Friday, February 24, 2017


Sound And Fury Signifying Nothing

2 stars

Mini Review:

During World War 2 when the British still ruled India, Miss Julia ruled the silver screen with the help of Russi Billimoria. The British will help Russi buy film stock from London if Miss Julia entertains the troops. Before you can say, ‘Captain America!’, you are introduced to a subplot to smuggle a priceless sword to the rebelling Indian National Army. There are reluctant bodyguards, sacrificing soldiers, national anthem being sung, atrocities on common folk, and a bridge on the river Kwai (or some fabulous computer generated river with resort pool like waters) that should have been blown up by at least one warring side. The movie is so long you are too tired to call it names when it is over.

Main Review:

Every wonderful movie Vishal Bhardwaj has made has had help in the the scripting department  by Shakespeare himself. He has subplots and layered characters and not one thing seems out of place. In fact, so universal are the stories, Vishal has earned his accolades because of a man who lived 400 years ago. It must have taken lots of courage to venture into Captain America territory and tell the story of an entertainer in the middle of World War 2.

Miss Julia (Kangna Ranaut is simply amazing!) is a movie star based loosely on Fearless Nadia. She is the protegee of Russi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan, dressed to the gills and garnished with a scowl) who believes that the British are the best thing to happen to India. He entertains the Brits and is willing to send his star to the border areas to entertain the troops.

You don’t want to think of Captain America or wonder why the troops would need entertainment if their morale is good. Weren’t starlets sent to boost morale? But if Vishal Bhardwaj made it, then maybe it was so. Anyway, Russi Billimoria is in love with Miss Julia but has a cantankerous dad who wants to separate the two. He fakes a heart attack and Russi stays back.

The British General (or is it Major General) who hams in his every scene is given way too much imporance. It’s amusing to hear him sing, ‘Ka karoo sajni, aaye na balam’ in a kurta, but he gets really annoying and caricaturish when he spouts, ‘Thoom Indian log traitor hota hai!’ or some such stuff you last heard in movies like Shaheed and Kranti…

Oh, Miss Julia’s party gets ambushed by Japanese planes and she gets separated with her reluctant Bodyguard (yes, it’s Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner romance without the sexiness of the silk and sword scene) who brings her safe back to the British camp. In the process we are introduced to a wonderful Japanese soldier who is captured by this duo, who escapes and is never seen again. What a waste of a character we as audience invested in because he’s not really a brute, a killer. He wants to sing, and really wants to get back to his mother.

As expected Julia falls in love with the soldier (a mooch sporting Shahid Kapoor) who does his best to get wet and clayey and removes leeches from Kangna’s legs. Remember those movies like Jewel Of The Nile? Those city damsel meets rough forest guide romance movies? Exactly what happens here. And you find yourself stifling a yawn. Get with the program!

She finally arrives at the camp where she is scheduled to perform. She does, everyone loves her. Russi has shown up too, and you don’t want to care if Shahid Kapoor’s name is Jamadaar Nawab Singh or Sultan Singh. Because the sword of Maharaja being smuggled to finance the Indian National Army is traveling in Miss Julia’s costume case. There is much exchanging of anonymous letters and betrayals and more songs but dammit! The sword is still around. But Nawab and Julia are happily in a world of nakedness and love and no one notices them. Then there’s hysterical killing and whipping and beating up and jealousy because Russi notices sand on Julia’s arms and neck and the same sand on Nawab’s neck too.

The conclusion seems to be miles away because Miss Julia is - as Nawab says - imprisoned in her body, and that’s why she cannot see the need to be free in the larger sense of the word. The miles are covered by just laughable CG work. Whether it is the train traveling through the straightest route one has imagined in the hilly tracts of Arunachal Pradesh or any of the North Eastern part of India, or the stunts on train tops, the work seems to have been given to unpaid summer interns. What a shame it is when the train interiors, the costumes and cinema moments have been done beautifully. Even some dialog work offered to Kangna are fun despite the romance track being dank an unoriginal.

If you thought the end of the film were near, you would be disappointed. There is a hilarious (unintentional, of course) dramatic blow up the bridge scene in the end and Saif Ali Khan is made to pretend he’s Philippe Petit from the movie The Walk with the priceless sword instead of the balancing rod Petit carried when he walked the high wire between the Twin Towers.

I tried, really hard to feel for the star and the soldier and drown in their mooch-filled kisses. But couldn’t. Shakespeare must be sighing in his grave, ‘This time Vishal Bhardwaj’s story is out of joint indeed!'

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)



Good Start But Lame Ending

2 Stars

Mini Review:

Indian School of Technology is located in a remote place where forensics will take at least a few days to land. Forensics are called because four students have been brutally killed by something that has bitten off their limbs and necks and heads. A good start to a horror film, but it slowly falls into cliches and is unable to recover. Bollywood has never made worthy to be slotted as ‘Horror’ but this one makes an effort.

Main Review:

Making an MMS that spreads across the campus seems like a child’s play for those who can manipulate social media. Four lads ‘ruin’ a girl’s reputation with a video and she is forced to leave college. The dean attempts to pacify the girl, by punishing the perpetrator.

But on a rainy night (‘All good stories start on a Monday’ is the quote when the movie begins. Clever. It gives hope to a horror movie fan.) when a girl and a boy attempt to make out, a phone call boasts about how the boy should look forward to the impending arrival of Mona, the darling of all boys, the girl who had left college in shame.

Of course, the boys who cackle about her misfortune are dead. But Mona’s roommate Sarah (Divya Menon) is worried that she’s missing. Trouble with the story here, is that the timeline is very confusing. Did Mona go to the Dean’s home for dinner immediately after being insulted and laughed at? Or after many months? If it happened immediately, then why are the two - the dean and the girl - having dinner calmly?

You want to give the film a chance so you watch. Sarah asks a geeky lad Wiki (Anshuman Jha) to help find Mona. After all it was his access code that helped the four baddies spread the MMS. The two amateur detectives traipse all over the campus trying to figure out where Mona is.

If the two detectives wore a fitness tracker, their wristbands would be beeping every ten minutes. They walk everywhere. Discovering clues. The police are there too. And the students have been told to stay put in together, not allowed to venture out. As horror movie tropes go, it just seems to be falling into the easy trap: everything seems to be happening in the dark. The lightbulbs flicker, but there’s net connection. The cops are there, but they don’t seem to do any real work. The librarian is creepy for no reason. The books in the library seem to be an odd choice in a ‘Technology’ institute. Also, are there so many girls in a ‘Technology’ Institute? The idea that the college infirmary might not be equipped to do autopsies on dismembered bodies, but no one cared to put the dead bodies on beds without mattresses. And they did not stink? It’s that confusing timeline to blame...

The end is convoluted and a tad unbelievable, but a fun watch nevertheless. Frankenstein is a great inspiration, but we don’t know until the end why those four lads could not just be dead by broken necks. Why did they need to be dismembered and eaten? The last eye-opening scene is a fun end. ‘A’ for effort.

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: LION

Sunny Pawar Is Giant Talent.
Dev Patel Is Damp Squib.

3 stars

Mini Review:

The movie is based on the book A Long Journey Home, by Saroo Brierley. It is a tale of a boy who gets lost in Calcutta and is adopted by an Australian couple, a boy who does not forget his mother and finds his way back home, twenty five years later. The little boy Saroo is simply brilliant. A pity he grows up to be Dev Patel.  

Main Review:

This movie is brilliant because of a little boy called Sunny Pawar. He plays little five year old Saroo who steals coal from trains with his older brother and looks after his sister Shakila when his mum goes out to work at a stone quarry. One day Saroo insists on accompanying his older brother Guddu. You will lose your heart to him when you see him show how strong he is to his brother Guddu. His brother cannot resist, and neither will you. You also know that he’s only five years old, and even though fearless, his falling asleep is only natural. His brother tells him to wait. But when the child wakes up, disoriented, he climbs into a train, and falls asleep again.

That decommissioned train hurtles through the country towards Calcutta. Little Saroo wakes up to terror in a scene which will go down in your experience as ‘unforgettable’. You feel his loneliness, you know he is all alone in a wrong train where everything is locked, the train is not going to stop anywhere and there is no use of shouting for Guddu or Ammi. The terror, the realization that he is all alone, and the determination to not give up is a lesson for any actor.

He lands in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and is a witness and an escapee from child kidnappers, people who brush him off roughly, even a couple who seems kind to him but may be child traffickers (Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Tannistha Chatterjee in a delightful cameo). A stranger takes pity on him and takes him to the police in order to help him find his home. But the five year old boy from Madhya Pradesh is unable to communicate because all that he remembers of his home is that it is in Ganesh Talay.

The police put out an ad in the newspaper and keep Saroo in a remand home. Life there is not easy at all, Kids are often raped and lose their sense of balance. The adoption agencies do good work there (Deepti Naval appears in a sweet cameo) and even though you wonder that the kids may be losing so much more when adopted, we are relieved that Saroo is adopted by a kind Australian couple Sue (Nicole Kidman in a very interesting empathetic role) and John Brierley. Just when Saroo begins to adapt to his new parents and his new home, they adopt one more kid from India. This time the Brierleys are not lucky. The child is traumatised and violent.

Alas, the adorable little boy grows up to Dev Patel. He’s so unkempt and entitled, you either want to give him a haircut and a pressure wash or just a couple of hard slaps to knock some sense into him. The book is so sensitively written when it comes to his inner battle for identity, that it is heartbreaking to watch Dev Patel go sullen and annoying attempting to look like he is fighting his inner demons. You wonder why his girlfriend tolerates his nonsense, and why his friends help him by telling him about Google Earth. Not just that, he is rude to his parents too and his vulnerable brother who has learnt to stay away. He does find his home and the generous parents that they are, John and Sue help him get back to find his lost family.

Things have not changed in Ganesh Talay. His brother is no more, but his mother, now older, has not given up her search for her lost son. Priyanka Bose, who plays Saroo’s mother is so brilliant, you want to stand up and applaud to see her recognise her long, lost son once again.

It’s a pity that Hollywood could not find a better ‘brown’ actor. Dev Patel’s limitations show up strongly because little Sunny Pawar is so phenomenally talented. Dev Patel may even get win an Oscar. Not because of his talent, but because the character he portrays is so heroic.

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)


How Low Does Nana Patekar Go?

½  Star

Mini Review:

Just because you quote Rumi and get a once-amazing actor to say, ‘Looks like you are in love with the idea of love’ does not a good movie make. Mahie Gill plays a housewife whose husband has not shown up for his first wedding anniversary. Suddenly a poetry, philosophy spouting older man pops up and gives her (and the audience) so much useless homespun advice she falls asleep, and you turn into a zombie and walk out of the theatre.

Main Review:

If there were a prize for a record number of times when a character changes clothes, this movie’s Mahie Gill would be among the frontrunners.

So we see Mahie Gill sashaying in clothes bought off the street in Goa, shopping for this and that, getting a massage, admonishing someone called Nirbhay over the phone, ‘Don’t call me, I’m busy, just call me when you are boarding your flight.’ She sashays past a bunch of tourists who have paid a beggar to show her cleavage! Before you can outrage for the tourists, a man has come and rescued the beggar by offering money to tourists to strip so he could take their pictures. Mahie is standing there shocked and in the next minute she sashays into a cake shop and tells the guy, ‘Make me a cake as gorgeous as I am, my name is Kahani!’ Before she can sashay out you watch many people in the theatre choke over their popcorn. Mahie Gill then comes home which has so many candles, you think it’s a shop for knick knacks.

Predictably the husband (she’s cooking ‘his favorite curry’, has laid out a Kurta and a watch as a present, rearranged flowers and placed the ‘gorgeous’ cake - it’s pineapple cake - on the table and added more candles) tells her on the phone that he’s being interviewed for a fab job with a raise at the airport and he will be taking the later flight.

So Mahie Gill gets angry, cries, changes clothes and lies in bed.

There is a book on the bed which she picks up and opens a random page, and before you know it she is asleep book on her breasts. There is a knock on the door. Mahie Gill runs down the stairs (in different clothes) to open the door to a stranger (Nana Patekar in a role so smarmy it will make you jump into a vat of superglue willingly). The stranger is dressed like Steve Irwin and smells like him too, and before you know it Mahie has asked him to have a bath. Yes, yes, she has realised he is a famous writer who magically knows ‘you place me beside you on your bed, placed me on your breast and you call me a stranger?’

So he’s having a bath in her house. She goes upstairs to find him some clothes. She smells all the clothes in her husband’s closet and decides, she cannot offer him any of those because they ‘all smell of Nirbhay’. Obviously she’s not talking about unwashed clothes, but by this time, you wonder if she’s going to offer him her strange clothes instead. She comes downstairs, and she’s in new clothes.

He comes out of the bathroom wearing the same old clothes that smell of ‘Mehnat ka paseena’ (sweat of the brow, of hard work). Then he magically goes behind a pillar and comes out of the other side wearing a Hawaiian shirt and offers to take her out for dinner only if she changes clothes.  She does!

Magically on a motorbike the two ride the moonlit streets, he slams the brakes hard a couple of times so she comes closer, literally, and says, ‘You need to bridge the gap between you and me!’
They eat at a restaurant and come back home. You’re thinking of the curry on the kitchen counter… But woah, she is now cutting the anniversary cake and feeding it to the stranger, who is now wearing the kurta she bought for her husband. Oh, he told her that we will celebrate your anniversary when you change your clothes! She does and he has lit all the candles and they dance to some song.

She has changed more clothes - each one more inappropriate than the previous one and you wonder how the once talented Mahie Gill is now reduced to this. But the worst part is to watch Nana Patekar spout homilies in a bored voice. So bored, you don’t want to know what he said. Shame what what once-great actors are reduced to doing and you hate watching him ham as though he’s the best thing that happened to the movies.

Between the changing of Mahie’s clothes and hamming by Nana Patekar you are shown many different kinds of love: girl pretends to faint and says she loves seeing fear in her boyfriend’s eyes, a young lothario who seduces tourists for their money, a spa worker who knows her lover is cheating but won’t stop loving him, a young lad who drops his girl to meet her older lover and waits for her outside the restaurant, a couple besieged by jealousy, and one of the more ghastly examples, the older woman at a club where a boring item number happens, makes a silly proposition at a young guy who says, ‘I haven’t done this before but I’m not a virgin.’

You don’t want to see any more, but there’s more clothes changing you must suffer. You hear Nana Patekar mutter rubbish like, ‘Morning changes to evening and evening changes to night, just like that the definition of life and loves change.’

You laugh out loud because at that last word, Mahie has changed her clothes! There is another song, this time a Hindustani classical style song sung by a woman in a ginormous bosom and a white floaty chiffon dress who appears out of nowhere. Mahie is jealous (don’t ask!) and asks the stranger to leave. Thankfully he does. And when Mahie goes up to get into her night shirt (yes, another change of clothes) her husband shows up. They cut the cake (oooh! It’s intact!), hug and dance and he gives her an anniversary present and the earlier classical song begins to play again. The moments credits roll, you make your way to the nearest exit. You don’t want to see the Rumi quote or watch Nana Patekar actually lip synch the song...

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: SPLIT

James McAvoy Is Superb, Night Shyamalan Is Not!

1.5 stars

Mini Review:

Dr. Fletcher has a theory about people with Multiple Personality Disorder: that they can assume different physical characteristics when under the influence of different personalities. One of her patients has 23 personalities. We see one of them kidnap three girls from a parking lot and imprison them, becoming increasingly violent as different personalities take over. We never really understand why and after a while the needless kidnapping fails to keep you attention.

Main Review:

Three girls one their way home after a birthday party when the father, who is loading the presents in the back of the car is hit and the car is hijacked by a bald man (James McAvoy) who claims later that he has been stalking them. But he realises that he has to kidnap the third girl who is inadvertently in the car too. The girls find themselves in a bizarre unclean basement with a strangely clean bathroom. You notice this because the bald guy keeps cleaning up stuff and we know how people with a cleanliness fetish: how come other things are unclean and shabby? Or are other personalities okay with the general mess and he lets them be?

James McAvoy plays Kevin Wendell Crumb, a young man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder proves that his acting chops extend beyond this ridiculous movie. He portrays Hedwig, a nine year old (in track pant suit), Patricia (in a skirt and shawl of course) and the stern Kevin seamlessly. He basically saves the film because the shots of his transformation from one personality to another are a treat to watch.

That doesn’t alas extend to the whole movie. This would have been an exploitative movie if one of the characters who kidnaps the girls had actually given in to his fetish and made the girls dance in their under things. But conveniently that doesn’t happen and the director makes up a story about how all the characters are mutating into a single powerful super human: The Beast.

Really? Why is there a need for the beast? No explanation. Who is the character who needs insulin shots? No explanation. Why is Hedwig listening to crazy, grown up music when a nine year old playing Barney the dinosaur song, ‘I love you, you love me, we’re all happy family...’  would have come across as really sinister? No explanation. Why does Miss Patricia show up? She’s neither menacing nor mean. No explanations are given. Why is Barry designing clothes? He’s not using the skins of his victims to make clothes. But the director gives no explanation. Feels like such a waste of time trying to care for any of the characters, who seem to have been chosen randomly.

Then there are the three girls. Casey is obviously the weird one. We see flashbacks of her facing a predator nastier than Kevin. So she’s unafraid. But that she’s molested by her uncle is shown in the most ham handed way. Subtlety dies there.

The other two girls seem to be spouting dumb ‘self-defense’ ideas but they do nothing but sound breathless, and dumb. Dr. Fletcher seems to be on the edge of tears all the time. You begin to think she’s also suffering from the same disorder.

But it’s not like all is lost. There are a couple of flashes of brilliance which show us what the film could have been. Hedwig tells Casey (Anya Taylor Joy, you last saw her in the silly mutant film called Morgan) his room has a window. Casey, hopeful of an escape, persuades Hedwig to take her to the window. What she sees is surprising both to her and the audience. Had the director paid a little attention to the story, more than his elevator pitch (‘Let’s make a movie about a mild man with wild and dangerous multiple personalities!’), this movie could have been scary even. But every scene is a dead end, and the big ugly beast just makes you want to slap him..       

It’s such a relief when it’s over, and the very silly ‘trying hard to be sinister’ end where surprising rescue of Casey (how did the rescuer get there? Perhaps the director was fed up of the story and needed to end it) hands her over to her abuser. You groan again. James McAvoy’s brilliance might blind some people to the yawning gaps in the movie logic. But the rest of us wondering whatever happened to the man who made The Sixth Sense.

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: JACKIE

For One Brief Shining Moment There Was Camelot!

3 stars

Mini Review:

President Kennedy has been assassinated and the poised, elegant first lady has to now deal with not just his funeral, but with her own personal struggle to understand what has happened. The story is told in an interview format and we witness all the vulnerability and all the steel that could be present in one person in one glorious movie.

Main Review:

Natalie Portman is brilliantly cast as the former first lady, grieving for her husband, speaking about her plans for the future with a journalist (Billy Crudup in an equally amazing casting) asking her uncomfortable questions.

The questions are asked in such a calm manner you as audience are not even expecting them. In fact, from frame one you have given your heart away to Jackie, so you begin to view those questions as villainous. She’s frail, she’s so fragile too, you want to scream at the journalist, how can you be so mean to her?!

The journalist’s objectivity begins to seep into you slowly, and you notice the tremor of her hands, the hesitation when she lights up cigarette after cigarette, and then the steel in her eyes when she says that she will walk with her husband’s funeral cortege.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks and that sometimes works against it. It slows the pace of the film down a bit. But not once do you forget to wonder if she’s so stricken by grief, why invite a Life magazine journalist home?

What is so amazing is the power play that exists in the situation Jackie finds herself in. She witnesses Lyndon Johnson take oath whilst she stands there, her suit spattered by the blood of her slain husband. That she is not given any time to grieve as the first lady - she witnesses Mrs. Johnson make arrangements to redecorate the house she had lovingly set up, she watches the West Wing of the White House being taken over by the new administration - and she realises that she is no longer in charge. Her heartbreak when she sees the mannequins wearing the Chanel suits in stores being replaced is secondary only to the reality of whether secret service is going to allow her the funeral she believes is fit for the president. And when you begin to wonder if she’s given to delusions of grandeur, that she is about to flout every convention and walk with her husband’s body, you meet the priest, her confessor, and then understand what she means by wanting to remind America, why her husband is a great president, and should be remembered the way she wants the people to remember him.

This film rewards patience. And Natalie Portman does a superlative job, offering us her full range of histrionics. You come back home and check out the original video on the net and find that the First Lady’s tour of the White House very close to how Natalie Portman depicted her. Not an imitation, but beautifully interpreted.

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: IRADA

Irada Nek Hai, Focus Nahi Hai! Result? Shambles!

1 star

Mini Review:  

It starts out as a corporation polluting the ground water and water in the canals and a father investigating his daughter’s wrongful death. The film rapidly deteriorates when the stars begin to showboat. The movie then goes on to fall down in a pile of shambles.

Main Review:

Curiously, a film about a big corporation bribing political leaders (the state chief minister nothing less) being released during the elections in the state should have raised eyebrows. Alas, the content is so shoddy that this film will be forgotten soon after release.

So Naseeruddin Shah is a dad whose daughter dies of cancer because she swims in the canal with polluted waters. When there is a series of blasts at the factory owned by the corporation owned by an obviously bad guy called Paddy (Sharad Kelkar) Arshad Warsi shows up as the cop who is investigating the blasts.

Good thing about the film is Divya Dutta. She plays the crooked, foul mouthed politician so well, you want to make a movie based on just her back story! She munches her food loudly, her mother accuses her of having murdered her father, and like a seasoned politician, even when she’s beat, she turns the situation to her own advantage.

There's the ridiculous character of a journalist girlfriend of an RTI activist (Sagarika Ghatge) who  who behaves in the most illogical manner: she doesn't know if Arshad Warsi is good cop or a crooked one, and she hands over all the evidence her boyfriend died collecting to the man after practising,’Hello, i have evidence to support your case…’ She also is under threat by Paddy’s goons, but she jogs at night! She’s a journalist under threat and a strange package arrives at her home, and instead of taking it to the police or the bomb squad, she opens the package and when seeing a half filled bottle labelled beauty product, she dumps the hissing liquid into the sink. Wow!

Arshad Warsi and Naseeruddin Shah trade poetry over single malt, and each poem is supposed to be a clue. Seriously though, you're past caring. And Bollywood should stop borrowing these situation softboards with threads linking people and places. The female journalist sees the board (presumably Arshad Warsi has been working on it), and happily solves the mystery of the factory blasts.

There's more confusion in the story when the cancer patient wife of a man who carried out the blasts tells Arshad Warsi about a ‘Cancer Train’. In reality if such a train exists, then it is a horrible thing, but the train does nothing to link Naseeruddin Shah with the factory blasts. The story is in shambles. The cancer train is meant to shock the audience but you shrug your shoulders and wonder why it is a part of ‘this’ film. The end is so tedious you have checked your phone messages and replied to email.

Perhaps had they stuck to telling about groundwater contamination story like Erin Brockovich this movie may have meant something. But with factory blasts being made on the home compute by someone who did not finish their photoshop class, this film ends up being a waste of time.

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: JOHN WICK 2

He's Kickass! Super Fun!

2.5 stars

Mini Review:

This is a furious drive, stab, shoot, kill, get stabbed, get shot at, fight bare handed in cars, buses, trains, underground and in optical mazes, all because you are John Wick and are being forced to honor a blood oath and are betrayed. The film is a sequel to the successful movie John Wick starring Keanu Reeves as the man in the black suit. It’s relentless action and just when you begin to wonder where this is leading to, you are plunged into a promise of bigger and better film!

Main Review:

When you watched John Wick in 2014, you realised that you cannot take a man’s car, and worse, his puppy. John Wick is forced to come out of retirement and mourning when a brash Russian scion of a mafia family steals his car and kidnaps his puppy for fun.

‘You have my car.’

He’s come back for his Mustang as the last of the Russians are getting ready to pack up the drugs and the cash and leave. And he takes his car, and along with the mustang, the lives of several Russian thugs, their cars, their bikes, their property. He brings back his car.

A knock on the door brings the Italian Santino D’Antonio and his impossible demand. You know it’s going to be John Wick against the Italians and before you settle down with your popcorn you stop and worry about John Wick’s puppy when the house is blown up. That’s the price to be paid for saying no.

Now the legend of John Wick also tells us of sanctuary for assassins called The Continental Hotel where membership is required and the rules are sacrosanct. Winston, the manager of the Continental reminds John that he is honor bound (by a fingerprint made in blood) to fulfil the request made by Santino. John’s retirement is not easy. He has to go to Rome and finish that task and then take on betrayal by Santino (but you knew that, didn’t you?)

The action set pieces are amazing. How Keanu Reeves gets into the skin of his character, is a lesson in fitness and you see no wirework or body double. There’s no impossible parkour where people jump from rooftop to rooftop. There is a very true and believable loading and reloading of weapons. Amazing because action movies seem to have heroes with guns that have unlimited bullets…

So does John Wick have no worthy opponent? Sort of. Common, who plays the villain Cassian is a wonderful opponent and the witty exchange between John and Cassian when they stumble into the Continental in Rome after kicking and hitting and stabbing each other is a ‘cool’ departure from the frenetic paced killing. Also the encounter with the baddies in the museum when they enter the optical maze is simply brilliant, and a great homage to 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

The fun part is waiting for John Wick’s signature kill: he is so good at improvising, no matter how many guns you have aimed at him, he can kill a person with a pencil. And the movie does not disappoint. Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick show up in their old roles. And you feel the joy in the familiarity. The really cool clean up crew (that shows up when there are multiple dead bodies that need to be cleared out) is missing in the movie, but the really cool way of checking out if the gun has been cocked right makes up for it. All in all, the body count is high, but the joy of watching John Wick in action is better.

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)


Eloquent, Evocative, Elegant Tale Of Relationships

3.5 stars

Mini Review:

In the marginalised projects in Florida, a very young black boy, neglected by his drug addled mother, finds care in unexpected quarters. The drug supplier and his girlfriend. Chiron is this fragile child who grows up to be a gentle teen. Alas life is never kind and when you are black and gay, it becomes that much more difficult to survive. But he does. This film is beautifully shot, gently shown story of friendship and love and gratitude.  

Main Review:

‘Black boys are blue in the moonlight’ says a gentle voice when the film begins. You are intrigued by the saucer-eyed child Chiron who looks at you with fear in his eyes. He’s running away from neighborhood bullies. He is rescued by a drug dealer called Juan (Mahershala Ali) who takes him home to his wonderful girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae in a remarkable role). Alex Hibbert, the 12 year old discovery is astoundingly good as Chiron, the neglected child of a mother who is a crackhead. He just has to look into the camera and you would be compelled to sneak a look at your telephone to check where your children are at that moment. Your heart has been stolen by this boy and Juan and Teresa become his surrogate caregivers so naturally you say a little prayer in your head to thank God for all the good people on this planet.

Their kindness is rewarded, and you are submerged in the ocean with Chiron and the Juan and learn to swim. In one of the finest scenes one has seen in cinema, you breathe easy and begin smiling at the screen when Chiron learns to swim.

Chiron’s crackhead mother is played by the terrifically talented Naomi Harris. She is so good, you are at once angered and at once repelled by her mothering of Chiron. You don’t want to empathise with her, her son has already stolen your heart.
The film is divided into three parts, as if they were three separate stories, and the abruptness does jolt you out of your seat because you the audience has a bit of growing up to o as well. And growing up black and gay is the toughest. Teenage Chiron played brilliantly by Jharrel Jerome is fragile and delicate and gentle. His one and only childhood friend Kevin learns to deal differently with high school bullies. Chiron goes through high school trying to blend into the walls, Kevin does not mind joining the bullies in their games of ‘Choose a victim, hit him and tell him to stay down or beat him up more’. Kevin has to survive too, and the film asks you to not judge. It is Kevin who helps Chiron understand that he’s gay. The late night encounter on the beach where Chiron has gone to clear his head, could have been titillating in any other film, but it is so understated that the ocean seems to be too loud.

Teenage Chiron is plagued by his sexuality, his shyness, his fear of the bullies and the despair at home. And fed up of being pushed to the wall, he turns into a man. He’s still plagued by nightmares, but now he’s wearing a gold grill on his teeth, his body is no longer delicate, and he drives a car that blasts ‘I’m a classic man/You can be mean when you look this clean/I’m a classic man’. That in some ways the song refrain describes Chiron when he drives down from Atlanta, GA on the basis of that one late night phone call from Kevin, confident, a man’s man. But when he actually meets Kevin, we see that Chiron’s gentleness and vulnerability is hidden behind the gold grills and the chain and a buff body. Kevin is still confident and still cocky and amused at how little Chiron still talks. Trevante Rhodes plays adult Chiron and he is magical. Kevin (Andre Holland), now a cook at a diner, makes a meal for Chiron that will make everyone sitting in audience jealous. This has to be love. The squeezing of the lemon on grilled chicken, the chopping and garnishing is so elegantly done, you forget that it’s just a diner.
The film is full of gentle moments that stay with you despite the undercurrents of violence in the story. You are stunned by Alex Hibbert making an appearance in the end but know that the film is now telling you what Juan told little Chiron: At some point you gotta decide what you gonna be.

You will be glad that the film refuses to fall into the trap of the usual ‘give it an ending’, ‘tie all loose ends’ and lets you go home with the ocean breezes making you feel that you too need to answer the questions the film asks…

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)



4 stars

Mini Review:

Based on a book by Sushaku Endo, Martin Scorsese takes the story of systematic religious persecution of Christians in ancient Japan (1630s) and manages to shake the faith of the audience not in religion but also in humanity itself. The story is told by two young priests who arrive in Japan in search of their teacher and discover life so wretched, their faith in God is tested. Martin Scorsese’s is at once cruel as it is beautiful. A tough watch.

Main Review:

You’d never expect Andrew Garfield (whom you saw in Spiderman!) to be able to give what could be the best performance of his career as a young Jesuit priest Father Rodriguez who comes to Japan in search of his teacher with another young priest Father Garupe (Adam Driver). They hear many rumors about the teacher: Liam Neeson, who has turned Japanese and denounced Jesus, but want to find out for themselves.

In the search for the teacher, the two priests discover that ever since Christianity was outlawed, the faithful are not just put to death in gory inhuman ways, but that there is a secret band of faithful Christians called Kakure Kirishtan living hidden, wretched lives. They live in hiding and in constant fear of the Inquisitor and his band of cruel enforcers. When caught they are not only asked to denounce Christ but are tortured in ways that are so cruel, you want to look away from the screen.

Those familiar with the life of Christ, and stories from the Bible, know how God tests the faith of the ones who are his nearest and dearest. Father Rodriguez dreams of a picture of Christ and begins to look at his own life as parallel to Christ’s life, his faith is tested at every step. Andrew Garfield cuts a sympathetic figure and scores with the audience in the scene where he gives away his possessions - all the religious symbols: crucifixes, rosary beads et al - to the villagers. The Inquisitor finds new ways of testing the padre’s faith. The faithful are beheaded, drowned and burned and there is not a single scene where you think it is inelegant.

That’s the beauty of Martin Scorsese’s masterful touch. The torture is done with as much dexterity and beauty as the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Sound impossible, but you will not be able to look away from the screen at all. You will watch as the sea fills in crevices and brings in the tide to overwhelm and take away the lives of three faithful who refuse to denounce their God.

‘It took four days for Mokichi to die, but the hymn that he sung before he died lingered on…’

You hear Mokichi sing unfamiliar words, but you watch in despair as the sea slowly consumes him. The movie consumes you just as slowly, but you don’t realise it because you are watching from behind bushes along with the Padres how the Inquisitor offers silver coins to the villagers who will inform on Christians hiding in the village. As the Bible story goes, there is a Judas, and there is betrayal. And the story plays out but not as how you would expect.

Liam Neeson shows up much later in the movie and you are tested even further: You believe that the Son rose three days after crucifixion, but how do you teach this to the Japanese who only know of the one Sun (the one in the sky) and see it and witness it rising every day. Liam Neeson is not in a role where he needs to fight, but you see resignation and you begin to look for that one sign of faith on his furrow forehead just like Padre Rodriguez…

Did thousands perish in reality, as written in the book, valiantly embracing death for promised ‘paraiso’ (paradise)? Could Buddhism - a religion based peace and love - really advocate violence to root out another religion? Can a country really be called a swamp where nothing can take root? Human suffering has been documented in movies like Good Earth, and in war and disaster movies. But here we see an inhuman side of people, systematically break down another’s belief system in order to impose their own and you won’t emerge untouched.

The beauty of any movie that moves you enough to make you think along with the characters, feel for and with the characters, and despair and mourn with the characters cannot simply be chalked off as a 161 minute experience. The despair remains with you much longer than the movie, and even though the director offers you a salve in the end, you begin to look at everything Japanese in a new cruel light. You will not want to eat sushi after the movie, that’s for sure. But you will go down on your knees thankful and grateful that you are living in less uncivilized times.

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)