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