Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Race 2

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 25th January, 2013
Time : 146 minutes
Director : Abbas-Mustan; Writer : Shiraz Ahmed; Music : Pritam
Starring : Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone, Jacqueline Fernandez, Anil Kapoor, Ameesha Patel, Aditya Pancholi

The template of the film franchise requires beautiful locations (half-tick with Turkey, glitzy overwhelming resorts), beautiful bodies (tick for Jacqueline, double tick each for Deepika, Saif, John plus bonus point for getting Anil ‘You could lose an orangutan in my chest hair’ Kapoor to wax his foliage) and more twists, and turns than your average cork-screw (yep, done). Now, if only the makers had paid attention to also getting a halfway plausible story…

Saif is a hundred Agent Vinod’s rolled into one in this film. He can effortlessly shoot bullseyes in archery, fence, last a few minutes with an undefeated, indestructible prize fighter, charm the knickers off women and jump fifty-sixty feet walls with time to spare. He is pitted against John Abraham – ex-fighter, now billionaire and card cheat. Also happens to be Jacqueline’s boyfriend and Deepika’s brother. Anil Kapoor is the person who brings Saif and John together but with his new sidekick, Ameesha provide the most irritating side track with really horrible, disgusting jokes in which they leave the modesty of no fruit untouched.

The plot includes an unintentionally hilarious con of a casino owner, a robbery of a national artifact (ludicrous, makes you squirm with the stupidity of its execution) and several other points that insult your intelligence (the characters of the film, to make their multi-million dollar decisions, rely on that beacon of authentic news reporting, India TV, for their breaking news, for example).

There is a serious problem with the way the characters are built up. None of them really seems to be real or does stuff consistent with their character. They seem to be more driven by a script-writers whims and fancies than any real, credible motivations.

The music is also a disappointment, not a patch on the original which had the soulful ‘Pehli Nazar’ and the iconic ‘Zara Zara Touch Me’, the song that had a whole generation of harried mom’s begging their daughters not even to hum it, lest it be taken literally.

I guess this one is more about being easy on the eyes than taxing either your brain or the mind of the story-writer. The eye candy is good with no dress ever covering more than 30% of the female form (and I’m just exaggerating slightly), the locales glitzy and the sets blingy in a Versace gone mad kind of way. Kind of alright if you’re willing to detach your brain and watch. Painful, if you’re not.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Les Miserables

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 18th January, 2013
Time : 157 minutes
Director : Tom Hooper; Writer & Music : Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, based on the book by Victor Hugo
Starring : Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Hathway, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Huttlestone, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tvelt

The story
An escaped convict, currently mayor of Paris, Hugh Jackman, is tracked down by a zealous policeman, Russell Crowe. But not before he makes a promise to one of his dying factory worker’s, Anne Hathway, that he will care for her daughter. He rescues her from the inn where she has been left, raises her and protects her, all the while hiding from Russell, till at a time when revolt is brewing on the streets of Paris, she (Amanda Seyfried) runs into Eddie Redmayne, one of the revolutionaries. The lives of Hugh, Russell, Amanda and Eddie intersect, possibly for a final time.

I’m probably the wrong guy to review this and would like to explain why

1. May sound strange coming from someone who rates Sound of Music as one of his all time favourites & has been weaned on Hindi films but I don’t like Musicals as a genre. Especially those where the singing / spoken dialogue is skewed almost 95% / 5%. Like this one.

2. This is a tragedy and I’m not particularly fond of this theme either. Yes, there are some uplifting, heart-stirring moments but overall the film is dark, grimy, depressive. Don’t see the point of watching such a film in your spare time

3. I found all the hype for Anne Hathway’s performance, all the PR, press articles quite over the top, given that she is only in the film for less than fifteen minutes. Nominated for best actress in a supporting role, BTW

4. I think there were several occasions when a song didn’t suit the emotion, the situation. A few prosaic, well chosen words would have done more in moving the story along and quicker.

My verdict
Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe steal the show with bravura performances. The sets, recreation of Paris was great. Couple of very touching moments – especially towards the end when Russell removes his medal of honour and places it on someone else. The rest just didn’t work for me.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Broken City

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 18th January, 2013
Time : 109 minutes
Director : Allen Hughes; Writer : Brian Tucker; Music : Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, Claudia Sarne
Starring : Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler

Russell Crowe loves being in power and will do anything to stay there. He is the Mayor of New York, a wheeler dealer, media savvy, into bed with big business and real estate (sounds like one of our politicians, doesn’t he) and is not afraid to using a bit of brawn or blackmail when he gets a chance.

Mark Wahlberg is tough as nails cop turned private detective. The kind of guy though, who’ll quit alcohol for seven years to please his wife (Natalie Martinez). Or the kind who’ll let his clients run up a tab of $42,000 almost making him broke, kept afloat only by the diligent efforts of his devoted secretary (Alona Tal). He’d left the force under a bit of a cloud, the full story behind that being revealed later. But now, seven years after he’d left the police, he gets a call from the Mayor’s office.

The mayor, right in the thick of a neck & neck re-election campaign, wants Wahlberg to check on his wife, Zeta-Jones, whom he suspects of adultery. And is willing to pay extra for quick results.

The film is a slow, gripping portrayal of politics, love, betrayal and the lust for power. Of murder, shady real-estate deals, adultery and blackmail. The calm, collected Wahlberg is a fine balance to Crowe’s physicality and restless energy. Add Catherine Zeta-Jones’ smouldering presence and barely concealed antipathy for her husband. A rival, Barry Pepper, who is determined to be mayor. A police commissioner, Jeffrey Wright, who doesn’t get along at all with the Crowe. And you have a film that unravels slowly but surely, the whole picture never revealed till right at the end.

What I like about this film is that everyone here has shades of grey, no one is black or white. Probably, the world today is such a place it wouldn’t allow anyone pure to truly exist. This is not a film that will blow your mind away, or make you clap with excitement. But, it’s a simple story well told. And some of their well-etched characters just might stay with you in the trek back from the cinema.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 18th January, 2013
Time : 150 minutes
Director : Sudhir Mishra; Writer : Manoj Tyagi; Music : Shantanu Moitra;
Starring : Chitrangda Singh, Arjun Rampal, Vipin Sharma, Deepti Naval, Shivani Tanksale, Mohan Kapoor

Flirting. Sexual harassment. Power politics. Consensual sex. The corporate rat race. Love. All ingredients blend seamlessly and a bit confusingly as the lives of two people intersect, both high in terms of hierarchy, both unwilling to back down and both it seems, with motives other than what is apparent. The first half is quite good, builds things up well. The second falls apart with an end that’s unexpected as well as disappointing.

Chitrangda, the National Creative Director of an ad agency, has filed a complaint against her boss (?), the CEO, Arjun Rampal. He also happens to be her former mentor (has taught her everything she knows), lover, friend and advisor. The story unravels as the two depose before a panel, headed by Deepti Naval and populated by other agency people like Vipin Sharma, Shivani Tanksale, each of whom have their own point of view, their own loyalty and friendship. Frequent flashbacks trace the past, including incidents brought up as proof or rebuttal, sometimes the same episode shown from different perspectives.

The first half is tight, filled with tension. A scowling Arjun Rampal feels insulted at having to talk to the panel, angry that he is being of accused of something he he denies. “What is the difference between flirting and harassment ?”, he thunders once. “Who has benefited from whom ?” he asks, “I’ve taught her everything she knows !”. “Yes, he’s taught me everything”, replies a feisty Chitrangda, “but does that mean I should spread my legs everytime he walks in ?”. They both come across as honest, earnestly trying to convince the panel the other is at fault.

Other motives creep in the second half. Other people, other vested interests enter the picture. And suddenly, we’re not really sure what the two characters are about ? What makes them tick ? What is the true reason behind the case ? How will it solve itself ? But when the end happens, there is a feeling of being let down – its not consistent with either Arjun or Chitrangda’s character, nor does it seem logical.

Arjun suits his role, putting his limited facial expressions to good use, coming across every inch as a man with a touch of hubris, one to whom flirting comes naturally and scoring has never been an issue. Chitrangda sizzles as she tries to balance the different aspects of her character – part Alpha Female, part giddy teenager, part vengeful, part seductress and a little bit of a victim of her own success and circumstance. Vipin Sharma, Asheesh Kapur and Viveck Vaswani also stand out in their respective cameos.

Advertising agencies are always seen as being more bohemian, more permissive than other workplaces. Successful women often do have to face the slur of having slept their way up. Love is usually hard to find in modern office spaces, commitment probably harder, especially from men at the top. There are several insights that make sense, issues raised that hit uncomfortably home. But unfortunately, it doesn’t tie up or come together perfectly. At the end of the film, I’m not sure what either Arjun or Chitrangda were about anymore. And that’s not a nice feeling to leave with, in a drama dominated by these two characters …

PS : My bias for Chitrangda is well documented in my reviews of her earlier films, so not repeating that disclaimer here…

Last Stand

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 18th January, 2013
Time : 107 minutes
Director : Jee-woon Kim; Writer : Andrew Knaeur; Music : Mowg
Starring : Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Luis Guzman, Jaimie Alexander, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Zach Gilford, Genesis Rodriguez

Mindless action, where not much makes sense, the kind only Schwarzenegger can pull off, despite looking and playing the part of an ageing Sheriff, making a last ditch stand against a notorious criminal.

Arnold is the sheriff of a small town, having chosen to return from LA after seeing too much of blood and crime. His team of deputies are bored and completely unused to any action. The most exciting thing one of them has faced was rescuing a cat, while another shakes in terror when gunshots are fired and a third shoots beef joints for kicks. But all that changes when master drug kingpin Eduardo Noriega, just escaped from the FBI’s clutches, finds reason to include the sleepy border town in his plans.

Forest Whitaker is the FBI agent determined to recapture Noriega but is strangely unable to do anything tangible, apart from piss Arnold off, while Johnny Knoxville and Rodrigo are residents of the village who do their best to help their Sheriff.

Logic takes a definite backseat as the plot unfolds. The FBI coming across as markedly toothless and at a loss on what to do, even when the details of the escape plan become known, with Noriega and his mercenaries outwitting and outpacing them reasonably effortlessly till running into our angry hero and his merry men.

Fans of Schwarzenegger will not be disappointed, nor will those who rate movies based on the body / bullet count or by the number of vehicles blown up. Anyone looking for something else, a little bit more, will come away feeling something was amiss.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 11th January, 2013
Time : 150 minutes
Director, Writer, Music : Vishal Bhardwaj;
Starring : Pankaj Kapur, Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Shabana Azmi, Arya Babbar

“Mummy ji, Mummy ji, aap ki bahu badi nikammi ji”

Pankaj Kapur is the life and soul of this film, delivering an acting masterclass and a riveting performance, that, combined with the overall sheer zaniness and its excellent, rustic dialogue, keeps you hooked and helps gloss over the wafer-thin plot and limited acting skills / suitability of Imran for the lead role

“Jab dil mein saand ho, to har ladki bhains nazar aati hai”

Whether in the opening sequence, while trying to cajole the Theke wala before ultimately driving his limo through his shed. Or trying to persuade the well to move out of his way. Or inciting a revolt amongst the farmers against himself, the man who knows how to make a plane take off but not land, who speaks flawless English when sober and thet Haryanvi when drunk on his favourite desi, Pankaj Kapur is the man with a vision.

“Aaj to ghani chokkhi lag rahi hai tu”

As he explains to his delicious (his words, not mine) partner in crime, Shabana, he finds the sight of agricultural fields boring. He would prefer smoke belching factories, a concrete jungle, cubby-hole apartments for workers, whom you pay salaries with one hand and set up glitzy malls to take it all away with another. Shabana, a minister bank rolled by Pankaj’s wealth is only too willing as an accomplice, even playing footsie with him during meetings with officials. And the marriage between her son, a superbly played idiot by Arya Babbar and Pankaj’s feisty daughter, Anushka should settle matters once and for all.

“Tu left wali le le. Aakhir tu Mao hai.”

The only impediment is Pankaj’s valet cum driver cum drinking parner, Imran. A leftist, rabble rousing, JNU educated (that explains everything, doesn’t it ?) villager, he wants to rally the remaining farmers to not give up their land, to continue to farm.

“Its not funny, yeah, Harry !”

Shabana’s dark, villainous turn, reminiscent of her evil-exuding role in Loins of Punjab Presents is excellent. Arya throws himself enthusiastically in his role of a well-meaning, slightly daft Mama’s boy. Anushka doesn’t have much to do apart from fetching apples from the bottom of the pond, sympathizing with the villagers and going around bit confused but she does it well. Imran wouldn't have been my choice for the lead role, despite his beard and beedi, he somehow doesnt look the part of a villager, that too a Haryanvi, not getting the walk or the swagger right, coming off a bit insipid especially when paired with someone as nuanced as Pankaj Kapur.

“Tujhe na, Meena Kumari complex hai”

There is a message here somewhere. Not that hard to get, nor a particularly new one where the rich, the powerful and the politicians combine to loot the common man who is soon left with no option but to succumb to the crumbs being offered to him. In any case, it’s a message told with flair, panache and a craziness involving more than a few pink buffaloes…

Friday, January 04, 2013

Table No. 21

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 4th January, 2013
Time : 108 minutes
Director : Aditya Datt; Writer :Shantanu and Sheershak; Music: Gajendra Verma, Sachin Gupta
Starring : Rajeev Khandelwal, Tena Desae, Paresh Rawal

As they say, when its too good to be true, it usually is. In Table No 21, Rajeev Khandelwal and his wife, Tena Desae are in Fiji thanks to a win in a lucky draw. He is jobless, she supportive, emotionally and financially and both are enjoying the sun, sand and surf when they are pleasantly surprised to be invited to a exotic lunch on their anniversary. Paresh Rawal, the owner of the resort, now introduces them to a game. 8 questions about themselves, 8 tasks. All covered live via several cameras for a website. And the prize money is Rs 21 crore ! Only conditions are they don’t lie (checked by lie detectors) and they cannot leave the game midway or ask for external help.

As expected, the questions and tasks start off nice and easy but rapidly become uncomfortable and then move on to just plain nasty. Our young couple go through many a hoop, moral dilemma and life threatening situation. Paresh Rawal is clearly toying with them. But for what ? Will they escape the game with their love, sanity or life intact ?

I liked the core message at the end, and parts of the end itself, predictable though it was. It felt a little heavy handed and the entire movie a bit contrived (shades of Old Boy, the Korean film) but the scenery is good, the performances reasonable (Paresh excellent, Rajeev good, Tena average, though she makes up via more than one revealing dress flaunting her fine figure). The length drags a bit, the viewing awkward in parts and it definitely isn’t for the squeamish.

This is one of the first few releases of Hindi films shot in Fiji, with a literal stampede to the islands occurring in 2012, thanks to a Fijian subsidy being announced. The locales are lovely, every bit what you would expect from a Pacific paradise and I guess, if the subject matter doesn’t disagree with you, its worth a watch just for that reason alone.