Friday, August 29, 2014

Raja Natwarlal

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 29th August, 2014
Time : 141 minutes
Director: Kunal Deshmukh; Writer : Sanjay Masoom; Music : Yuvan Shankar Raja
Starring : Emraan Hashmi, Humaima Malick, Paresh Rawal, Kay Kay Menon, Deepak Tijori

A good Indian con film needs several ingredients to make it work, none of which are found in this one. Neither a strong lead pair (Emraan is ok while Humaima looks decent but is otherwise wooden), nor an unrelenting pace (broken up by mushiness, many lip locks – its an Emraan Hashmi film after all - and many extremely average songs), or a great con…in this day and age, its rather hard to believe what transpired is actually possible, even though with their last explanation they did move the needle from ludicrous to unbelievably far fetched.

Emraan, a small time con artist, and his partner in crime / mentor, Deepak Tijori, go for the big one but steal from the wrong man. Kay Kay Menon. A Cape Town based Mafioso. Emraan now is on the run but seeking revenge. And enlists the help of another con artist, Paresh Rawal. They decide to prey on Kay Kay’s love for all things cricket to lure him in. What transpires has to be seen to be believed…or in this case, not believed…

Emraan’s love interest, Humaima, a dancer at a dance bar also, some corrupt cops, who want a piece of the action and Zeeshan Ayyub, a hired gun, are all the other pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that never truly comes together. Actually, apart from Deepak’s brief cameo, nothing in this film really rings true – everything somehow strikes a false note. From Paresh Rawal’s retired conman, to Emraan’s desire for revenge, Humaima’s anger at what Emraan does and even the whole con set up. In this day and age, there are not less than fifty loopholes, which anyone with half a brain and an internet connection couldn’t have seen through.

The pace drags too, the film being at least 30-40 minutes too long with the unnecessary, contrived songs and emotional drama, seen as so critical to the masala our films are expected to have, taking their toll here. The humour quotient is also missing, so critical to a good con movie (Oceans Eleven, Khosla Ka Ghosla, to point out two very different con films). So in the end you’re left with a rather lame film, which limps through to a finale which, even though its unexpected, fails to rescue the previous two hours…the con, unfortunately on this holiday weekend, seems to be on us !

November Man

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 29th August, 2014
Time : 108 minutes
Director: Roger Donalson; Writers : Michael Finch, Karl Gajdusek, based on Bill Granger’s book “There Are No Spies”; Music : Marco Beltrami
Starring : Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey,Bill Smitrovich, Lazar Ristovski, Will Patton, Mediha Musliovic

An ageing Pierce Brosnan is unable to convince us that he could still pass off as a Bond style secret agent, who comes out of his retirement for one last assignment. A wafer thin plot, full of more holes than Rahul Gandhi’s election strategy, borders on the ridiculous at times, and is only given a tinge of seriousness by Luke Bracey’s menacing presence.

Everyone seems to have a secret in this one. A Russian general, Lazar Ristovski, on the brink of becoming the President, has one. The CIA head of the Belgrade office, Bill Smitrovich also has one. Even Pierce Brosnan, who retired from active service, has one. And everyone is after Mediha, who wants to reveal Lazar’s secret, with Olga, an aid worker in Belgrade, turning out to be a key person as well.

I think I’ve reached the point, where political conspiracy films rarely shock me anymore. Most revelations barely making me, like Jeeves, raise my eyebrow by a miniscule millimeter. In this film, I doubt if any of the spilt secrets would even induce a yawn in anyone. Would, after what’s happened in Afghanistan, Pakistan Iran, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, the fact that the CIA helped foment a war, with a power hungry General in a former Soviet nation, come as a surprise to anyone ?

Also, imagine the same General, now also a Presidential candidate, staying in a hotel in Belgrade for a major energy summit. Protected only by 4 guards. Whom Pierce Brosnan casually walks up and shoots. With a gun without a silencer. Then proceeds to interrogate the General in his room. Without being disturbed by anyone –hotel security / cops / no one. Then CIA operatives brandishing guns run inside the same hotel. Again, are stopped by no one, no alarms are raised. And proceed to have another gun battle with Pierce. Again, without anyone interfering. I mean, I know he’s a former James Bond, but don’t you give up your license to kill when you retire from the role ?

Pierce’s big secret too, buried from his employers (including close friends in the agency) for over 20 years, is discovered within a few minutes, from, don’t hold your breath, file photographs, which were on record. Its just all too easy, too convenient and much ado about nothing.

The locations are nice. Olga looks great, especially when she walks into the hotel wearing a dress that does full justice to her lovely long legs, but seems uncomfortable in the scenes which require her to emote. Luke, playing Pierce’s protégé in the CIA, is the only one who actually fits his role perfectly – ice cold, menacing, with a bee in his bonnet to prove that the student has surpassed the teacher. Wish that was what the movie was actually about rather than the rather convoluted plot they actually came up with. It even sorely lacks the sense of humour, one liners that made Pierce so devastatingly good in most of his other films. This one unfortunately just doesn’t work in any month…November or otherwise…

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 22nd August, 2014
Time : 113 minutes
Director: Pradeep Sarkar; Writer : Gopi Puthran; Music : Salim-Sulaiman
Starring : Rani Mukherjee, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Priyanka Sharma, Jishu Sengupta, Anil George

Its Taken (if you’d like to know more about that film, click here) but Indianized. Its Rani Mukherjee, instead of Liam Neeson, playing a Mumbai cop. Not the daughter but someone who is daughter jaisi (wonder why ?). Add a huge amount of melodrama, teary music to an otherwise decent portrayal and you have a film which is decent, has good performances but, thanks to the above melodrama, never really builds up any tension or tautness to make you live the experience.

I like the way they built Rani’s character. Right from the opening raid to nab a criminal, the way she worked with her unit, her planning. The way she isn’t scared of getting her hands dirty. How she doesn’t really lose her cool, staying focused on the job at hand, battling bureaucracy, seniors and apart from one preachy scene, she mostly just gets on with it. The girl who gets kidnapped, Priyanka, someone she’d ‘adopted’, who lives at an orphanage but meets the family, including Rani’s niece who lives with them, frequently.

Her performance is matched by Tahir’s chilling, efficient and ‘its only business portrayal, the chief villain. He’s very good. Suggesting a better method of killing herself to a victim who threatens to commit suicide. Having phone conversations with Rani, trying to persuade her to drop the case.

What the film does well is make us care for the characters. Build them up nicely. Even people who appear in minute roles manage to make a mark, like Tahir’s mom, or the lady who takes care of the girls, or the police unit Rani works with, or the car dealer who is the front for the syndicate in Mumbai. What doesn’t work well are the slightly gratuitous scenes of the young girls undressing (well, perhaps necessary to show how the system works), the beauty parade they go through, the attempts to wring a tear, which actually dissipate any tension that was being built up.

I may be pilloried for this but child trafficking is probably a crime worse than rape and happens a lot more often (apparently one every eight minutes in India). Without as much media noise, police prevention effort going behind it. This one does a fair job of bringing this heinous deed to the forefront, describing the modus operandi, the organized nature of the syndicates running it and also the end users, mostly rich, well-connected, sick b****rds ! Probably just for that, it deserves an audience and a decent rating.

PS : The Nth time I’m saying this, but our celebrity obsessed culture really needs to change. Why is it so difficult to get names of the entire cast, as you can do on countless websites for English / French / German films. According to the YRF website the film only stars Rani & Tahir. Quite a few ‘big’ sites, in fact, only name Rani as the cast…which I don’t think is respectful to the other actors who sweat it out and perform in the film…

Friday, August 22, 2014

Expendables 3

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 22nd August, 2014
Time : 126 minutes
Director: Patrick Hughes; Writers : Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt; Music : Brian Tyler
Starring : Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lungdren, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarznegger

The storyline, for whatever its worth, is childishly simple. Mel Gibson is the bad guy. Everyone else mentioned above are the good guys chasing him. So we have a two hour brawn-fest where people are killed, heavy artillery brought up, bombs dropped & thrown, cars & other larger vehicles blown up (Rohit Shetty, eat your heart out) and big buildings get demolished.

The climax is in fact so ludicrous, implausible that the good guys might as well be holding a placard which says ‘We’re the heroes, we cant be shot, hurt or scratched’

There are a few funny moments. And its nice, nostalgic to see the great action heroes of the past keep popping up, interacting with each other. Some of the action sequences are good. But overall, the film wears thin after a while, tries to take itself too seriously for something which is a tongue in cheek romp. You do wonder why some guys like Dolph, Antonio took the roles offered to them – they were major stars in their own right and their characters here aren’t very flattering. The moments spent trying to make us care, add an emotional quotient, don’t really work due to the wafer thin storyline.

This is almost like a video game in terms of the way people get killed, things get blown up. Only for Die Hard action fans, pun intended…


Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 22nd August, 2014
Time : 84 minutes
Director: Deepti Kakkar, Fahad Mustafa; Writer : Fahad Mustafa;

So, this is a documentary. Had walked in thinking it was a movie. It articulates well, a problem faced in many Indian cities, especially in Kanpur, where it is set. Of power theft, loss-making government owned electricity companies, populist politicians determined to milk the situation, get elected, be arrogant, misbehave, sincere bureaucrats (there are a few) trying to improve the system and the titular character, a katiyabaaz, someone who actually makes his living by fiddling the wires to do the theft.

The battle lines are quite clearly drawn. It’s the Katiyabaaz, Loha Singh, Kanpur’s best wire guy vs the Power Supply Corporation, symbolized by its new IAS director, Mrs Ritu Maheshwari vs the Politician, Irfan Solanki, who’s only interested in playing to the gallery of onlookers. Its quite a vicious cycle too – there are few paying customers, so the transformers are of a certain capacity, but thanks to the rampant theft, they burn out, leading to more grief to the irate public, most of whom are non-paying but that doesn’t dampen their belligerence. And then there is the other issue of power supply / generation itself being well short of the demand.

The milieu is well captured, the technique of using interviews interspersed with the events in Kanpur is nicely done. The dangers Loha Singh goes through everytime he climbs a ladder to fix a wire, as do other citizens when wires burn, transformers short circuit, are brought to life nicely. After a while though, you wish the film would move faster, even go somewhere. Its quite repetitive in parts.

Everytime you visit certain parts of UP, especially places like Kanpur, apart from certain malls (and in Lucknow, the grotesque, overpriced parks) it seems like time has stood still… everything looks the same, the same filth, overcrowded lanes, overflowing sewers, the lawlessness and the burgeoning population. And of course the electricity issue. This documentary, in fact, doesn’t get into the powerful generator lobby and their machinations to keep the populace starved of the government supply. In any case, the film paints a dark picture, pun intended, of how things are… and are likely to remain for a very long time !

Friday, August 08, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 8th August, 2014
Time : 121 minutes
Director, Writer : James Gunn; Co-writer : Nicole Perlman (based on the Marvel comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning); Music : Tyler Bates
Starring : Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldhana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro

What saves this film is its jaunty, retro music-loving hero, Chris Pratt, the hair- raising antics of Rocket, the raccoon and the overall excellent sense of humour, refusal to take itself too seriously. Otherwise, for someone who hasn’t read the Marvel comics and isn’t familiar with the characters or the set-up, it can be quite confusing, too many things to absorb.

Chris is picked up by an alien spacecraft shortly after his mother passes away. He is next seen, all grown up, a Ravager (kind of like a scavenger, hunts things down for a commission), searching for an orb. And suddenly, you find everyone wants that orb. Soon, there is a bounty on Chris’ head and he is being chased by various people including his mentor, Yondu (Michael Rooker), a very green creature, Gamora (Zoe Saldhana), a raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) accompanied by a tree with superpowers (Vin Diesel), a dangerous type of character, Ronan (Lee Pace), Thanos (Josh Brolin), someone even Ronan fears, A hulk named Drax (Dave Bautista), The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), and the protectors of a planet named Xandar, the Nova, led by Glenn Close. Whew !

The advantage of so many new characters is there isn’t a dull moment. Each, even if featured briefly, has some unique quirks which stay with you. And the central ones, well, Chris refuses to be separated from a mix tape made by his mom, Drax speaks like a walking thesaurus, Rocket knows more than a thing or two about fighting and Gamora, well, she is quite green at dancing (but willing to be trained), while Groot seems to have a rather limited vocabulary.

Its quite amazing, the conceptualization of the sets, the action sequences – you would think by now you’ve seen it all but they still do manage to surprise you, make you gasp in awe. Ronan’s ship, the Dark Aster and the way its blockaded by the Nova, or the prison break by our dashing hero and his friends, in particular stand out. The soundtrack is really good, suits the characters and the tempo of the film. Chris Pratt really stands out as the hero of the film, tackling everything with innate breeziness and quite hilariously, his dance moves.

So, the beginning of yet another successful, superhero franchise from the almost never-ending repertoire of Marvel comics, not that I'm complaining. I went in with very low expectations but came back delighted. Looking forward to the next one !

Into The Storm

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 8th August, 2014
Time : 89 minutes
Director : Steven Quale; Writer : John Swetnam; Music : Brian Tyler
Starring : Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Alycia Debnam Carey, Jeremy Sumpter, Arlen Escarpeta, Lee Whittaker, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep

What a giddy, exhilarating, roller-coaster ride this is, as the makers, through some fantastic special effects, do exactly what the title promises…

An assorted rag tag crew of people find themselves caught up in a small American town, facing a tornado. Or two. Some, like Matt & his crew (Sarah, Arlen, Jeremy, Lee), are actually chasing it down, trying to capture it through the eyes of their camera. Some, like thrill seeking buddies, Kyle & Jon, are just seeking an adrenalin rush and millions of YouTube hits. And some, like Richard, just want their town and his kids, Max & Nathan, safe. Alycia, playing Max’s childhood crush, also looks suitably scared in the few scenes she has.

Havent seen Twister, which I think had a similar theme, but this one, thanks to what technology allows now, in terms of special effects, is really something else. Especially given the camera angles chosen, you get almost a first person account of what its like to be right in the middle of a storm, watching the destruction, the havoc, the sight of cars, houses, buildings, entire airplanes tossed around like confetti. Its really some experience, and you feel awed, once again, by the power of nature.

They invest just enough time in the characters so that we begin to care for them, wish them to be safe and unharmed. There are some plotlines developed – Max, at the urging of his younger brother Nathan, finally walking up to Alycia, his childhood crush, and conversing with her. Max & Nathan, and their issues with their father, Richard, after the death of their mom. And Matt, who only seems to care about his camera coverage, goes around being the biggest p**ck, bossing over everyone in his team, threatening to fire them, including Sarah, who is trying her best to spot a tornado for him, but her best just isn’t good enough for him. Having relatively unfamiliar persons, not known stars, play the parts also adds to the charm and the slight unpredictability of the film.

The crew behind this deserve a special pat on the back for giving us ringside seats for the sheer power of a storm, the havoc a giant tornado can create. The pace of the film is tight, never lets up, an adventure to be definitely experienced on the big screen, and, just when you think you’ve seen it all, they manage to surprise you once again..