Monday, September 17, 2012

#278: Barfi

Its quite evident that over the last five years or so Indian filmmakers have pushed themselves to make movies that they wouldn't have the courage to dream of in let's say the 90s. For somewhere in the creative filmdom of present day Bollywood fueled by the Dibakars and the Kashyaps,  a bunch of writers decided for themselves that they'll not stick to norms of the song-and-dance, college romance, poor-boy-meets-rich girl formulae and think of new stories. Thus came a Vikramaditya Motwane with an Udaan, a Zoya Akhtar with a Luck by Chance and an Imtiaz Ali with a Jab We Met. They were of course the big names but strugglers like Rajat Kapoor, Pankaj Advani, Onir also mushroomed. And what happened collectively was that the taste of the average Indian audience elevated itself. And it is this slightly more evolved taste that a film like Barfi caters to.

Its leading cast could walk any international ramp and look good but the filmmaker doesn't let you see that side of his actors in the film. You could've walked out of the theater for lack of the usual pyar mohabbat rhetoric dialogue but you don't. Words are rendered meaningless as Anurag Basu takes that one courageous leap to make a movie without dialogue for most parts. He fills it with a few slapstick gags,  uses a murder of all things as a plot device to move the story forward in a love triangle, sets it in 1970s with no foreign locales, shoots no steamy scenes and yet puts everything together to leave you with a generous smile at the end of the film.

Its as eclectic a Hindi film has got in recent times. It borrows a bit from the Chaplin-Buster Keaton style of cinema and works with some fabulous (and original sounding) music from Pritam to connect with the audience and it works. Ranbir Kapoor brings his pedigree of acting education to the party like in no other movie before and Priyanka matches him frame for frame. She could've so easily overdone it but she doesn't and her last scene with Ranbir will linger in public memory for a long time. Add to it the innocence of the other leading lady Ileana and a superb down-on-his-luck cop act by Saurabh Shukla and you have a perfect score on acting for the movie. Anurag also goes a step beyond and works meticulously on the look of the film, transporting us back to the 70s and bringing us back to present day  effortlessly thanks to some incredible work by cinematographer Ravi Varman. If there's anything that doesn't work for the film, its a drag of a first half as the characters are getting set. Anurag takes a lot more time to work this part of the film out and overall the film could've easily have been shorter by 10-15 minutes.

Not everything about Barfi is perfect, It got me twitching my thumbs restlessly on my Blackberry in the first half with its snail-like pace but then something about it asked me to stay put for the second half. I am glad, I did.  Come to think of it, its as rewarding a Hindi film about romance can get ever.

Well done, Anurag, You've made up for your sin of ripping The Apartment into a 15 minute story.

Rating: 7.1/10

P.S: Its another matter though as I am writing this Disco Deewane from SOTY is reminding me that each of the cliched formulae mentioned above is also alive and kicking. Sigh... 

Monday, September 03, 2012

#277: Expendables 2

Compared to most recent action movies, Expendables 2 stands out with all the acton it has to offer. Compared to its first instalment, Expendables 2 screams out as a classic. Its got that cool quotient that the original tried so hard to infuse that it somewhere got lost on the way.

This one also shows ever so subtly the difference that a good director can make to a normal slam-bang action movie. Simon West of Con Air and Lara Croft:Tomb Raider fame handles this heavyweight cast with ease and ensures there's something in it for all those big names. He of course reserves his best for ringleader Stallone who leads a pack of killers on a mission. Statham, Schwazi, Willis, Norris, Van Damme all have their own moments that can make action lovers go weak in their knees. Replete with an equally carefree soundtrack, Expendables 2 keeps you rooted to your seats with some pretty good fights, humor and class. And one can even say- all in equal measure for it leaves you with that 'just right' vibe.

I had somewhere read that Expendables was meant to be a homage to those action flicks of the 80s. Somehow the first one relied solely on the names of the opening credits to see it through but this one more than makes up for it. In fact this is a lesson on how a homage ought to be paid.

Take a bow, Mr. West. This is a winner all the way !

Rating: 7.4/10

Saturday, September 01, 2012

#276: Sleepers

Sleepers is about friends. Its also about crime. Its about injustice or justice depending upon how one looks at it. Its about moral dilemmas. Its about a true incident or story and characters that did exist at some point. It is about the good 'bad guys' as well and the bad 'good guys'.

But one thing its not about is the big names that roll in the opening credits. Because every star in here plays a role antithetical to what we've seen them as. Brad Pitt is a regular joe lawyer. De Niro is a priest and Hoffman- a slurring druggy alcoholic barely in control of his words. And that's why this movie is so different from any other crime thriller you would've seen. And thankfully so. Spanning a period of 15 years, Sleepers is one movie I would pay to watch with my friends because it celebrates friendship like very few movies have in history.  A good old American classic and one of the finest works of a very fine director - Barry Levinson..

Rating: 7.6/10

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#275: Players

Bollywood remakes ! Ugh...

And that's not all. It has Bobby Deol. Ugh-er.

Rating: .3/10

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

#274: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the story of Maggie (Liz Taylor) and Brick (Paul Newman) - a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. The husband has a preconceived notion of what transpired between his wife and his close friend and since the time of the incident he has refused to forget or forgive the incident. The wife on the other hand tries and tries hard to explain and win the affection of her husband back but its all in vain.

The story unfolds on the night Brick's father Big Daddy returns home from the hospital with the good news that he has recovered from what was considered to a fatal breakdown for Big Daddy (Paul Ives).  But even amidst the happy dinner on the occasion of Big Daddy's return, Maggie and Brick still can't put aside their differences. In fact, they escalate.

Adapted from a Tennessee Williams play, the film has all the trappings of a family drama. Sensitive elders, bickering daughters-in-law and the stereotypical sons - one a good-for-nothing drunkard and the other doing well for himself. Yet what works for the film is the relentlessly devoted character of Maggie who just wants the love of her husband back. Even as the plot unfolds and secrets spill one identifies with Maggie's pursuit because one sees that the love she has for Brick is limitless. Paul Newman in his first Oscar-nominated role does enough to convey the drunk loser he is meant to be though his act in The Verdict was far better. While the story veers around the family, the film is all about two strong points of view led by Paul and Liz and it is their story that has us rapt with attention. Paul Ives turns in a strong support act without being melodramatic at any point.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof felt like it needed to watched more to be fully appreciated. With its serious undertones of fidelity and father-son relationships, it is a film that isn't the easiest to get through.                                                                                                                    And while the film might be a bit anachronistic if released today, Newman and Taylor ensure that it becomes memorable for anyone who puts in the 108 minutes of the runtime of the film. This is vintage acting wrapped in a good story with a nifty climax for you to savor. No complaints !                                                    

Rating: 6.8/10

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

#273: Flipped

Flipped is a Rob Reiner movie and that man knows how to get your tear glands going as in The Bucket List or your romantic buds blooming as in When Harry Met Sally. Something in those movies that he gets right spot-on are things that can't be captured in words. An image here, a moment there and we have a film that you wish doesn't end. Well, add Flipped to your collection of those kind of movies from here on because it is nothing but a sweety sweet flick that can get both your romantic buds blooming and your tear glands going without too much effort. Yes, it is that good.

It stars Calan MacAuliffe and Madeleine Carroll as lead stars in a film that's all about childhood romance. What it capitalizes on is the innocence of it all, those glances and the sweet gestures and most importantly that big childhood crush that makes us do all sorts of things with a passion unparalleled. It has the stereotypes too- the family members that stand by you and the members who scoff at you. And it has this one overarching romanticism about life and nature that perhaps is too idealistic but never too All this at an easy going pace with a screenplay that is as unique as beautiful. Adapted from a book of the same name by Wendelin Van Dranen by Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman, it works in between narration of past and depiction actual events as they unfold over the course of a few years in the lives of the protagonists. Add to that a soothing soundtrack by the versatile Marc Shaiman and you have all that it takes to get a super film.

But above all the technical aspects of filmmaking, what Flipped does best is take you back to your childhood at a time when just getting to steal one glance at your crush meant more than getting a 100 out of 100 in the History exam. If I can pay just one compliment for the film it would be that is too good a film for 89 minutes. It should've lasted longer.

Rating: 7.6/10

Monday, January 30, 2012

#272: Mujhse Fraandship Karoge

Mujhse Fraandship Karoge, released in 2011, is an attempt to make a movie centered around the social networking boom in India. Something about it is so business like it makes you think the decision to make the film might've been made by a bunch of corporate biggies sitting in a boardroom saying 'Let's make a movie on Facebook. Its the in thing.' Another would've said ' Yes something for the 14-18 age group... ' A third would've pitched in saying ' Yes, we can take a bunch of newbies and the costs will be recovered quickly because the stars costs would be practically nil.' And thus a writer must've been summoned and the film put on floors. Watching it on DVD I can only speculate that this might've been the course of events because while there's nothing wrong about that kind of a process something about it is so formulaic that the fun of watching it is diminished because of these set-pieces.

So what do I mean by a formula ? It means ensuring that the mediocrity of sections of the film is shored up by amping up some of the other sections. The effort is not to make a good film but get the right elements in to make it commercially worthwhile. Let's break it down for Mujhse Fraandship Karoge - inexperienced actors give unimpressive performances but the film's peppered with a really good soundtrack. Similarly an average screenplay is helped by some heavy duty marketing. Its just the way the cookie is meant to crumble- there's enough reason for the target audience to turn up and the moment that has happened, the film has recovered its cost. But thats about the business of the film, what about the content ? Firstly a convincing turn by Saba Azad as Preity- a stuck-up college student but a talented photographer who doesn't like Vishal (Saqib Saleem), a talented writer in the same college. Their friendship is what the movie is about but the struggles are too easy to have a buy-in from the audience. A wonderful score by Raghu Dixit works well in making the audience forget all the flaws that the story comes with. The filmmakers also do well to make the film under two hours- but there's again a business sense in here. Shorter movie also means more screenings in the same theater but anyway but that's that. The bad things - some manufacturing factory type performances by the supporting cast and a screenplay that even under two hours feels longer.

I might've ranted here a bit how watching this film feels like watching a film that's driven by business decisions rather than creative choices but I will also concede here that perhaps at my age I have outgrown a movie that's made around the social media generation of 14-18 year olds. Maybe, I have not been very tolerant of the movie here because I belong to a different generation but then a good movie is always a good movie irrespective of the age of the audience right ? And on that slightly defensive note, I recommend that you guys catch the movie only if you want to know what a new-age movie meant for 14 year olds would be like.

Rating: 4.8/10

Thursday, January 26, 2012

#271: Coriolanus

In Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes plays the title role of a man without fear, a brave commander for whom Rome's sovereignty is of paramount importance. His mother, Vanessa Redgrave, plays a lady frail in appearance but not in will, someone who is proud of the manner in which her son conducts himself. The bonding between her and Coriolanus serves in setting not just the tone for the film but also in defining a critical plot point in the second half. The tenor of the relationship is intense and so is the film and with that one word as his guiding light- "intensity"- Ralph Fiennes playing the role of a son, a husband and a warrior captures everything that's good about Coriolanus.

On the filmmaking end of it, John Logan, the acclaimed writer of stories such as Gladiator and The Aviator is in fine form as he weaves one of Shakespeare's relatively unknown tales with perfection. The storytelling is swift but passionate. Logan's script in the able hands of Fiennes who also directed the movie is complemented by an unflinching dedication to the character of Coriolanus. And it is this single-mindedness of the story that serves the film well. Gerard Butler as General Affidius isn't bad either though his is mostly a supporting act. An imposing background score by Ilan Ashkeri keeps reminding us that this is a film about strong values like honor.

At 124 minutes, Coriolanus is a riveting action-drama that doesn't overstay its welcome. It boils steadily but surely and leads on to a climax that is one of the strongest in recent times. All in all, its a film that deserves a watch and how !

Rating: 7.6/10

Saturday, January 21, 2012

#270: Don 2

I had read a review once where the phrase 'assault on your senses' had really caught my fancy. I wondered if I will ever get to use it on my own. And then Don 2 happened.

At what time Farhan Akhtar abandoned substance for hollow style, I don't know but not only is Don 2 is his poorest effort in cinema (one could say he sings better), it is supremely idiotic in its essence. Relying solely on Shahrukh's antics was a very weak strategy and it didn't pay off at any point during the film.

The good things you ask ? Well maybe the opening five minutes, Boman Irani's busy mean presence and some cheesy lines that weren't meant to be.

In two words - Stay away!

Rating: 1.9/10

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

#269: One Day

One Day is one of those few films adapted from a book whose screenplay is written by the author himself- David Nichols. It is an interesting piece of information because most of Hollywood prefers to get a different screenwriter from the author and in Adaptation we got a good window of how that process typically works. And it is an arduous one at that. Why it must've worked particularly for One Day perhaps is because it is an unusual love story. Imagine a movie unfolding with every five-six minutes spanning events for one whole year. There is a constant churn in character motivations, sometimes smooth, sometimes with a jerk but at all times there's an in-built anticipation of 'what happened next year?' and that's where One Day derives its biggest strength from.

The he film stars Anne Hathaway, a sweet unambitious, tolerant girl who can't wait to be loved enough in life and Jim Sturgess, a good-looking, happy-go-lucky charmer. Their paths cross on graduation day in college and since then the two keep in touch over the course of very many years where destiny leads them onto different directions. One Day is a film that requires you to be patient through the first half of the film and its second half rewards you for your patience. As the two key characters evolve over time, you get drawn into each character's problems and start empathizing with each of them. There's no one right or wrong between the two and its hard to not like both.

The movie's helped with a couple of nice finishing touches towards the end that could very well leave you moist-eyed. Anne Hathaway packs in an extremely convincing portrayal of the girl-next-door and Sturgess supports her well. David Nichols' screenplay if not taut is at least not boring. Things move briskly without any apparent flaws and by the time it ends, it just about becomes a fulfilling watch. Overall,One Day isn't the kind of movie you need to give an arm and a leg for but it's the kinds that's quite likely to steal your heart.

Rating: 7.2/10

Monday, January 16, 2012

#268: Duck Soup

I had said this elsewhere on this blog that as far as Marx Brothers films go, there's Duck Soup and the rest. Watching it for the third time last night in two years did everything to reaffirm the belief once again. Some lightning-paced wit, tummy-churning gags and a surfeit of funny lines make for a breeze of a watch.

There's no other point to be made here except about two gentlemen named Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar. The duo wrote some of the songs and composed the music for the film. In an already bizarre situations-led script, the equally funny songs leave no breathing space to recover from the hilarity of the gags.

If one had to sum it up, it won't be an exaggeration to say that one hasn't lived till one has seen Duck Soup.

Rating: 8.9/10

Saturday, January 14, 2012

#267: Sherlock Holmes

It is a bit unfair to say so but to review the first Sherlock Holmes after the second is a bit like cuddling with your boner after the orgasm. Some might even say that such an indictment is harsh but that is a fact. So impressed I was with the second edition that I thought it was necessary for me to see the first one all over again. So the DVD was bought and the deed was done. And here are a few observations from the exercise.

Holmes is obviously shown as a master of many skills and Robert Downey Jr. does full justice to the character with his brawny avatar of Holmes. The wit is unmistakably Guy Ritchie's but the delivery by Downey is pretty much on the mark. His chemistry with his Man Friday, Dr. Watson played by Jude Law is a definite highlight but again it is this mood of 19th century London that is most impressive about the film. The horse carriages, the Tower bridge being built (an entire sequence in the DVD is focussed around this and makes for a fascinating viewing), the raw action sequences- all these set pieces have this mood, this uncanny old London mood that is seeped into the movie through its art direction and cinematography that takes the cake for me.

Mark Strong as the antagonist is a devious instrument employed by Ritchie to match Holmes' intelligence and the oneupmanship between the two makes for an interesting buildup. A disappointment however is the climax that is a very cliched 80s Bollywood style fight sequence that defies logic as much as gravity. Rachel McAdams has a substantial part that she does justice to. Another winner is a fabulous soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Richie's Holmes is undeniably charming but quite different from his namesake as envisioned by Conan Doyle. For a few of my friends that distinction didn't work for them, for someone like me, it worked just fine. I guess its just a matter of choice. But leaving that aside, the film works like a classic thriller where the audience is keeping pace with the protagonist to solve the crime at hand.

The issue I have in reviewing Sherlock Holmes after the Game of Shadows is that I am comparing the two in reverse order. It makes the first installment look much smaller that it is. I remember when I saw Sherlock Holmes in theater in 2009, I was bowled over, thinking that it was perhaps as good a movie as any in that year. In retrospect after watching the Game of Shadows, I feel it pales significantly in comparison to the sequel. As a standalone though it is much better than your average Hollywood film and for that we owe Mr. Guy Ritchie a whole round of applause.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, January 13, 2012

#266: A Game of Shadows

Where does one begin while reviewing a movie like "A Game of Shadows" ? Should it be about the classy antiquated feel of the film or the breathtaking action sequences or the precise dialogues laced in wit and comeuppance. But since all of these are equally good perhaps beginning with Guy Ritchie, the man who brings it all together in a film so good, I don't find any qualms in declaring as the film of the Year, should be a fair starting point.

When the first edition of Sherlock Holmes released in 2010, it had its fair share of detractors. They said this isn't how Sherlock behaved in the books- he wasn't all action or brawn for that matter. They said Ritchie took far too many liberties with his lead character and probably killed the essence of Sherlock with his reinvention. My take on this was that an artist should have the liberty to reinterpret classics- that's where his creative genius comes in. Not every adaptation needs to stick to the original rules of the game. There's of course a charm in that genre too but one shouldn't rule out the immense possibilities of a slight departure in the recreation of a classic. And that's where Guy Ritchie scores and scores big as he continues his bold reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes with A Game of Shadows. And this one unlike the norm of sequels if bigger, better and even bolder.

Taking a cue from the Adventure of The Final Problem, the film is a classic cat-and-mouse game between the ace sleuth and his bete-noire James Moriarty, played by the mean-looking Jared Harris. As the antagonist in the scheme of things. Jared is as evil as they come with plans to spark off a world war between nations and profit from the subsequent arms race. Moriarty's character is aptly performed by Harris who is all class and élan in his manners - both civil and criminal. Robert Downey Jr. on the other hand is his counterfoil - rugged and swift. The race of oneupmanship between the two is as good as it can get even as Dr. John Watson played by Jude Law pulls his weight with an able hand. The highlight of the film however is the excellent choreography of action. It is here that Guy Ritchie has a grammar of his own that is constantly keeps you on a razor's edge. Not since The Dark Knight has a movie had such an incredible array of stunts that are guaranteed to leave your jaw open. At the same time, Kieron Mulroney and Mitchell Mulroney's writing is soaked in brilliance and the DOP Phillipe Rouselot contributes immensely in creating some unforgettable scenes of action. The art direction is once again top notch with little or rather nothing out of place.

So what is it that doesn't work about A Game of Shadows? If anything, perhaps a background score that's not as taut or mischievous as the first edition's. That's probably the only department that didn't lift itself up compared to the first part. Its not as if we didn't know it already but the film is irrefutable proof that Ritchie must count as one of the best directors in the world at the moment. What he has given us with A Game of Shadows is much more than a film, it is an indelible footprint in the history of film.

Rating: 8.4/10

Thursday, January 05, 2012

#265: Sex and the City

Personally, am not so much in favor of a series being made into a movie. In its essence I think it undermines the former. Its like how a purist wants to let a book stay as a book but movies do get made and opinions do get formed. Its perhaps also not fair that yours truly who has not seen the series is reviewing the film but here I am looking only at the film as a standalone. And in that Sex and the City is a massive disappointment.

It chronicles the problems of 4 women in the city of New York. Each is dealing with different issues in their lives ranging from parenthood to the usual commitment phobia. What the film lacks most is a storyline within these four tracks that is worth your time. None of the character's problems touch you because they seem superficial. The acting is mediocre to go along with it and in the process the overall quality of output that director Michael Patrick King is able to extract is next to nothing.

I saw the film with a Sex and the City series loyalist and it seemed to me that the only people who would be interested in the film will be those very loyalists. For anyone else, there's nothing to write home about. Even if its a review.