Saturday, December 24, 2011

Don 2 (2011)

Farhan Akhtar is not only an interesting storyteller, he is a technically proficient one too. In each of his directorial ventures, he has brought something new to Hindi cinema. In Dil Chahta Hai, he brought modern sync-sound technology to the medium. In Lakshya, he went to ridiculously high altitudes with a crane to shoot his film. Don, undoubtedly the least of his works, still showcased a slickness in its production that few films at the time, if any, could rival. Now, with Don 2, he returns to the director's chair after a hiatus. Technically, it is unarguably his finest production to date. The photography, the production design, the action are all stunning. But in terms of substantive content, it's good, not great.

After conquering Asian drug market, Don (SRK) has set his eyes on conquering Europe. But he faces stiff competition with the drug cartels already operating there. Joined by his former arch-nemesis (Boman Irani) and a rag tag team including a savvy hacker (Kunnal Kapoor), a bombshell beauty (Lara Dutta) and a bunch of goons, Don plans the ultimate heist, which could not only allow him to get very, very rich but also help him eliminate his competitors.

What sets Don 2 apart is in ways, its greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. Everyone is going gaga over how the film is the closest we have come to a slick Hollywood production. Some have lauded Akhtar for that, others have thrown brickbats at him. I choose to applaud him for it, especially for doing a bang up job of integrating Hollywood suavity with 70s Bollywood kitsch. However, I don't think that's what really sets Don 2 apart. What distinguishes it, even from the Oceans and Mission Impossible series(es) which most critics seem hell bent on comparing it too, is its protagonist. Unlike Ocean and his 11, Don isn't an anti-hero. He is a villain, plain and simple. He is a narcissistic, mean spirited, evil bastard out to take over the world. He doesn't have any redeeming qualities. He has no moral compass or anything that remotely resembles a conscience. He isn't Danny Ocean. He's Terry Benedict. It is inordinately more difficult to weave a story around a character like that. Yet, Akhtar does and largely, succeeds thanks to a well plotted, mostly consistent script (a rarity in Bollywood thrillers), some truly epic dialogues and a strong central performance by Shah Rukh Khan. The role is tailor made for SRK and he does it full justice.

However, no matter how hard Akhtar may try, those very qualities also makes it difficult for the audience to root for Don, much less love him. Even all the world's cool cannot compensate for a black heart. After Europe and Asia, Don could take over the world in Don 3, but that won't make him any more endearing (or interesting) to an audience. Because of this, the appeal of Don, as a character and as a series, is limited. Akhtar truncates the appeal also by allowing the film to remain a one man show. One can't help but wonder: for a drug kingpin who controls the Asian market, where is Don's entourage? The lone ranger act is unconvincing. The other characters are mere stick figures brought in for support. Had Akhtar built a true ensemble playing off each others' strengths, the film would have been a lot more fun.

Also, the length doesn't help things . For a film with just one song, Don 2 has no business clocking in at 145 minutes. The film is stretched to an exasperating point, particularly in the last half hour. This, along with the lack of an ensemble, robs the narrative of its energy at several points. The climax is a letdown as a film ends with a thud instead of a bang. The action work, though slick, is very been there seen that. They lack imagination and feel like a Rolex watch perfectly duplicated in a cheap Chinese factory. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy give one of their worst performances ever.

Perhaps I have been too critical of the film. Its virtues are numerous. Its vices are not for lack of trying. I had a genuinely good time for the most part. It is definitely recommended as a one time watch and the only big budget film this year that actually delivered on many of its promises. Also, a cameo by a certain someone (ahem ahem) is rather cleverly used. In many ways, it is indicative of how far we have come. In others, it shows how much farther we can go.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

The Mission Impossible series has been a mixed bag at best. The first was a hyper convoluted and verbose; the second simplified the plot and delivered high octane thrills; the third was sappy and, in terms of plot, all foreplay & no climax. So, despite the uneven graph of the series, the makers are back with a fourth. The film marks the live action feature debut of Brad Bird, who has previously helmed two Pixar animation classics, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Heavily promoted in India, particularly with the presence of Anil Kapoor, the paid preview was packed to the brim.

The plot: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his crew (Simon Pegg & Paula Patton) are on the run after a mission is compromised and the Kremlin is destroyed. The US and Russia are on the brink of war as a consequence and without any resources, support or back up, Ethan and his team must prove their innocence and save the world from nuclear holocaust. As they jet set around the world, accompanied by an analyst with a dark past (Jeremy Renner), time is running out.

The first thing you notice in the movie is just how much Tom Cruise has aged. My god, he looks old! You almost want to recommend Olay to him. Nevertheless, he more than makes up for it through his performance. As he daringly jumps off the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, races his car through a sandstorm and kicks some serious ass, it’s easy to look past the age factor and appreciate the physicality of his performance. He is the foundation of the series, and in that capacity, he is still strong.

As for the film, it is broadly divided into three acts. The first two acts (set in Moscow and Dubai respectively) border on brilliance. They are fast, funny and have some highly innovative action set pieces. The action work is more old school, relying on death defying stunts rather than just computer generated imagery. Also, the dig at the Iron Curtain is particularly clever. While the technical wizardry may be a little hard to stomach at places, the rapid pacing and the sense of fun that Brad Bird brings to the enterprise help it go down smoothly enough. The sense of thrill and adventure is more pronounced here than in any of the previous films. The other major strength of it is the humour. Simon Pegg gets his moment to shine and he really brings the house down in several places. Jeremy Renner proves himself to be a competent future replacement for Tom Cruise.

Unfortunately, the third act, where the action shifts to Mumbai, is dull, overlong and clunky. The climax pales rather evidently in comparison to the rest of the film. Anil Kapoor has a small role as a sleazy billionaire and those expecting a classy affair are going to be disappointed. Also, being from Mumbai, it is easy to see the little flaws in the production design; particularly, the use of Southern languages on notice boards in all places. Also, Michael Nyquist’s villainous Kurt Hendricks is never fleshed out well enough to make a lasting impression.

Nevertheless, by the time you realize this, you care little and are willing to forgive the film for most of these things. Overall, this is easily the best entry in the series edging out the second film which was, in my opinion, the previous best. It is quick, nimble and loaded to the brim with great action. So sit back, enjoy the mission.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl (2011)

Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl is a disappointing fare for a number of reasons. First, the pacing is sluggish. It has a simple premise. Three women hire another to con the man that conned them. Things complicate when the con woman and the con man fall in love. This wafer thin premise is stretched unnecessarily over 140 minutes. The film is overlong by at least half hour. Songs are thrown in at random and seem forced, particularly the first one which appears within three minutes of the film’s opening. Their forgettable tunes don’t help things much.

The plotting only makes things worse. Unlike the clean, uncomplicated storytelling that we saw in Band, Baaja Baaraat, the film’s graph is erratic and the result is a mess. If the first half takes too long to set up the premise, the second half is handicapped by some ridiculous, plotting. The con game is silly, unbelievable and laborious. Beyond the loud mouthed Dimple, there is little by way of humour. The writing is stale. The love story between Ricky (Ranveer Singh) and Ishika (Anushka Sharma) is extremely poorly developed. They have chemistry, undoubtedly so. But the director doesn’t seem to know what to do with it.

Of course, the proceedings are made bearable by the bubbly vivaciousness of Anushka Sharma and the chemistry she shares with co-star Ranveer Singh. They do their best with the lackluster material that they’re given to work with. Sharma lights up the screen and brings life to the otherwise dull proceedings. She also looks irresistible. What is disappointing though is that Ranveer Singh is stripped of the rugged, mofussil charm that made him so endearing in his maiden film. Too quickly, he has been packaged into a slick, suave product ready to be marketed. Typical, given that it is Yash Raj Films. But sad nevertheless. The supporting performances are solid. Particularly noteworthy is the debut of Parineeti Chopra who brings the house down in places with her loud mouthed, spoilt Delhi girl act.

On the whole, Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl lacks many of the things that made Band Baaja Baaraat so popular: fresh writing, well fleshed out characters, clean storytelling, great music. It is a surprisingly lifeless enterprise. A sizable disappointment, this one’s strictly to be seen with low expectations, especially in terms of logic.

Rating: 2/5

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ra.One (2011)

The superhero genre in India is still very much in a nascent phase, struggling to find firm ground. In ways, it is similar to the phase Hollywood went through from the mid-1980s to 90s as it concerned itself more with visual spectacle than telling engaging stories. In films like Tron (1982), the story and screenplay took a backseat to pushing the boundaries of computer generated visuals. In that sense, Ra.One is visually impressive. It is bigger and better than than the films that preceded it (Krrish, Robot). However, in terms of storytelling, it demonstrates how far we have yet to go.

Shekhar Subramaniam (SRK) is a nerdy computer gaming programmer married to the beautiful Sonia (Kareena Kapoor). They have a preteen son Prateek (Armaan Verma) who is embarrassed by his bumbling, boring father. To impress his son, he creatss a video game where the villain is more powerful than the hero. The game: Ra.One. However, his company, Barron Industries, is developing technology to give physical, tangible manifestation to data transferred electronically. With the powerful artifical intelligence created for Ra.One, a cataclysmic system crash occurs when Prateek leaves the test version mid way through the game bringing the fearsome villain from the virtual world to the physical world to destroy Prateek. The family's only hope is Ra.One's virtual nemesis, the good but weaker G.One (SRK).

First, the positives. Visually, the film is good. While it is visibly constrained by a budget, the visual effects are excellent in several places. The action sequences make up for what they lack in novelty & originality with intensity & brisk pacing. Of these, the pre-climactic train sequence stands out the most. Despite its clumsy finish, the effects are convincing and the action is thrilling. Another great asset here is Vishal-Shekhar's music which is a deft mix of dark, melancholic overtures and chic retro re-imaginations. Their work is truly world class and brings tremendous energy to the proceedings. Arjun Rampal makes for a truly fearsome Ra.One. Although he gets barely 30 minutes of screen time, he makes a strong impression with his gaunt, menacing look and the ferocious physicality of his performance. Armaan Verma is endearing as Prateek and emotes very well throughout. SRK is SRK, which is a positive in my books. 

Unfortunately, the film isn't without its flaws, and they are several. The initial 45 minutes range from bland to annoying. The film takes too long to set up its premise. SRK has gone overboard in hedging his bets. The cameo by Priyanka Chopra and Sanjay Dutt is just unnecessary and silly. PC's deliberate blonde act borders on the agonising. The product placement is thankfully though almost as subtle as it is numerous.

In terms of writing, Shekhar Subramanian as a character makes little sense. One minute he is spewing deep, philosophical life lessons and the next he is impersonating Michael Jackson to look cool and bad ass for his son. The father son relationship, as crucial to the story as Peter Parker's relationship with Uncle Ben was to Spiderman, is sacrificed on the mantle of the syrupy and artificial. While the picturisation of the song 'Dildaara' does salvage it considerably in the second half, its too late by then. Kareena Kapoor looks fantastic and emotes well. But her character makes even lesser sense than Shekhar. She's a mother who is also writing a thesis on Hindi expletives from a feminist perspective. I mean, seriously. It sounds ridiculous even to say it out loud. Would it have killed the writers to make her character just a little more credible?

The origins story (of Ra.One moving from the virtual world to the real world) is not entirely convincing although one may overlook that. After all, it is a fantasy film. But there is a distinct lack of originality that pervades the film throughout. While one cannot dismiss the film as a rip off, it borrows elements from other movies like Iron Man, Terminator, Spiderman etc. It's almost as if SRK and group walked onto the sets of American studios and picked up various designs at random and decided to put them together. The non-appearance of Arjun Rampal until midway through the second half also is a letdown.

Ultimately, Ra.One is like a passable chocolate pie. The cocoa is rich enough; the pastry old, but edible. However, instead of sugar, you have saccharine artificially sweetening things almost to the point of making it unpalatable. Despite having the trappings of greatness, the film is bogged down by artificial sentimentality, painful cliches and unnecessary gimmickry. Nevertheless, it must be lauded for the effort put in. There will be a great Bollywood superhero movie someday. Of that, I am sure. Unfortunately, this ain't it. However, with the recent severe drought of entertainment, it certainly is something of a relief, howsoever limited. Technically also, it raises the bar considerably. For that, despite its flaws I am inclined to recommend it with caution. 

Rating: 2.5/5

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (2011)

When a Hindi film with 5 songs feels stretched despite clocking under 120 minutes, you know it’s in trouble. Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge relies on a classic premise of mistaken identities. A comedy of errors, Vishal (Saqib Saleem) pretends to be rockstar Rahul (Nishant Dahiya) on Facebook in order to woo Malvika (Tara D’Souza). What he doesn’t know is that Preity (Saba Azad) is also using Malvika’s Facebook account to get Rohit (which is really Vishal). Just one more thing: Vishal and Preity hate each other. It’s a simple enough premise. The problem is that the film quickly runs out of plot. Ideally, such a film could be easily wrapped up in less than 100 minutes, even with songs. However, to make it a full length Hindi feature, the director stretches the film beyond breaking point making the proceedings almost too agonizing to endure.

Also, the script doesn’t help things. The wafer thin plot is embellished with cardboard characters. Instead of a development graph or even remotely realistic teens, you find characters that oscillate between loving and hating each other randomly at the whims and fancies of the writer. They seemed to have walked straight out of a bad Hillary Duff/Lindsay Lohan chick flick. The jokes and one liners draw only intermittent laughs. Like Vishal, the writers are also delusional about the quality of their humour. The conflict between the two leads in the first half is screechy, loud and very forced. The plotting is clunky and laboured despite steadfastly following formula. The editor and the director are to blame for that. Also, you are constantly left wondering: Do either Vishal or Preity realize just how creepy they are? Where are their parents? Where are the teachers? Why do these guys talk like that? Do they even attend classes? And, what is with the product placement? Has Samsung (and not Y-Films) produced this picture? As these and several other questions claw at your brain, the film becomes increasingly insufferable.

Having said this, the film does have a few redeeming factors. The first is Raghu Dixit’s music which is youthful, fresh and zesty unlike the film and its characters. From the Irish-influences in ‘Uh oh uh oh’ and the cool, urban ‘Baatein Shuru’ to the traditional Sufi flavours of ‘Har Saans Mein’, his tunes light up the screen and go a long way in making the film as a whole bearable! The second is Saba Azad and Saqib Saleem. Both these actors have tremendous screen presence and some great chemistry together. In fact, when the script doesn’t demand that they screech at each other, they actually manage to bring some depth and life into their characters, almost making them endearing. Unfortunately, by then, it’s far too late to salvage the ship, let alone save it.

For all these reasons, I think MFK is a waste of your time and the effort of some seriously talented people. Y-Films has gone the Hollywood studio way; choosing to make generic, silly, substandard teen films, featuring over-aged actors desperately trying to pass off as teens, from a strict, market perspective rather than intelligent or <gasp> realistic ones. It's a pity, really. Do yourself a favour: buy and listen to the soundtrack instead.

Rating: 2/5

Friday, September 23, 2011

Speedy Singhs (2011)

The problem with Speedy Singhs is that it revels in its mediocrity It does not, even for a single moment, bother trying to rise above it. Its narrative is flat. The sports sequences look choreographed and lack energy.  It’s an uninspiring sports tale and a very routine cultural comedy. It tells us little about the Sikh/Indian community in Canada and instead chooses to get caught up in painful cliches. The attempts to shoehorn Bollywood elements are particularly cringe-inducing. The song with the CGI ice rink with the Taj Mahal is just wrong. And why are they listening to the finals telecast on the radio when they have huge TV screens at home? The characters are thinner than stick figures and the performances are uniformly wooden. Virmani looks good but could really use acting lessons. Camille Belle is too busy looking pretty to bother expressing. Rob Lowe and Russell Peters are wasted. Anupam Kher plays a role he has done a thousand times before.

So my recommendation is as follows: 

If you want a cross cultural sports comedy, rent Bend It Like Beckham instead,
If you want an ice hockey movie, watch Miracle or even The Mighty Ducks.
If you want a rousing sports movie, watch Remember the Titans.
If you want to watch an underdog story, go see Chak De India one more time.

But avoid this one. Seriously. Films like these give formula a bad name.

Rating: 1.5/5

Mausam (2011)

Mausam is about two lovers set over a period of ten years. Harinder “Harry” Singh (Shahid Kapoor) and Aayat Rasool (Sonam Kapoor) meet as teenagers in Mallukot, Punjab in November 1992. She has run away from the violence in Kashmir. For him, it is love at first sight. They court each other for a while and then, one fine day, he finds her house locked and gone from his life. 7 years later, in April 1999, they meet in Scotland. He’s now an Air Force pilot and she’s training to become a ballerina. They rediscover their love for each other and make promises of marriage. Unfortunately, fate has other plans. As national and global events determine the course of their lives, they fight against all odds to be reunited once again.

Expectations can be a bitch. And Mausam is a perfect example of that. I expected a lot from the film and tried really, really hard to like it. Quite unfortunately though, the film is a mess, and a big one at that. The story of lovers torn apart by circumstances had a lot of potential. A premise like this has delivered some of the greatest romances of all time including Casablanca, Kabhie Kabhi, The English Patient, Veer Zaara and others. Mausam gets quite a few things right. It has a very likable leading pair with good chemistry and some earnest supporting performances. The photography by Binod Pradhan is nothing short of exquisite. He captures not only the beautiful locales of Punjab, Scotland and Switzerland well but also manages to bring an emotional intensity through his camerawork in several key moments. The film features some exceptional music with Pritam playing against type and coming up with a great mix of sufi and folk music. Irshad Kamil’s poetry is emotionally mesmerizing. At a time when lyrics are getting increasingly cheap in the name of “hip, youthful and urban”, his lyrics haunt you with their poignancy and depth.

However, all of the talent in the world cannot make up for a weak story and a bad script. The film squanders all its merits with an extremely weak, uneven and choppy screenplay. There are abrupt shifts in tone, continuity issues and inexplicable disappearances of characters. Although Pankaj Kapur’s heart is in the right place, his writing skills need a lot of work. The story is unconvincing and the separation of the two lovers seems forced in several places, particularly in the post-interval portions. It’s difficult to feel anything for the characters despite all their sighing and crying (and there is a lot of that). With a runtime of 3 hours, the film is excessively long by a good 45 minutes. There just isn’t enough plot to justify the bloated runtime. The linear narrative also makes the story far too predictable. The plot twists can be seen from miles away. The excessive length robs the narrative of any life or joy. Too much time is spent on mundane details and too little on character development. By the end, enduring the film is actually agonizing. The climax, set in Ahmedabad in 2002, is actually tasteless, joyless and bland. All in all, Mausam aims for epic romance, and fails rather epically at it. It is, in my opinion, one of the biggest disappointments this year.

Rating: 2/5

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Crazy, Stupid, Love is basically four love stories rolled into one. First, there’s an old couple is going through a marital crisis (Julianne Moore and Steve Carell). Then we have a 17 year old girl falling for a much older man, a 13 year old falling for that 17 year old and a serial womanizer (Ryan Gosling) meeting a girl who changes his life (Emma Stone). 

It overcomes the familiarity of its plot with a few smart surprises in the second half that are likely to catch most of the audience off guard. It also benefits greatly from a refreshing mix of laugh out loud funny humour and an emotional earnestness that makes its characters endearing. The interesting ensemble delivers some fine performances. It is great to see Julianne Moore in a role worthy of her talent. It’s been far too long. Ryan Gosling successfully plays against type and shows us his comic side. Emma Stone is effervescent, hilarious and her lines are also very, very meta. Unfortunately, the film suffers from unevenness as the directors are unable to balance the four love stories adequately. Some stories get more footage than necessary at the cost of the developing the others better. Also, the needlessly extended climax and an unnecessary, rather creepy subplot (involving certain nude photos) mar the impact of an otherwise great romantic comedy. Yet, overall, this is a surprisingly smart and charming film about love between some really crazy, stupid but also good and loveable people.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Friends With Benefits (2011)

Two incredibly attractive, wise cracking leads.
A script that puts their wise cracks, foul mouths and amazing bodies to great use.
Energy bursting from every pore of the film.
A perfect exercise in pure formula like the director’s previous work Easy A.
Solid support, particularly from Richard Jenkins and Woody Harrelson.
Wish there was more of Patricia Clarkson though.
Meta-humour and film references in almost every scene.
This is formula for the Community generation.
Deluded and unrealistic just like every other romantic comedies.
But. Oh. So. Fun.
Bonus: Flash mobs. How can you not love them?
Verdict? Sit back and enjoy.

Rating: 3.5/5

P.S: I think I will stick to short reviews from hereon, at least for a while. What say?
P.P.S.: If the Community reference makes no sense to you, you are poorer for it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011)

The thing about froth is this: It makes a drink more interesting, appetizing and gives it a fresh look. However, ultimately, it’s just a whole lot of bubbles that eventually fizzle out. What matters is the drink at the bottom: how much and how good that is. In case of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, the froth is great. The product is slick and the embellishments work. However, the drink itself is just about average. That is not to say it’s a bad film. I’ve said it before, I will say it again: Formulas exist for a reason. When used properly, they can be quite entertaining. MBKD, for better or for worse, is pure formula. It plays to the strengths of the formula by embracing its silliness and having a jolly good time with it, making it just about entertaining enough to make it worthwhile.

The story is clear from the trailers itself: Luv (Ali Zafar), who lives in London, wants to settle down with an Indian bride. He leaves the bride hunting to his younger brother Kush (Imran Khan), an assistant director, with a penchant for the filmy. After much searching, he finds Dimple (Katrina Kaif), a reformed wild child who knows how to enjoy life to the fullest. As the wedding preparations are underway, Kush and Dimple find themselves falling for each other leading to a comedy of errors.

The story, script, dialogues and direction are all by first timer, Ali Abbas Zafar.  His story is routine and his script is uninspired. It maneuvers through the various romantic comedy clich├ęs as if written in autopilot. There are no plot twists whatsoever and the film plays steadfastly to the formula. It is also too long by 15 minutes thanks to the needlessly extended climax.

Nevertheless, the film works by and large primarily because it avoids the emotional and the sappy and keeps the proceedings light throughout. The dialogues are hilarious in several places and Zafar, the director directs the film with a sure, steady hand. He embraces the filmy and goes to town with it. The film is abound with movie references and some of them truly bring the house down. He relies on the goofiness of its primary cast that delivers well. Katrina Kaif’s character is genuinely interesting and for the first time, she actually delivers a great performance. She is laugh out loud funny, gorgeous and charming without trying too hard. Her performance here is similar to Kareena Kapoor’s in Jab We Met. Her chemistry with Imran Khan helps make even the dullest moments bearable. They look great together and complement each other throughout. Imran Khan has mastered the role of the boy next door and enacts his role effortlessly. He does seem to break out of character during some of the songs though. Ali Zafar is awkward and ill at ease initially but settles into his role reasonably well as the film progresses. The music is zesty and helps add to the youthful atmosphere the film is aiming at. The production work is excellent and the camera feasts on the beautiful people and historical locations.

Ultimately, MBKD is hardly hatke. There isn’t anything here that you haven’t seen before. Nevertheless, it is harmlessly frothy, forgettable, filmy fun that will keep you entertained throughout. It is a perfect date movie: sweet and amusing enough to entertain and predictable enough to allow for other extracurricular distractions. 

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bodyguard (2011)

After a brief stint at the hospital, a graduation, a severe dearth of decent movies and a mild case of writer’s block, I decided to return to blogging with Salman Khan’s Bodyguard. A few weeks back, I wondered (on Twitter) why the film’s producers had chosen such an aggressive marketing campaign. Not only were the promos and songs on air with an alarming regularity, the actors were promoting the film at every channel on every major programme possible. After all, it is Salman Khan; and it is Eid. This is a combination that has set records for two years in a row. It made me wonder if this was because the film was so bankrupt of content that the producers thought such a campaign necessary to fetch the thunderous start at the box office it now seems destined to have. A preview show later, I can confirm: Bodyguard is an awful film; a massive disappointment, even by Salman’s own standards.

Where do I even begin? There is no plot worth discussing. There is a tough simpleton Lovely Singh (Salman Khan) who must protect the daughter (Kareena Kapoor) of his benefactor (Raj Babbar). The daughter decides to play with Lovely’s emotions by calling him and pretending to be a girl in love with him. A brutal fist fight later, the game (and the love) becomes real. However, the bodyguard doesn’t realize this, dimwitted as he is made out to be in a foolish hope that it is mistaken for adorable. Meanwhile, the bad guys are after her and only he stands in their way.

The film takes this thin premise and stretches it over a 140 minute runtime. So bereft is the film of something that resembles a plot that it even shamelessly borrows a subplot from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in the end to justify its existence. Of course, it is all for naught. Just when you think the movie couldn’t get any worse, it does. Nothing works in the movie. The “love story” is essentially a rather cruel joke. The humour is primarily disgusting and borders on the offensive. The morbidly obese Rajat Rawail who acts as Lovely’s sidekick Tsunami (that’s his name, I kid you not), takes a stab at humour and actually ends up killing it. The jokes are just not funny. In places, they reek of homophobia and sexism. That the script is the product of five writers including the venerable Salim Khan who is credited as a ‘script consultant’ is a reminder of the standards to which writing as fallen to in mainstream, big budget Hindi cinema.

The action doesn’t work either. It lacks thrill throughout because of the lack of a credible villain. All the villains here are in special appearances, not to mention, complete buffoons. As far as choreography is concerned, just when you thought that Hindi films couldn’t overuse cable assisted action sequences any more, Bodyguard proves you oh so wrong. Salman Khan comes across as Neo and George of the Jungle in equal parts as he partakes in action sequences that destroy the laws of physics and make no sense whatsoever. Also, the special effects are just tacky. The sequence where Kareena is chased by a lethal mini helicopter through her house is funny for all the wrong reasons. In fact, as a production, this is just sloppy work in every department.

The only saving grace here is the music as we see Himesh Reshamiya make something of a comeback. The tunes are melodious although their awkward placement does not help them in the least. The performances are wooden. Both Kareena and Salman sleepwalk through their roles. As mentioned earlier, Rajat Rawail should be shot in public interest for his pathetic attempts at making you laugh.

Ultimately, Bodyguard makes Dabangg look like Deewaar and Ready like Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Golmaal. To call it an insult to your intelligence is being kind to it. This is to Salman Khan what Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was to Yash Raj Films and Yaadein to Subhash Ghai. That’s how bad it is. It is a classic case of star power being used to sell a substandard film. My advice? Avoid…at all costs. This Bodyguard will give you a sar dard.  

Rating: 1/5

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (2011)

The Harry Potter phenomenon is a rare one, maybe even unique, for the fact that unlike most others that succeeded greatly on the marketing front (Twilight, Transformers), it is a series that is still, very much based in the fan base of its books. This fan base existed long before the movies were even conceived, let alone marketed and it has remained strong since. As books, they have made a deep connection with a global audience, a feat managed by very few others (Bible, for example). The films were by and large underwhelming. However, the Deathly Hallows Part I proved to be an impressive and satisfying (albeit slow) setup to the grand finale. I had said, when reviewing that film, that its greatness, or lack thereof, would largely depend on its successor. Finally, having seen its successor, it is safe to say the greatness of the former is likely to remain intact for a long time to come. For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II is a great film and easily the finest of the series.

Voldemort (Fiennes) has the Elder Wand. Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson), having buried Dobby, embark on a frantic quest to retrieve and destroy all the Horcruxes before it is too late. This includes breaking into Gringotts, daring escapades with dungeons and dragons and a battle at Hogwarts that will test the will of Harry, his friends and his allies to its maximum limits. For neither can live while the other survives.

In terms of storytelling, the film scores distinction marks. It keeps most of the important elements in the books intact and more significantly, channels its spirit effectively. It is just the right mix of thrills, epic action, humour and pathos. The look of the film is nothing short of spectacular. They really did save the best for last. Wonderful visual effects, dramatic action pieces, a haunting score and some fantastic camera work; no stone is left unturned. The Battle of Hogwarts is conjured up in all its glory and does not disappoint in the least. Creativity oozes out of every orifice of this film. The liberties taken from the source material are excellent. They are more pervasive than in the previous entries and inject into the story a dose of freshness that most of the fans should find endearing. In fact, in a few places, it is actually more coherent and (gulp!) better than the writing in the book. Prof. McGonagall's lines are truly worthy of applause. Also, the film provides more meat to Neville Longbottom's character and provides a star making turn for Matthew Lewis who nails the opportunity and shines.

Flaws? A few. The epilogue looks just as idiotic in the film as it did in the book. Seriously, I do not know what Rowling was on when she wrote it. None of the actors look convincingly old. Nevertheless, that is more a fault of the source material rather than the film itself. The film itself can be faulted for butchering the back story of Dumbledore. Gellert Grindelwald is nowhere to be seen. Random references to it in the beginning will only disappoint the readers and confuse the rest, howsoever few. Also, much of the lore behind the deathly hallows is watered down on a need to use basis, relegating them to the background. However, the only bit that was truly disappointing was the skipping of the most poignant and shocking death in the book and the line that Prof. McGonagall delivers to Prof. Slughorn in the book.

Nevertheless, these are trifles in an otherwise stupendous enterprise. The awkward moments are far fewer here than in Part I. The approach is also much bolder. The greatest moment of the film is its depiction of The Prince's Tale, in my honest opinion, the most powerful and moving chapter in the book, maybe even the series. Once again, liberties are taken, scenes are added and removed. However, the cinematic version is every bit as poignant and sad as the book and stands on its own elevating the film considerably, much like the animated telling of the story of the Deathly Hallows in Part I.

Ultimately, Deathly Hallows Part II is a fitting farewell to the singular greatest phenomenon of our generation. It is magnificent without beng excessive, creative without sacrificing the heart of the tale and unarguably, the best adapted film from the series. To all the fans of Harry Potter, carry a tissue or two. And at the end of it all, raise your glasses to Harry Potter, the boy who lived.

Rating: 4/5

Caution: Watch it in 2D. This is too dark a film, in terms of the colour palette. The 3D experience is most likely to be underwhelming since the film was neither conceived or shot with the intention of being converted to 3D.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Delhi Belly (2011)

Hatke cinema came into vogue about a decade ago with films like Jhankaar Beats and others. Over the years, from a fringe movement, with greater commercial success, it has been mainstreamed and is now the cool thing to do. So much so that the biggest stars and production houses have taken it upon themselves to produce these sort of films. Aamir Khan has been on the forefront of this phenomenon, and proven himself to be something of a marketing genius in promoting these small (and often of dubious standard) movies to ensure big returns. Delhi Belly is his latest offering starring Imran Khan, Vir Das and Kunal Roy Kapur and much like Dhobi Ghat, the results are mixed at best.

Delhi Belly is about journalist Tashi (Khan) who lives with his two friends, the cartoonist (Das) and the pervert photographer (Kapur) in a derelict apartment in what seems to be one of the most squalid areas of Delhi. He receives a mysterious package from his fiance (She(h)naz Treasury(wala)) to deliver to an address. A free spirited colleague (Poorna Jagannathan), a case of severe loose motions and an unfortunate switch of packages leads to an insane comedy of errors as the trio is chased by goons (led by Vijay Raaz), jilted boyfriends and cops and chaos reigns supreme.

The film, directed by first timer Abhinay Deo and written by Akshat Verma, is not without its merits. For starters, the soundtrack of the film is simply superb. The tunes of Ram Sampath and the explosive lyrics of Amitabh Bhattacharya, complement the film every step of the way. It is also embellished with strong supporting performances particularly from Das, Kapur and Jagannathan although Imran Khan looks excruciatingly ordinary and brings little nuance or depth to his character. In terms of writing, there are some exceedingly clever dialogues throughout that will leave you in splits. The film successfully manages to be extremely edgy and naughty in its tone and approach. There are enough moments that will leave you sufficiently grossed out, disgusted and in a state of utter disbelief.

The problem here is that the film (and its makers) seem convinced that these elements alone suffice. They don't care too much for a plot or character development as they are too busy trying to distract you with how cool they are for using colourful expletives and gross out gags. Undeniably, there are some very interesting ideas here. Unfortunately, these ideas are very poorly translated into a plot. While the premise is set up competently in the first half, it is a rather glorious mess in the second half as highly implausible plot devices are thrown in and several loose ends are left untied. Several bits are either predictable or highly inexplicable. For example, why does Tashi live in such a filthy house despite having seemingly well of parents? Why does his rich fiance agree to carry such a package? There are several questions that come to mind and they only increase as the film progresses.

Ultimately, what starts off as an interesting premise does not end up amounting to anything more. Blame it on the poor plotting and the weak execution that undermine an otherwise slick production. I am not saying that it is a terrible movie. But it's not a very good one either. There will be those (including most, if not all, Indian critics) who will be enamoured by its coolness. I just wasn't. So, my advice? Wait for a lazy afternoon and cheap tickets or better still, DVDs.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers: The Dark of the Moon (2011)

I have always thought that Michael Bay is like the Manmohan Desai of Hollywood. His movies focused on entertaining you at all costs and critics love to hate him. Take the first Transformers for instance. I loved that film. I thought it was an excellent mix of humour, action, visual effects and packed just enough human drama and plot to make me want to suspend disbelief quite wholeheartedly. He is the king of masala movies in Hollywood. Films like The Rock and Armageddon continue to entertain millions around the world even today. 

However, he too has his share of misfires and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was arguably his greatest folly (Pearl Harbor being a very close second). Loud, convoluted, thoroughly pointless and at times, offensive, it was a headache inducing 3 hour disaster that just refused to end. It emphasised strictly on visuals and there too, opted for mere excess rather than further innovation. Therefore, I had reservations about the second sequel, particularly when they had the gall to use the title of a Pink Floyd album. Nevertheless, I found myself outside a theatre today at 9:30 a.m. surrounded by a sea of adolescents eagerly fighting their way through the lines for tickets to the first show. And much to my surprise, it was worth the effort.

The story starts in the 1960s when a Cybertronian ship crash lands on the dark side of the moon triggering the Space Race for its recovery. Cut to present time, Sam (Shia LeBeouf) has graduated, is frustrated and looking for a job. He has a new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who works to restore an antique car gallery owned by millionaire Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey) who also is on the Board for an MNC named Accurate where Sam gets a job. In another part of the world, the Autobots and Capt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) find a piece from the wreckage of the Cybertronian ship at Chernobyl which leads to the discovery and recovery of Sentinal Prime (Leonard Nimoy) on the ship along with a powerful new technology with frightening implications. At the same time, the Decepticons are moving. The pieces are set. The pawns are in place. Let the action begin!

There are four new additions to the cast: Patrick Dempsey, Leonard Nimoy, Frances MacDormand as the National Intelligence Director and John Malkovich as Sam's eccentric boss at the company. In terms of plot, the film goes back to the basics and provides a plotline similar to the first film but constructed on a much larger scale. The film is a vast improvement over Revenge of the Fallen simply for the fact that it benefits from a more coherent and whole plotline that is just enough to make you want to disregard the various plotholes. Michael Bay directs the film with a steady hand and manages to keep a better leash on its monstrous length and visual excesses.

Of course, as always, there is no characterisation worth talking about. There are a few smart lines here and there. Most of the actors sleepwalk through their roles like in the first two films. Turturro thankfully is far less annoying here. Dempsey's charming, villainous act not only looks effortless, but also probably is. Frances MacDormand is wasted in a minor role. However, Leonard Nimoy is exceptional as Sentinal Prime and brings the requisite amount of dignity to the character. Also, John Malkovich is wonderful in a minor role as he is allowed to run rampage and do what he does best. But that's all him rather than any effort from the writers. I have a sneaking suspicion that they left his parts in the script blank and allowed him to fill them up as he thought fit. Huntington-Whitely is a suitable replacement for Megan Fox and, like her predecessor, looks devastatingly gorgeous and acts very little.  

Visually, however, the film is nothing short of spectacular. I hate 3D technology fro the bottom of my heart as it is mercilessly exploited by strudios for better weekend grosses. However, Michael Bay makes exceptional use of the technology making Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the one film after Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon that I would recommend watching in 3D rather than 2D. The sheer depth and scale the technology adds here is tremendous and thankfully, Bay compensates for the colour saturation in terms of the lighting sufficiently to prevent 3D from dampening the experience.

In terms of the effects, the film thankfully focuses on not just bigger and more numerous action sequences, but also more interesting ones. Not since Transformers has a movie made me marvel and gasp this much at the action sequences. The detail with which the scenes are constructed and the use of slow motion at the appropriate moments adds much to the visual appeal of the film. The climactic battle is long, maybe a little too much. Nevertheless, the camerawork, the conceptualisation of the visual effects and the choreography of the action sequences is fantastic enough to make it well worth your time. In terms of pure action, the bridge chase sequence in the pre-interval portion is truly inspired stuff. Thankfully, the sound work this time is kept in check such that the metal crushing doesn't induce headaches.

At the end of the day, Transformers: The Dark of the Moon is nowhere as bad as its nonsensical title suggests. Sure, it is just as silly, overstuffed and excessive as you would expect from a Michael Bay film. The film won't win the franchise new fans. However, the fans of the first have reason to rejoice. It is a vast improvement over its immediate predecessor and is a throughly entertaining and engrossing ride from start to end. Its eye popping visuals are mounted on a plot which is just about strong enough to hold it all together. I can't say it won't insult your intelligence. However, I can say that you will probably forgive it for that.

Rating: 3.5/5

P.S.: (minor spoiler) I do think the climax and basic plot line is "borrowed" from Doctor Who: End of Time, Megatron being the Master and Sentinel being the Rassilon. What do you think Jason?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shaitan, X Men: First Class and West is West (2011): A Mixed Bag

Due to a lack of internet facilities, updating the blog has proved to be a little difficult. But anyway, three movies of interest released last week. Here’s what I thought of them:

Shaitan: Despite Indian critics raving about it, I think it was a rather weak film, especially so by Anurag Kashyap’s own self-imposed standards. He is a film maker that boasts of realism and novelty in his works and Shaitan had neither of these. In terms of plot, it was essentially inspired by the Akshay Kumar starrer Khiladi mixed with Cruel Intentions and several other poorer Hollywood teen drama movies. 5 over-privileged, debauch kids decide to stage a kidnapping to extort money from their parents and in the process, bite off way more than they can chew. Sound familiar? Also, it was laughably unrealistic particularly in the post-interval portions. The characters lacked depth and the film has a judgmental tone that is shockingly illiberal. Not everyone who has sex, is promiscuous and indulges in drugs are repressed maniacs with a propensity for violence. Nevertheless, it was stylistically classy and well-executed. The soundtrack is excellent and the photography is brilliant in certain portions with interesting use of light and shadow. There was also some experimenting in the story telling by Bejoy Nambiar, who shows promise as a director. The performances were strong but the one stand out performance was that of Kalki Koechlin. Overall, this is perhaps the weakest of Kashyap’s films since No Smoking.

Rating: 2/5

X Men: First Class: With Layer Cake and Kick-Ass, the one thing Matthew Vaughn proved is that he is one of the most stylish storytellers today. Here, he attempts to resuscitate the fledgling X Men series and while he fails to restore its glory in its entirety, he is successful enough to make us hunger for more. The prequel begins with providing us with the origins of Eric Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), a Nazi concentration camp survivor and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), a privileged and brilliant Professor specialising in the study of mutations at Oxford. When the CIA stumbles upon a plot to start World War III by the sinister Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), it recruits the two mutants to find others like themselves and save the world from destruction. While the film is suave and stuffed with immense amounts of cool, it lacks the substance and spirit that could have taken the series to the next level. The story suffers for the sake of style and there is little character development worth talking about. The only exception to the character of Eric Lensherr which benefits from a fantastic performance from Michael Fassbender who plays the powerful but damaged Magneto to perfection. Overall, this is a good but not great movie. A superb cameo from Wolverine though.

Rating: 3/5

West is West: A considerably improvement over East is East, this film was entirely different in substance and tone taking a much more serious approach than the first film. It is less crass, lewd and doesn’t play to the galleries like East is East did. Here, Jahangir Khan a.k.a. George (Om Puri) takes his last born Sajid (Aqib Khan) to his homeland in Pakistan to make him acquainted with his roots. In so doing, he confronts his first wife and the family he left behind 30 years ago leading to hilarity and poignancy in equal measure. Written with great wit and uncharacteristic amounts of intelligence, the film depicts the alternate culture and life in the Orient without mystifying or demonsing it. Its non-judgmental tone and emphasis on symbiosis is laudable. The humour is plenty in supply and works brilliantly in a lot of places. The verbal sparring between Pir Naseem and Sajid are some of the best written portions of the film. The director also does a remarkable job of contrasting Sajid’s journey of self-discovery with:George’s journey of re-discovery which involves facing his past. The performances of Om Puri, Ila Arun and Nadim Sawalha are simply outstanding. Ila Arun particularly pitches in a powerful and haunting act. Only one flaw: set in 1976, the film lacks a strong sense of time and place, which could have elevated the film to another level. Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly entertaining and insightful film that should not be disregarded.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2: The Return of Po!

Sequels are tricky business. The audience, satiated by the first film, expects more from the second. Most film makers mistake the more to mean simply more of the elements that made the first film good. So a sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean will simply find excuses to shoehorn more and more eye popping visuals and Jack Sparrow humour without bothering with a coherent story let alone daring to deliver something different. Very rarely does a sequel try something different and actually succeeds in it, while keeping the elements that made the original so successful (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Toy Story 2). Kung Fu Panda 2 attempts that and thankfully, succeeds in doing so, by and large.

Welcome back to the Valley. Po (Jack Black) has, with the Furious Five, protected the Valley and maintained peace and harmony. However, sinister things are brewing in Gongmen City, where a formidable villain, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) has sworn to bring an end to kung fu and devised a weapon that threatens peace in all of China. At the same time, Po discovers a secret about his past that makes him question everything and he must find answers as he sets out on a journey to defeat the enemy and save not only the Valley but all of China!

In terms of plotting, the film owes a big debt to the Biblical story of Moses and a more minor one to The Lion King. However, these plot devices are suitably transposed to the universe of the Panda and, thanks to some clever writing and strong storytelling, stand on their own to provide a thoroughly entertaining time. While the film is short on humour compared to the first, there are several moments which will have you laughing hard. The dragon disguise scene in particular is side splittingly funny. The action set pieces are innovative and funny and  awe-inspiring in equal measure. The film also charts into new territory with its dramatic elements. This is a considerably darker and meaner film. Both the hero and his nemesis are given more depth and dimension than the first. And it does a fantastic job of balancing it all providing grand entertainment with sufficient pathos to make it well worth our time. In doing so, it is much better than Shrek 2 made by the same studio, which attempted something similar (in that case, trading comedy for romance).

What also helps the film greatly is that it is gorgeously animated. Each frame is rich in terms of colour and texture. Even the most mundane and routine elements are beautifully visualised and brought alive on the screen. Particularly, the animation in flashbacks and the climactic battle is breathtaking and the visuals there add greatly to the emotional impact. The voice cast as expected, never disappoints and there are excellent vocal cameos from Michelle Yeoh as the Soothsayer and Jean Claude Van-Damme as Master Croc. Jack Black carries the film on his broad shoulders and is ever bit as endearing as he was in the first outing.

Ultimately, Kung Fu Panda 2 is quite different from its predecessor in substance and tone in that it is considerably less funny and more dramatic. However, what it may lack in humour, it more than makes up for in adventure, scale, depth and poignancy. Moreover, it loses none of the heart and little of the exuberance that made the first so endearing. Magnificently animated and thoroughly entertaining from start to end, Kung Fu Panda 2 is that rare kind of sequel that not only delivers the goods, but leaves you longing for more. I didn’t think I would say this, but we really need a third outing. Soon.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thor (2011): Gods and Monsters Galore!

The Avengers is arguably having one of the greatest build ups in movie history. The movie arrives in 2012 and will be directed by the TV sci-fi genius, Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel). But before that, we have a variety of superhero movies as a build up to what will be one of two most anticipated movies of Summer 2012 (the other being Nolan's final entry of the Batman series). First, there was Iron Man which was followed by The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. Now, we have Thor which will be followed by Captain America: The First Avenger. Each film has a standalone story and at the same time, forms one large origins story together forming a bridge that leads to The Avengers. So, the one question that remains is: does Thor satisfy? The answer is yes. Hell yes.

The film introduces us to the land of the gods, Asgard ruled by the just, valiant and fair Odin (Anthony Hopkins). After defeating the Frost Giants of Jotunheim in a great war, the kingdom has maintained an uneasy alliance with them keeping their source of power while letting them live. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Odin’s first born, and the wielder of Mjolnir, the hammer with infinite power, is a spoilt, warmongering man filled with pride and vanity. The second born Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a magician beyond compare and resents his brother for all that he is. Thor, with his friends, impulsively attacks the Frost Giants, thereby breaking the truce that has existed between the two planets. For this, Odin banishes Thor to Earth, stripping him of his power to teach him a lesson. There he meets Jane (Natalie Portman), a scientist (or astrophysicist...or something like that), her mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings). S.H.I.E.L.D. gets control of the hammer. Now Thor must learn his lesson to earn his power and position back. Meanwhile, something sinister is brewing in Asgard.

As a character, like Tony Stark, Thor is arrogant and vain. However, unlike Tony Stark, there is a childishness to his arrogance; a boyishness to his pride that makes him idiotic and not cool. At the same time, he is honourable, loyal and inherently good. Therefore, you can’t help but root for him. He is a more straightforward and conventional superhero.

Kennneth Branagh, whose previous credits as a director include Peter’s Friends, Dead Again and multiple Shakespeare adaptations, directs Thor. An odd choice of director, one may say. However, Branagh handles the film well, embracing the inherent silliness of it all and having delightful amounts of fun with it. And I tell you, it is silly. There are electric super-storms, tornadoes and what not in a small town in New Mexico and the laws of science are bent and broken at convenience. However, the proceedings are engrossing throughout as the director pays due respect to the mythical elements of the comics avoids the sappy and syrupy like the plague. There is a lot of cleverness shining out of every pore of the film, whether it is in the lines or the humour or the self-referencing. So, even though the love story is half baked, the effects are shoddy in places and the two halves of the film are badly balanced (with too little happening in the first half and too much in the second), you don’t really care because you are too busy being entertained.

Hemsworth is perfectly cast as Thor. He looks the part and has the winning personality required for it also. He is most certainly destined for stardom. Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings are largely wasted and more screentime is given Jaimie Alexander who looks gorgeous and kicks some serious ass. Stellan Skarsgard provides able support and provides relief at all the right places. Tom Hiddleston is thoroughly menacing as Loki and could really do well as Snape in a remake of Harry Potter 20 years from now. Idris Elba is supremely cool as Heimdall, the all seeing Asgardian Gate Keeper.

At the end of the day, suspension of disbelief is a much abused term in cinema. However, there is a reason why the term was created and Thor is an excellent example of it. Go ahead. Enjoy.

Rating: 3.5/5

P.S.: The only thing better than watching a great movie in the cinema is watching two great movies in the cinema.

Shor in the City (2011): Chaotic Brilliance

There are few things I hate admitting. This is one of them. Ekta Kapoor, in my humble opinion, is fast turning into a remarkable film producer with a unique place for herself in the industry. Through a regular dose of wildly experimental films, she is changing the ball game entirely. Last year, it was Love, Sex aur Dhokha. This year, it is Shor in the City followed by Ragini MMS. First to hit the theatres is Shor in the City and my, what a movie this is! It is arguably the best exercise in black humour that we have seen in years in this side of the world. It is tough, gritty, mean and at times, oh-so-funny. This is the kind of movie that Dhobi Ghat wish it had been.

The film has three intersecting stories set during the Ganpati Festival in Mumbai. The first is of Tilak (Tushar Kapoor) who runs a printing press that specialises in printing pirated copies of bestsellers. Recently married, he bums around with his two friends Ramesh (Nikhil Dwivedi) and Mandook (Pitobash). A bag stolen from the train opens a can of worms that none of them are prepared for. Next, we have Sawan Murthy a.k.a. Savvy (Sundeep Kishan), who needs to come up with 10 lakhs to make the team for state cricket (and from there, IPL). He also must deal with his girlfriend who is under constant pressure for marriage from her family. Finally, we have Abhay (Sendhil Ramamurthy, Heroes), an NRI returning to India, who is struggling to start a business and must deal with local thugs trying to extract money in the name of “security”.

Clocking just over 100 minutes, the film is a taut, well paced dramedy. The stories run parallel to each other and the proceedings get quite chaotic. However, the film has been directed with great precision by first timers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK. They direct the film with a steady hand and hold the attention of the audience throughout. They show a great eye for visuals and rich, atmospheric details that help set the tone of the film at several places. The movie is incredibly tense and deliriously funny in equal parts. Moreover, the romance here, particularly between Tilak and his wife, has a lovely awkwardness to it which is absolutely adorable. As they navigate through different moments of intimacy, there is a certain poignancy, humour and charm that is all but lost in romances these days.

Technically, the film is absolutely brilliant. The camerawork is stupendous and captures a completely different side of the city. While Dhobi Ghat gave us a look at the city and its culture from the outside, choosing to observe things from a distance, the cinematography Shor in the City consciously chooses a more intimate approach. Suffusing the frames with a warm colour palette, it immerses you in the city, whether it is the upper middle class milieu or the large street processions during Ganpathi Visarjan. The odd angles and the crisp editing help create the atmosphere of chaos that is central to the film. The minimal music is absolutely fantastic and used appropriately throughout.

In terms of performances, the entire principal cast delivers fine performances. And yes, that includes Tushar Kapoor. In an interesting mix of machismo, decency and almost childlike innocence, he is actually perfectly cast in the role. Nikhil Dwivedi is also brilliant as the best friend. However, the one performance that you take with you from the film is that of Pitobash Tripathy who is stupendous as the wise cracking, naive and extremely annoying part of the trio. He is impulsive, absurd, and downright daft at times and absolutely convinces you of his idiocy.

The film does have some minor flaws primarily in its conclusion where it seems to suffer from spasms and goes a bit erratic. But overall, this is easily the most fun I have had in a Hindi movie in a very long time. It does draw inspirations from Four Lions, Dog Day Afternoon and other films. However, it brings its disparate elements together and weaves them into a sharp narrative. It is smart, funny, shocking and gritty in equal measure and totally worth the price of admission. In these sad times, how rare is that?

Rating: 4/5

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rango (2011): Ambitious Animation

Rango is the polar opposite of Rio. While Rio is mostly been there done that, Rango is nothing like you have ever seen before in animation. For starters, this is an animated film for adults; that rare one that goes beyond rude humour and double entendres as an attempt to include adults within its target audience. Sure, there is plenty of humour for children, but this is a film that adults will appreciate and enjoy more. It is a marvellous little gem of a film that tries to be so many things and succeeds ultimately at most of them. This is to Pixar what Pixar was to Disney. It is a challenge; the next step in animated storytelling.

Rango is about a lot of things. The plot is arguably the least of them all. But anyway, it is a film about a Lizard with No Name (Johnny Depp) whose quiet, lonely life in a fish tank writing plays, musicals and conversing with toys is turned upside down when he gets separated from his keepers and is left in the Mojave Desert. As he courses through the harsh terrain, he comes across the town of Dirt occupied by various reptilian and feline creatures. There, he claims to be a hero from the West and dons the name Rango. With a quirk of fate and a little luck, he quickly finds himself promoted to Sheriff by the Tortoise Mayor (Ned Beatty). But there is something sinister brewing. The town has run out of water and there is no explanation for it. Together with the townsmen, Rango sets out to investigate this on a path that will lead him to discover true heroism.

While Rio played it safe and by the numbers, Rango has ambition to spare. Gorgeously animated in traditional 2D, it starts out slow but grows on you over time. The first half is interesting but offbeat and not very funny. But once you accept and get accustomed to its deliberate awkwardness, the second half is brilliant, near perfect in its execution. The film is bursting at its seams with originality and uncharacteristic amounts of intelligence. It is a nice reminder of what Gore Verbinski is actually capable of when he is not busy churning out crappy box office blockbusters (Read: PoTC 2 & 3). The film is abound with clever movie references from Chinatown to the Leone’s Dollars Trilogy; from Lord of the Rings to Depp’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Having said this, there are flaws in the film. The sudden shifts in tone throughout the film seem odd and awkward. There are times when the film is overtly serious or slapstick, particularly in the first half. Plus, the resolution of the mystery itself is unclear and inadequately explained. However, these are forgivable flaws in an otherwise stupendous enterprise. The animation is stunning in places, particularly the slow motion depiction of the accident that leaves Rango stranded in the desert, the aerial battle in the second half of the film as well as the scenic beauty of the desert throughout. The music by Hans Zimmer is excellent and testimony to his versatility as a composer. It incorporates traditional Country/Western instruments and tunes and gives it a very contemporary spin.

Johnny Depp is brilliantly cast as Rango and gives us arguably a character even more interesting than Captain Jack Sparrow. His voice modulation is stunning in places. Isla Fisher and Abigail Breslin are quite cute as Rango’s love interest, Beans and the little rodent Priscilla. Ned Beatty and Bill Nighy are menacing as the Mayor and Rattlesnake Jake. However, the true standout voiceover is that of Timothy Olyphant as the Spirit of the West. He nails the Clint Eastwood style and accent, and had me completely fooled.

Ultimately, Rango is soaked in ambition and is a wickedly funny, smart and deliriously original film. It may be imperfect in certain respects but it certainly represents a bold step forward in the field of animation. It is a fantastic return to form for Depp and Verbinski and is an absolute treat for those who expect their movies to have brains. 

Rating: 4/5

Friday, April 15, 2011

HappyThankYouMorePlease (2011)

It is easy to dismiss the Sundance favourite HappyThankYouMorePlease as just another sitcom-ish pretentious New York movie about self-absorbed young people whose little problems are made to look like the end of the world. I choose not to tread down that path. Personally, I found HappyThankYouMorePlease to be a disarmingly charming, sweet film about a bunch of New Yorkers dealing with life, adulthood and all the little quirks that entails. It features believable, endearing characters caught between the teenage mentalities left behind, their present carefree existences and the increasing demands of adulthood. Like any set of interconnecting stories, there are portions I liked more than the others. But what is surprising, is that I loved them all and the film as a whole. There was not a single story that was odd or pale in comparison to the others.

The film has three distinct stories. We first meet a young, struggling writer Sam (Radnor) who finds a kid (Michael Algieri) in the New York subway and takes him in. He also manages to seduce Mississippi (Kate Mara), a waitress at a restaurant trying hard to hold her own life together. His family friend is Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan), a stationery store employee who is in a steady relationship with the bum Charlie (Pablo Schreiber). Their relationship is tested when he asks her to leave New York and move to Los Angeles for his work. Finally, there is Sam’s best friend Annie (Malin Akerman), who suffers from Alopecia; does philanthropic work and is deeply unhappy with her life. However, things take an interesting turn when she meets the ordinary looking and slightly odd Sam (No. 2) (Tony Hale) who works in the legal department of her office.

The film is wonderfully written and directed by Josh Radnor (Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother). The dialogues are offbeat and insightful. Although the influence of Woody Allen is evident in certain portions, there is vibrancy and joy throughout that is all Radnor. The narrative is surprisingly even with all the stories interconnecting almost seamlessly. The greatest bits are in the last half hour where each story is poignantly concluded, with honesty, realism but a strong sense of hope and optimism. It is here that Radnor, the writer really shines. The themes are nicely wrapped together in this portion and equally reflected in each of the stories. As a New York movie, it is the best I have seen in recent years.

Of the individual stories, the story of Annie and Sam (No. 2) is the finest. The characters are beautifully realised there and the story is extremely touching and beautiful. Radnor’s use of the camera is interesting in places, particularly the close ups and the lighting that create a sense of intimacy. The production quality is good and soundtrack is excellent featuring some fine songs by Jaymay specially produced for the film.

The performances are outstanding. In the hands of a more amateur cast, the film would fall apart despite the scripting. However, the cast here is extremely competent. It also benefits from the fact that they are somewhat known but not hugely popular which allows them to bring a distinct freshness to the film. The performances you really take home are those of Tony Hale and Malin Akerman. Akerman (Watchmen, 27 Dresses) sheds her glamorous image and takes up a complex and challenging role, doing it complete justice. Hale brings a lot of depth to his few lines. The other outstanding performance is that of Pablo Schreiber as the passionate but frustrated Charlie. The final confrontation scene between him and Kazan is particularly excellent.

While it may not be The Station Agent, HappyThankYouMorePlease is an intelligent and remarkable debut for Josh Radnor as a writer and director, who shows great potential for storytelling. As a 20 something, I found much in the film I could relate to. Thematically, it reminded me of Garden State but without the grim and melancholic tones. So, give it a shot with an open mind and you are unlikely to be disappointed. This is a buoyant, lovely little indie that will make you feel warm, joyous and put a smile on your face for a long time after. And like the film says, we all deserve to be happy and feel loved. Dear Mr. Radnor, thank you. More please?

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rio (2011): An Exuberant Trifle

In Hollywood, animation has grown considerably in the last twenty years. With each entry in the genre pushing boundaries, technically as well as in terms of storytelling, it is difficult not to be critical of the ones that settle for less. Last year, we had Megamind, which played, in my opinion, like a poor man’s version of Despicable Me. I walked into Rio expecting a similar moviegoing experience, particularly because 20th Century Fox Animation hadn’t delivered anything remotely memorable apart from the Ice Age franchise. But I must admit, I was very pleasantly surprised. Although it will not win any awards or accolades, Rio is a wonderfully animated and quite an adorable film that has something for all ages.

The plot of Rio is expectantly quite routine. Think Madagascar done as a generic love story with a strong conservation theme. Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is the last male Macaw of his kind. Caged and taken away from his natural habitat, he was found and raised by Linda (Leslie Mann) in Moose Lake, Minnesota. He can’t fly and is quite comfortable living in captivity. A visit from a bird specialist Tulio (Rodrigo Santaro) reveals that there is a female Macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway) held in captivity in Rio and that Blu could save his species. This brings them to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where Blu must deal with vicious bird catchers, being lost in the Wild, saving the species and winning the affection of Jewel, all in the middle of the Rio Carnival, the biggest carnival in the world.

The first half of the film plays it safe and by the numbers. There are no surprises or twists worth talking about. The characters are introduced and you can see every twist and turn along the way well before it arrives. However, the love story has enough heart and the humour is spot on. The double entendres are a little too obvious in places but my god, they are funny! The second half of the film picks up quite well and the finale is absolutely entertaining. The original music by John Powell is very good overall and the film features some great foot-tapping tunes.

The quality of the animation is quite simply, outstanding. The detail with which Rio de Janeiro is brought to life is mesmerising to behold. It reminds you of the recreation of Paris in Ratatouille. The scenes running to the favellas of Rio are particularly well done. However, the truly stunning moment in the film is in the penultimate portions where the Rio Carnival is animated in all its glory. Those portions are awe-inspiring and pretty spectacular. The quality of the 3D is superior as it does not dull the colour pallette and therefore, the moviegoing experience.

The film also benefits from an outstanding voice cast. Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway work exceedingly well as a pair. As expected, she is effortlessly charming; he is awkwardly so. Together, they give the protagonists depth and flair in equal measure. The other outstanding contributions are from and Jamie Foxx as Pedro and Nico, the two birds accompanying Blu and Jewel after they are on the run from bird catchers. They are funny, musical and play like more melodious versions of Eddie Murphy in Shrek and Mulan. Jemaine Clement is hilarious as Nigel, the aging bird who is helping the crooks.

Overall, there is little in Rio that you haven’t seen before. However, it is saved by some wonderful animation, an exuberant spirit and just about enough heart to make you feel the love. It is a trifle, and nothing more. But this is exactly the kind of trifle you want to indulge in. So. Indulge away. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, April 11, 2011

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

Edward Zwick is a bit of a wild card with his films. He constantly experiments with the subject matter of his films and he has his share of advocates and adversaries. His works often divide critics and Love and Other Drugs was no exception. Plus, it was dumped into the markets rather unceremoniously by 20th Century Fox. Despite this, I looked forward to the film with some anticipation. And it wasn’t in vain because even though it isn’t an extremely well crafted motion picture, I found it highly refreshing in its frank, honest take on adult relationships.

The film is set in the late 1990s. Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), an aimless, empty womaniser is trying to make a career in the highly competitive pharmaceutical market as a sales representative. He flirts his way up; it’s a part of his job description. On one of his sales visits, he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a carefree artist who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. What starts out as just casual sex gradually develops into romance which soon gets complicated as her disease and his career path are moving in opposite directions.

With Love and Other Drugs, Zwick moves into entirely uncharted territory i.e. romantic comedies. The script has its moments and they are peppered throughout the film such that the proceedings are rarely dull. The conversations between the two lead characters are  always interesting and insightful. The humour moves beyond jokes and gags and relies on wit, irony and sarcasm. Thankfully, the writing is also solid in the dramatic portions as well. In fact, it is these portions that stay with you. The scene where an old man tells Jamie of his experience of living with his wife suffering from Parkinson’s disease is brutally painful in its honesty. Hathaway’s outburst when she is unable to get her medication is also extremely well done.

Thematically, the film does come off as an awkward mix of romance, comedy and social commentary. It succeeds most in the as a love story as it doesn’t try to do much with the rest. Had these been integrated better into the narrative, then we would have a classic on our hands. Nevertheless, Zwick uses Maggie's disease and pharmaceutical industry (particularly the introduction of Viagra in the market) well as plot devices to move the romance forward. Thankfully, he refrains from being preachy and never moves the focus away from the romance. The dialogues are stunning in places, particularly in the second half of the film. The sex is fairly graphic, a rarity in an American film with mainstream stars but it is also emotional and aesthetic, which is a rarity in American films altogether.

The film also benefits from bravura performances from Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, both of whom shed all inhibitions for the camera, quite literally so. Their chemistry is electric. Gyllenhaal is very good as the funny and charming Jamie and brings out the transformation of his character quite well. But it is Hathaway who steals the show. She is absolutely outstanding as an outgoing, assertive woman struggling with a debilitating disease at a young age. She particularly performs exceedingly well in portraying the character at her most vulnerable and volatile. It is remarkable to note how much she has grown as an actor from The Princess Diaries or even The Devil Wears Prada. It is on their broad shoulders that the film rests and they deliver excellent performances.

I guess the best way to see Love and Other Drugs is to see it as a love story set in the backdrop of the pharmaceutical market in the mid-1990s. It works that way quite well. It has moments of outrageous humour and emotional resonance in equal measure. It’s not a particularly strong comment on the state of the practice of medicine in the United States. But I don’t think it was ever intended to be. For that, I highly recommend Michael Moore’s Sicko. This film is for those who like a dose of honesty in their romantic comedies. It is not the classic it could have been given that the film appears quite disjointed in portions. Even so, it still qualifies as a heart-warming, earnest and oh-so-adult romance whose honesty sets it apart from the legion of trashy romances and rom-coms. 

Rating: 3.5/5