Saturday, April 19, 2014

2 States



Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 18th April, 2014
Time : 149 minutes
Director & Writer : Abhishek Varman (based on the novel by Chetan Bhagat); Music : Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Starring : Arjun Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amrita Singh, Ronit Roy, Revathi, Shivkumar Subramaniam




Someone decided to take a light, humorous, fictionalized account of cross cultural marriage and make a masala film out of it. Thus reducing its IQ level even further. Reducing most of the characters to caricatures. Adding in several songs, co-ordinated dance moves and fancy outfits. The lead pair, though, look good and are peppy. And the film has its funny moments and fair share of one liners, giving us a light, frothy, very predictable one time watch



They (Arjun & Alia) both meet in IIM-A and slowly but surely fall in love. A few songs and some steamy scenes, kisses later, its time for them to involve their parents. And that’s when the predictable North-South divide comes in. Arjun has to woo Alia’s very dour, staid folks (Revathi and Shivkumar) while she has to patao his dowry & ‘hum ladke wale hain’ obsessed, gauche mother (Amrita Singh) and also try to figure out where the land lies in his frosty, awkward relationship with his dad, Ronit. And then they have to get their respective parents to like each other…


The book is usually better than the movie and so is the case here (Disclaimer : I found the book really funny, probably Chetan’s best and had even met him a few times for the movie rights). The leads were good fun, both seemed to enjoy themselves in their roles, displayed some witty repartee and exude charm, though Alia’s South Indian roots were not really visible apart from a couple of gajra’s and one dance performance. Also, without the explanations behind the characters, the parents say things to each other which don’t seem natural, getting too petty, stereotypical too quickly. The second half drags and while the songs are fine as an album, in the movie it made most people just reach for their mobile phones.


Its not bad, enough peppiness and laughs (The Duke and Minty wedding entrance, Arjun's turn as a gawky, MCP-ish nerd in the beginning and Alia's response to that) to keep you going but if the central theme, as in the book, was to show how Indian marriages are not just about a couple getting together but also the respective families, I felt it was a job half done.


(Disclaimer 2 : Being from IIM-A and also having just been to campus a few months ago, somehow didn’t like seeing our alma mater in the shoot. Didn’t expect this reaction from self but it almost seemed like an invasion of privacy watching our hallowed grounds, awe-inspiring plaza and beautiful arches cheapened by Hindi film songs, especially with wording like Locha-E-Ulfat)

Transcendence



Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 18th April, 2014
Time : 119 minutes
Director : Wally Pfister; Writer : Jack Paglen; Music : Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Starring : Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Clifton Collins Jr, Josh Stewart




This film takes thoughts seeded by predecessors like Terminator series, iRobot and even the recent ‘Her’ to a logical next level…what happens if we let a self-aware artificial intelligence with an almost human consciousness loose on our planet ? What will the AI do ? And equally important, how will we humans react ?


Johnny Depp, a celebrity scientist, has been trying to build one such AI, with the help of his wife, Rebecca and in co-operation with a couple of eminent personalities, Paul Bettany and Morgan Freeman amongst them. Even the government, represented by an FBI agent Cillian Murphy is impressed and keeping tabs on the developments. But there are a group of very tech savvy radicals, led by Kate Mara (nice to see her outside House of Cards) who see it as the beginning of a very slippery slope and are determined to stop him and it by any means. They attempt to assassinate Depp. And then their worst nightmares come true…




The film is very (and quite unnecessarily) slow paced. There are a million logical inconsistencies, which I’m sure will be obvious to any watcher. But it does raise some fascinating questions – and shows, at least in a couple of realms, what could be possible by such an AI – especially using nano-technology. There are also some lovely visuals – rain against the windshield reflecting light, a monstrous array of solar panels in the desert, pristine white corridors, sunflowers blooming, droplets of water falling and spreading…all accompanied by a great music score…



I felt Johnny Depp, with his limited screen presence, looked out of place in this role. It didn’t really need him. Rebecca and Paul Bettany really caught the eye with excellent performances, with Kate doing it more with her shocking bleached blond locks.



I find such films fascinating…trying to take the questions raised to their logical conclusion. Am reminded often of the line in Matrix, which points out that the human race is actually the real virus afflicting out planet. And the more such films I watch, the more I observe around me, the more I find its true…

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Noah



Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 28th March, 2014
Time : 138 minutes
Director & Writer : Darren Aronofsky; Co-Writer : Ari Handel; Music : Clint Mansell
Starring : Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth



This is a very grim telling of the biblical epic, more preoccupied with the question of whether the human race should’ve been saved / propagated further in the post ark era, than with other aspects I would’ve found more interesting like the building of the ark, the selection of the species, the logistical challenges, the beauty of the animals of that era etc



There are two kinds of people on Earth, the descendants of Cain, who are greedy, hungry, don’t believe in worshipping their Creator and willing to lay waste to the planet…and the descendants of Seth…who are completely the opposite. Noah (Russell Crowe) is born to the latter, watches his father die at a young age at the hands of the opposing camp (led by Ray Winstone)…grows up foraging, providing for his wife, Jennifer, and three kids, leading a very ordinary life…until he begins to have visions…which lead him to his task…



I found the special effects quite ordinary, the story slightly complicated (especially the concept of the Watchers), the two opposing camps too black and white and overall the film was, well, just grim…full of darkness, dim light with no one epitomizing this more than the scowling Russell Crowe who barely smiles in the film



It’s a valid, fascinating question to ask, of course, about whether the human race deserved to survive the deluge, especially at this juncture, when we’re pretty close to destroying the planet but just that it doesn’t make for a very entertaining film as the lead actors grimace and scowl through the movie...

Dishkiyaaoon



Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 28th March, 2014
Time : 119 minutes
Director & Writer : Sanamjit Singh Talwar; Music : Palak Muchhal
Starring : Harman Baweja, Prashant Narayanan, Anand Tiwari, Ayesha Khanna, Sumeet Nijhawan, Hasan Zaidi, Aditya Pancholi, Rajesh Vivek, Sunny Deol




There is a germ of a fascinating story here, obviously inspired by Usual Suspects to a degree…but its so badly told that the narrative drags, it stretches on interminably, includes unnecessary sub plots and lacks clarity or single-mindedness, so much so that even its ‘twist’ ending fails to salvage it…my rating, I guess, is as much for Harman Baweja (does a good job) and for the idea, than for the actual film




Harman, thanks to a school bully and the influence of Prashant Narayanan (a mafia strongman), always wanted to be a gangster and eventually does become a peculiar kind of one. He does accounting for Prashant and also the strategic / vision kind of thinking. Stands by him as a war erupts between two overlords and Prashant switches sides, joining Sumeet’s gang vs his previous one, an unseen don named Gujjar, fronted by Rajesh Vivek. Sumeet also comes with a psychopathic hitman, Anand Tiwari, who can’t stand Harman (and vice versa). Other subplots include Aditya Pancholi as a corrupt cop, Hasan Zaidi as Harman’s childhood friend and Sunny Deol, who becomes Harman’s friend and advisor in rather unique circumstances.



You struggle to understand some of the choices made by the characters. You struggle to follow the story. You struggle to feel anything for most of the characters. And you really struggle to understand where this is all going, especially when some very ordinary songs break the narrative, with Ayesha Khanna as a good looking but superfluous love interest.



The script isn’t strong enough to hold so many characters – the dialogue is crisp (slightly filmy) but when completely silly things like a trip to Iran / Afghanistan happen or even the whole toxic waste angle, it doesn’t help keep you hooked. This is one bullet that sadly, despite a promising storyline, fails to find its mark.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Queen



Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 7th March, 2014
Time : 146 minutes
Director & Writer : Vikas Bahl; Music : Amit Trivedi
Starring : Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao, Yogendra Tiku, Chinmaya Agarawal, Tripta Lakhanpal, Lisa Haydon, Mish Boyko, Jeffrey Ho, Joesph Guitobh, Canade Lopez, Nayani Dixit, Sabeeka Imam




A very famous director once told me that one of the best ways to evaluate films is to look for moments in the movie…moments which touch you, you can relate to, which you remember long after the last reel has come to a halt. By that logic, I’m happy to announce that Queen is replete with such endearing moments and if you haven’t seen it in the cinema hall, would recommend you do so immediately.



Kangana, a denizen of Rajouri Garden, Delhi, is relentlessly wooed before being unceremoniously dumped by her fiancée, Rajkumar Rao, just a day before their wedding. Being brought up as typically daughters are in that locality, over-protected, always chaperoned, not really worldy-wise, always letting the men decide for them, she decides she wants to travel on her honeymoon, by herself. And so we get a very innocent, sweet, naïve, not very fluent in English, girl from Rajouri travel to Paris and Amsterdam and discover her true self in the process.



She encounters an eclectic mix of characters on this journey…Lisa Haydon, a half-Indian, gorgeous creature who lives, loves and laughs. Mish Boyko, an artist who paints to get rid of his frustration, Jeffrey Ho, a fun loving Japanese, away from home to escape from sad memories, Joseph Guitobh, who makes beautiful music and of course, Canadea Lopez, who insists Italian food must be eaten as it is, without being Indian-ized.



Memorable moments include Kangana going through a mental check list while getting her mehndi done, Rajkumar’s classic MCP behavior when it comes to her dress, desire to work, drink alcohol etc including his special brahmastara “Mummyji ko pata chal gaya to ?”, the father and son fascination with Lisa and her voluptuous twin assets, the grandmother’s sage advice regarding heartbreak, Kangana’s call to a fictitious boyfriend to try and ‘protect’ herself, her non-stop chatter (in Hindi) regardless of who is around her and overall, watching her gain confidence, without losing her own identity in the process.



After a long while, saw a Hindi film which got the nuances right. It is a over-simplified fable kind of story, but with its heart firmly in the right place. Accompanied by great music, excellent and (for a change) pithy dialogue and superb performances (new found respect for Kangana, who infuses life into this simple girl from Rajouri), this film really made you smile, several times, as the queen waltzes in our hearts

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Need For Speed



Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 21st March, 2014
Time : 132 minutes
Director : Scott Waugh; Writer : George and John Gatins; Music : Nathan Furst
Starring : Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rogriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Michael Keaton




You can write the entire story after watching about 10 minutes of the film. There are no surprises. There are, though, lots of fancy cars, lots of racing, fast, slick action that keeps you occupied in a cheerful ‘we are what we are’ kind of movie that stays true to its essence through its entire length



It has a good guy, Aaron, classic, strong silent type, who leads a great mechanic crew (Scott, Rami, Ramon and Harrison) and is a super racer himself but is down on his luck and looking for a break. It has the sinister villain, Dominic, who looks right from frame one, as if he’s searching for the right spot and moment to stab you in the back. And it has Imogen Poots, complete with an English accent, to provide the feminine side of things and a European flavor. Dakota provides the love triangle, the flashpoint causing the good guy and the bad guy to start competing with each other, with the finale being a ‘by invitation only’ race organized by an eccentric millionaire, Michael Keaton.



My son kept me regaled through the film on the finer aspects of the magnificent wheels on display…all fancy names, Lamborghini, McLaren, Maserati, Koenigseggs, modified Mustangs etc with most cars having a price tag upwards of seven digits. It has all the ingredients of a slick racing film and keeps the action going at a frenetic pace through the film.




Its apparently based on a very successful video game of the same name and reminded me why I don’t play video games. Don’t think I could take much more of this kind of stuff beyond the two hours or so of the film, enjoyable though it was...

Gang of Ghosts



Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 21st March, 2014
Time : 129 minutes
Director : Satish Kaushik; Writer : Anik Dutta; Music : Dharam Sandeep
Starring : Sharman Joshi, Parambrata Chatterjee, Anupam Kher, Mahi Gill, Brandon Hill, Saurabh Shukla, Yashpal Sharma, Rajpal Yadav, Chunky Pandey, Jackie Shroff, Meera Chopra, Vijay Verma, Rajesh Khattar




Once you’ve got past the novelty of the film’s premise, that of a motley gathering of ghosts living together in an old mansion in Mumbai, there is precious little the film has to offer. Based on the recent hit Bengali film, Bhooter Bhabishyat (which I haven’t seen), there is clearly something lost in translation.


It has some fun moments, all in the first half, as the ghosts get together but stretches interminably in the second as the makers run out of ideas on what to do with the characters, throwing in builders, politicians, dons, hitmen, some awful songs and a very predictable end in a desperate bid to keep the film going.


Sharman, a struggling film writer, narrates the story to Parambrata, who is about to shoot his first film, about a gang of ghosts inhabiting the derelict, disputed mansion, which is one of the locations for the film. How the gang came together, are (like the rest of the inhabitants of the city), in need of suitable quarters. And how, thanks to a builder, Rajesh Khattar, the mansion is now going to be torn down and rebuilt as a multiplex, rendering the ghosts homeless.


The ghosts are led by Anupam Kher, ther erstwhile owner of the mansion and include Brandon Hill (token Englishman), Saurabh Shukla (caricature Bengali), Yashpal Sharma (typical Punjabi fauji), Mahi Gill (an actress who loved to be the center of attention), Meera Chopra (the obligatory PYT), Rajpal Yadav (the khansama, to round off the main religions of India), among others. Chunky Pandey, Jackie Shroff and Vijay Verma have brief, forgettable roles too


Its not clear what the ghosts do all day, in the large mansion they inhabit. Its not clear why some people turn to ghosts and others don’t. Its not clear whether they are all always visible to living mortals or can choose whether to be in stealth mode. Also, they seem to be able to eat, drink and be merry when they so choose, change clothes, wear jewelry, make-up etc.



Cheap jokes like the ghosts drinking ‘Ghosters’ beer (in the logo of Fosters) or being in touch on Spookbook (Facebook) wear very thin after a while. There are interesting characters but the film-makers aren’t able to resist the temptation to turn them into irritating caricatures. This is one of the films where you wish large parts would simply disappear