Saturday, December 06, 2014

Action Jackson

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 5th December, 2014
Time : 144 minutes
Director, Writer : Prabhu Deva; Co-Writer: Shiraz Ahmed; Music : Himesh Reshammiya
Starring : Ajay Devgn, Sonakshi Sinha, Manasvi Mamgai, Yami Gautam, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Anand Raj, Ketan Karande, Puru Raaj Kumar

Much to my surprise, and despite its senseless story, over-burdened script, I enjoyed this one. Its one of the rare Hindi film’s where the second half is actually better than the first (quite ordinary, standard tapori stuff with the romance thrown in). The film suddenly shifts gears in the second, almost as if, directed and styled by a different director, becoming a homage to Kill Bill / Shoot ‘Em Up – way over the top but then reveling in it being so. And no one relished their roles more than Ajay Devgn and Manasvi Mamgai (Ooh, La La !), who both stood out with their performances, physiques…

The story, if one can call it that, is all over the place. The first half is about a small-time Mumbai villain, Ajay Devgn, with his side-kick, Kunaal, earning their money by bashing up people. There is also a long romance with Sonakshi, with her trying to reform him. And then, suddenly, in the second half, the film becomes a story of an international crime-lord, Anand Raj, his lustful, psychotic sister, Manasvi and our ball-busting, ass-kicking hero, Ajay Devgn, in his Action Jackson avatar, protecting Yami Gautam from them.

There are plenty of silly moments, cheap laughs – none more so than the motorcycle ride in the beginning with pani puri playing a key role or even Sonakshi’s belief that her luck will change if she see’s Ajay naked. Almost inevitably, this is mixed up with moments of cringe-worthy sentimentality – the school admission / the neighbour’s glowing recommendation – as our hero has to have a heart of gold. The second half, despite again having distracting songs which slow down the pace and some moments of redundant comedy, works better simply because its better styled, slicker and has stuff which you haven’t seen before in Hindi films – the action sequences go a bit beyond just people flying in different directions / slow mo shots of bones breaking. And Manasvi, till her role makes her half-crazed, is simply wow ! (Did I mention that before ?).

Prabhu Deva’s mind popping moves with the end credits are not to be missed. And its important in an over the top film that the actors perform their roles with a knowing smirk, helping the audience realize not to take them too seriously. Which Ajay pulls off with elan.

Exodus : Gods And Kings

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 5th December, 2014
Time : 114 minutes
Director : Ridley Scott; Writers : Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian; Music : Alberto Iglesias
Starring : Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Maria Valverde, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, Dar Salim, Sigourney Weaver, Indira Varma, Aaron Paul

It’s the story of Moses. Grim. Sombre. Slow. Tragic for the most part. And apart from some snazzy sets, special effects and a fondness for Christian Bale derived from his past work, doesn’t work at all as a feature film…

It’s the story of how two step-brothers, Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, turn against each other, once their father, the Pharoah, John Turturro, passes away. How Bale discovers the secret of his birth, communicates with God through visions / hallucinations and then leads his people away from Egypt, away from their life of slavery, fighting the land and the army he once inhabited and led.

The only interesting part was watching the classic human failings – jealousy, greed, doubt, betrayal, self-preservation (vs greater good). And, the most fascinating part, whether the prophecy, like most astrological predictions, turns out to be a self-fulfilling one just because the ruler is wracked by insecurity, determined not to let it happen. In this case, if Joel hadn’t gone against his brother – would events have unfolded differently ? Or is his insecurity a key factor, nay, the reason, behind the prophecy itself ?

Have realized religious epics don’t work for me - Noah was another recent example. They soon deteriorate into who’s God is stronger, more powerful than the other. And if the seven plagues that afflicted Egypt, were the ‘right’ answer for 400 years of oppression – doesn’t that sanctify the idea of revenge ? Here I can only quote the Mahatma – “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 28th November, 2014
Time : 114 minutes
Director, Writer : Rensil D’Silva; Co-Writer: Milap Zaveri; Music : Various
Starring : Emraan Hashmi, Randeep Hooda, Kangana Ranaut, Sanjay Dutt, Neha Dhupia, Angad Bedi, Neil Bhoopalam

Sick of the systemic corruption, a gang of four, which becomes known as the Ungli (middle finger) gang, devise clever ways to name and shame individuals who’re doing wrong – whether it’s a smart-ass pension bureaucrat, an errant RTO official, or bribe-taking traffic cops.

While the heart is in the right place, and some of the tricks the Ungli gang pull off are fun, the screenplay falls into an all too common trap for Hindi films, lumbering what could’ve been a catchy, zippy storyline with back stories, dead fathers, wronged friends, sub-plots, a couple of romantic angles, and even an amazingly out of place item number…

Also, while the ensemble cast put together is highly competent, none of the actors really sets the screen on fire or breathes life into their character- all of them kind of doing only the minimum necessary to discharge their roles. The finale is fun but highly far-fetched, and while the film does enough to keep you in your seats for its two hour duration, there are plenty of occasions when your mobile seems to offer more entertainment than available on the screen, especially when some misplaced songs erupt like jarring jack-in-the-boxes…

The Hunger Games : Mockingjay Part 1

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 28th November, 2014
Time : 123 minutes
Director : Francis Lawrence; Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, based on the novel ‘MockingJay’ by Suzanne Collins; Music : James Newton Howard
Starring : Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Mahershala Ali, Jeffrey Wright, Willow Shields, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer

Grim. Slow. Agonizing.

Probably the three words, in that order, which best summarize this film. It lacks the pace, zing of the earlier two installments (Hunger Games & Hunger Games : Catching Fire), misses any key confrontation or action sequences and just seems to meander along (hopefully) setting things up for the next one.

We watch Jennifer Lawrence grudgingly become the face of the revolution, led by Julianne Moore. She becomes the MockingJay, the counterpoint to Josh Hutcherson, who has been kidnapped by the Capitol and now speaks for them. We watch Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as the marketing guru, try to put a glitzy, schmaltzy propaganda campaign together, aided by Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, who thankfully votes for spontaneity rather than prepared scripts and costumes. We watch Jeffrey Wright, as the tech brains of the movement, try to gatecrash into the Capitol and Mahershala Ali, along with Liam Hemsworth and Natalie Dormer, lead the muscles unit of the revolution. And above all, we watch Donald Sutherland, as the leader of the Capitol, hell-bent on crushing the other districts, toy with the revolution.

Jennifer’s character seems strangely distracted, more preoccupied with personal considerations (Josh, her sister, a cat) rather than the greater objectives of the struggle. The Orwellian setting of the revolution HQ, with the jumpsuits and the underground chambers, along with the strong-willed Julianne Moore as its head, does beg the question whether the Districts are jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

There is very little progress, story-wise, in this edition, and neither do we learn much more about any of the central characters. There is just a dark sense of foreboding throughout, with somber music to match, that doesn’t make for and enjoyable watch

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 28th November, 2014
Time : 108 minutes
Director : Sean Anders; Writers: Jonathan M Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Sean Anders & John Morris; Music : Christopher Lennertz
Starring : Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christopher Waltz, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jonathan Banks

Sort of a Dumb and Dumber, with a tad more class (just a smidgeon more, mind you)…and a little bit of corporate gobble-dee-gook thrown in to earn the title. The plot is far-fetched, what the characters do, bizarre and the end is from Planet Fantasia.

Christoph Waltz, a rich businessman, playing his usual urbane, smug self, royally screws our three leads, (Bateman, Sudekis, Day), crippling their business and bringing them to the point of foreclosure. With their backs to the wall, its inevitable that a harebrained scheme follows – Bateman being the sole voice of sanity while presiding over the foolish, thoughtless antics of his two mates – and they eventually decide to kidnap Christoph’s son, the spoilt, equally smug, Chris Pine. Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Jamie Foxx, each reprise their characters from the prequel, but their plans are so foolish as to beggar belief.

This is a timepass film of the Ready / Bodyguard / Bol Bachchan genre. It just happens to be in English and wastes the incredible acting talent of some extremely fine actors (and the only reason my rating is so generous). It does provide a few laughs but they are far and few in-between. Am praying they don’t go for three time lucky…

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Equalizer - Happy Ending

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 21st November, 2014
Time : 132 minutes
Director : Antoine Fuqua; Writer: Richard Wenk, based on the TV series by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim; Music : Harry Gregson-Williams
Starring : Denzel Washington, Martin Czokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 21st November, 2014
Time : 137 minutes
Director, Writers : Raj and Krishna DK; Co-writer: Sita Menon; Music : Jigar Sachin
Starring : Saif Ali Khan, Ileana D'Cruz, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey, Govinda, Rahul Nath, Preity Zinta

Equalizer and Happy Ending, as films & genres, couldn’t be more dissimilar. One is a action, one-man army, bloody, gory film, the other a soft focus, breezy romantic comedy. In one bad things happen to a lot of bad people while in the other, good people enjoy the good life. Yet my movie viewing experience was so alike that I felt compelled to write a kind of combined review. That, and a slight time constraint.

In Equalizer, Denzel Washington, a seemingly innocuous worker at a DIY store, perennial do-gooder, transforms into a plague of sorts against a well-heeled, well-connected Russian mob. Just because they beat a not-so-close friend of his, Chloe, up. And when they turn up the heat, sending Marton Csokas, their enforcer, he switches on some sunlight himself…

In Happy Ending, Saif is a commitment phobic, serial womanizer, rich, popular author. Who suddenly finds his book replaced on the shelves, his money finished, his popularity faded and the women drying up. Suffering from writers block, handed a life-saving script-writing opportunity by a single-screen star, Govinda, who wishes to now connect with the multiplex audiences, Saif (for reasons not entirely clear) decides to hook-up with the new author / flavor of the month, Ileana D'Cruz, who’s pulpy, romantic novel, has replaced his on the shelf and him at his literary agent. And she turns out to be the female version of him…

What struck me, with both movies, was the predictability of the storylines and also the inevitability of the endings, whether Happy or otherwise. And yet, they were both enjoyable, gripping in their own ways, proving once again that even if the destination is clear, the journey can still be fun.

What works for Equalizer are its action sequences, background music, superb visuals and earnest performances from Denzel and Marton. It helps that Antoine Fuqua, the director, is no stranger to the action genre, with films like Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen and Shooter under his belt, and keeps the film crisp, pacy and slick, yet manages to build a good emotional connect with simple, deft touches – chance meetings, stray conversations about books at a diner, a musical doll, a glistening tear rolling down the cheek. Chloe also comes through in her brief role…

And what works for Happy Ending is its irreverent take on life, relationships, writing and Saif. The good thing about him is that, especially when playing the lovable rascal, it really feels that the character is him in reality – he’s not playing a part, just being himself. Ilena does well (though not without flaw),Kalki's role, as Saif's slightly psychotic girlfriend, was a bit unidimensional, and Ranvir, as Saif’s bff and a much harried, married man, delivers the laughs fairly consistently. It was also a nice change to see a film about an author, and the dialogue, refreshingly, was consistently good and funny.

Equalizer’s end was worse than Happy Ending’s. Required a suspension of disbelief longer than the Golden Gate, the locale of part of the latter…though, arguably, HE’s was more contrived. But both still made for a good watch, stopping a few milestones shy of greatness but giving us some happy viewing…

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kill Dill

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 14th November, 2014
Time : 127 minutes
Director : Shaad Ali; Writers: Nitesh Tiwari, Shreyas Jain, Nikhil Mehrotra; Music : Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Starring : Ranveer Singh, Ali Zafar, Govinda, Parineeti Chopra

The first few minutes were excellent. In terms of setting things up. Showing the relationships between our lead duo Ali Zafar, Ranveer, their godfather, Govinda and the introduction of Parineeti. For a while, aided by good, witty dialogue, they kept things going, even though, apart from the courtship, there wasn’t much happening. And then, as usual, they ran out of ideas on what to make their interesting characters do. On how to progress the story forward. Leading to a second half that just floundered with all concerned doing unlikely, improbable things.

Govinda brings up the two kids from infancy, rescuing them from a trash can. He’s an enforcer for a neta, handing out killing contracts to our heroic, more brawn than brains duo, who of course worship him and are willing to do anything at his command. Until Ranveer falls for Parineeti after saving her from gun-toting goons at a crowded discotheque. Earning her gratitude. And then discovering, via her and her friends circle, that its possible to earn a very good living by being good, honest too. Which then interferes with his work – I mean, you cant be a very good contract killer if you begin thinking too much about what you do, who is the victim, etc. And this, naturally, impedes his partner, Ali Zafar, and more than just annoys super boss, Govinda.

The performances are good and the opening songs add zing. There is a certain freshness to the film – Ranveer’s servility while dealing with Parineeti, Ali / Ranveer constantly pulling the leg of another of Govinda’s henchman, Parineeti’s cryptic sms’, which need a trip to the library to decipher, her dominating approach to Ranveeer, Ali and Ranveer’s cool pad, complete with a Marlboro poster, the open, haveli feel of Govinda’s hideout, the cool motorbike, fancy cars – there is enough to keep you going. I would give them some brownie points for at least not making it a boring, predictable love trianlge. But then you just wish it went somewhere, anywhere. You wish there was a better conflict resolution rather than the fortuitous, flimsy end. You wish the makers had spent more time fleshing out the idea, working on the script, than just relying on style, actors to keep us entertained. Fun, in parts, but could’ve been so much more…

John Wick

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 14th November, 2014
Time : 101 minutes
Director: Chad Tahelski; Writer : Derek Kolstad; Music : Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Starring : Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicko, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan

Vengeance. Against the mob. Albanians / Russians. For stealing his car and killing his dog. Keanu Reaves is John Wick. He used to be their enforcer, laying a trail of bodies at their command. But then got out, amicably, with the boss, Michael Nyqvist’s permission. To be with his wife. Who died of a disease a few days back. And then, the mob boss’ son, Alfie Allen (of Game Of Throne’s fame) took a fancy to his car.

There was nothing new in terms of story or action to really keep you interested. The essential strategy was to walk in and shoot, knife, fight, kill. Got monotonous after a while, especially as we weren’t really emotionally invested in the characters. Keanu has essentially one expression through the film and the bearded look didn’t help enhance his boyish charm. The music was good, rock & trance accentuating the violent bits.

The one new idea was that of a Hotel C, a kind of mob / contract killers hangout. With strict rules about not doing business on the premises. Where everyone knows everyone. And no one has forgotten Keanu, even though he’s returning after five years.

Watch if you enjoy the sight of random blood being spilt. Avoid if you’re looking for something to accompany the red body fluid. Like a story. Or anything else.