Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: THE COMMUTER


BEEN THERE, SEEN THAT.

1.5 stars

Mini Review:

It's Liam Neeson. So you'll love everything about him. But then he gets on the same train you've seen in so many movies. And you know something is going to go wrong. It does. And like Harrison Ford who throws terrorists from his Air Force One, Liam Neeson will save the innocent from the baddies who seem to have the eyes on him... It's been done to death, and Liam Neeson's earnest 'good guy who has a background of violence' cannot save this film.

Main Review:

How many train movies have you seen? From Gone Girl you watched recently, the train films are everything from Taking Of Pelham 123 to Great Train Robbery back when the movies were just being made, you have watched everything. Even Steven Seagal has a movie where he saves the world by killing all the terrorists on a train with some activated nuclear device...

So when they show you Liam Neeson taking the train every day, you know something bad is going to happen on the train. It does. And he gives it his all. But the CGI is so thoughtless and tacky, Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani had better sfx...

The mad walk up and down the train that Liam Neeson does drove me crazy. I started counted the number of compartments and then did the count of 'does he really go up and down the entire train'. It just got boring. I wanted him to say, 'Release the Kraken!' just to help us get over the scanning travelers...

The passengers are all initially boring. They try really hard to be suspicious the moment the hero begins to search for the person with a stolen bag. This transformation is accompanied by music that seems to come from a generic music bank marked: action film where villains have surrounded the hero. 

Yes, people get thrown out of the train, there is broken glass, there are frightened people, there are red herrings where we think this could be the bad guy and turns out to be creepy but not the person...

It goes on and on and the story gets more unbelievable. You just sigh when you realise who the bad guys are and are actually relieved that the film is over.

You know you have to wait for the film to be shown on your tv when critics yawn audibly and yawn some more at the screening. 






Review: MY BIRTHDAY SONG


Idea Accha Hai. Much Required In Its Execution

2 stars

Mini Review:

Is it is guilt for the one sexual encounter that keeps Rajeev
Kaul awake or has he really killed the girl? The film is a
psychological thriller which is rather interesting, but feels
dragged despite its short running time of 95 minutes. Sanjay
Suri looks traumatised enough as Rajeev Kaul but is that
enough? This film has a decent supporting cast but needed a
huge pay-off at the end. So much thrill for so little an end…

Main Review:

First time director Samir Soni makes an interesting point
with this psychological thriller: Is Rajeev Kaul’s guilt about a
passionate encounter with a stranger driving him crazy?
Or has he really not done anything and is stressing out for no
reason at all?

It’s Rajeev’s 40th birthday and the weather is odd. It’s raining in
December. And Rajeev is feeling like a man out of place at his
own party. The problem here is that there’s no explanation given
why. We have to assume. And if these are not his friends, why
has his wife Ritu invited them? The guests at the party say inane
things (expositions, really) like, ‘He made so much money in
advertising that he bought this farmhouse.’

They introduce the seductress (Nora Fatehi) as, ‘My sister’s friend’.
Who brings their sister’s friend to a party? It just sounds wrong in
Hindi on many levels.

The Groundhog Day idea of repeating the events again and
again in order to make us begin to believe there is a possibility
that something big is about to happen. We get to see plenty of
weird: The appearance of Pitobash in odd situations makes us
believe that is Pitobash actually appeared in your life (even as a
friend), then there’s something seriously wrong with it. The other
thing about this repetition of events, we get to see Sanjay Suri
drive and drive and drive and drive his car. In inadvertent lighter
moment as an audience, you begin to feel like the harassed Delhi
commuter, but the drive scenes do nothing to push the story
forward. Neither does he have any epiphany about his situation.
It’s just driving around.

The idea that the girl seems to meet the same end, no matter what
should have been shown more instead of him driving again and
again. That would give us a deeper concept of ‘Karma’  and how
‘debts need to be paid’ that the film is attempting to tell. But the
filmmaker adds inane things like Rajeev suspecting his wife of
infidelity because he has cheated himself seems really trite.
And the film ends rather tamely even though it could have been
a powerful and emotional payoff.

It’s a great attempt. But the film had a long way to go on script
level before it became awesome. The music is unusual and
different from the elevator music that cinema today is churning
out by the heap.


(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)

Review: VODKA DIARIES


Naam Toh Soch Liya. Film Toh Soch Lo Bhai!


½ star


Mini Review:


It’s one thing to want to make a psychological thriller
and another to make it so badly that the audience begins
to wish someone actually slap or beat up the protagonist,
Kay Kay Menon. The whole film revolves around him, and
even though Shutter Island did the same, there can be no
comparison of that prison of the mind story with this
ghastly, cheap remake that ends up looking like an episode
of a TV crime show.

Main Review:


You watch Kay Kay Menon go through the motions of being cop
husband to a poet wife with amusement, and then begin to
wonder: why are they ‘holidaying’ up the mountain when their
own home is just down hill? That’s five minutes into the film!
And if they were on holiday, why is the wife complaining about
him always putting work first? Where did he go running off to
leaving a gorgeous wife (Mandira Bedi) to write poetry? Why
does she have the energy of a corpse? Why is she trussed up
in a saree when the snow is piled up high everywhere? Costumes
apart, you’re already wondering what is the worst that could
happen after such a ghastly mistake? But you’re in for a surprise.
This may be the first of many mistakes…


The film has been shot in a picturesque snowbound small town,
but there is nothing remotely cinematic about the characters
who look like they’re extras from TV cop shows and who should
not be given speaking parts. Including the assistant to the
protagonist who talks so much it’s annoying. And the ‘jokes’
he wants to crack are so lame you wish he were dead instead
of someone who’s been cheating on their girlfriends…
He’s called Ankit (Sharib Hashmi). Every time Kay Kay gets
exasperated Ankit shows up and then vanishes after giving gyan.
You wish he were the victim next for his awful screen presence.


Looks like the filmmakers did not think of practical things in a film:
How does a fancy ACP have no control whatsoever on the
investigation? How does a small town up in snowbound land, have
a ‘forensics’ team that shows up at different crime scenes without
a problem? Is the hotel called Vodka Diaries, or the event at the
hotel nightclub? What do they think they are doing by destroying
snowmen? Why is his poet wife missing? Why does she suddenly
behave like some jealous harpy when Kay Kay shows up as
Rishi Gautam? It’s an assault on the senses, and not in a
good way.

You wonder what Raima Sen is doing in the film, trying to
be mysterious? Is she a dead person too, now haunting
Kay Kay? You wonder which publisher publishes fiction in that
odd size? You wonder why Mandira Bedi carries an empty glass
up to her room instead of a bottle (like most drunk people would
choose to)? And the reveal is so pathetic, you begin to groan
when Kay Kay removes the intravenous line from his hand.
Obviously the filmmakers have never had an IV inserted in their
hands. Removing it is mind-blowingly painful. Just like this film.




(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com )

 

Review: DARKEST HOUR


The Actors Shine Bright 

3 stars

Mini Review:

We've all seen Dunkirk, and although it was visually and musically spectacular, it went into the realm of fantasy more than giving us the horrific reality of war. This film is like a prequel to Dunkirk as well as a brilliant portrayal of a man who was universally hated. Acting with prosthetics has become a 'thing', but to be able to cut through the hatred for the character and become an inspiring figure makes for a great film.

Main Review: 

The film is set in the middle of World War II, where Western Europe is shown woefully ill-equipped to fight the ruthless Nazi war machine. Their air strikes are deadly and their army is remorseless. Their Navy has all but decimated every other allied warship and is ruling the seas as well. In such a setting, a WWII freak like yours truly is taken to the British Parliament where politics take center stage. Clement Atlee, the Prime Minister has just lost the vote of confidence and they are all dreading the choice: Winston Churchill. 

Now Indians have a horrible history with Churchill. After all, he didn't care at all about us, and hoped that the Bengal famine would wipe us 'vermins' out, so walking into an almost biopic made the Indian part of me hope they would have made him out to be hateful as well.

It isn't.

Gary Oldman makes you smile with his joy of discovering the two meanings of the Victory sign, makes you mad when he is rude to Lily James who plays his secretary, makes you wish your loved ones were gentle the way he softens when he shares a sweet moment or two with his wife (Kirsten Scott Thomas who is just brilliant in her not so big role). I enjoyed watching his political opponents squirm, and I wish I knew more about him and the foxy Viscount Halifax and Neville Chamberlain. I wanted to read more about how he thought, what he really cared for when I was watching the film. What about Cicero and Shakespeare that drove Winston Churchill's statesmanship. What were his patriotic ideals? 

We see Churchill turn the tide around when he manages to cleverly manipulates the parliament, knowing full well how they hate his guts. He has a reputation that he wakes up with Scotch, has Champagne with lunch and ends the day with Scotch again, and consumes wine in the middle of the day while smoking cigars non-stop. The King hates offering him the Prime-Ministership because he has ruined the relationships in India and elsewhere. With so much political opposition, and a country on the brink of a huge loss in the war, Winston Churchill manages to take decisions that look horrible. He once again sacrifices the lives of 4000 soldiers at Calais to drive the German attention away from Dunkirk where more than 300,000 soldiers have been pushed to the beaches. He has to prepare the island country for a German invasion. 

The story is engaging, to say the least. But those with only cinematic interest, the story will seem lengthy. Yes, there are liberties taken with the story telling: the one black person in the train happens to quote Shakespeare back at Churchill. And I doubt in real life Churchill would have respected that. But the fact that Churchill traveled the London Underground to get a feel of the pulse of the common people is brilliant.

There are many villains in a war. And those who suffer when their loved ones don't come back have a different story to tell than the ones who had to make that decision of sending more young people to die. This film is about that decision making process. About the man who wore the burden of the world on his shoulders, and would not give up because he knew, there was no negotiating with the tiger when your head is in its mouth. 


   


Friday, January 12, 2018

Review: KAALAKAANDI


There's Nothing Kaala About The Film.
Neither Is There any Kaand.

1 star

Mini Review: 

If you think a story like Delhi Belly could be replicated 
or something ‘as cool’ could be made, Kaalakaandi 
will disappoint you. Three random stories in one 
night in one terribly pretentious film that tries too 
hard. Fails. 

Main Review:

It would have been fun had the doctor told Saif he had 
‘Lympho Sarcoma of the Intestines’. At least we would 
expect some fun. And they do have film references in the 
film. This way it is neither fun, nor serious. It is plain trying 
too hard to be ‘kewl’. 

And why are they all speaking English? There is barely 
any Hindi in the film. and that too in a Police Station where 
by their ‘Urban film hai, so characters are speaking English’ 
logic, the cops in Mumbai speak Marathi laced Hindi. 

Running parallel to Saif’s ‘let me do strange things because 
I’m going to die’ story is the story of a girl going abroad for 
a PhD whose boyfriend wears her thong on his face. Again, 
trying too hard to be cool. If he doesn’t want her to go 
abroad and thinks she’s going to seduce men by wearing 
thongs, would he be wearing her thong on his face? If he 
wants her to laugh by wearing her thong on her face then 
he wouldn’t be whining... Looks like they wanted to get 
the ‘this is dental floss’ dialog into the film. Meh!
 
Deepak Dobriyal and Vijay Raaz are at the heart of the 
third parallel tale. They’re ‘hafta collectors’ for a bad guy, 
wondering what it could be if they took the money instead 
of giving it to the boss. Of course there is a sharpshooter 
who wears guns like some gunslinger from a cowboy film. 
Sigh. Even though a gunslinger driving away in a Nano is 
funny, at least make the guns like they’ve been in use for 
25 years! The shiny guns look like they’ve just arrived 
bubble wrapped from Amazon. 

The stories are so asinine you know that it was ideated 
when the ‘team’ was doing what Saif tells the doctor he’s 
going to do...

The stories are so painfully predictable in their ‘coolness’ 
you expect the photographer girl to say ‘I’m a lesbian’, 
just to check that box... 

Only the person who did the special effects earns his salary. 
The rest is self-indulgent silliness. 


(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com )

Review: MUKKABAAZ


ISME एक्सन HAI, रौमांस HAI, बदले की आग HAI,
पोलटिक्स BHI HAI, जातिवाद है, AUR साला GAALI भी डाल दिए HAI,
यु.पी KI ऑथेंटिक खुसबू KE LIYE

2.5 stars


Mini Review:


Based on a true story of a hotheaded pugilist who wants to prove he is better than everyone else in the ring, Mukkabaaz puts its fist in many pies: boxing, romance, caste wars, defiance and revenge. Anurag Kashyap brings alive small town Uttar Pradesh brilliantly. But the fist through so many pies laced with too many songs becomes a feast too difficult to digest.


Main Review:


Actor Vineet Kumar deserves kudos for working hard - physically
that is - to play the part of a boxer from Bareilly, who wants that
one chance in the ring. He’s getting to be 25 years old and he will
soon miss out on competing for the state level championships,
let alone compete in the Nationals. The one big obstacle in his
path is his coach, who tends to treat boxers as his man-servants.


Hotheaded Shravan Singh falls instantly in love with his Coach’s
niece. It’s a multi-layered problem right there. The coach is
Bhagwan Das Mishra, an upper caste Brahman who is also the
local heavy, and so powerful he could make or break Shravan’s
career. Shravan is of course belongs to the Rajput community,
but as Bhagwan Das Mishra puts it scathingly: Any low caste lad
can put a ‘Singh’ after his name and assume a higher caste.
For Shravan proposing marriage would be outrageous. His
hotheadedness too makes him say, ‘We’re boxers, here to train,
not to do odd jobs for you while you lie in the Sun.


Of course he gets bashed up. After bashing up his coach’s
men. He gets bashed up several times because this is not
complicated. There’s more!


The coach’s niece loves him back! This love story is all eyes and
no words, and Anurag Kashyap’s direction is marvelous here.
The small town innocence - her saucer large eyes, his almost
brave but essentially shy ways of showing love - is most amazing.
When he realises that she loves him back, he is ready to defy the
world (especially her uncle, who has blacklisted Shravan).
His act of defiance, a wild dance at his friend’s wedding is perhaps
the finest scene in the film, and I feel terrible that it may be
shadowed by the cameo appearance of the star Nawazuddin
Siddiqui.


Yes, there’s violence on every level and the director could have
made it very ugly by simply showing the rape of the niece as
well as her mother as it oft times happens in reality, but he
doesn’t, and thankfully too. There is enough violence in boxing.
And in the perpetually angry hero needs to learn to curb his
volcanic feelings. The coach and his methods are violent too.
Sticks and bricks and steel rods used on unsuspecting
bodies make for incredible violence.  


And everything is broken by songs. The official site says there
are eight songs in the film. Feels like there must be over fifteen.
He’s training, there’s a song. She’s watching him follow her
around, listen to the song. His daily routine, there’s a song.
He’s emotional, let there be song. She’s emotional, listen to
a song. He’s attending some wedding (and we know he’s
from ‘ladke walon ki taraf se’ or the groom’s side, but that
wedding manages to add nothing to the screenplay except
get Nawazuddin his song and show us how UP weddings are)
there are not one but two songs. He’s pummeling someone in
the ring, here, listen to a song. He’s wandering about angry and
confused and searching for someone, there is a song. The
training song is apt, but the rest are local noise.

Zoya Hussain as Sunaina is incandescent. Jimmy Shergill
as Bhagwan Das Mishra is the best villain, but what's with his
Horror film eyes? Vineet Kumar plays Shravan Kumar Singh is
amazing. Shravan and Sunaina's dads are stupendous. And Ravi
Kisen, is a star. Watch them bring the hotch potch editing of the
story alive. Then ask yourself, who repeats the daily routine
sequence twice? And that too without change?

Now Anurag Kashyap has given us some amazing cinema. But
this khichdi of romance and revenge and sports and politics
created by several writers is on many levels just a mish mash,
tasty in parts but still a pandering to the image of ‘Anurag Kashyap
knows small town North India’. I wish I could have loved this
movie more. Then realised, I didn't care for any character enough
to love the film.

P.S. अनुराग भईया का नामे ऐक ठो संदेस: वासेपुर से काहे निकल लीये ? फेर आओ। रोमांस कर लेना इंस्टाग्राम पर। लाइक कर देंगे। फिलम में गोलीऐ ठीक लागती है।

(this review sans hindi appears on www.nowrunning.com )



Saturday, January 06, 2018

Review: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD.


Nine Days To Remove Kevin Spacey. And What An Awesome Removal!


3.5 stars


Mini Review:


Sometimes the real stories behind the movies are so awesome that you are forced to watch the film with awe. This is how I watched Christopher Plummer transform himself from the dashing Captain Von Trapp who waltzes with Maria to this covetous, miserly billionaire. Michelle Williams is a worthy adversary to the old man, and makes this film a superb watch.


Main Review:


Director Ridley Scott should take a bow for taking a stand against
the sexual predator Kevin Spacey. After having shot the entire film which
was ready for release in December, when accusations against
Kevin Spacey popped up, Scott re-shot the portions with
Christopher Plummer. Nine days. It is reported.
The result is brilliant.


Christopher Plummer plays billionaire J Paul Getty,
who made his money from Saudi oil (he purchased a tract
of land between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) and by building
great tankers who would bring the crude oil to his businesses
in the Oklahoma and the rest of the world.


Plummer is quietly menacing as Getty, calmly defending the title
of his book, 'Any fool can become rich, I know how to stay rich.'
He tells the press: If I were to pay the 17 million dollar ransom
for my kidnapped grandson, I would end up having 14 kidnapped
grandkids.


The film is about the kidnapping of his grandson, and how
he negotiated his return. And how even after paying the
ransom, he ensured he received a tax break. Michelle Williams
plays the role of the distraught daughter-in-law whose son
J Paul Getty the 3rd (Pauly) is kidnapped while in Rome.


The film gets a little stretched when they show the interaction
between Pauly and his kidnappers. It is a tad unbelievable
that a bunch of ragtag robbers first kidnap the lad then
sell him to the mafia. You also begin to wonder why they’d want
to ‘fatten’ him…And Mark Wahlberg, what does he really do
in the film?


Enough spoilers.


Michelle Williams was bordering on boring in the film released
just last week (The Greatest Showman), so I wasn’t expecting
anything. But she shines, and how! ‘They want me to cry?’
she asks in rage that is beautifully understated. And the last shot
of the film, is sublime. Worthy of an Oscar.

Watch it also for how wonderfully the decadent 70s are brought
alive on screen. Made me want to wear bell bottoms again,
but then I was glad that style went out before everyone
earned their mum shapes and dad bods…