Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#249: The Insider

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

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

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

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

Rating: 10/10

Monday, November 28, 2011

#248: Bodyguard.

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

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

Rating: NA

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#247: Help

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10

#246: Kidnap

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

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

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

Rating: 1.1/10

Friday, November 25, 2011

#245: Short Films (Vol. 1)

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

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

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

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

#244: Paths of Glory

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

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

Thank you Humphrey Cobb, Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas.

Rating: 8.8/10

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#243: Reservoir Dogs

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

#242: Raavan

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5.9/10

Monday, November 21, 2011

#241: Beneath The Waves

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

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

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

Rating: 6.7/10

Sunday, November 20, 2011

#240: Rockstar

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

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

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

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

Rating: 6.3/10

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#239: Pulp Fiction

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.9/10

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8.4/10

Monday, November 14, 2011

#237: Golmaal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8.7/10

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#236: The Adventures of Tintin (3D)

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, November 10, 2011

#235: No Entry

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

Rating: 0/10

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

#234: Wake Up Sid

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.7/10

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

#233: Sarkar

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.6/10

Sunday, November 06, 2011

#232: Kiss Me Deadly

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.1/10

Saturday, November 05, 2011

#231: Johnny Gaddar

A classic of our times. And timeless.

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

A film for a connoisseur. And atheists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9.5/10

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

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

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

#230: The Stoneman Murders

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

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

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

Rating: 7.4/10