Friday, March 30, 2012

Hunger Games

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 23rd March, 2012
Time : 142 minutes
Director & Co-Writer : Gary Ross; Co-Writers :Billy Ray, Suzanne Collins (based on the novel by Suzanne Collins); Music : T-Bone Burnett, James Newton Howard
Starring : Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Alexander Ludwig, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Brooke Bundy

There have been many movies made about winners take all, losers die kind of competitions. I remember Arnold Schwarznegger in ‘The Running Man’ and even the deliciously dark ’13 Tzameti

Here’s another. Which focuses not on the killing / fight sequences but other aspects.
Nicely done, plausibly constructed. Combining the concept of beauty pageants / popularity contests with the blood & gore quite well by introducing the concept of sponsors.

12 districts have to send one male and female contestant, randomly picked, to these games. There is a little bit of pride at stake here, with the district providing the winner cheering etc. But the objective of the games is not to celebrate sport or strength but rather it is a punishment to remind the districts of a failed rebellion.
The Capitol, which rules over the districts, is ultra high tech, rich, beautiful and people there don’t seem to have to put too much effort in earning a living. In the districts, the focus is clearly on where your next meal is going to come from. People live in shanty town structures, have to hunt to supplement their food quota, normal professions are being a miner or store keeper and people indulge in barter to sustain themselves.
Jennifer volunteers (a first) when her kid sister is picked as the female district representative. Her journey before and during the Games is the focus of the film. How some of the districts pick people and train them for the Games. How they have to dress up to please sponsors. What skills to show or not show ? How to get the attention of the committee that rates the different competitors ? And once in the field, how to deal with the challenges thrown at them by the GameMaster ? Or the constantly shifting alliances amongst the competitors ?

The freshness of the faces is a huge positive. The eccentric behavior, clothing and mannerisms of the Capitol dwellers vs the humdrum lives of the districts could well be the difference of The Darkness and The Shining India referred to by Aravind Adiga in The White Tiger.
The movie belongs to Jennifer, with her clear, grey blue eyes, her hesitant shyness, her introverted nature, which is step by step moulded differently. Woody Harrelson is good in his cameo. The other competitors give a great account of themselves with special mentions for Josh & Alexander. The compere, the stylist, the Gamemaster, all the Capitol crowd, manage to carry off their not so easy roles.

What I didn’t like about it was its predictability. There are twists but none that make you sit up or conceive of different endings. What I liked was its freshness, its way of combining the action with a human story and the questions it raised. Are we, in India or even the BRICS countries, progressing towards something like the Capitol vs Districts ?


Rating : 7/10
Release Date : March, 2008 (India)
Time : 108 minutes
Director : Michael Radford; Writer : Edward Anderson; Music : Stephen Warbeck
Starring : Demi Moore, Michael Caine, Lambert Wilson, Joss Ackland, Shaughan Seymour

Glass ceilings can be frustrating. Especially if you’re competent and have been passed over many times.
Ask Demi Moore. She’s the first to enter the office of London Diamond and last to leave. Comes up with brilliant ideas. Solves problems of a weighty political nature. Yet, in a company which has 1200+ Managing Directors, is painfully aware that the number of female Managing Directors is zero & likely to remain that way. It’s the 60’s after all.

Michael Caine is a janitor nearing retirement. He has a limp. And an audacious scheme.
It’s a fascinating film. Unfolding slowly, setting the right environment, the right tonality, raising the right issues. Showing how problems like apartheid, the Cold War impacted big business. And the lives of Demi Moore and Michael Caine.
Is it completely believable ? Possibly with a generous helping of the right salt. An enjoyable watch.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Agent Vinod

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 23rd March, 2012
Time : 157 minutes
Director & Co-Writer : Sriram Raghavan; Co-Writer : Arijit Biswas; Music : Pritam
Starring : Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Ram Kapoor, Maryam Zakaria, Malika Haydon, Ravi Kishen, Gulshan Grover, Adil Hussain, Zakir Hussain, Lee-Ann Roberts, Vasilisa Petina

Its got the babes. The slickness. The world (India) threatening catastrophe to be averted. The villains, an apt mix of threatening & cartoonish. The locales. And, as in Bond films, the man whom the villains just refuse to kill. Our very own agent-hero.
The plot loosely links multiple villains and cities as a suitcase bomb (a nuclear device small enough to fit in a backpack) wends its way towards India. Agent Vinod and his cohorts arrive everywhere and help the bad guys in creating mayhem in the beautiful places – Riga, St Petersburg, Moscow, Morocco, Afghanistan, Cape Town, Karachi. The trail of destruction is unending. And Kareena uncannily pops up everywhere.

The story is thin. The action decent but we’ve seen it all before (car chases, fist cuffs, gun fights, hair raising motorbike rides). What saves the film is its sense of humour, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the one-liners never stop. And the music suits the action, the background score or even the song sequences.
Whether its Saif’s impromptu dances when confronted with hidden cameras, his replies when asked his name (including a cheeky reference to Mahendra Sandhu), the critical roles played by Prem Chopra’s camel and mother, Kareena’s date in Riga with the head of security, and Saif’s turn as the Mallu while beating up a villain and later as his typical Delhi-ite response when the bed next door makes too much noise. It comes naturally, suits Saif.
Somewhere I cant help feel that it didn’t need so many locations, so many codes / tracks, so many villains (at the halfway stage, most people in the hall seemed confused) and that it deserved a better plot. However, Kareena looks great and Saif works as along with his funny side, he attempts to rescue damsels in distress, his country and the film…

Thursday, March 22, 2012

John Carter

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 9th March, 2012 (India)
Time : 132 minutes
Director & Co-Writer : Andrew Stanton; Co-writer : Mark Andrews (based on Edgar Rice Burroughs story ‘A Princess of Mars’); Music : Michael Giacchino
Starring : Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Dominic West, Ciarin Hinds, Daryl Sabara, William Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong

John Carter. A caring, generous uncle. Feisty cavalry man. Renegade captain. Interplanetary traveller. Loner.
A battle between good and evil. Exotic creatures. Space travel. Rugged, breathtaking landscapes. Towering structures. A besieged princess seeking help. Gladitorial contests. A planet under threat. Gods seeking to run their writ. And a race that seems doomed.
There is a flatness to the film, none of the spark or awe while watching films like Star Wars or Avatar. A sameness, a feeling of déjà vu. Driven only partly by the slightly wooden, lead actor and the character he is given to play. Made up only partially by the charismatic Lynn Collins. Enlivened only partially by the awe-inspiring scenery. And a storyline, plot that comes across as very ordinary.
I wouldn’t rate the time I spent on this film badly spent. There is enough fantasy, sci-fi, romance, exotica to sustain. However, it somehow doesn’t come together in a harmonious whole.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

This Means War

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 16th March, 2012 (India)
Time : 97 minutes
Director : McG; Writers : Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg; Music : Christophe Beck
Starring : Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Rosemary Harris

They’re best mates, almost the only mate each has. They fall for the same girl. Ruin their friendship. She has a really hard time making up her mind on who to go with. Despite lots of advice from her happily married, sex crazy, opinionated friend. And oh, did I mention, both the guys are secret agents ?

You know where this is heading very soon into the film. The Daniel Craig-esque Tom is the quiet one, Brit, divorced, father of a boy, safe, still waters run deep kind of guy. Chris Pine is the smooth one, multiple relationships, has a glass swimming pool, the clubbing, I know the bartender / DJ / bouncer kind of guy. She loves her work, which is to review various consumer products and soon you know everything that is possible to know about her as the two use official resources to relentlessly tap & tail her. And oh, did I mention, they are chasing / being chased by a villain seeking revenge for his younger brothers death ?

I think they forgot about the villain midway through the film. Focused too much on the romance / wooing / spoiling the others courting. It felt a bit stretched there. The dialogue is good, witty enough to keep you listening and the best moments come from the way the two ‘fight’ each other, the teams both use to tail her and the kid who circles around with a bucket over his head.

Reese looks a tad old, stretched, lacking a few sparks from what she used to be. Chris and Tom are believable in their roles and Chelsea, playing Reese’s friend, is given a character that seems to be trying too hard to be quirky / funny.

It’s a one time watch, light, easy and uncomplicated without being mindless. And oh, did I mention that the action, when it happens, is good ?