but about everyone who was around when the mutants had started their race on planet Earth in the early 1960s. The writers also place the story in the context of the Cuban Missile crisis thus very deftly integrating a universal theme with the main characters. The protagonist is the man after whom the term X-Men is coined, Professor Xavier, effectively portrayed by James McAvoy. James' Xavier, a sharp thinker and a man inscrutably above board, who believes that mutants and mortals can co-exist on earth. His best friend Magneto played by Michael Fassbender doesn't believe that the co-existence will ever be a reality. Even as they are brought together by the CIA to assist in the delicate missile crisis, where the CIA suspects mutants are involved, that difference of opinion between the two becomes a irreconcilable divisive point. Bad man Kevin Bacon never seemed sinister enough to destroy the world and yet he as Sebastian Shaw, is the man who is out to instigate a nuclear war between Russia and U.S. In terms of acting apart from McAvoy there's little else that's convincing. Fassbender's motive of revenge for his mother's death is a cliche that fails to cut ice and his lifeless expressions fail to evoke empathy.

But where the movie delivers is the gripping action between the divisive groups. The frenetic pace of the story is such that there are no dull moments. The sub-plot of Magneto's revenge is weak in concept but executed well. Similarly, the climax where U.S. and Russia are brought to within touching distance of a nuclear war is nail-biting stuff. As in all good superhero movies, the special effects are mind-boggling and in spite of being the fifth movie in the series, the novelty factor is still around to elicit for those 'wows'.

The best thing about X-Men First Class is the fact that anyone can watch it and believe, in spite of four other pre-existing movies, that this was the beginning. It was important thus for the filmmakers to make you buy into the concept of mutants and entice you enough to look forward to the future installments. Achieving one of those mandatories would've made it a good movie and achieving both would earn them a fan. Suffice to say, I've become a fan.

Rating: 7.2/10

Saturday, July 02, 2011

#151: Delhi Belly

As a genre, crime capers are the rarest in Bollywood, their numbers since Alam Ara as easy to recall as the number of days in a week. Johnny Gaddar and Sankat City are to my mind the only ones to have successfully made the cut in the last decade. At the same time, the elite English-speaking audience in our cities continue to revere the works of the likes of Guy Ritchie and Mathew Vaughn- filmmakers who would get our senses alert and the funny bone tickling with unforgettable characters, scenes and dialogues. Many a night has passed with inebriated friends barely able to stand on their feet, assembling in a fellow-hosteler's room and watching Snatch for the umpteenth time and remarking with liberal doses of snobbery that 'Bollywood sucked'. For all those upcoming discussions from here on, there is a footnote that needs to be added very quickly about this week's release Delhi Belly- a truly inventive and an incredibly entertaining cult comic caper.

Three lazy, filthy, indifferent but educated friends stay in a dilapidated room set in Delhi. When a harmless parcel comes their way to be delivered to a particular location, their typical nonchalant approach to a seemingly normal situation turns their world upside down. With no knowledge of what's to befall them, they soon get entangled in a web of an organized diamond smuggling racket spearheaded by the effusively brilliant Vijay Raaz. His is a supporting act and yet it is his presence that forms the icing on the brilliant script of Akshat Verma. Akshat's fresh approach to a time old dramatic device of two-interchanged-bags-and-the-ensuing-hilarity is the most definitive reason for the movie's likeability. All good crime movies have memorable bad men at the helm and Raaz's sharp characterization is a piece of art. And then there are the side-splitting dialogues. I simply don't remember the last time a theater hall laughed so loud so many times during a movie. Some of these dialogues will become staple conversations over lunch at workplaces for they're as close to the real world as they can get. What's more they are as unabashedly funny.

On-screen Imran Khan does himself a world of good by slipping effortlessly in a role that was light years away from the rom-com mediocrity that he was so getting used to. He delivers and so does every other cast member. The likes of Vir Das impress not just with the delivery of his funny lines but also with the depiction of frustration levels of the average corporate executive. One had to feel sorry for Kunal Roy Kapoor, ( the talented director ofThe President is Coming) who in his debut role sadly was a man possessed with a bad tummy and it's repercussions in the movie and yet he managed a sparkling screen presence. On the technical side, some smart editing and a tantalizing soundtrack combine fluidly to give you the movie of the year. Director Abhinay Deo had given us many memorable ads in the past and he gets one right after the forgettable Game The movie did lack a finishing touch but nothing that would take away from emerging out of the hall feeling that you've seen something momentous.

Delhi Belly is undoubtedly right up there with the best of Indian cinema. It has set a new benchmark for caper thrillers in Bollywood and it will be interesting to see how many more get inspired now to take that road less travelled in the near future. This is not the kind of movie your parents will want you to watch but sitting in that hostel room drunk on Floyd, short of hash, devoid of girlfriends if there's one movie that you can now safely fall back upon to give you that trip, it is Delhi Belly.

Not watching it is keeping yourself away from a very very good thing.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, July 01, 2011

#150: Fire in Babylon

Towards the end of Fire in Babylon, Michael Holding, The Whispering Death as he was known to his peers, mentions a fact about the West Indies team. For 15 years in world cricket, West Indies was never beaten in a test series. He goes on to add that in no other sport has any other team had such a dominance anywhere in the world. Holding says it matter-of-factly without any overt emotion on his face but you sense the import of those words- they are glistening with pride. Fire in Babylon is the story of how a group of men from different island countries came together to form the Windies cricket team and achieved that unparalleled honor.

Director Stevan Riley, whose previous Blue Blood was a gripping account of the rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge on the sport of boxing, turns back the clock on the 70s when cricket was a gentleman's game but somehow whites around quite a few pockets of the world still had notions of being superior compared their darker hued brethren. After a quick glance at the history of the Windies as a conglomeration of islands, Riley sets the context with the 1975 WI tour of Australia. Parts of the documentary are a throwback to the pages of the brilliant Beyond The Boundary by CLR James- a book that has often been acknowledged as a seminal work in cricketing literature.

The main voices of Fire in Babylon are the cricket players themselves along with a couple of historians and a few die-hard fans from the Carribean. Liberally entwined are actual footage of the test matches that Windies played during the 70s and the 80s dcoumenting the team's ascendancy. The narrative is extremely fluent and sharp and the best part is the section showing the famed Windies quartet or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as Colin Croft remembers themseleves being called as. Another indelible section is the parts where Viv talks about the West Indian pride will give you goosebumps. The passion is unmistakeably furious but with a zen-like calm he mentions how Clive Lloyd came upto them after a battering and said, "Never again."

One section where I thought the movie could've improved upon is including what the other cricketing teams / players thought of the juggernaut. That said, it's not as if you miss it during the movie. More of an afterthought. I have seen a few reviews going around saying if you're cricket nut, this is a movie you shouldn't miss out on. For me, that's selling the movie really short for though it's centerpiece is around cricket, Fire in Babylon is a reflection of how a cricketing team made a statement in a world order that either favored or forgave colonialism. This is an account that deserves a watch to understand the significance of what the Windies team accomplished against the odds. It's served on a platter for you and if I were you I would shamelessly and unapologetically ask for a repeat, such is it's impact.

Rating: 8.6/10