Friday, September 30, 2011

#209: Chargesheet

I have been told from reliable sources that there is a reason why Dev Anand is making one crap movie after another. It is because he loves his movies and his last wish is to die on a movie set. He doesn't have any other passion, vice or muse in life except to continue writing, directing and producing movies. So while watching this egregiously bad movie, I played that conversation over and over again in my head to understand the lengths to which people go for the love of movies.

I have been brought up on the Saturday afternoon and Sunday shows on DD1 and DD2 at a time when movies like Guide, Jewel Thief, Hum Dono, Kashmir Ki Kali, Professor, Prince, Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan, Suraj were staple diet on weekends. And if you too went through that indoctrination, someone like a Dev Anand would rank very high in your estimation. So it is indeed disheartening to see him being reduced to a pale shadow of himself on-screen and struggling to make his presence felt. And it is upsetting at some level to see a hero being so idiotic in his approach, that what he is doing now threatens to obliterate all those good memories of childhood- Johnny Mera Naam and countless other what-nots.

The stylish flick of the head of the past is no more than a weak imitation of the statement it used to be. What's worse is that Dev Anand's script is so ridiculous, it can make a nursery rhyme seem like a masterpiece and the filming so awful, I wouldn't mind putting money on a theory that either the DOP or Dev Anand himself must've been blind while filming some of the scenes. And some of those new actors that he has taken give you that horrible stinking feeling. Its inexplicable how stupid they are. But what's remarkable is that he still has actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Jackie Shroff and Yashpal Sharma playing key roles in the movie (although what Milind Gunaji was doing in the movie is anybody's guess). Naseeruddin Shah has in fact gone on record saying that the only reason why he did this movie is because he wants to give something back to the man who gave him so many moments of joy when Naseer was growing up.

There's a time in every bad movie that it becomes hilarious. Chargesheet is so bad, it doesn't even reach that level. But then there is one scene that is fatally funny which is that of Home Minister Narayan played by Amar Singh (yes the SP politician) listening to two simultaneous conversations over phone- his one ear listening to what Dev Anand is saying and his other ear focussed on what a cop is saying. The piece de resistance here is the Bharatnatyam that Amar Singh's eyes do depending on what is said being said over the phone. If that scene doesn't crack you up, nothing on planet Earth ever will. This one scene has serious potential to be ranked alongside a dying Ashok Kumar's patriotic march by his bedside in Clerk.

Overall, I know I am not telling you anything that you wouldn't already have guessed about Chargesheet but the only thing I can add is that you ought to run far far away from which ever screen Chargesheet is playing in.
Even if they put you in jail for doing so !

Rating: .5/10

Thursday, September 29, 2011

#208: Maqbool

There's not much to say about Maqbool's story except that it is based on Macbeth. But what's to be said on Maqbool the film in terms of praise in words might not ever be enough.

I have personally been around when Vishal Bharadwaj was giving an interview on a radio station and on being quizzed about Shakespeare, he mentioned that it wasn't till his late teens that he first came across Shakespeare. But when he did, he realized what a master of drama the Bard was. Or in Bhardwaj's words "woh cheez kya the, humein tab pata chala..". So much so that Bhardwaj immersed himself completely in his works and took months to understand the real dramatic nuances of his plays. By the time Bhardwaj finished, he had become a true worshipper of the Bard's works. For him, adapting Shakespearean plays to the Indian context wasn't a matter of a masterstroke in the context of Indian cinema, it was simply a personal tribute to Shakespeare. He would have it no other way and it was only natural that Maqbool took shape so early in Bhardwaj's career as a director.

The setting of Maqbool is Bombay where Abbaji (Pankaj Kapoor) rules the grimy underworld and his clutches stretch from Bollywood to murky dealings in real estate. His Man Friday is Maqbool (Irrfan Khan) whom Abbaji trusts blindly little realizing that Abbaji's young wife Nimmi (Tabu) has taken a liking to Maqbool himself. Abbaji is old, pot-bellied and stubborn in his own ways and these are traits that Nimmi doesn't quite take to but has to bear with. Maqbool's shadow-like presence in Abbaji's life is a pleasant distraction for her and she wants Maqbool to kill Abbaji and inherit his riches. Vishal Bharadwaj and Abbas Tyrewala's scorching screenplay takes precedence over performances in Maqbool and captivates you in the first half of the movie even as solid supporting acts by Piyush Mishra, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah keep your senses rooted to these characters.

Maqbool proceeds with a strong foreboding that something is going to go wrong very soon and that keeps you at the edge of your seat. Vishal Bhardwaj's handling of the adaptation is nothing short of masterful and he gets ample support in form of some immaculate performances from the lead cast. None more impressive than Tabu and Pankaj Kapoor. The former as the scheming Lady Macbeth who is always one step ahead of Macbeth and the latter as the principled criminal who has a Don Corleone air about everything he does. If it comes across as an imitation, it's because Pankaj Kapoor is as good as it gets for that role. Irrfan Khan as Macbeth is the very picture of dilemma in everything he does and becomes the foil against which Nimmi and Abbaji draw their emotional support from.

The only place where Maqbool falters is the last 15 minutes where in keeping up with the original text, the screenwriters' conviction in pulling off the climax isn't completely at its peak. And this portion seems particularly hasty and chaotic, especially after the laid back first half. But apart from that, Maqbool is a suspenseful, taut and an extremely captivating adaptation of the timeless Macbeth.

You remember all those discussions about a book or a play being better than a movie?
Well, this is one example where that argument just might not hold.

Rating: 7.4/10

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#207: The General

It was a bit silly that I took a long time to actually get down to watching a Buster Keaton movie. A reverential reference to Keaton in Bollywood that I came across was in Road. Movie when Satish Kaushik's character extols the magic of cinema and takes the example of Buster Keaton's movies being the kinds that moved him during his childhood. It was a glowing tribute and made me want to pick up some of his movies at the earliest but time and destiny kept us apart. And then I saw The General.

Made in 1926, The General was adapted from a novel by William Pettiger and directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman. It plays out like a comedy but in essence is a bit more than that. Set against the backdrop of the civil war, it has a nice romantic angle of Buster Keaton who plays the title character with Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). Keaton's character Johnnie Gray is an earnest engineer who is one of the few skilled people who know how to operate a rail engine. Consequently, the authorities deny him the chance to enlist in the war. His love interest sees this as a sign of his cowardice and ditches him. The movie presents an answer to the question if The General be able to prove his worth in the war and win his lady back.

Well, if you think you know the answer to that question and think of this as a run-of-the-mill fare, thats exactly what The General is not. Yes there's slapstick, predictability of events and the typical silent comedic timing that makes up for most of the movie. But what's special is the ingenuity, warmth and a very different brand of humor than what's seen in the Chaplin movies. You also see why some people say that Buster Keaton is better than Chaplin. Because Keaton isn't wearing oversized pants and he isn't trying to make us laugh every single moment like Chaplin's tramp. Keaton works by building up a very human story and making us laugh at his success and his misery alike. His simplicity is highly believable and his character endearing. The movie is about him and he carries it well single-handedly.

I could watch The General again and again for just those two scenes of him sitting on the wheels of his rail engine and the final ending scene. Two beautiful shots that more than made up for the time I put in. And I can assure you will be more than worth your time too.

Rating: 7.9/10

Monday, September 26, 2011

#206: New York, I Love You

Emmanuel Benbihy is the producer who came up with the idea of "Cities of Love" series of movies. The idea being that each movie will be centered around a famous city and directors from across the world would be invited to make short segments with love as the core theme of each story. His first instalment Paris Je 'taime was a delectable start towards this end and it was only obvious that his next edition would be much anticipated. Especially, if it was to be based on one of the most charming cities of the world- New York.

Shot across the five burroughs of New York, NYILY has a most promising beginning that tells you that something special is about to unfold. It begins to bloom slowly but surely with a set of ten segments of roughly 10 minutes each. It also boasts of a star-studded list of filmmakers ranging from the likes of Fatih Akin to Brett Ratner to Shekhar Kapoor. And the cast isn't bad either. But just when it could've leaped from being an average movie to an exceptional one, it fades out. So by the end of it, the movie at best comes across as a middle-of-the-road decent watch. Like all anthology movies it has its good, bad, weird and ugly moments but unlike a couple of segments in Paris Je 'Taime, or that unforgettable last segment in Four Rooms, the good isn't really exceptional. There's, of course, also relief that the bad isn't deplorable either.

No anthology review is complete without two clear pointers about the best story and best performance. The former in my books would be the segment written by Jeff Nathanson and directed by Brett Ratner. If anything, this is the closest this movie comes to giving you a sharp kick. The stand out performance is in another story directed by Yvan Attal and it comes from Ethan Hawke who essays a devilishly charming writer trying to woo his way around an attractive lady. New York as a city doesn't stand out so much or even as a sub-text except its multi-ethinicity which is predictably woven by the directors in the characters portrayed.

To sum it up, New York I Love You, should be on your list if you've fallen in love with the little things that make the city so special. This one just does enough for us to reaffirm our faith in the concept of 'Cities of Love'. But at the same time, we also do hope that the next editions are a notch better.

Rating: 6.2/10

Sunday, September 25, 2011

#205: The Immortals

Heist movies are a personally favorite genre so if I just see a DVD cover that hints towards that genre, I don't think twice before buying it. Immortals was one such discovery. What it had going for itself apart from the DVD cover was the fairly bankable cast of Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Curtis and Chris Rock leading an ensemble set.

Immortals begins in a disoriented way where director Brian Grant tries to tell us too many things in too little time. The idea must've been to spring right into the midst of action but it doesn't quite work. In one swoop, we are introduced to the protagonist who is hatching the plot, the 8 parolees (too many to begin with) he has collected in his task and the heist itself. Typically, all good heist movies will spend sometime setting the context right and that is completely missing in this movie. Things happen so fast that by half-time, 6 out of the 8 are already shot and fighting for survival. Tony Curtis makes a decent appearance but does little to salvage the film. The wooden Eric Roberts, who leads the team, on the other hand does little for us to empathize with him.

Immortals is an example of a movie that is not only ludicrously written but also directed equally badly. To give you an example, there is a showdown between two gangs in the middle of the movie where 8 people from Robert's gang engage in a gunfight with 8 people of Curtis' gang. Remarkably after the smoke settles, we see all of Curtis' gang dead while each of Roberts' gang survives. Apart from Curtis, Chris Rock and Tia Carerre put in just about average performances and even that isn't enough for this movie to merit a watch. In other words, Immortals makes a great case for never judging a DVD by its cover.

If anyone suggests you to watch it, ask them to pay you. And then depending upon how much is being offered, you can consider it.

Rating: 2/10

Friday, September 23, 2011

#204: Brothers

The backdrop of war gives a wide canvas for filmmakers to put together a story. And the beauty of it is that although war is used as a context, the stories needn't necessarily be about the glory of winning or courage or sacrifice. And in a way, the farther the story moves from the main object of war, the greater the hook for a viewer to absorb the story. Such hooks have allowed some really personal and familial stories to stand out in the midst of this big-budget genre. Brothers, a movie made in 2009 about the life of Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) who leaves for an assignment to Afghanistan, is a similar attempt.

Sam Cahill's family is a sweet home of joy with his loving wife Grace and his two daughters. As a Marine, he has the respect and admiration of his parents and the community at large. Cahill's brother Tommy on the other hand is a small-time crook who has been known to be on the wrong side of the law for his petty crimes and is clearly the dark sheep of the family. Sam's departure to Afghanistan saddens everyone in the house but the big jolt comes when he is reported to be dead. While the Cahills struggle to get used to a life without Sam, Tommy steps in to take more responsibilities around the house. What at first surprises the family, becomes the norm and predictably Tommy and Grace start finding in each other an emotional anchor.

Written by David Benioff, Brothers moves at a steadfast pace and oscillates from the images of war and its cruelties to the more soothing environs of the Cahills without much efforts. The fluid screenplay allows for a couple of surprises that keep you interested in the plot. While Tobey Maguire was far from the best choice for a war- hardened Marine, Jake Gyllenhall and Portman fit the characters and perform creditably. The supporting act by Sam Shepard as the head of the Cahill family is particularly impressive as well. As a movie based on war, Brothers also has an engrossing hook from Sam Cahill's point of view and what really happened to him in Afghanistan. The dramatic peak achieved in that section of the story by Benioff and Sheridan is quite good.

Overall, Brothers is an emotional saga that absorbs you. If it struggles, its partly due to a fairly inept performance by Tobey Maguire who doesnt quite hit the nail and the somewhat predictable story turn towards the end. Brothers easily qualifies for that category known as "one-time watch" but I suspect the makers wanted something more out of it, something that seemed to be conspicuously absent in the movie.

Rating: 6.6/10

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#203: Warrior

Warrior is a 2011 action film that stars Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte in leading roles. The movie is about these three characters, Tommy (Hardy) and Brendon (Edgerton) who are the sons of an ex-armyman and fight coach Paddy (Nick Nolte).

Warrior begins on a sombre note with a bitter conversation between Tommy, who has just returned after serving in Iraq and Paddy. There is no mistaking during that conversation that the father-son relationship is estranged because of Paddy's alcoholic ways of the past. We also learn that Tommy is fighting with a few inner demons of his own because of certain incidents in Iraq. Tommy feels weighed down by those demons and needs a reason to redeem himself. Tommy enlists himself in a high-prize money purse competition called the World Mixed Martial Arts competition and declares that if he wins the competition he would donate the prize money to the widow of his colleague who passed away in Iraq.

We are also soon introduced to Brendon, who is a respected and much-loved Physics teacher in a school. Outside of school, he also works part-time work as a bouncer and yet that is not enough for him and his wife to ward off their debts. Brendon had also been an amateur fighter in the past and in spite of much opposition from his sweet wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) decides to participate in the competition with the help of his coach played by Frank Grillo.

Warrior builds up with simmering intensity towards the finale where predictably the two brothers meet in the final. The masterstroke by director Gavin O' Connor in the second half is the contrasting styles of the two brothers standing out in their respective fights. While Tommy is fast and furious, Brendon is persevering and pugnacious. The personal equations between the sons and their father come to the fore with every passing minute and reach a crescendo in the climax. Hardy, Edgerton, Nolte and Jennifer Morrison put in highly credible performances and a couple of scenes stand out for their minimalistic brilliance. The scene where Tess receives news of her husband's fight in a dark room where she sits alone in anticipation is beautifully done. As is the scene where Tommy comforts his drunk father. I wish though some of those really low-lit shots were done better. It is largely acceptable that a brooding emotional situation requires negligible light. I somehow think it shouldn't come at the cost of the audience straining their eyes in a closed theater.

Warrior is a touching tale of a family set against the gritty and cruel world of mixed martial arts. At its heart lies a story of emotions even though it can also comfortably posture and position itself as a high-quality action flick. If anything, it pretty much makes the best of both worlds.

Rating: 7.4/10

Monday, September 19, 2011

#202: Aag

Or RGV Ki Aag.

First, the name sucks.

Then everyone and everything else.

Except those few scenes in patches that involve Mohanlal, Urmila Matondkar and Amitabh Bachchan.

Rating: 1/10

P.S. 1: Someone once told me that Masand during the review threw his shoes at the camera while reviewing this one. Isn't this review so much more reasonable ? And specific ? And to the point ?

P.S. 2: At one point of time, it used to be on Imdb's bottom 100 list. Checked again today. Rooted to the spot !

Sunday, September 18, 2011

#201: Crazy Stupid Love

Crazy Stupid Love is a 2011 comedy about a couple played by Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore who have been married for over 20 years with 3 children. Both of them in their mid-40s are now struggling to come to terms with their uninspiring husband-wife relationship and the breaking point comes when Emily (Moore) hooks up with a colleague. This new development leaves Weaver (Carrell) devastated and he goes about moping about his wife's infidelity in a nearby bar. It is here that he meets the smooth-talking Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling). Palmer takes it upon himself to get Weaver out of his misery and begins a makeover of Weaver's lifestyle.

While you see the first hour of Crazy Stupid Love unfolding, you know you've seen it all before. It is likely that Weaver will get lucky soon with a woman. He does. You know Palmer will finally find the love of his life, he does. You know that Emily will start missing Weaver soon. She does. It all goes according to the the routine storyline. Although this is meant to be a comedy, there isn't so much of a funny quotient in the dialogues or situations. However, where Crazy Stupid Love scores is its sub-plots that come together neatly in the final act of the movie. The ending though predictably sweet and happy has more than its share of surprises and redeems what would've been otherwise a dreary movie.

It also features some good performances by an ensemble cast that had names such as Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, James Gandolfini who all play bit-part roles but leave a mark with their presence. Steve Carrell's protagonist act isn't entirely convincing because of the cliched loser character he portrays but eventually he does manage to connect with you. The stand out act for me though was Weaver's 14-year old son Jonah Bobo who has a crush on his baby-sitter. His is a near flawless act and it surely isn't the last we've heard of him in Hollywood. Ryan Gosling isn't bad either as the womanizer who turns Weaver's life upside down but when he comes into his own falling for Emma Stone, he becomes stoney-faced that leaves little emotional impact.

Overall, Crazy Stupid Love is strictly ok. And that too because of a couple of delightful surprises towards the end. It can at best be classified as a safe bet. And that too only if you have a movie like Friends with Benefits running alongside it.

Rating: 5.8/10

Friday, September 16, 2011

#200: Bobby Fisher Against The World

One glance at Yahoo's list of best sports documentaries of all time listed here will make you realize how the core of most of those wonderful movies lies in a spectator sport. As a result of which, boxing, F1 and other ball sports dominate the list. It is also only fair to assume that a spectator sport will lend itself more easily for a movie than a non-spectator sport like chess. Bobby Fisher Against The World based on the American chess legend's life, in that respect is a quite deviation from convention. And yet it enthralls and intrigues you with its content.

Director Liz Garbus' in partnership with HBO Films takes you through the life and times of Bobby Fisher, the man who at one point was regarded as the best chess player in the world. The film traces his journey from his childhood, his family, the unveiling of the prodigious Fisher coming into his own in his early teens, his ascent to the peak of the world rankings and his life thereafter. Fisher who led nothing but an extremely enigmatic life is presented to us as a person with his fair share of shortcomings when it came to life beyond the chess board. His world title match with Spassky becomes an extension of the Cold War of the 1970s and garners much attention worldwide and Garbus rightfully spends considerable time educating us about the political environment of those years.

Fisher's dynamic rise in the sport is the part that fuels our interest most while watching the documentary that has a wonderful spread of interviews from people as personally close to Fisher as his personal photographer and trainer, to people like Susan Polgar and Garry Kasparov who only judge Fisher as a professional chess player. Interspersed between these interviews are abundant reels of footage from the 70s that do a wonderful job in telling the story of those yesteryears about which we had only read. The sections of the movie where we see Fisher objecting to cameras being present while his World Championship title match is in progress with Boris Spassky is rare vintage stuff. The only bone I had to pick with the movie was the limited information it provided about his wilderness years. It would've been fascinating to know what Fisher did and where he spent his time before resurfacing years later. In a documentary that chronicles his life, some more substance to that part would've been a fresh insight.

Bobby Fisher Against The World will stoke your memory and take you down an era of which if you would have only heard of. It is a fascinating journey that makes you wonder if there could've a better topic to make a documentary around the game of chess. The Karpov-Kasparov rivalry perhaps ? Or maybe not.

Rating: 7.1/10

Thursday, September 15, 2011

#199: City Lights

It has been often spoken about how Chaplin wasn't really happy with the advent of sound and how he went on to make silent movies even when sound was at his disposal. It is only fair that he didn't take the help of sound because as a viewer I can't imagine what watching The Kid might have been with sound. My opinion is, it is best we never got to know. Chaplin's genius lay in making us laugh with his gags, the slapstick and most importantly his myriad expressions. To add anything else to it would've been a folly and City Lights is one movie that makes you believe he was indeed right on that count.

The movie features Chaplin's favorite tramp avatar once again. This time he has a millionaire friend in Harry Myers who has an odd habit of being most affable when he is drunk. But when Myers is sober he forgets about his shabbily dressed tram friend. Chaplin meanwhile also has become friends with an attractive blind flower vendor Virginia Cheeril who believes that the tramp is a millionaire. City Lights is one of Chaplin's most famous works and touches you with the relationship that Virginia and Chaplin share in the movie. The blind Virginia has a certain image of Chaplin in mind and what her reaction to the unmasking of that image might be is a question that the movie's climax leads you to. The scenes with Myers though are most hilarious although the funny quotient in the movie is not as high as some of his other movies.

City Lights is a story with a lot of warmth. If you're the one for romantic classics, this is something you just can't miss out on. It is one of the most simple love stories on screen, nearly unspectacular and yet it doesn't fail to let you root for the tramp by the end of it. For the record, it was also voted as the best romantic comedy ever in an AFI poll where Annie Hall stood number 2. I have good reason to dispute it but I can't take away the fact that City Lights does sit comfortably on that list.

Rating: 7.3/10

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

#198: Breathless

It is an irony of sorts that I am yet to review a Godard movie thus far on this blog. After all, any film student worth his salt has a certain amount of reverence towards Godard who has often been regarded one of the most influential filmmakers in history. Breathless, made in 1960 was his most acclaimed work and starred Jean-Paul Belmondo as a drifter whose sole purpose in life is to move to Italy and live easy with his girlfriend. Most top-100 films list are likely to have Breathless included for its path breaking content. After all, it was supposed to be Godard's definitive stamp on the French New Wave. As a film critic working for Cahiers Du Cinema, Godard had formed his own radical views on shot-taking and direction and in the company of Chabrol, Melville, Truffaut he found a set of people who encouraged him to take his own path. The result was a style of filmmaking that would resonate amongst movie lovers for years to come.

Breathless is the story of Michael (Belmondo), a petty thief who roams around the city committing crimes with no planning and no regrets. He is hanging around in Paris even after committing a murder because he needs to get back some money from a friend. His simple plan is to collect the money and move to Italy with his American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg). Patricia is not entirely happy with Michael's ways but plays along with his romantic advances. Breathless, co-written by Truffaut and Godard, in terms of a genre is a mix of romantic comedy and a thriller. With the cops in hot pursuit of Michael, the screenplay does interest us in knowing if his move to Italy is going to come off as planned.

Visually filmed with a host of new techniques, none more radical than the inventive use of jump-cuts, Breathless is indeed a pretty film to watch. Belmondo as the vagabond is as desultory as the character required him to be. It seems the only thing he is concerned about is Patricia and apart from her he wouldn't care much about anything else around him. Jean Seberg's beautiful presence is a wonderful contrast to Belmondo's recklessness on the streets of Paris. She is level-headed, attractive and independent. During the course of the movie, it is her character that you don't want to come any harm to. The parts where Michael is by himself either working out his plan to escape to Italy or even going about his joblessness on the streets of Paris are slickly done. The film picks up its intent quickly in the last ten minutes and its ending is a masterstoke by Godard. My problem with Breathless however is its long portions that could've been more snappy. For instance, the exchanges between Michale and Patricia turn out to be quite tedious and boring after a while.

I had seen Le Mepris and Detective before watching Breathless and I must say that the first two movies quite deflated the faith I had placed in Godard as a director. I thought both those movies were tiresome and the only thing they had going for themselves was a style quotient. And when I say this, I know I am even taking a risk of not being considered seriously but for me Breathless just about managed to save Godard from being blacklisted in my book. If one talks about directors about the New Wave, I am a Melville loyalist and I didn't see any such brilliance in Breathless. As a matter of fact, the supposedly revolutionary usage of jump-cuts themselves were suggested by Melville. Coming back to this review, Breathless is indeed an uninhibited piece of filmmaking. It has a gay abandon about itself that I found quite charming and watchable. On whether its making into my top-100 films list, I think that would be a resounding no.

Rating: 6.4/10

Monday, September 12, 2011

#197: Annie Hall

If you can make peace with the nomenclature of a genre called "serious comedy" and not see it as an oxymoron, you've a friend in Woody Allen. A clear departure from his early goofy comedies like Take the Money and Run and Love and Death , Annie Hall released in 1977 is till date acknowledged as the auteur's best work and is his first shot at this genre that I refer to as serious comedy. For this is where unlike this previous work, the hero would no longer be laughed at for his neurotic behavior, sexual clumsiness and oafish behavior. On the contrary, in Annie Hall, Woody not only sets an empathetic premise for such behavior by his protagonist very early in the movie but he also takes you on a very personal romantic journey of stand-up comic and comedy writer Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).

I refer to Annie Hall as a serious comedy because you do get the best of both those genres in this one movie. It begins with the screenplay which is supposed to have shades of Woody Allen's own real life relationship with Diane Keaton- a speculation that Woody has more or less denied in the past. The stand out part of this non-linear script isn't so much about what the outcome of Allen-Keaton relationship in the movie would be but how are we going to get to that outcome which is bared to us in the very first couple of minutes by Alvy Singer. What seems a playful relationship isn't able to break the barriers of its own triviality and leads to a breakup. Alvy, who has been twice married before doesn't realize when his romantic liaison with Keaton become a friendly equation. And when that equation changes, it affects us because by that time we want this charming lady and her older talented writer boyfriend to work out things between them.

Both Allen and Keaton have never had it better in terms of chemistry. Their conversations, the banter, the teasing even their breakup has a touch of poetry to it. Not to mention the extremely fun screenplay and dialogues by Woody Allen. This is also one of Woody's few movies where he performs as a stand-up comic in the movie, something Woody started his career as in real life. Those parts might just've been a cakewalk for him to write and perform but as an audience, you are stupefied by the frequency and the wit of his comeback lines time and time again. Diane Keaton, won the Best Actress Oscar for her sharp performance even as Allen lost out in a stark similarity of real-life mirroring on-screen action. Tony Roberts makes yet another of those supporting appearances as Woody's successful TV actor friend who is a sucker for commercialization unlike Woody. The contrast in their character sketches makes their friendship even more unique, believable and immensely enjoyable. Woody does keep the best lines for himself because only he can deliver a line like 'Don't knock off masturbation... Its sex with someone I love...' with the most nonchalant attitude.

In the sweep of the romantic background of Alvy Singer's relationship with Annie Hall, it is quite possible to forget that Annie Hall is also a brilliant comedy. The comedy is not so much situational as conversational and it is so free flowing and abundant that even though Annie Hall is a tragic story it doesn't feel like one. It is rare that everything in a movie- from the sets to actors to the cinematography comes together to click in perfect unison (imagine Keaton designing her own clothes for the movie and the style going on to become a rage of New York in the late-70s). Annie Hall is that rare masterpiece, the Kohinoor of Allen's jewels and the Mona Lisa of romantic comedies.

Rating: 8.2/10

Confession: I saw Annie Hall for the fourth time today and for the first time felt like it was better than Manhattan. The Manhattan review I had written in August says Manhattan was better than Annie Hall. As of now I am eating humble pie for that definitive claim in September. (Incidentally, also another Woody movie reviewed on this blog.)

Contrived Coincidence: Review #197 is a 1977 movie. A little bit by design, a little by accident.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

#196: 99

Cricket. Match-fixing. Small-time crooks. Ensemble cast. Befitting.

Cyrus Broacha! Kunal Khemu. Soha Ali. Boman Irani. Perfect.

Backdrop: India-South Africa real series. The year: 1999.

Raj, DK wrote, directed . Sita Menon, third writer credited.

"One big score" theme. Treated street-smart. Young and fresh.

Sharp script. Deft direction. Smooth performances. Always at you.

Romantic angle. Comedy. Deceit. Twists, turns. Its got all !

Neat, dark cameos by Vinod Khanna and Mahesh Manjrekar.

Overall, brilliant. Must watch. Massively underrated. A rare gem.

This review is meant as a tribute to 99.

11 lines, 9 words each. This movie, a peach !

Rating: 7.7/10

Friday, September 09, 2011

#195: Kites

Kites, released in 2010, is one more example of how inert Bollywood filmmakers are with respect to a storyline if they have a star on-board. Hrithik Roshan, is the star in this case and his dad (producer) and Anurag Basu (director) the filmmakers. It is unnerving to know that there are people out there willing to spend upto 60 crores on a script like this. If I start with the flaws in the movie, I might need a whole night. So I am just going to skip over them and come straight to the point.

Kites as a story is egregiously bad and its performers cluelessly insipid and hammy most of the time. The clincher is the lousy direction by Anurag Basu who is also one of the screenwriters along with Robin Bhatt and Akarsh Khurana. To add to it, and as irrelevant as this might seem, this has to be the most inappropriately named movie ever in Bollywood. I suspect, why its called Kites is a question even Conan Doyle would've struggled with.

Roger Ebert once said that you should never slam a movie completely in a review. Such reviews are supposed to be shallow and although such a shallow review befits a movie like Kites, I think I will give that advice some heed here. If I have to put down something nice about the movie, it would have to be Ayananka Bose's cinematography. Some of the shots are stylistically captured and the fast-paced action sequences are acceptably tight though it's still not going to take your breath away. And lastly, supporting actor Anand Tiwari. He is one lad who has impressed in every movie I have seen him in so far in and this one is no different.

Final word: Dissuade people from watching Kites. It will get you good karma points.

Rating: 1/10

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

#194: Kurbaan

Kurbaan for me is the perfect median Bollywood movie. Or rather the symbol of filmmakers' perception that an audience will buy on-screen stupidity as long as there's a glitzy star cast and some decent music. I specifically remember at the time when Kurbaan was being promoted, the trailers showed a lot of promise and for me it wasn't just because of those two factors but because this was Rensil D'Silva's first movie as a director. Rensil over the years in Bollywood had been a part of films as memorable as Rang De Basanti and even as incredibly bad as Luck. But the RDB connection made me wrongly assume that he would at least make us stand up and take notice if he was taking on a subject as complex as international terrorism.

I sometimes don't understand the need for writers in Bollywood to start a movie by showing how romance bloomed between two people. Especially if the movie is about another subject- terrorism in this case. Consequently, there's little logic in how the Avantika (Kareena) and Ehsan (Saif) meet and fall in love in Delhi University but we have to sit through it. The director might as well have inserted a title card stating the two were in love and we would've bought it but anyway I digress. The threads of the main plot start unravelling only once we get to know that Saif is actually a terrorist who is planning a monstrous attack in US. When Avantika's job takes her to USA, Ehsan tags along and starts working with his gang. And then one day Avantika discovers the real identity of her husband. Ehsan loses no time in house-arresting her but only partially. You see he is in love with her by now. Anyway, by now things are happening at a frenetic pace- new characters get introduced, bombs explode in planes and ordinary journalists like Riyaz (Vivek Oberoi) take it upon themselves to avenge their loved ones death.

If that last line read like a hotch-potch, I think I am getting close to describing the fabric of Kurbaan. A friend once mentioned that guys from advertising sometimes get some really good scenes shot in movies because by nature they're trained to get a 30 or a 60 second commercial spot on during that time. When it comes to movies, the habit sticks with them. So they might just excel in one particular sequence but when they start stitching these scenes for a 2.5 hour movie, the quality drops considerably. It is a good point but I guess for every Rensil D'Silva, we also have a Dibakar Banerjee so the jury might still be out there. In any case, Kurbaan suffers from this lacunae in abundance. There are a few gripping action sequences, tight dialogues and picturesque cinematography at different points in Kurbaan but overall the movie barely comes together.

Saif, Kareena and Vivek - the three main actors all work well, almost convincingly but the fact is that they work with a fractured script all along. Coming on the heels of the smartly made New York, a movie also based on terrorism in the US, Kurbaan needed to leap and set the bar higher. What it accomplished was nothing more than a hop over a bar that was a couple of notches lower.

Rating: 4.8/10

Monday, September 05, 2011

#193: Play it again, Sam

For all those fans of the Woody Allen-Diane Keaton chemistry, well this is where it all began. Play it Again, Sam was one of Woody's most successful plays that had the couple performing the central characters on-stage along with Tony Roberts and Jerry Lacy. When the decision to make this into a movie was taken, it was only natural that the four reprised their roles on-screen and thus began a legacy of the Allen-Keaton on-screen relationship.

Even if one rules out the reference to the immortal quote (which incidentally wasn't exactly such), it is quite obvious that Play it Again, Sam was Woody's tribute to the classic Casablanca. When protagonist Allan (Woody Allen) in the opening scene of the movie is sitting alone starry-eyed in a dim theater that's playing Casablanca, he not only speaks for himself but also sets the tone for the rest of the movie. His best friend busybody Dick (Tony Roberts) is a man eternally on the move for work and when a business trip takes him out of town, Allan starts hanging out with his wife, Linda (Keaton). At any time, we are not really sure if Allan is going to be with Linda by the end of the movie. That the movie hangs on to that single question and still retains your interest till the very end is quite remarkable. That feat is achieved primarily because of two people. The first is the brooding writer Allan, whose wife has left him and whose manic depression is the main sublet for humor in the movie. The second is the surprise character of Humphrey Bogart, essayed so very meticulously by Jerry Lacy.

Bogart is Allan's soul-mate in the movie, his favorite mentor, hero and critic. Whenever Allan is in a spot, he turns to Bogart for advise. This Calvin-Hobbes sort of a situation was weaved in seamlessly in the main love story and served as a unique instrument to evoke some laugh-out loud moments. Jerry Lacy's jaw-dropping impersonation of Bogart is the most appealing component about Play it Again, Sam even as glimpses of the sparkling chemistry between Keaton and Allen are very much on offer. Keaton slips in effortlessly as a woman who is feeling a bit short of attention from her husband played by Tony Roberts. Robert's character is consumed with work, even when he's home with Keaton and soon enough, unknown to him Keaton starts taking a liking to Allan. At 85 minutes, the movie is one of Allen's shortest and yet would rank as one of his most memorable screenplays because of its unusual on-screen character of Bogart.

Play it Again, Sam is a genuine but an unconventional ode to Casablanca. There were very few scripts that Woody Allen wrote and didn't direct beginning from the 70s. This was one of his last. It is said that Allen always wished to have complete control over the production, something he learnt the hard way with his bitter experiences on movies such as What's Up Pussycat and Casino Royale. However, it will have to be said that director Herbert Ross not only handled this quirky script adeptly but also gave us a wonderful movie to savor.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, September 04, 2011

#192: Chak De India

Kabir Khan (Shahrukh Khan), in Chak De India, is a former Indian hockey player, who takes up the coaching reins of the Indian women's hockey team. Kabir used to be a center forward and had once missed a match-winning penalty against Pakistan in an international tournament. The defeat brought about accusations of Kabir being a traitor and the media cited his religion as motive for his betrayal of the nation. Down and out of national reckoning as a player, seven years later, Kabir is one day called by one of his best friends to become the coach of the women's hockey team. It is a post that no one is willing to touch and it is a team that the federation itself doesn't believe in. Spurred on by the objective to exorcise his ghosts of the past, Kabir takes up the challenge. Chak De India unfolds what happens therafter.

When a team sport like hockey is chosen as a subject for a movie, the first point of pressure in pre-production goes straight and foremost to the casting director because of the number of characters involved. And it is right from here that the movie begins to delight you. With a host of interesting characters thrown in from all parts of India, Kabir Khan's passage of breaking ice with the players comprises the bulk of the first half. Some neatly etched characters like Chitrashi Rawat, Shilpa Shukla, Sagarika Ghatge and Anaita Nair are not only a breath of fresh air in terms of their girl-next door looks but also for their air-tight performances as proud and egoistic members of a national team. A special mention here is due for all the women who were coached by Mir Ranjan Negi to get the right posture and action for their on-field sequences. Jaideep Sahni's script moves from one melting point to another with consummate ease and there is a lovely emotional quotient that keeps hitting you with from time to time. For example, the match between the men's and the women's team is a sequence that is bound to leave a lump in your throat. It not only goes against the grain of what you're expecting but makes you believe it couldn't have been bettered. A couple of other sub-plots involving friction between the team members add an extra layer of drama that's infused seamlessly within the main story. By the time the second half arrives, director Shimit Amin has the audience rooting for the underdog women's team.

It is near impossible, that Shahrukh is ever going to better his performance as the wronged Kabir Khan out to redeem his lost honor. His restraint and desperation as an individual pulling out all stops to prove his detractors wrong touches you. It is one of those heart-warming performances and Shahrukh delivers with elan. That he had been a player for his college team in the past might have undoubtedly helped him get the passion part of the role neatly stitched. And for once in his entire career it was nice to see him not serenading women in chiffon sarees. It is also not often that one gets to see some realistic sporting action being shot in our movies and here full marks to the technical crew for getting some of those edge-of-the-seat moments spot on. At no point does it feel like the women are playing a match for filming. It seems that a match between real players is actually filmed and that difference is there for the audience to see. The only trick that I thought was missed out in Chak De India was a clear-cut redemption for its protagonist. This after all was a story about Kabir Khan and that part fell short of hitting a nerve.

Chak De India is India's first ever sports movie that is complete in all aspects. It had a true-life ring to it, a protagonist whose story was worth watching, some gripping hockey and an excellent supporting cast whose performances would stay with you for a long while. If there's anyone out there compiling a list of Bollywood's best, Chak De India's inclusion, I would imagine, would be a foregone conclusion.

Rating: 7.8/10

Saturday, September 03, 2011

#191: Le Doulos

Over the years, sifting through DVD libraries, online posters and sitting through opening credits of movies, I have come to believe that the most reassuring words that exist in cinema are 'Un Film de Jean-Pierre Melville' or its English equivalent- A film by Jean-Pierre Melville. Greater reviewers before me, much more accomplished film students and more importantly, acclaimed auteurs while documenting their choices of their favorite directors of all-time, somehow don't seem to share my sentiment. The Independent, in this regard did an interesting study on a list of directors and their favorite films. The article makes for a most fascinating reading. What stuns me about that list though is that just one of Melville's movie makes it to the list. Jim Jarmusch (God bless him) included Bob Le Flambeur in a compilation that had 18 directors mentioning their top ten lists. I don't know the reason for this anomaly but it irks me to know that no one else included Melville in their list. If I haven't clarified it enough, for the record, Melville would be in my top 3 list of the best directors of all-time even in my sleep. Even when I am hungover and hence here's an attempt to spread the word about one of the many classics from Melville's repertoire- Le Doulos.

Most people would point to Le Samourai or Bob Le Flambeur as his greatest achievement. The former perhaps rightly so but there are such gems that Melville has written and/or directed that each succeeded in leaving an indelible mark on my memory. Le Doulos is one such mark. As the opening frame of the movie tells us Doulos is slang for an informer in French, someone who works with criminals but in reality sides with the police on the sly by giving them information.

Jean-Paul Belmondo, as Silien is the police informer in Le Doulos and Serge Reggiani as small-time crook Maurice ends up on the wrong end of the law due to Silien's 'fingering'. Melville takes us on a rollercoaster journey of a hide-and-seek oneupmanship between these two redoubtable characters. Belmondo is mysterious, refined and characteristically stylish as Silien who is suspected as an informer by his enemies yet trusted blindly by his friends. One of his close friends happens to be Maurice, who has just been recently released from prison and is planning yet another house robbery. What Melville establishes wonderfully in Le Doulos without any sense of melodrama is the rapport between these key characters. He puts you on the edge with that singular relationship that churns in the movie with every passing minute. You're provided with hints of how their friendship might evolve but you work out yourself what its outcome might be. Melville's screenplay, adapted from a Pierre Lasou novel, immerses you with Maurice and Silien and some excellent bit-part players that include a police commissioner, Maurice's girlfriend and Jean, a close friend of both Silien and Maurice.

Melville was a great believer in the power of the cinematic frame and that is something that came across strongly in Le Samourai. Le Doulos is no different. The minimalistic shot-taking has a tremendous impact on those moments that are meant to shock you. This is a movie that I keep going back to from time to time to understand the endless possibilities of story telling, of well-defined characters and of the power of cinema to make you numb. I can only hope that someday, the legend of Le Doulos becomes awe-inspiring enough to be included in far many more lists of the greatest movies ever made.

It is such a pity it isn't already.

Rating: 8.4/10

Thursday, September 01, 2011

#190: Radio

Yes, I am laughing too as I am writing this.

I never thought that even in my most grotesque nightmare I would find myself watching a Himesh Reshamiyya movie but sometimes the craving to make fun of something gets the better of your senses. Radio was one such inspired choice.

You find out a few things as you go along the movie. One of those I will illustrate through an example. Imagine you're stuck on a deserted island and you have to choose Himesh the actor or Himesh the singer as your companion to bring you back to your home far away from this island that's beset with deadly beasts of the wild, foul smell and poisonous plants.The wise thing to do even in such a scenario would be to stay put on the island and struggle for means of survival.

I consider myself fairly aware about Bollywood but writer-director Ishaan Trivedi's filmography is a veritable treasure. He has previously written 7 1/2 Phere, Bachelor Party and Stop !. Bachelor Party is not yet rated on Imdb because at least five people need to vote for such a rating to appear.

The movie is a paradox of sorts. The scenes involving Sonal Sehgal and Shenaz Treasurywala crying are stuff of legends as far as comic timing is concerned. Just like Himesh's Ronan Keating impression of sitting on a bench and crooning, 'Jaaaannneeemann'.

The opening piece of that song is such a blatant rip-off of 'When you say nothing at all', that it might just spoil Keating's version for the rest of your life.

Carrying on from that point of paradox, there is a comic gag of an unsteady dish antenna atop a TV house that Himesh keeps climbing a ladder to set it such that the reception is clear inside the house. This act might just move you to tears.

I can't begin to fathom how Ishaan Trivedi in a moment of genius must've put those words in the screenplay.
"Himesh climbs the ladder irritated and shakes the antenna irritated. He shouts irritatingly and asks if the reception is clear. It irritates him even more but since it his girlfriend's house, he sees the humor in this. The family doesn't buy another dish antenna because then there would be no humor in Himesh's busy life as a radio professional." . This happens repeatedly in the movie and each time it is supposed to becomes more humorous.
I know what it becomes but I can't put those words on this blog.

Yes, there is one nice thing about the movie, a song called ' Piya jaise laadoo, motichoor laadoo' sung by Rekha Bharadwaj. Never understood the meaning but it does have a nice ring to it even though it opens with the most annoying piece of shehnai you will ever come across in this lifetime. And as irrelevant as this point might seem right now but Sonal Sehgal is pretty.

If anything, the two just about convince me to not award Radio a negative score on the rating scale.

There is another song called 'Zindagi jaise ek radio....' I don't know anything else that can sum up the movie more than the sheer intuitive ingenuity of that analogy.

Rating: 0/10