Monday, June 30, 2008

Via Darjeeling

Rating : 3/10
Running Time : 103 Minutes
Release Date : 27th June ‘08
Director : Arindam Nandy ; Writer : Arindam Nandy & Atul Sabharwal ; Music : Prabuddha Banerjee
Starring : Vinay Pathak, Kay Kay Menon, Sonali Kulkarni, Sandhya Mridul, Rajat Kapoor, Prroshant Narayannan, Parvin Dabas, Simone Singh

What happened here ? Its definitely something different, something unusual for Hindi cinema. I kept sitting through a movie that while boasting of an excellent star cast, clearly lacked zip in its dialogue and was moving at a soporific pace, hoping that the ending would surprise us all and make the whole journey worthwhile. No such luck, it only contributed to making my heavy head become a full-fledged throbbing headache….

The premise is that of a husband vanishing (shades of Frantic in reverse here)on the last day of their honeymoon. The inspector is not able to make any headway and later is ordered to kind of be hands off by the rich and powerful father of the bride and also the chief inspector / DIG of the region.
So one rainy night, at a house gathering with some very drunk and some barely sober friends, he mentions this case and all the others take a crack at trying to figure out what happened. The theories get more and more weird, some intersect with reality (but in a kind of blurry way, so you’re not really sure whether it was fact or fiction), some are pure concoctions fuelled by the number of drinks poured into the narrator.

The movie, in any case, would live or die by its ending and I felt cheated at the end. It was unintentionally funny and lead to much mirth and merriment amongst the 50odd people watching it in the hall. The laughter was more at ourselves, the kind where you laugh at how you’ve been taken for a fool. It’s the kind of film which drives you straight into the cold embrace of a frothy beer, so in the overall scheme of things, it still ends well…

The Incredible Hulk

Rating : 5/10
Running Time : 114 Minutes
Release Date : 27th June ’08 (India)
Director : Loius Leterrier ; Writer : Zak Penn
Starring : Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson

I enjoyed the first part of the first half here, where Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), trying to lead a normal life in the favella’s (slums) of Brazil, attempts to come to grips with his gamma over-exposure. He tries to learn to control his anger, which of course is one of the triggers leading to his transformation to the big bad green man…(there is another more interesting trigger, but unfortunately, despite a willing Liv Tyler, we never saw how that turned out).

His life there, though is interrupted by the US troops tracing him and landing there, and he is forced to go on the run once more and return to the US. One soldier in particular, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), makes it a kind of personal mission to lock horns with him again, and aided by the (insanely dumb ?) General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross, is actually given injections from the extinct super soldier program, to transform him as well into something not quite human

So, the second half, is all about one computer generated figure (the Hulk) fighting another (a genetically enhanced Tim Roth). Or how the Hulk copes with whatever gizmos the General can throw at him. Though, like the Hindi movies of yore, where the villains / henchmen would always attack the hero one at a time, the General also chooses to attack him with only one thing (tanks, cannons, gunships etc) at a time. Apparently concepts like Bush’s ‘Shock and Awe’ or the German’s blitzkrieg methods from WWII have yet to pierce the unit the General runs.

The interesting part here is only watching how Liv Tyler’s relationship develops with the Hulk, how she is able to calm him down etc. I think they missed a trick here, it would have been far more interesting to make it more like a Batman Begins, going into Edward Norton’s thought processes and his way of looking at the things happening to him (as they did with Christian Bale in Batman Begins). That probably would also have been a better way of utilizing Edwards undoubted acting talents, which were a trifle wasted here. There is clearly a sequel being planned, and its highly unlikely I’m going to watch it.

I also think that it was a bit too violent / scary for the primary audience of Hulk, the under-teens. A good barometer of how much the movie makes a mark on my son is the toys he takes out and begins to play with the next day. After Superman, it will invariably be his Superman toy, after Spiderman 3 it was Spiderman etc. All of today, the Hulk has remained safely confined to his toybox. It clearly failed to fire up his imagination in that sense…

Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic

Rating : 5/10
Running Time : 145 Minutes
Release Date : 27th June ‘08
Director & Writer : Kunal Kohli ; Music : Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
Starring : Saif Ali Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Rishi Kapoor, Amisha Patel and the four kids (Akshat Chopra, Shriya Sharma, Ayushi Berman and Rachit Sidana as the Sikh boy)

Its one big cliché, the whole movie and if it were not for the cute sardar kid, the rating would’ve been lower by at least 2 points. Its way too predictable, right from the punishment, to what happens in the middle, and of course, the ending.

Rich, introverted industrialist (Saif) kills a couple in a road accident, court sentences him to take care of the couple’s four kids (two girls and two boys, one an adopted sikh boy, a nice touch) who range from 5 years to a sullen early teen types. When they move in, he obviously can’t cope, the kids play pranks on him etc and he decides to go for a nanny as his girlfriend (Amisha Patel) is a rich, ‘shopping is the solution to everything’ kind of person. Enter God (a smiling, beatific Rishi Kapoor), who sends one of his favorite angels (Rani), a ‘Maria of Sound of Music’ type character, to make them come together and then return to heaven. One of his preconditions is that she not use any of her magical powers but that is completely ignored… (and that bugs me throughout the film…I think it would’ve enhanced the story if she hadn’t)

In any case, some cute pranks (the bathroom being occupied), some nice touches (nice chat between the sardar boy and Saif in one scene), some nice animation (a hundred times better than Ganesha or Hanuman), one completely inappropriate song, with a bikini that was too short and a swimming pool underwater scene that was too long for a kids movie, some laughs and emotion towards the end. And whaddya know…its over…

Kids will enjoy it. Adults will find it very so-so. To baat saaf hai, deviyon aur sajjanno, agar aap bachon se sachmuch karte hain pyaar, aap picture se nahin karenge inkaar…

De Taali

Rating : 7/10
Running Time : 146 Minutes
Release Date : 20th June ‘08
Director : E.Niwas ; Writer : Abbas Tyrewala ; Music : Vishal-Shekhar
Starring : Ritesh Deshmukh, Aftab Shivdasani, Ayesha Takia, Rimi Sen

A nice, cute, goofy movie. And thankfully it remains light and frothy throughout, some parts more hilarious than the others but never taking either the vulgar or the slapstick route.
Three friends, two guys (Aftab and Ritesh) and one tom-boyish girl (Ayesha), have known each other since forever. One boy is mega-rich (Aftab), others are middling to hard-up. Due to some egging by other parties, girl begins to have feelings for rich boy. He, however, proceeds to fall for someone inappropriate (Rimi). What happens next ?

The following samples should help you decide if its your brand of humour or not…
 One of the events in the movie happens at a Big B party – where all people dress up as different characters played by Amitabh Bachchan, mouth his famous dialogues etc
 Ritesh, in one scene, wears a T-Shirt saying ‘I scored last night…’
 He addresses different people with different flowery urdu salutations “Bahaare – e- Gulzar” etc
 There was a hilarious torture scene, I can't say more but the fifth degree was brilliant, it would’ve made even me crack
 There’s a very nice confrontation between Aftab and Ayesha towards the end…I’ve used Aftab’s style later in a couple of personal situations and it works !

Slightly predictable, again wont change your life, but likely to make you laugh in a few places without completely insulting your intelligence. And surely that’s worth the price of a ticket…

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer 2007

Rating : 7/10
Running Time : 160 Minutes
Release Date : 13th June ‘08
Director : Suhail Tatari; Writer : Bijesh Jayarajan ; Music : Gourav Dasgupta
Starring : Sikander Kher, Gul Panag, Alekh Sangal, Uvika Choudhary, Arjan Bajwa, Prashant Naraynan, Ashutosh Rana

I’m going to give the film 10 for intent / content and then deduct 3 for cinematic failings and a slightly preachy script / ending. It highlights an issue (of farmer suicides) that somehow, to paraphrase the laconic words of a good doctor in the movie, gets overshadowed in our daily news by Bollywood gossip, cricket, some child falling in a hole etc. This movie brings you face to face with this reality, takes us out of our air-conditioned comfort zone and shows us what life really is like in villages, where people commit suicide for amounts we would find trifling. A word of caution – this film is not for the squeamish, there are several very uncomfortable, gory moments

It tells the story of a gang of five medical students (the first 5 characters in the star cast above), a mixed bag of characters, all fairly well off, mostly self-centered except for Gul Panag (affectionately known as Mother T because of her militant / rebellious / over-zealous helping tendencies). To flee a minor troublesome issue in college, they decide to go for their mandatory rural service with the plan being to choose a place near Goa, where they can chill out etc. They however, arrive smack bang in the middle of a spate of farmer suicides, to join a seemingly indifferent doctor, a local toughie who is the grain provider cum money lender of the village and his goon-like son, who is single handedly responsible for no female help willing to work in their household. How they slowly become involved in the life and the issues of the village is the focus of the second half. And it doesn’t always make for very pleasant watching.

For me the crucial cinematic shortcomings were the length (its quite a long watch at almost three hours), the fact that it’s a bit preachy, a bit forced in parts. And that a lot of the characters weren’t really developed – so we didn’t understand fully how / why they changed and got involved in a battle which was ‘none of their business’ to begin with. Also, in the first half, some the dialogue tries too hard to be ‘cool’ and ‘with it’ so it doesn’t really work. The music (both the background score and the rather ‘forced’ songs) detracts from the movie plot.

The acting, though not truly consistent, is good. Sikander – the leader of the group – was ok. His acting is not great but is likely to get better over time. Gul Panag was good, credible in her acting, as you would expect though her character was a bit too screechy / do-gooder for my liking. The real stars were Arjan Bajwa, the Casanova of the group, the guy who actually looked cool without trying too hard and made his presence felt despite having the least screen time. The doctor of the village, very well played by Ashutosh Rana, a man who wants to do good but is not beyond human vices (sex, drink). And the son of the local toughie, played by Prashant Naraynan (last seen by me in the brilliant Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II), who again churns out a strong performance.

I hope the film results in a few things. More medical students (and why not other / MBA students etc) wanting to do rural service as part of their course. More institutions offering micro-finance coming up through the country. And finally, us, the urban city slickers, being a bit more sensitized to the issues most farmers face in their life, a life so far removed from ours, that they could literally be living on another planet. I hope next time there is an article about farmer suicides, we will actually read it rather than skipping straight away to the sports page. Given the almost disastrous box-office response of the film though, this may be too much to hope for.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Happening

Rating : 3/10
Running Time : 91 Minutes
Release Date : 13th June ‘08
Director & Writer : M Night Shyamalan ;
Starring : Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez

I think M Night Shyamalan has lost his Sixth Sense, I can see the Signs, its clearly Happening.

I think there must be a reason why you want to spook people, some message you want to get across. If suddenly people start killing themselves, and it spreads like an epidemic throughout the north-east of USA, then for sure it spooks you. Also people finding different innovative ways of killing themselves doesn’t make for pleasant watching in the best of times / movies. And it drags – more people kill themselves, we get exposed to some of the classic American nut-cases, then more people kill themselves. And we still don’t know why…

Mark Wahlberg, as a science school teacher, plays his part pretty convincingly. Somehow, recently, I’ve had an overdose of him, having seen him in ‘The Invincible’, and ‘The Shooter’ apart from ‘The Italian Job’ (the remake, one of my favourite movies). Maybe it’s a sign ? He was good in this movie as well, trying to manage his wife and a kid while trying to figure out whats happening amidst the bewildering going-ons. It’s a well made film, as far as the art of film-making goes. Some nice jokes, a lot of tension, some emotion etc. But you cant help but wonder what was the point of it all !?

I loved Sixth Sense, didn’t think much of Signs and successfully dodged his other movies (Village, Lady in the Water). I think the director is on a non-stop downward spiral. I was proud of myself for predicting the ending, for predicting the way he would end the film. Until my wife cattily remarked it could be because I’ve started thinking like him. After watching the Happening, that wasn’t a compliment…

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Third Wave (Aka Den Tredje Vagen)

Rating : 7/10
Running Time : 115 Minutes
Release Date : 15th Oct ‘03
Director & co-Writer : Anders Nilsson ; Writer : Joakim Hanson;
Starring : Jakob Eklund, Irina Bjorklund, Marie Richardson, Ben Pullen

A woman opens an email from her boyfriend, which shows he’s doing money laundering for the mafia. She can’t go to the cops, they’re bought. She sees someone on TV, talking about fighting organized crime across Europe, creating a new division called Europol, and decides to approach him for help. The Europol chief has also called to the same meeting place an ex-cop /friend to persuade him to join his division. Also, thugs of the mafia, who know that she knows, land up at the same venue to try to kidnap her and take her to their headquarters.

What happens next involves a lot of killing, running, hiding, tension and thrills across different cities in Europe. The movie has a very nice European flavour to it – maybe I liked it so much just because it felt good, reminding me of the time I used to roam the same cities (Den Hague, Munchen, Bruxelles) and say the same words (Daag, Tchus etc).

It flows along at a good pace, occasionally slacking up as the protagonists try to figure out whats happening in this complicated jigsaw. Also joining them in their chase, are the ex-cops pregnant wife and daughter, providing an interesting angle to the proceedings. There is a nice twist in the ending, one which even makes one of the villains who’s dying, smile as he falls down.

It’s very well put together and is apparently part of a trilogy with Johan Falk. I saw it on Zee Studio recently (Sony Pix and Zee show some very good, different titles unlike the mainstream crap on HBO and Star Movies) and thought you might be able to catch it on DVD circuit. After all, there are very few films with as interesting a tag-line as ‘An entire continent is being stolen’.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sarkar Raj

Rating : 7/10
Running Time : 125 Minutes
Release Date : 6th June ‘08
Director : Ram Gopal Verma ; Writer : Prashant Pandey ; Music : Bappi-Tuttul
Starring : Amitabh, Abhishek & Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ravi Kale, Dilip Prabhavalkar, Rajesh Shringarpore, Govind Namdeo, Upendra Limaye

Ignore the hype, ignore the sheer star power, ignore that it’s a sequel (successor to Sarkar)and ignore the similarity (or not) to the Thackerays. And you still have a very interesting, original film, one that doesn’t hesitate to take a path rarely traveled in Bollywood. It is let down (albeit only marginally) by some patchy dialogue – its very good in parts and mediocre in others. Plus there were some bits which were unreal (almost straying into sermonizing in a couple of instances) and others we saw too much of – I cant say more for fear of giving it away – but this still doesn’t detract from a very good cinematic experience, one where you’re constantly wondering whats going to happen next and one where what does happen, does actually surprise you.

The story is only incidental, another excuse to showcase the political in-fighting, backbiting that characterizes most politics in India. Like most other movies it connects the mafia / rule of brute force with the politicians and it does showcase how some petty, vested interests ensure the nation remains backward. A foreign company wants to invest in a mega powerplant, the largest in the world / India, in the Thackerwadi region in Maharashtra. The politicians advise the company, which is fronted by Aishwarya Rai (daughter of the owner), there is no chance of relocating the 40,000 odd people of that region and hence proceeding with the project. It then reaches Sarkar (Amitabh Bachchan)…

I loved the acting, especially of the three Bachchans. Amitabh was sensational, easily the patriarch of the film, dominating it with his presence, even though he didn’t have the most screen time. I thought Abhishek acted very well, a mature performance, that of a person coming to grips with running his father’s business. Aishwarya, as you know I’m biased towards her, but I thought a) she looked great b) she looked different – effortlessly fitting into the power dressing of todays business women c) she acted very well, going from a woman clearly out of place in the politics, kind of like Alice in Wonderland, to someone, who though still not entirely at ease, is beginning to make sense of it all (thanks to some tutorship). The scenes between Amitabh and Abhishek were the highlights of the film – they share such an easy on-screen chemistry that you really wonder how they are in real life. The other character actors were very good, giving life to their roles. I also loved the last scene – I don’t think there was a better way to depict that life and business go on…

Not so great were the songs (ordinary), the background score (over reliant on the ‘Govinda Govinda’ theme) and the blood and gore. I also thought that the business aspects of the power plant – why is it actually so good for Maharashtra or why does it have to be in Thackerwadi were completely glossed over, while some reasoned debate would have enhanced the film.

RGV has redeemed himself with this one, only a bit though. It’ll take a lot longer for me to forget his Aag….


Rating : 8/10
Running Time : 90 Minutes
Release Date : 6th June ‘08
Director & Writer : Raj Kumar Gupta ; Music : Amit Trivedi
Starring : Rajeev Khandelwal

A genuine surprise, this one, and very unlike a normal hindi movie. Don’t watch if you’re in the mood of light, timepass entertainment. Watch it though for some great acting, a very authentic and gritty look at the bylanes and Muslim areas of Mumbai, some good dialogue, a fantastic background score and some great editing which never lets the tension slacken.

Aamir, a Muslim doctor in UK, decides to return to India and lands in Mumbai airport. Outside the airport, he can’t find his family and no one responds when he calls home either. That’s when his nightmare begins. Two strangers on a motorbike hand him a mobile phone and when it starts to ring, Aamir finds out that a stranger knows everything about him, has kidnapped his entire family and now wants Aamir to follow his instructions or else…

The instructions take him all over Mumbai, in small by-lanes, dirty hotels, std phone booths etc. A man who was walking the pristine streets of Windsor / Eton a few short hours ago, is soon having to gingerly step over faeces in a public lavatory in some city lodge. And all this while he has no idea what the stranger wants him to do. And his every move is watched, the mobile has outgoing barred, the strangers henchmen seem to be everywhere !

Rajeev is outstanding. No other word fits his performance. He displays the whole gamut of emotions – from incredulity to anger to pleading – he goes through all of them flawlessly. Everyone else fits their parts well – they really don’t seem to be extra’s performing a part. Its apparently copied from a movie Cavite. However, its so nicely adapted to Mumbai / India / Muslims that this doesn’t detract anything from the film at all in my eyes. The ending does a bit – I wish they had gone for a different one but nothing else truly fit the characterization of Aamir they had shown.

I also found the ideological debate between Aamir and the stranger fascinating and they balanced it well, never letting it get too weighty. As someone once said, poverty is the most fertile breeding ground for terrorism. Because when you’re poor and things aren’t going your way, then every setback seems like a perceived injustice, another reason to don arms and fight against the perceived oppressors.

Like I said, its not an easy or light subject matter, but is made eminently watchable by the brilliant direction of Rajiv Kumar Gupta and the equally brilliant acting of Rajeev Khandelwal. The tension is not the type where it makes you bite your nails, but rather hovers over the atmosphere, like a dark menacing cloud. However, there’s enough of a cool breeze to still make it an enjoyable day out.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Woodstock Villa

Rating : 5/10
Running Time : 94 Minutes
Release Date : 30th May ‘08
Director : Hansal Mehta ; Writer : S.Farhan and Rajiv Gopalkrishnan ; Music : Anu Malik
Starring : Sikander Kher, Neha Uberoi, Arbaaz Khan, Gulshan Grover

Yet another set of star progeny get introduced, Sikander (son of Anupam and Kirron Kher) and Neha Uberoi (daughter of Suresh Uberoi). After the disastrous Saawariya, I thought I was off such launch films, but this one wasn’t so bad after all. And yes, the leading pair may actually have a future in Bollywood after ironing out a few rough edges. .
Sikander plays a stud who’s penniless, down on his luck and also has to pay back a ‘Bhai’ type Gulshan Grover, who basically gets Sikander beaten up every time they meet since he still hasn’t gotten his money back. His luck changes or so he believes, when a seductive siren walks in with a get-rich-quick scheme. Validating the empirically proven ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’ saying, Sikander accepts and soon things have gone awry and he’s running to save his life with the cops breathing down his neck.

There are a few logical flaws but what really pulls this movie down is the predictability of the plot – there is nothing really new here and you can predict every curve, every twist and every turn more accurately than an F1 circuit, if you’ve seen a few film noir movies like Body Double, Just Cause etc. The dialogue, while natural, doesn’t really enhance the film and is sadly lacking in any witty repartee. Finally, the songs are an unwelcome intrusion and slow down the movie. The acting is good overall (not great but good), its pretty slickly done, runs along at a fairly nice clip. One of the big pluses for me was that I found Neha Uberoi to be very easy on the eyes. Have a look at the photo below
and to paraphrase George Clooney in Oceans Eleven, if she doesn’t look like your brand of vodka, then you might as well stay away from the film.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Rating : 6/10
Running Time : 124 Minutes
Release Date : 22nd May ‘08
Director : Steven Spielberg ; Writer : George Lucas, David Koepp ; Music : John Williams
Starring : Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, Karen Allen

This is a fun movie, if, like Bond movies, you’re willing to suspend your disbelief at some of the stunts, some plot elements and the fact (like most Hindi movies of yore) that even though 100 bullets are fired from ten guns, not one is going to hit the leading man.

Indiana Jones is older, but has lost none of his enthusiasm or sense of humour. The plot (does it really matter ?) is just another excuse for him to indulge in his twin favourite pastimes of going to ancient ruins (which are now only marginally older than him…just kidding…) and bashing the baddies. The ruins in this case are located in Peru, around the Nazca Lineas / Cuzco, and it was very nostalgic to see the Soviets making a comeback as the baddies – I had been missing them and the Koreans, Iraqi’s, Afghani’s etc somehow don’t evoke the same emotion as the blank-faced beefy blond guys they usually manage to dig up to masquerade as the cold Commies of yore. Adding extra spice to the proceedings are two subplots, one involving a James Dean / ‘Easy Rider’ imitator (Shia LaBeouf) and the other involving the McCarthy era communist witch-hunt which characterized the USA of the fifties (and then we get surprised when the USA does a similar witch-hunt, this time spurred by the spurious 'war on terror' and imprisons people in inhuman conditions without trial in Guantanamo Bay ? What was that about ‘history repeats itself’ ?).

There are moments where you blink and shake your head incredulously at what you’re asked to believe (how Indiana Jones manages to match a giant Soviet army specimen blow for blow in a fistfight, for instance ? A real fight would have not lasted more than 30 seconds). However, in most cases, you go along with the flow, admire the scenery, the special effects, the beautiful booby traps they conjure up and laugh at the steady stream of one liners…It was also refreshing to see them desist from showing any eye candy…in most Hollywood and all Bollywood movies they would have succumbed to temptation and shown a nubile young twenty something falling in love with the older man. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I’m older but right now it still seems too desperate and unreal and I'm glad they didnt.

If all else fails, you can still enjoy watching the venerable Mr Jones crack the whip and make all those around him dance to his tune. Enjoyable from the first to the last moment but not one that’s going to leave a lasting impact or change your world.