Monday, October 31, 2011

#229: Soundtrack

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, October 30, 2011

#228: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.2/10

Saturday, October 29, 2011

#227: Pyar Ka Punchnama

Pyar Ka Punchnama set the industry abuzz when earlier this year they continued to play in screens much longer that the so-called big-budget movies. At one time, I remember it had a couple of shows in Mumbai, even in its fifth week of release. If anything, it was yet another of those flickering hopes that despite no star appeal, a good movie's word-of-mouth publicity will ensure a successful run. To that, we can raise a toast because not every low-budget-no-frills movie meets the same fate.

PKP is written and directed by debutant Luv Ranjan and is a movie about three friends whose lives are turned upside down because of their girlfriends. Movies with multiple leads require sharp and precise characterization and Ranjan almost delivers with the sketches of his six key characters. Standing out among them all is Divyendu Sharma who plays the role of Liquid, a spectacled geek at work who has fallen for his co-worker Charu (Ishita Sharma). Divyendu is a show-stealer with his quick and mostly expletive-ridden wit while Ishita portrays the selfish Charu fairly well. Nishant's other friends Vikrant (Rayo Bakhirta) and Rajat (Kartik Tiwari) are at similar life-changing turns with respect to their personal lives and while Vikrant is the calmest of the three, Rajat is the simpleton who can only dance to the tunes of his girlfriend Neha (Nushrat Bharucha). In a funny monologue, Rajat encapsulates all that is wrong in relationships because of his experience of living-in with Neha. It is a long but an amusing piece of dialgoue and Ranjan's writing skills do come to the fore with this particular piece.

The movie had eight songs that slowed down the pace whenever things were getting interesting. One could relate to the three characters and in many ways the film unfolds as a middle-class man's Dil Chahta Hain. What's nice to note is that it is not a pale imitation particularly the male bonding part that has its own identity. The film had me hooked for the first thirty minutes with the jokes flying thick and fast but once the relationship angle got involved, it lost its charm. And with due respect to the work put in by the newcomers, one can't help but sense that with more experienced actors, the film would've emerged even better. Having said that, there's no doubt that there was enough promise in every scene both from a technical and a performance point of view in the movie.

There has got to some common sense involved when a new director makes a movie with 6 newcomers. My first instinct will be to think that 6 newcomers will probably not have enough spunk to last the standard Hindi film duration of 150 minutes. I would hence be wont to restrict the duration of such a movie to 120 odd minutes perhaps. But Pyar Ka Punchnama, a male bonding rom-com that begins as a breezy watch pays no heed to such logical nuances and extends to a hefty 149 minutes. That in retrospect is sad, because if it was shorter by 30 minutes, PKP would've been a good fun watch. In it's current form, it does provide the laughs but only is just about worth a watch.

Rating: 5.4/10

Friday, October 28, 2011

#226: Faust

MAMI 2011 Review Series: To read the first one click here.

Year: 2011

Director: Alexander Sokurov

Gist: Based on Goethe's and Dr. Thomas Mann's interpretation of legend of Faust. Sokurov's final film in a series of three, exploring the theme of corruption.

Script: Faust's life and times beautifully captured on camera - nothing less and nothing more to it excepting a few liberties in the interpretation. The storyline has a nice rhythm built within and enough moments to surprise in between.

Acting: Stupendous by Johannes Zeiler as Faust and Anton Adasinsky as Mephistopheles. Faust's character goes from doubt to romance to conviction to redemption and Zeiler has mapped all those moods out in perfect harmony. Adasinsky as the sinister moneylender works his way through Faust and the audience alike. Can't really say, that there was anyone else who wasn't upto the mark either.

Filmmaking craft: One of the best shot movies and full credit to DOP Bruno Delbonnel ( Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) who unleashes his full range of expertise. Some fabulous sets bring in the period touch flawlessly. About the storytelling, I am not so sure because I did think there were a few moments when the movie dragged on. The movie spoke to me from a high plane and I did wonder if a more simplistic version would've been the way around. But then again the beauty of Faust's legend was his complex character so maybe, Sokurov's version was the way to go about.

What I must confess here is that I have neither read the base material or seen the other film versions to deliver a more comprehensive verdict.

Piece de resistance moments: The opening and closing scenes. Unbeatable.

In a nutshell: Enjoyed watching it.

Rating: 6.9/10

Thursday, October 27, 2011

#225: A Decent Arrangement

MAMI 2011 Review Series: To read the first one click here.

Year: 2011

Director: Sarovar Banka

Gist: A Indian-born American Ashok (Adam Laupus) returns to his home town in Chandigarh. A Decent Arrangement is the story of his adventures towards the pursuit of an Indian bride in a land he is returning to after years.

Script: It takes time to establish the context of it all but once its done, the story chugs along merrily. There's more than a trace of predictability but one could say that the performances carry the movie home. Banka liberally and rightfully uses humor in serious exchanges between the characters to keep the story alive and kicking and it works.

Acting: To begin with, as an audience we don't see any jarring out-of-place characters. As a result, we gladly partake the actors as shown to us. Adam Laupus as the lead is a witless, almost boring individual who doesn't quite know what he wants out of his prospective bride. Shabani Azmi and Vikram Kapadia do leave a mark in their roles as the conservative aunt and the happy-go-lucky father of the groom. Lethia Nall who has such an uncanny resemblance to Amy Adams is passable in a cameo.

Filmmaking craft: Admirable for a first time director. Once Banka sets the premise, he takes us on a ride that is relatable in more ways than one. A particular scene of a vegetable vendor arguing with Shabana Azmi is straight out of anyone's life who has been out with their mother shopping. Such realism is abundant in A Decent Arrangement and that is the movie's core strength. The photography is simplistic and well-suited for the story. If anything, the movie could've picked up some pace and wrapped up fifteen minutes earlier.

Piece de resistance moments: None.

In a nutshell: An enjoyable watch.

Rating: 6.3/10

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#224: Adaminte Makan, Abu

MAMI 2011 Review Series: To read the first one click here.

Year: 2011

Director: Salim Ahamed

Gist: Adaminte Makan, Abu is a Malayalam film about an old and poor perfume seller Abu (Salim Kumar) whose last wish before dying is to visit Haj. Abu strives hard to put together the resources. Will he make it ?

Script: A touching story with a universal theme put together with a great deal of sincerity by first time filmmaker Salim Ahamed. Such single track stories sometimes have a lacunae of being too simple but Ahamed layers it well with enough interesting characters like sawmill owner (Kalabhavan Mani), village teacher (Nedumudi Venu) and a most enigmatic wise man called Ustad (Thampi Antony) . The characters provide an assured sense of depth to the story and all the while contributing to the protagonist's cause. A particular track about Ustad has a keen hint of sagely foretelling that you are not sure if is either all hogwash or enlightened wisdom and therein lies yet another impressive facet of the script.

Acting: It couldn't have got better. Salim Kumar as Abu leads a glamor-less cast with wife Aisu (Zarina Wahab). As the frail but staunch believer of Allah, Salim Kumar works into your heart with his seemingly simple but going by his financial means, audacious attempt to garner resources for going to Haj. Zarina Wahab as the empathetic wife is flawless and so are all the bit part characters. Kumar, who is otherwise a regular slapstick comedian in the Malayalam industry, very deservedly won the Best Actor at the National Awards for his role.

Filmmaking craft: The most remarkable thing about Adaminte Makan, Abu is that its a story conceived, put together and filmed by a first-time director. The emotional touch in the story overwhelms you without being overbearing or preachy. Abu is a simple, harmless and a nice man and his near idealistic portrayal doesn't bother you. His ordeals in his planning for his pilgrimage are spread evenly through the movie and no sooner than you realize, you are rooting for the protagonist. Add to that, some stunning photography by Madhu Ambat that completes this accomplished piece of filmmaking.

Piece de resistance moments: Numerous. Watch it to know them.

In a nutshell: I haven't caught much of the recent regional cinema but if this is the quality being dished out by the winners of Best Picture National Awards, kudos to the health of regional cinema in India. Shot entirely digitally, Adaminte Makan, Abu is symbolic of the zenith of independent filmmaking in India.

Rating: 7.8/10

Sunday, October 23, 2011

#223: Skyskraber

MAMI 2011 Review Series: To read the first one click here.

Year: 2010

Director: Rune Schiott

Gist: A teenager with an oppressive father attempts to help a blind her get rid of her virginity.

Script: In an interaction session after the movie, Schiott mentioned that the story was mostly autobiographical. And as outlandish some of the things might seem, those reel-life incidents shown were actually true. For example, the script had a premise that ranged from a teenager getting his foreskin operated upon by his mother who is a vet so that it wouldn't pain him while having sex (a supposed medical condition). These and many more such bewildering incidents keep jolting you from time to time. Once you've sat in the hall, there's no escaping the seemingly funny but seriously painful situations the protagonists find themselves in. There's a love story brewing in there too amidst all this. So overall, a weird but breezy storyline.

Acting: A very convincing portrayal of a blind girl by Marta Holm who plays Edith, a gullible sweet girl who can't wait to get rid of her virginity and an equally adept performance by the lead actor Lukas Schwartz who plays the teenager Jon. The other members of Jon's and Edith's family pull in their weight and give the movie a heightened sense of believability.

Filmmaking craft: Can't fault much. Smooth narrative, some pretty shots from time to time and a lovely background score.

Piece de resistance moments: Quite a few shocking moments that will make you cringe in your seat, the piece of cake being Jon's foreskin being operated upon by his mother and the subsequent recuperative process.

In a nutshell: If you don't get grossed out easily, you will enjoy this.

Rating: 6.7/10

Saturday, October 22, 2011

#222: The Whistleblower

MAMI 2011 Review Series: To read the first one click here.

Year: 2011

Director: Larysa Kondracki

Gist: A movie based on a true account of UN Peacekeeping officer Kathryn Bolkovac's (Rachel Weisz) tenure in Bosnia that led her to unearthing a sex-trafficking racket.

Script: A promising debut by Larysa Kondracki and Ellis Karwan who write the screenplay. Considering the fact that the writers didn't have a book to go by ( the script was ready by 2005, a final book was published in 2011) and had to rely on their interactions with real-life Kathryn, it is a commendable effort. A glitch is the personal side of the protagonist that somewhere in between the movie slips into oblivion. Some finishing touches there and we would have had a work of art like The Insider.

Acting: An outstanding performance by Rachel Weisz with a role that allows her to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Weisz enhances her already creditable reputation as an actress with a role that has her in police uniform through and through- not glamorous but very gritty. David Straitharn's cameo (Good Night and Good Luck) was the only other memorable performance in the movie and that's not because the others weren't good but because there wasn't a very clear antagonist standing up to Rachel Weisz. Its that whole system versus the individual bit and understandably its the individual's story that makes the connect with you.

Filmmaking craft: The filmmakers adopt a conventional storytelling approach and hold your attention. It has a predictable curve of events that keep coming at you but the execution is laced with bits of suspense that makes it all fairly gripping.

Piece de resistance moments: The climax- a luscious cherry on the cake of a good movie until then was about average. Its the kind of ending that lifts the movie by more than just a couple of notches.

In a nutshell: Watch it for Rachel's superb performance and the glittering ending.

Rating: 7.1/10

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#221: Margin Call

MAMI 2011 Review Series: To read the first one click here.

Year: 2011

Director: J.C. Chandor

Gist: 24 hours spent with a team from an investment banking firm just before a full-blown recession hits USA.

Script: Tight, fast-paced and gripping. One couldn't ask more from a script that's broadly based out of one single location. Such uni-locale stories require enough plot points to keep the interest of the audience going and Margin Call has them in abundance. This is Chandor's first feature length script and yet it feels like its the work of a seasoned practitioner. The swift exchanges, corporate insults and jargon fly back and forth effortlessly through the movie and have enough spunk to keep you hooked to the action in the movie.

Acting: Top-class! Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany lead the performers with the dry portrayals of two corporate bigwigs who have made enough hay in the sunshine of the financial sector boom. Another convincing supporting act is by Simon Baker but if there's anyone who is a show stealer in the movie, it is Jeremy Irons. As the CEO of the company, he has to pull off a tough act in tough times and he nails it. The rookie analysts in the movie, played by Penn Badgeley and Zachary Quinto aren't bad either and have in fact a fair bit to contribute to the storyline. If there's anyone who looks a little out of place, it is Demi Moore.

Filmmaking craft: The best thing I loved about Margin Call is that certain mood that it encapsulates from the very first scene. That feel is kept consistent right through the movie and gives it an impending sense of doom. The cinematography backs this feel to the hilt and that surely lifts the movie by a couple of notches. The storytelling is on the ball too at all times and Chandor doesn't give a moment's respite to his audience to feel restless. In terms of a genre, it probably occupies that grey space in the middle of thriller and a drama and makes the best of both worlds.

Piece de resistance moments: Quite a few. To begin with the entire Jeremy Irons cameo, the boardroom discussions and a couple of brilliantly captured moments with Kevin Spacey.

In a nutshell: Undoubtedly, one of the best movies of the year, nothing marginal about it.

Rating: 7.5/10

Monday, October 17, 2011

#220: The Slut

MAMI 2011 Review Series: To read the first one click here.

Year: 2011

Director: Hagar Ben Ashar

Gist: How far should a woman really go for her sexual needs ?

Script: Written by the director herself, The Slut is a movie about a 31-year old woman named Tamara's undying desire to express her sexuality. By the end of it, I wasn't entirely sure if such a woman necessarily should be classified as a slut but that's exactly the question the writer wants us to ask. The movie is a feature length version of Hagar's short film titled Pathways.

Acting: Like a lot of indies, Hagar the director plays the title character and does full justice to the role of a fairly young mother relentless in her pursuit of fulfilling her sexuality. Roles as bold as these require immense doses of courage and conviction and Hagar infuses her character with adequate helpings of both. A key supporting act by Ishai Golan who plays Hagar's boyfriend Shai in the movie is neatly essayed too.

Filmmaking craft: The sex scenes required to be aesthetically done and Hagar is on top of her craft in this regard. An extended scene of her love making with her boyfriend is lustfully but delicately portrayed. The editing and the cinematography by Asaf Korman and Amit Yasour are equally adept and bring the subtle charms of a small Israeli town to the fore. There's some deft usage of symbolic references that serve the storytelling well. On the flip side, the movie could've tighter in the first half an hour and the ending doesn't really end up provoking one enough to make it memorable.

Piece de resistance moments: The sex scene between Tamara and Shai- as erotic as any sex scene one can see on film.

In a nutshell: Almost a good movie.

Rating: 6.1/10

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#219: Le Vendeur (The Salesman)

MAMI 2011 Review Series: To read the first one click here.

Year: 2011

Director: Sebastian Pilote

Gist: Fifteen days in the life of an old but skilled car salesman in a community whose major source of employment, a paper mill is on the verge of closure.

Script: Written by Sebastian Pilote, the movie is a sensitive story with themes of old-age and corporate business motives merging in a small town. Nominated in the International Competition section this year, Le Vendeur is an empathetic tale of survival.

Acting: Two thumbs up to the lead actor Gilbert Sicotte who plays the protagonist Marcel Levesque. Marcel is a charming, witty and an expert salesman who knows his ways around selling his cars. His wealth of experience has seen him through many a season but this particular year he is tested to the hilt. Sicotte captures the essence of the character and deserves nothing less than full marks for his acting. The other bit part players seem very believable as the director gives them a small-townish touch.

Filmmaking craft: Top-notch. The story's fairly linear and simple and the editing and cinematography don't try any tricks to make you believe there's more to it. The story moves at a pace that keeps you interested. Maybe, a particularly extended scene in a bar of people singing the only excess but a moving touch towards the end might still make you forget there was such a thing.

Piece de resistance moments: These have to be the scenes when Marcel is going about impressing customers with his knowledge of cars. A particular scene has the customer asking for a blue car and Marcel's response is something that will resonate with you in an instant.

In a nutshell: Catch it !

Rating: 7.1/10

Saturday, October 15, 2011

#218: Boy Meets Girl

Beginning with this movie, for the next 10 days, I will attempt to review movies being screened at the MAMI fest this year. I am following a format similar to my Decalogue reviews. The ratings, however, as in the case of Decalogue are not relative of each other.

Year: 1984

Director: Leos Carax

Gist: A boy and a girl who have both been recently dumped meet each other at a party.

Script: Weak and staid. You're waiting for something to happen and by the time it does, the movie's lost you.

Acting: The lead pair of Dennis Lavant and Mirelle Perrier are convincing in their depressive manner of going about their business after being dumped. Dennis in particular who seems to be have maniacal streaks now and again has a sense of unpredictability about him that keeps you guessing.

Filmmaking craft: Leos Carax takes an awful amount of time to establish the connect between the boy and the girl and by that time, you've almost lost faith in the film's ability to hold your attention. One can't help but notice a Godard-ish touch to the whole affair especially the long conversations. Some of the frames are captured nicely by DOP Jean-Yves Escoffier and the film's black and white filming gives it that forlorn mood.

Piece de resistance moments: None.

In a nutshell: At 99 minutes, not worth your time

Rating: 3/10

Friday, October 14, 2011

#217: Moneyball

It is hard to believe that Moneyball is just director Bennett Miller's second movie. But then when going through the credits one comes across the screenplay writers as Steve Zaillian (A Civil Action, Schindler's List, Gangs of New York) and Aaron Sorkin ( A Few Good Men, The American President, Social Network), you know where the crux of material for the film is coming from. It eases you into believing that while Miller has undoubtedly done a fine job of telling a true story, he had Zallian and Sorkin for company and these are people who don't miss a beat when it comes to writing.

Based on a book of the same name by Michael Lewis, Moneyball is about a baseball player Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who in his teenage years was convinced that he should follow his dream of baseball ahead of pursuing a Stanford degree. It was a big decision influenced by a talent scout who led Beane into believing that he was a good player who could make it big in the league. After much deliberation, Beane gives up the Stanford degree only to become a shadow of the player he thought he would be in the professional league. Over a five-year term, he moves across teams only to fail everywhere and in his mid-40s finds himself managing the mid-rung league team of Oakland A's. By the end of 2001 season, Beane is losing players to higher salaries offered by other teams and the team owners won't let him have more money. A chance meeting takes him to a rookie analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who has a got a great sense of numbers in judging players. With his tight budget, Beane sees value in hiring a man who treats players like stocks of companies on the Wall Street. And there begins a change in the A's team lineup. Moneyball is a heartwarming story of that change in the setup of Oakland A's led by Billy Beane and Peter Brand in the 2002 season of MLB.

Brad Pitt's stellar performance makes Moneyball his story and over the course of two hours we start empathizing with his character's ambition to be the best in the league or to win the last game of the season as he calls it. Pitt is matured, measured and meticulous as Billy Beane and he has us hooked. His fastidious character finds in Peter Brand a merciless judge of players and that suits Billy who is looking to make the best of his limited budgets. Jonah Hill's character of Brand impresses upon Billy Beane the need to look into statistics and value-for-money players and together they embark on a cleanup act of the team that raises many eyebrows. Jonah Hill's Peter Brand act is a scene-stealer from the very first conversation he has with Brad Pitt. He is nonchalant, caricaturish and ruthless at different times and each of his scenes are sheer fun to watch. A particular scene with Brad Pitt, when the two are in the midst of trading players sitting on a deadline must rank as one of the best scenes in movies this year. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the team coach has a limited impact on the storyline and is one character whose conflicts with this new system could've been brought out sharper. Being a sports movie, Moneyball required some realistic filming and Wally Pfister's cinematography delivers with the art direction team who bring out the atmosphere of a baseball season quite effortlessly.

Moneyball is the best Hollywood movie I have seen all year and will surely get Pitt and Jonah Hill nominated for the Oscars. It's that one unmissable movie of the year that after it has ended makes you wish it was a bit longer. It is a treat for anyone who likes biographies or sport movies or underdog stories. Now, everyone out there should surely fall into one of those three categories. Or let's just say it is one hell of a home run !

Rating: 7.8/10

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#216: Chandni Chowk To China

You'll feel more comfortable sitting in your seat with red ants in your boxers than seeing this one from start to finish.

I came across a new term today mentioned by none other than an illustrious filmmaker about a certain genre of movies called 'brain-fucked movies' that exist not just in India but everywhere else in the world. And I am not kidding, Chandni Chowk to China is the name that came to mind.

Deepika Padukone could've been the visual relief in the movie but the filmmakers decided to make her a warrior and gave her a terribly mismatched Chinese look to spoil even that one potential good thing about the movie.

There's a potato-worship angle in the movie. (That's right!)

The ending indicated there might be a sequel. Let's hope for the greater good of humanity that we don't live to see the day.

Rating: 0/10

Sunday, October 09, 2011

#215: Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster

First things first, this is not a remake of the Gurudutt film Sahib, Biwi Aur Ghulam.. At best, it takes a couple of key characters from the old classic and places them in a modern but semi-rural India. So, the haveli still makes a return as does a philandering Saheb (Jimmy Shergill). What's different is we have a morally loose wife played by Mahie Gill and instead of the earnest Ghulam, there's a new character named Bablu who plays a lovestruck Gangster (Randeep Hooda).

Written by Sanjay Chauhan and Tigmanshu Dhulia, the film's story begins with the first signs of a power struggle between Saheb and an emerging rival Gaenda Singh (Vipin Sharma) who is fighting Saheb tooth and nail for new infrastructure contracts. We see Saheb as a figure villagers fear and respect but deep inside Saheb is worried about him not having any great material fortunes left. While for Saheb, winning these contracts is a matter of finding funds for his extravagant lifestyle, for Gaenda Singh it is a matter of seeing Saheb ground to dust. We're soon introduced to Mahie Gill who very clearly is not Saheb's favorite woman because he chooses to spend his nights with another lady Mahua (Shreya Narayan). Biwi comes across as an epileptic/psychotic lady with burdens of a past that don't come to fore until the second half of the movie. Randeep Hooda, the gangster working as Gaenda Singh's mole, is assigned as Biwi's driver for a short period and that leads to a simmering romance between the two. With only her mute caretaker (Sonal Joshi) as her confidante, Biwi spends most of her time drinking. By the second half, the story moves towards resolving the romantic liaisons and the rivalry between Gaenda Singh and Saheb.

The good thing about the first half of SBAG is it's fast paced screenplay thats flits between the lives of these key characters seamlessly. The characterization is neatly established and and topped with the cherry of a powerful performance by Jimmy Shergill. He must count as one of the most credible and underrated actors of the industry today. The enigma of Biwi's character is brought out neatly by Mahie Gill and hers is the character arc that leads the story in the second half. Randeep Hooda packs in a punch with his joker-in-the-pack act and with words such as "Mauka-tarian" (opportunistic) thrown in to describe his character, he's given a free hand by the writers. Overall, the performances including those by the supporting cast of Vipin Sharma, Deep Raj Rana and Deepal Shaw don't disappoint one bit. Where SBAG misses a beat is the last fifteen minutes where too many things begin to happen too quickly. The power struggle and the romantic angle predicatbly get intertwined but don't resolve themselves satisfactorily. Dhulia's storytelling right uptil that point is top-notch. Dhulia, as is his forte, also brings in that old-world feel of verbal one-upmanship that's so missing in our movies these days and does give us his audiences some of those whistle-moments.

I have noticed that Dhulia in spite of his commendable pursuit to wean away from the ordinary somehow seems to lack that final knockout blow that makes a movie truly memorable. This is the second movie of his I saw this year after Shagird and I saw a similar lacuna with that movie too. Nonetheless, SBAG is well-worth your time and money. Just don't book the gold-class for this one though.

Rating: 6.5/10

Saturday, October 08, 2011

#214: Into the Wild

There have been numerous instances of literary references being used to propel a film. And while in a few movies, such digressions seem out of place, Into The Wild absorbs all these references seamlessly into its screenplay. Sometimes used as the voice of the protagonist and sometimes to describe the beauty of nature, these quotable quotes work in sync with the storyline all the time. Based on the book of the same name, Into The Wild the movie, plays out like a poem being recited on-screen by it's various players.

It gives us a sweeping glance into the life of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who after his graduation donates his savings towards charity and sets off on a journey to explore nature. That is to put it very mildly because his journey takes him through waterfalls, flash floods, hitchhiking, trekking and culminates after two years with a sojourn in the wild world of Alaska. Christopher aces his studies but wants to lead his life without encumbrances- material or familial and embarks on this journey with inspiration derived from his favorite literary authors, the quotes of whom we hear in Christopher's voice. Sean Penn adapts the book written by Jon Krakaeur and in the process reaches his directorial zenith with the movie. There are moments of such elegance in the opening of the film that the storytelling at times gives way to the aesthetic brilliance of the visuals put into perfection by DOP Eric Gautier. Like Castaway, there were quite a few moments where nothing really happens on-screen except that as a viewer we're placed in the mind of the protagonist and we discover the thrill of nature along with him. Eddie Vedder's soulful music meanwhile works as the perfect accompaniment on this delightful journey.

While the movie has a strong supporting cast with a host of actors floating in and out during Christopher's journey, it is Emile Hirsch with whom we form an emotional connection. His rationale seems absurd at first but as we traverse along with him, we start seeing a part of our own quest for happiness in him. Hirsch is so brilliant, I wonder if he'll ever better this performance. And yet, the best of Into the Wild is its poignant ending. Into The Wild at 148 minutes might seem a tad lengthy but the ending is what nails it. It justified everything that was leading up to it and I would've no problems sitting with it over and over again in spite of it's apparent long duration.

Into the Wild is that peach of a movie you should set aside for a Sunday afternoon when you're cursing yourself for not having done enough with your life. This might just make you spring into action.

Rating: 8.1/10

Friday, October 07, 2011

#213: Death of a President

I didn't so much get the point about Death of a President although in terms of the 90-odd minutes it took, it didn't bore me. Although in terms of a genre, it can be categorized as a mockumentary, there's not enough "mocking" to make you stand up and take notice.

Directed by Gabriel Range, Death of a President is a fictional account of President Bush's assassination and the administration's high-handed approach to bringing the culprits to book. There are fictional characters from groups such as the Secret Service, which is supposed to guard the President, the FBI, the suspects and the families of those involved. In terms of the look and styling, the movie scores high enough. The scenes seem very real and some great CG even shows President Bush getting shot and going down amidst a crowd of people. What's a little hard to digest is the content of those fictional interviews.

There's no doubt that the story keeps moving with a good pace but there's something ludicrous in the filmmakers wanting to make you believe something that never happened. And my conclusion of why it doesn't arrest you enough is because of a good final punch towards the end that the film sorely lacked. One can see the effort put in by screenwriters Simon Finch and Gabriel Range to keep the story interesting but it never reaches a peak and nosedives with a soft ending.

Death of a President will satisfy your anti-Bush hunger only to an extent. The movie obviously tried to capitalize on the tirade that went across the globe when Bush launched his war on Iraq and Afghanistan but falls short of really making you hate the administration like the way Michael Moore does. I thought that should've been the point of the movie but somehow that part never clicked leaving it as a half-baked potboiler, at best.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

#212: Taare Zameen Par

Much of the pre-release talk about TZP was related to the rancor between the writer and supposed director Amole Gupte and Aamir Khan. It was said that Aamir saw clear differences in the way he wanted the subject treated and the way Gupte wanted the film to emerge. Being the producer, Aamir Khan eventually had his way and became a director while Gupte was credited as the writer and creative director. We don't know what was the final straw that broke the back of that relationship but what it does tell us is how these two men so dearly felt about the film and that it was a subject that neither wanted to let go off creatively. We will never know how Gupte might've treated it but we do know that he would've had a near impossible task to better what Aamir finally did with Taare Zameen Par.

TZP's story in one line can be put down to life as experienced by an 8-year old dyslexic child. It takes us through the fears, insecurities, travails and moments of happiness for a boy called Ishaan (Darsheel Safary). He lives in a world of his own where numbers and letters of the alphabet don't make any sense to him. Instead, colors and drawings have a special import to his existence. This particular characterization is brought out most convincingly in the first half and the song "Mera Jahaan" captures it most effectively. Darsheel Safary plays the innocent and everybody's butt-of-jokes Ishaan commendably. Its the kind of performance that will evoke empathy in even in a stone. In a rare occurrence, a star of Aamir Khan's stature comes billed second in the credits and makes an appearance only once half the movie is over. Aamir's act as the selfless teacher Nikumbh is typically assured and near perfect. Supporting acts by Ishaan's parents, teachers and his sole friend Tanay Chheda all merge in seamlessly within the main storyline. A cameo by Bugs Bhargava as the English teacher is the one that's most memorable.

We see a combination of good old-school photography combined with the slick by DOP Setu. Shankar Ehsaan Loy's music builds an apt mood of impending depression in the first half and the movie finds itself capitalizing on a fine musical denouement in the climax. In fact, on the director's commentary in the DVD there is a mention of how no one agreed with Aamir's point of view on the song that was to go in the final scene and yet when you see the movie, this is one scene that is guaranteed to give you a lump in your throat. I don't know anyone who said that he or she didn't get affected by that one scene. Hearing Aamir give his reasons why he went with the scene the way he did will make you respect the creative choices he made as a director. Infact, in more than a couple of scenes you will see how Aamir brings together the best of what the DOP and editor Deepa Bhatia had to offer. An example is the scene where Ishaan is seen crying all by himself in the hostel bathroom- soul-stirring stuff.

Taare Zameen Par very deservedly went on to become one of the biggest hits in Bollywood ever and won accolades all over the world and in India. I say deservedly because in India often big hits don't necessarily mean good cinema but this was nothing less than a fantastic film backed by heartfelt performances. It is also one of those rare Indian movies where everything from music to photography to editing came together and clicked. And last but the least, the two men who made it click, the very humane writing of Amole Gupte and the guiding directorial genius of Aamir Khan. This is a must-watch. To say anything less, would be demeaning the movie.

Rating: 8.2/10

Sunday, October 02, 2011

#211: One, Two, Three

James Cagney, the original angry young man takes a departure from his forte and jumps head-on into this Billy Wilder comedy made in 1961. Wilder teams up with I.A.L Diamond, his long standing screenwriting partner once again as the two draw a fine adaptation of a Hungarian play from the 1920s and set it against the backdrop of Cold War of the 1960s in Berlin.

Cagney plays McNamara, a crafty senior official of the Coca-Cola company, an undeniable symbol of thriving American capitalist tendencies in the Berlin of early 60s. McNamara had been passed over for promotion in the company once in spite of a clean record and all he is looking for now is to make the next appraisal count. His dream work destination is London, a place at odds with his family who want to go back to their hometown in Atlanta. While McNamara carefully plots his strategy towards his professional goal of London, his boss' teenage daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) visits Europe and McNamara gladly accepts to take care of her. His intention is to use this as yet another tool to impress his boss. It doesn't turn out to be such a smart move when Scarlett falls in love with a firebrand but a comical socialist Otto (Hurst Bucholz). And suddenly McNamara now finds himself laden with three unenviable tasks- of securing his promotion, ensuring that his family doesn't desert him and hoping that his boss' daughter gives up Otto.

Billy Wilder superbly uses the real context of the Cold War and weaves through numerous gags in his screenplay producing what to my mind is a movie far funnier than the more acclaimed Some Like It Hot. It is a delightful surprise to see Cagney pull off a role that was tailor-made for someone like a Jack Lemmon. Cagney's character doesn't take himself seriously and pulls you towards his lofty ambitions and opportunistic morals The movie revolves around McNamara even as other funny characters such as Schlemmer, McNamara's trusted secretary (Hanns Lothar) are making you laugh every time they come on-screen. The exchanges between the boss and the secretary are particularly side-splitting. Hurst Bucholz's Otto naturally comes across as a self-obssesed idealist living in his own world and while that helps his character, he is still the weakest link in the movie. That the writers struggled in this one section where McNamara is preparing Otto for meeting Scarlett's parents doesn't help matters either. That part lingers on endlessly towards the second half of the movie and could've been either presented or edited better. But barring those 10-15 minutes, One, Two, Three is one breeze of a movie.

For some reason when people talk about Wilder, One, Two, Three isn't one of the top names that springs to people's minds. The fact is it should because of its effortless wit, inventive gags and memorable characters. If anything, it is yet another testament to Wilder's genius that he could make something like this and yet it would struggle to find a place in most Wilder top three lists.

Rating: 7.7/10

#210: Drive

The most creditable thing to note about the 2011 American movie Drive is that it won its director Nicholas Winding Refn the Best Director Award at Cannes. When a director makes such an elite list that features names like Bresson, Bergman, Truffaut, Scorcese and Wong Kar-Wai one can't help but be curious of what might have Winding Refn conjured to become a part of that list. The answer to my mind is 'just enough'.

Drive is essentially an action film replete with car chases, killings and money to be won at the end of the day. The lead character is an unnamed Driver played by Ryan Gosling who is a stunt double by day and a racer by night who helps burglars plan their getaway after a job. He stays alone and life is fairly listless except the presence of an elder garage owner Shannon (Bryan Cranston) at whose place the driver also works from time to time. Shannon is keen to have the Driver race in a competition and takes monetary assistance from the shady business duo of Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman). The Driver meanwhile finds a romantic interest in his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) whose husband Standard (Oscar Issac) has just been released from prison. Irene's husband owes some money to a set of crooks who ask him to rob a pawn shop. Standard is reluctant but knowing that Irene's and their son's life maybe in danger if he says no, agrees to take the job with help from the Driver.

The job goes horribly wrong and after the boring first 40 minutes of the movie, Amein Hosseini's adapted screenplay from thr James Saliis novel takes an exciting turn. It picks up a frenetic paces as the Driver takes the reins of action in his hands. He unravels the reasons behind the mess up at the robbery and comes across one revelation after another. While Irene's character takes a backseat, it becomes clear that the motivation for the Driver's involvement in this high-stake chase of the unknown, is his own love and affection for her. Ryan Gosling does well for his steely character that was reminiscent of Luc Besson's Leon. Winding Refn does extract equally strong performances from the rest of the cast even as the purposive ruthlessness of Albert Brooks' performance gives the movie an added edge. Drive is filmed beautifully by Newton Thomas Segel (Usual Suspects, X-Men, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and in spite of the sporadic scenes of action and violence retains a subtext of human emotion in the shots.

Drive requires some patience to get used to its idea but it holds your attention once the plot starts unfolding. I had a miserable time sitting through it for the first half an hour but after a pivotal car chase, one sees enough potential to be wide awake for the rest of the movie. It also has a smartly filmed climax that's let down slightly by a weak ending but overall Drive indeed does enough to merit a recommend.

Rating: 6.4/10