Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#264: Don 2

The legend of Farhan Akhtar was perhaps beginning to be too good to be true. Here is a man who could lay claim to being the modern day Gurudutt. Writer, Actor, Director and even a singer. If Luck by Chance was just chance, Rock On wasn't. And ZNMD surely wasn't. These were all films that Farhan was making a mark with just his acting and we all knew his first and foremost skills lie in being a a director. So how good was he going to be ? Better than Dil Chahta Hain ? With the slick first edition of the new Don he kept us guessing as to how good the second edition could potentially be. The key operative word there being 'potential'. Because nothing in Don 2 lives up to that potential and that is just to put it mildly.

Essentially a heist film, Don 2 is written by Farhan Akhtar and two enthusiastic fan writers as Farhan calls his team comprising Ameet Mehta and Amrish Shah. In an article on Wiki, Farhan expresses how this story is about 3 fans of Don moving the story forward and having fun doing so. Point is when you're watching the movie, there's no fun for the viewer. Meant to be a cutting-edge thriller, the film's fancy production values are not enough to keep you glued to the screens. It is also one of those movies where the different departments don't seem to have clicked in unison.

With a sloppy storyline and unimpressive performances, the Don 2 does little to capture let alone take your breath away. In hindsight, one couldn't help but feel that the trailer was so much better than the film. Where one felt sympathy for Roma (Priyanka Chopra) in the first edition, here one is stupefied to her fall in love with the same Don (Shahrukh Khan) who killed her brother not so long ago. And that was still pardonable but what flies right in your face are some glaring loopholes in a thriller film that should've been a watertight plot. While the second half is miles ahead of the first in terms of the action quotient, it still leaves a lot to be desired. The only convincing performances in the film come from Boman Irani and Shahrukh himself who seems to have put in a lot of effort towards his character. Alas, it still is not enough to save the film from being a disappointment.

Overall, Don 2 has few things going for itself. It is Farhan's weakest film as a director. There is an inherent lack of conviction that is as startling as pissing off about Don 2 and that makes this no more than a mediocre piece of cinema. And what a pity that is because there was one thing Don 2 had which very few sequels inherently do and that's 'potential'.

Rating: 4.6/10

Friday, December 23, 2011

#263: Jewel Thief

I couldn't let Johnny Gaddar have it, it needed an explanation. I couldn't let The Insider have it, it demanded more. I don't remember now if I will let Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron claim it but I definitely want to place this one line review Jewel Thief.

An unshakeable, incomparable and a timeless classic- watch it before you even think of dying. It has the coolest Hindi villain ever. Just for that last scene of him sitting in a flight, I could see it everyday after waking up and before going to sleep.

Rating: 9.4/10

Thursday, December 22, 2011

#262: Race

The thing about an Abbas-Mustan movie is that it is going to be full of thrills. Some hot women will keep the glamor quotient high and a high-voltage or a surprise ending will make it worth your time. Sometimes they get it absolutely right like they did in Khiladi and sometimes they're all over the place like 36 China Town . But what's beyond a doubt is that owing to lack of competition in this genre, Sriram Raghavan being the sole exception, they at least push the boundaries in this genre. Race is a similar attempt in the same genre by the duo.

It stars Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna who play two rich brothers wooing two attractive women, Bipasha Basu and Katrina Kaif. A murder takes place and an investigation officer (Anil Kapoor) steps in with a dumb but glamorous assistant (Sameera Reddy). The film thereafter weaves through twist after twist towards a high-octane climax. By itself, there's nothing impressive about the film but these twists themselves carry the movie forward. Saif and Akshaye Khanna are diligent in their performances but little beyond is interesting about them. The saddest element is Sameera Reddy's role that's a caricature of a character while Anil Kapoor makes a few poor attempts at comedy. The music by Pritam is a sure shot highlight and some of the songs and action sequences are stylistically shot by Ravi Yadav.

As a whole, Race is one of the more average attempts by Abbas-Mustan that's only pepped up in parts. At 165 minutes, it is also at least 20 minutes extra long and a whirlpool of twists towards the end really make you wish the film ended sooner. What's commendable though is the fact that it has still spurred the director-duo to come up with a second instalment in 2012 titled Race2. Sometimes such an unflinching belief in a genre sees people come up with a gem. Its clear that Race wasn't it, maybe Race2 will be.

Rating: 5.8/10

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

#261: New Year's Eve

A set of eight stories, an ensemble of actors a range as wide as perhaps the Himalayas themselves in magnitude, a festive theme and released around New Year- yes it's a formula and yes it's worked before and yes it almost works yet again in this 2011 release.

First let's dwell onto why it works. Its a compilation of eight stories so it had to move pretty quickly from one story to another. New Year's Eve does that- the stories are interwoven seamlessly and cut back and forth without causing you to strain your senses. The actors don't really have anything demanding to perform so that way the performers don't cause too much of a mayhem. Most actors don't have a screen presence of more than four to five minutes so before they get on your nerves, they're out of the way. The music's mediocre but the fast-paced editing by Michael Tronick makes up for it and director Garry Marshal's marshaling of these eight tracks is swift.

And now why I say it only almost works. First because its all predictable- to the T. It is a formula film and it works like one. Some of the surprise scenes have no punch because of that very reason and if you've seen Love Actually, this would be nothing more than a deja vu. And is there a standout performance among the multitude of actors here- well that's a resounding no. So the film ends up being like a bottle of Coca-Cola from which you know what to expect but when there's no fizz in the bottle, it only excites you that much.

All in all, this is a film that's warm but lacking in warmth, that's sweet but it's got more sucrose than necessary and most importantly a film that had a heart but little in terms of soul. You can at best watch it on DVD and buy one of those cheap roadside ones. You'll more than get your worth even if the print's a bit awry.

Rating: 5.4/10

Monday, December 19, 2011

#260: Bodyguard

Yawner and a
Rotten and

I don't even know if the above makes sense. But if they can get away with an entire film that doesn't, why can't I with a review ?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

#259: Planet Terror

Planet Terror written and directed by Robert Rodriguez is one half of a double-feature movie called Grindhouse that featured Death Proof (directed by Tarantino) as the second film. The two filmmakers known for their unique brand of filmmaking go back a long way as friends and this was their combined effort plugged as one. As filmmakers even in the past, the two had collaborated in various capacities on each other's films but this was the first co-production. It does sound like a dream thing to happen - two friends making one common movie and selling it together. Except that the movies themselves didn't do too well and Grindhouse till date remains one of Tarantino's least successful ventures.

Planet Terror had a good idea going for itself - with the look of an 80s film- it takes you through events in a small-town in Texas when three mutants escape from a military base and create havoc turning ordinary residents into ugly blood-thirsty zombies. But if you don't have patience to go through it, the film can become a tortuous experience to go through. For example, 281 people are killed in a movie duration of 105 minutes and as you can see from the poster- bizarre will not even begin to describe some of the events in the film. But that's what Planet Terror is all about- celebrating the ridiculous and making a parody of it. In a strange way, the very things that work for the film are the things that might irk you after a while - the over-the-top coolness quotient of the characters especially Freddy Rodriguez, the silly sequences towards the end by Rose McGowan and an overall kitschy feel of the film. This is a medley or almost a tribute of the action, slasher and horror films of the past and if none of these three appeal to you, you should steer clear of the film.

The story also written by Robert Rodriguez is simple but treated quite inventively. But even after the style and mood is set, you don't quite get absorbed into this parallel universe. Rodriguez trusts this mood to carry the film through but beyond a point it doesn't. But you must watch Planet Terror if you have a feel for movies that push the boundaries beyond the ordinary. For that, Rodriguez deserves more than just a passive applause and you can consider that my rating below here accounts for a large percentage for that leap that Rodriguez takes as a filmmaker.

Rating: 5.9/10

Saturday, December 17, 2011

#258: The Manchurian Candidate

So much of the premise of The Manchurian Candidate is like Courage Under Fire, it is hard to avoid a comparison. Both films are about a medal of honor that's awarded to a soldier in a tough battle fight and the film then unravels if the honor was well deserved. There had been an even earlier film based on the same 1959 Richard Condon novel of the same name. While the premise is undoubtedly intriguing and the peeling of layer by layer of what exactly happened holds viewer attention, what happens in the 2004 version of the film is definitely notches below Courage Under Fire.

Denzel Washington plays Major Ben Marco who was the leader of the troops that were surrounded by enemy fire on a night in the Kuwait War. What happens next is very sketchy in the memories of all the survivors of that attack. What emerges though is that it was Seargent Raymond Shaw (Liev Schrieber) who led the soldiers through and took on the enemy single-handedly. The episode got christened as the 'Lost Patrol' event of the war and Private Shaw went on to win the most coveted honor bestowed by the US Army - the Congressional Medal of Honor. Years later, delivering a speech at a convention, Washington is coaxed into realization by a fellow survivor that something about that event wasn't right. And there begins the central plot of The Manchurian Candidate.

The other key characters that emerge on this journey are Senator Eleanor Shaw, the power-hungry mother of Raymond Shaw, played with elan and conviction by the timeless Meryl Streep. Jon Voight plays the vice-presidential nominee against Raymond Shaw. The suspense as it unravels is tempting but only till the time the reason for the anomaly in the 'Lost Patrol' episode emerges. That hook is not something that is quite convincing and that's the first time where the film begins to lose its grip. What director Jonathan Demme, however manages inspite of that is extracting a couple of brilliant performances from Liev Schrieber. The cold steely character of Raymond Shaw being manipulated by his wily mother is the highlight of the film. The mother-son combination is brilliant and are magnetic to watch especially when together. Denzel Washington as the wronged General is purposive but not quite at his best.

Once the screenplay loses its grip somewhere in the middle, the movie struggles to justify its length at 130 minutes. Its most redeeming feature Meryl Streep can only stem the movie from becoming a bore with her electric presence. But little is achieved in terms of dramatic tension apart from her. To sum it up, The Manchurian Candidate is a promising affair that goes awry and by the time it recovers, it is of no relevance.

Rating: 6.2/10

#257: MI4 Ghost Protocol

There's something called a set-piece in football. Which means that the ball will be stationary before the next action kicks in. So either a free kick or a spot kick whereby players get to choose who should be their preferred striker. This allows the team to prepare well in advance and once the strategy comes off right, it looks quite good. The thing about set pieces though is that a team cannot sorely rely on it to pull through every match. The team still has to still have a solid defence line, a midfield that wins plays at crucial stages of the match and a couple of a dynamic strikers. The thing with Ghost Protocol is that it tries to rely solely on set-pieces to see it through and in the process comes across, carrying on with the football analogy, a team that is pretty ordinary overall.

Ghost Protocol begins with an interesting premise where Agent Benji (Simon Pegg) and Agent Carter (Paula Patton) along with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) infiltrate the Kremlin. Predictably, things don't go to plan and the team is disbanded with no authorizations for future actions. This leaves Hunt and team on their own to set about a mission that could avert a possible nuclear war between US and Russia. Yes, you heard that right- the oldest cliched trick in the book- avert a nuclear war. And that's just about the start of things that's unimpressive about Ghost Protocol. The writers have nothing special to offer in terms of surprises. What comes through as a winner are those set pieces- some gravity-defying action scenes that get your pulse racing along with a sequence of mistaken identity that is crafted like a true blue espionage mission. On the performances, Simon Pegg pulls his weight through in an otherwise serious film with his comic timing. Paula Patton is a welcome visual relief in a film all about men and action and Jeremy Renner makes a solid appearance in a supporting role. Cruise is convincing once again as a blue-chip agent while Anil Kapoor does little of note playing a caricaturish rich Indian billionaire.

Director Brad Bird doesn't quite stitch all the elements well enough to keep you glued to your seats. Even if you leave the multiple cinematic liberties aside, no single scene or character touches you enough to think about the film. An action film can attempt to become a classic if the bad man is really bad, like we saw in The Dark Knight or even Terminator2 and this film's antagonist is hardly brutal. It goes back to the set-piece theory because the characters are not quite etched out well. The background score by Michael Giachino and Lalo Schifrin however is as good as any of the previous editions and is one of the redeeming features.

Overall, Ghost Protocol has little in terms of ingenuity or appeal, at best perhaps a home DVD watch. To call it anything more would be an exaggeration.

Rating: 5.3/10

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#256: Man On Wire

Man on Wire is a gripping documentary about one man's obsession with literally walking the thin line. Philippe Petit is a man who has over the years built a reputation from rope-walking on great heights. The film in particular deals with Petit's clandestine wire-walk between the Twin Towers of WTC and derives its source material from the book 'To Reach the Clouds' that Petit wrote capturing his adventures over the years.

There is no doubt that Man on Wire is an interesting story to tell and it must've taken some deliberation to decide whether a documentary was the best way to tell Petit's story. The movie which eventually won the best documentary honors at the Academy Awards works cinematically even in a documentary format because it is singularly and consistently about one mad pursuit. Sometimes it seems unnatural that someone would go to such great lengths to do what the protagonist does but that's exactly what makes the film an engrossing watch. The narrative is peppered with multiple interviews of Petit's friends and well-wishers interspersed with some beautiful still photographs. At little under 90 munutes, these devices work well cohesively to tell an unconventional story. The other parallel track about Man on Wire that's as interesting as the chase for the top of the summit is the personal connections and stories that gives the storytelling an added dimension. The nervous but energetic narration by Petit himself succeeds in capturing much of the drama preceding the climax.

Director James Marsh employs a Zen-like background score by Michael Nyman and a similar minimalistic photography by Igor Martinovic complements the mood of the film. But at the end of it, most of the film's life is derived from Petit himself and his incredible passion for what he loves. Released seven years after the WTC crash, the film also has a fine sub-text of the WTC towers themselves that are as much of a part of the story as the protagonist himself. All in all, Man on Wire is a dish served hot and made so well you can't help but go for a second round.

Rating: 7.6/10

Monday, December 12, 2011

#255: Cars

Ka-Chow, the Lightning McQueen celebration cry sums up the experience of watching Cars- a movie about a parallel universe of men and women whose appearance resembles that of everyday cars. So whether is a Porsche or a Ferrari, each car has an accent, a mannerism, a look that sums up the identity of the person. It is sheer brilliance of imagination of the people who thought that they conjure up this parallel universe and keep us interested for a duration of close to two hours.

The more I think about it, I have reason to believe that Cars is the animation equivalent of Lord of the Rings. Here's a world that has been conjured from a concept and then blown up to the extent that it is human emotions that eventually rules the concept and the characters within it. The protagonist here is Lightning McQueen a rookie car driver aiming for the highest honors called The Piston Cup. Mcqueen voiced by Owen Wilson is a good-hearted but ambitious driver looking for his next big sponsor on the circuit. True to any sport film formula, he has his arch rival on the circuit but when a close finish pits him against two other racers in a season finale, McQueen sees it as the perfect opportunity to make that big break. Except that when he is on his way towards the finale, he loses his way and finds himself in a little known town called Radiator Springs. Radiator Springs is a cosy place with nice people and McQueen's brashness finds few takers. His impetuousness sees him grounded to the town and the time he spends there brings him close to a stern Hudson Hornet and a pretty lady called Sally who steals McQueen's heart.

Mind you these are all cars who behave like people and that's the first and foremost reason why Cars effortlessly works its way through your heart. Human emotions rule these cars and love, friendship and honor are values that are on display as much as the technical brilliance of these marvelous vehicles. The climax is deftly put together to tug at those tear glands and boy does it work. The screenplay credits belongs to six people and I can assure you this is surely not a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. If anything, it makes the film richer. The only part that's not convincing enough in the film is the romantic angle between Sally and McQueen that seems too contrived and predictable from the word go. Having said that the animation in showing simple scenes of intimacy is top notch.

Cars is an invention of the mind that's done so well that it deserves an endless run. This year we had Cars 2 and it was as good as its predecessor. Because of the parallel universe of automobiles that the film has created this can be one timeless franchise. Its got everything in place towards that end. Most of all, a first film that sets the tone and a standard so high that its going to be a pleasure just anticipating what's coming next.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

#254: Crush(Short)

Crush was nominated for honors for best film in the short live action category at the Oscars in 2010. It is about a student who falls in the love with his teacher. Yes this is an oft-repeated plot but something's quite right about this one. Apart from the student and the teacher, the third character in the film is the teacher's boyfriend. This is a story well told and enacted with a thriller sort of a climax ingrained in a film about an innocent crush.

Crush didn't win the Best Film but its writer-director Michael Creagh surely makes a mark and is one to watch out for in the days to come.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

#253: Om Shanti Om

Om Shanti Om was made at a time when Farah Khan hadn't got the better of herself in thinking that she can do well enough without Shahrukh Khan. Starting from Main Hoon Na, Farah Khan established her name in a particular genre that can only be described as 'glorifying-the-masala-of the-Bollywood-80s'. So there's a heroic hero, a bad bad man, multiple songs, a svelte leading lady, numerous song and dance sequences and the most important element of them all - revenge.

Om Shanti Om rehashes that formula and puts together a montage of the above mentioned. The hero is Shahrukh Khan, the leading lady Deepika Padukone, the bad man Arjun Rampal and so on and so forth. In a script that's heavily borrowed from Karz, Farah lets loose her imagination in extracting multiple cinematic liberties from the script. The movie's best feature is the first half where Farah takes digs at Bollywood itself. She's obviously grown up on a diet of those stereotypical movies and she brings her treasure trove of knowledge to the fore and makes the first half an immensely entertaining watch. That apart the music from the duo of Vishal-Shekhar is quite catchy and keeps your toes on the move while you're watching the film. Deepika Padukone, a newcomer in 2007 when the movie release, shows potential with a refreshing on-screen presence.

Where the movie slithers away frame by frame is the second half where melodrama in script and acting excesses pretty much spoil the good work done in the first half of the film. Arjun Rampal does the best he can to portray evil but isn't a shade of the shady villiains we used to have back in the 80s.

All in all, Om Shanti Om still makes for a watch worth your time because of one simple reason- it doesn't take itself seriously for most of the time. The moment it does, it miserably fails. This is one of those movies that's a story of two halves- a good first half and a nearly forgettable second.

Rating: 6.1/10

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

#252: At The Circus

Its difficult to review a Marx Brothers movie. In my book, it is always going to be about there being a Duck Soup and then the others. And among the others the first among the equals is 'A Night at The Opera.' So where does this fare ?

Suffice to say that this is as good as any of the others. Nothing more, nothing less. I mean still, how does one still review a Marx Brothers movie? I have done it before but then something doesn't seem right...

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, December 04, 2011

#251: The Ides of March

Do me a favor. Shut your eyes and picture these names one after the other.

Marisa Tomei. Evan Rachel Wood. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Paul Giamati. Ryan Gosling. George Clooney.

Its quite possible that everytime the name came to your mind you immediately related the particular actor with a particular movie. You know why ? Because each of them on their own are good enough to carry a movie on their shoulders. And now imagine all of them in one movie. Too much to ask ? Expect ? Well, not quite because The Ides of March combines all these actors and ekes a film that's so superior that you don't think about any of these actors individually but what the film did to you and the answer in one word is- breathtaking.

The credit for the film should actually go to the original playwright. This is a film that's all about it's story - its wicked twists and turns, power struggles and larger themes of loyalty and friendship and in many ways simply about someone being in the right place at the right time. Adapted from a Beau Wilimon play, the film was written for the screen by Grant Heslov, Wilimon and Clooney himself. We all know Clooney as a director has a nose for films. All his previous films leave you wanting for more and this is no different. What is remarkable is once again as in Good Night and Good Luck, Clooney lets someone else play the lead. And that someone in the case of The Ides of March is Ryan Gosling.

Gosling owns the character of Stephen Myers, a campaign manager for Presidential Candidate Mike Morris (Clooney) in the film. He is a bright and diligent manager with a sharp but principled boss (Hoffman). This team is contesting against a candidate named Pullman whose chief campaign manager is a wily Tom Duffy (Giamatti). The film takes place in a period of seven days in Ohio where the stakes are getting higher by the hour.

An excellent set of performances by the actors round up a tight plot. Clooney as the director seems to be simply conducting an orchestra of accomplished musicians. This is a nearly flawless film where every department makes a mark. The background score ranges from the hopeful to the haunting, the editing from slick to conventional and the cinematography from being scenic to poetic. There are those movies which are very good and yet a false note here and there sometimes jars the experience. Well, this isn't one of them. The screenplay works at a fast pace and is nothing short of electric. An case in point being the dialogue exchange between Hoffman and Gosling, that even towards the fag end is still as riveting.

To sum it up, I can only say this. I have seen The Ides of March twice in the last month and I think I am good for more. I don't think I can pay a film a bigger compliment.

Rating: 9.3/10

#250: The Dirty Picture

The Dirty Picture from the house of Ekta Kapoor is a departure from the average Bollywood flick in many ways. For one, its central character is a lady. And then it's a biopic- another rarity and then there's a thorough lack of starpower- the big guns that is. And yet the theater I saw the film in seemed to be bowled over by the film. Perhaps, that's why they always say if there's a good story to tell, there's always an audience.

The film stars Vidya Balan as its lead who pays a character named Silk - an ambitious small-town girl who runs off to Chennai to become an actress. Silk takes time to warm up to the ways and methods of tinsel town but a five minute sensual appearance opens the doors of fame for her. And once she's there she doesn't hesitate to give physical favors to the number 1 star Suryakanth played brilliantly by Naseeruddin Shah to extract more roles. Surya is maried but is known to have extra-married liaisons and for sometime one can't make out who between the two is taking the other for the ride. These are the portions of the film that are most interesting for their risque but effortlessly witty dialogues. The screenplay by Rajat Arora scores point after point till the interval. Milan Luthria brings the period of the 80s alive through some masterful direction and etches out the characters of both Silk and Surya with tremendous conviction.

Enter the second act of the movie and making a mark is Emraan Hashmi who plays Abraham, an arty director who doesn't have any friends in the industry who support his kind of filmmaking. Abraham doesn't approve and openly declares his dislike for Silk. Abraham is a character that comes alive in the second half and also allows Luthria to add an interesting sub-plot of conflict between Silk and Abraham. Tushar Kapoor the third male lead, with his weak acting skills once again raises the dirty question if he would've got acting offers if not for his sister. Rajesh Sharma on the other hand delivers a key supporting part with susbtance. So far so good but where The Dirty Picture loses its plot is a melodramatic last fifteen minutes. The slow motions and the heightened depression do nothing emotionally for the audience.

That said, The Dirty Picture is one of the better Hindi films of the year. It is flamboyant filmmaking with substance. At its core lies Vidya Balan who glitters in a challenging role and almost steals the show from Naseer. The film in itself doesn't have too many moments of slack and is largely entertaining. Take a bow - Rajat Arora and Milan Luthria, you dared to be different and have clearly made a film that people won't forget in a hurry.

Rating: 7.1/10