Monday, December 28, 2009

Shoot 'Em Up

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : Sep 2007
Time : 86 minutes
Director & Writer : Michael Davis;
Starring : Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci, Paul Giamatti, Stephen McHattie

This one is so over the top that it makes the whole experience enjoyable

A deadpan Clive Owen, sitting at night in a graffiti filled neighbourhood bench, munching a carrot, watches a pregnant woman run past him, chased shortly after by a goon. ‘What you looking at ?’, the goon berates Clive, before chasing the woman down an alley. A bored, slightly weary Clive decides that he cannot be a mere spectator and for the next 90 minutes fights a succession of gun men in bizarre fashion (using carrots a few times) and bizarre locales while protecting the baby and discovering the secret behind it….

To match the eccentricity of our hero, we have a equally crazy villain, the snarling, limerick spouting Paul Giametti. We have the hooker with a heart of gold and a breast for hire, the delectable Monica Bellucci. And we have questions, lots of them and only a few answers…but they’re enough to keep us going.

The writer here is probably a frsutrated Bond writer who had an overdose of a hallucinogenic substance or substances. And its great fun. The one-liners never stop (“eat your vegetables” is Clive’s admonition as he uses a carrot to kill someone). The situations never let up. The goons keep coming. And a deadpan Clive Owen keeps swatting them away.

We get a pretty good list of what Clive hates. People who wrongly park under handicapped signs, for one. It made the decision of which car to steal an easy one. Or people who don’t signal before changing lanes, for another. Which provides a cheap thrill moments later. Or we can go with what he likes. Dogs, for example, refusing to shoot down one that is chasing him. Or mice. He’s constructed an elaborate lock using one for his house.

This one is clearly inspired by Tarantino and Sin City, both in terms of plot development and stylisation. There is non-stop action, guns, a beautiful woman, a snarling villain (who is so sweet and considerate to his wife on the phone). And a hero who wont stop.

I loved the sheer implausibility of it all...makes you smile and enjoy the ride despite the growing body count and gore…


Rating : 3/10
Release Date : Feb 2008
Time : 88 minutes
Director : Doug Liman; Writer : David Goyer, Jim Uhls
Starring : Hayden Christensen, Samuel L Jackson, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson, Diane Lane

What an interesting premise and what a waste. Very poor plot & character development, extremely wooden acting ensures that all the lovely locales shown in the film go to waste.

Hayden discovers he can teleport himself when he’s 12-13, caught in a life and death situation, while trying to impress his crush who also happens to be the crush of the school bully. He returns about ten years later, to catch up with the girl (why ?), discovers there are other people with the same gift as him and some other nasty types (Samuel L Jackson) who are out to catch them (again, never explained why ?).

Imagine the possibilities, the life we could lead if we had the gift of teleportation ! Imagine the film that could be made about such a character. Instead we get an unlikely romance, unlikely villains (a very over the top, hammy Samuel) and a very unlike-able hero.

Basically, sit back, enjoy the snaps of Hayden atop the Sphinx, Corcovado…forget the rest…

Thursday, December 24, 2009

3 Idiots

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 24th Dec, 2009
Time : 170 minutes
Director & Writer : Raju Hirani; Music : Shantanu Moitra
Starring : Aamir Khan, Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Boman Irani, Omi, Kareena Kapoor

Welcome to a world where ‘Aal Izz Well’, a world where everything sorts itself out, and almost as in a fairy story, miracles happen just when you need them to. Watch this film because it makes you laugh, is very engaging and because somewhere the point it makes around the education system is true. Don’t watch it if you’re expecting a good replication of Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’ (this is only very very loosely based on the book) or a real, grounded story from where you can draw upon lessons for life.

This is the story about Rancho (Aamir), a person who is a bit of a dreamer, thinks differently to the rest, is not interested in the ‘rat race’ our education system has become but rather the joy of learning, the joy of invention and the pleasure of new ideas / machines. He inspires at least two people to change and think like him. Farhan (Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman), his room mates, who despite warnings from the Dean / parents / the system (their grades are not exactly inspiring), they staunchly remain true to Rancho’s philosophy. The Dean (Boman), is an interestingly sketched character, a great believer in the competitive nature of the Indian education system and not exactly a fan of Rancho.

Other characters are Chatur (Omi, the stereotypical engineer who dreams of great grades, megabucks and green cards) and Pia (Kareena), the Dean’s daughter, a feisty girl and convert to Rancho’s way of thought. MM, the dorm boy is another interesting person we get to know, as are Kilobyte and Megabyte and their mom, Gigabyte.

I wish life was as simple as Rancho made out. I wish it was as easy to top an engineering college, life’s issues resolved themselves as easily as shown in the film. The second half, which had a surprise identity crisis thrown in, raised some problems which it was implausible that were not discovered / resolved earlier. But the humour / fun keeps you going through it all.

The Teacher’s Day speech, delivered with great verve and gusto by Omi was a true hold your stomach and laugh out loud moment, one of the highlights of the film for me. The black & white way of showing poverty, Aamir’s definition of a book in the first lecture, Kareena’s choice of a ‘price tag’ husband and her surprising drunk attack on Gujarati snack food names, old jokes about the NASA pen or ‘do you know who I am’, were all good fun.

I thought Aamir overacted a bit, there was a slight air of pretense around him, but nothing which detracted too seriously from the film. Everyone else did a stellar job.

My father said after watching it that if you’re willing to suspend disbelief, its an enjoyable film. That’s a pretty fair way of putting it, after all, we do the same for Bond films and a lot of action thrillers. Its just that I didn’t expect to be doing it for a rom com set in an engineering college….

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 18th Dec, 2009
Time : 162 minutes
Director & Writer : James Cameron;
Starring : Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribsi

If I strip away the mind-blowing special effects, the sheer awe of being transported to an almost magical world / planet which makes us feel like Alice in Wonderland then I’m left with a story that I found clichéd and highly predictable. I could take any story where settlers send one of their own to blend in with the natives (Tarzan or I remember having seen a film involving settlers and Red Indians) and this one moves along similar lines…that for me was disappointing, despite the movie still being enthralling just for its visual grandeur.

I’m not going to reveal anymore about the story than what I’ve described above, as the way it unfolds enhances the pleasure. You feel like an explorer, uncovering a new world, pretty much like the lead character, Sam Worthington, taking an almost child-like delight in the pleasures of a place and people very unlike ours.

There are implausibillities in the story line, and it does fall prey to the ‘hero’ complex, where it builds up a couple of characters so big that you know nothing can happen to them. But as I said before, the story isn’t the strength of the film.

I liked the way James Cameron hasn’t used any big stars for a project of this size. I liked the core idea of the film, the scale with which it was imagined, the merchandising possibilities, the options it leaves open for sequels / prequels et all. I yearn for the day we are able to do this in Indian cinema. Think outside the box, thing big, not be bound by the star system.

This is a film inspired by Star Wars – it reminded me of the time I saw that movie for the first time, the magic, the awe, the stars in my eyes. This one is good but not as good, or maybe I’m just too old for fables now….

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rocket Singh : Salesman of the Year

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 11th Dec, 2009
Time : 155 minutes
Director : Shimit Amin; Writer : Jaideep Sahni; Music : Salim - Sulaiman
Starring : Ranbir Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Gauhar Khan, Shazahn Padamsee, D Santosh, Mukesh Bhatt, Naveen Kaushik, Manish Chaudhari

In LA Confidential, the rookie detective is asked ‘Would you shoot a suspect in the back if you knew he was guilty but couldn’t prove it ?’. Ranbir Kapoor, the rookie salesman, is asked via circumstance, shortly after joining, ‘would you bribe a purchase manager to get a sales contract?’ and his response to this situation is what leads to the rest of the film…

This is not a fluffy film. Contrary to the look, feel and tenor of the promo’s, it is quite serious, presents and deals with a few moral dilemma’s, shows briefly the seamy underside, dog eat dog world of a salesman, has hardly any songs and no sarson ke fields in Punjab despite being a Yash Raj Film.

Ranbir, all of 38% in B.Com, knows the CAT exam is beyond him and decides to become a salesman. He gets selected at his interview on a whim by the MD, despite the sales manager / interviewer remaining unimpressed with his attempt to sell him a pencil for Rs 20,000. His first day in the field, supervised by the same manager is a revelation in sales techniques (how to read upside down, how to be one up on your competitor, how to play on ego’s / manipulate the client etc etc). But then, things rapidly unravel. Ranbir’s stand on bribery earns him the wrath of all his sales colleagues and the MD, he is banned from going to the field, mocked and ridiculed constantly and then, almost by accident he discovers his true calling, the solution to the mess he is in…

The reason for the high rating from me is not so much for the story (a bit simplistic, slightly fairy tale-ish) but more because it tries to tackle a truly different topic (nothing really close to it in Hindi cinema) and it does it within a realistic setting (the whole office / culture is beautifully described) and withbrilliant, witty dialogue, especially in the first half – Jaideep Sahni has outdone himself here…

There are lovely touches throughout the film, showcasing a good understanding of how Delhi operates beyond the obvious. The way Ranbir is addressed as ‘facha’ (fresher), the way he is airily told to find himself space to sit, right in the corner, by the toilet, where a lot of PC’s are stacked. The way all salesmen are scathing of their boss and his London trips, fiercely competitive and fiercely protective of their territories and clients. The drinks (Old Monk, of course) in plastic cups at a office party and the drinks being cooled in a bathtub at another. And the whole thing about a scooter, the way a motorbike rider and a scooter rider size each other up at a signal.

There are interesting character sketches. The ‘item number’ receptionist who dreams big, the chai-wallah who finally works up enough courage to stand up for himself, the geeky service guy who is wrapped up in his own cubicle, surrounded by skimpily clad women (photo’s), who thinks nothing of over-charging a customer, the MD who typifies whats wrong with our culture, in terms of no long term thought but just chasing the quick short-term buck. And I also liked the genial god-fearing father, Prem Chopra plays his part well.

I think where it goes wrong is the marketing. I was expecting a completely different film based on the promo’s. While they showed admirable guts to make this film, they possibly weren’t able to promote it for what it really is – a look at the way we do business.
I enjoyed the film. I wasn’t totally satisfied by the end but am not really disappointed by it either. Like Tin Men (another great film about salesmen), this has a bitter-sweet feel to it. Its not for everyone but if you’ve worked somewhere, it’ll probably enhance your viewing pleasure….It will then, at least, make you chuckle in all the right places.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 4th Dec, 2009
Time : 133 minutes
Director & Writer : R Balki; Music : Ilaiya Raja
Starring : Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Vidya Balan, Paresh Rawal, Arundhati Naag

Good performances by everyone, an interesting take on single parenthood and an almost ideal, quite sensitive take on how other school kids interact with a disabled child are what make this film interesting to watch. A slightly meandering, slightly over-sentimental, too emotional and perhaps just a shade implausible second half is what makes this a one time watch and by no means a classic.

Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) is a 12-13 yr old kid who has the body of a 70 yr old (with all the accompanying ailments) thanks to a rare genetic disease called progeria. He is brought up single-handedly by Vidya Balan, a doctor, who has chosen not to tell the father she is having the baby, after its clear during their affair that pregnancy, marriage and babies are not what he wants at this stage of his life. Abhishek Bachchan is a very very busy and idealistic politician, who first meets Auro when he is invited to judge a school competition, and slowly begins to get involved with this rare child, despite the political upheavals facing him. Arundhati Naag plays Auro’s determined grandmother and Vidya’s only support, and plays it well.

I liked the fact that all roles came across as very credible, all characters were likeable. I liked the humour, slight whimsicalness that was imparted to Auro, the way he makes his mom have khichdi with aachar, the way he is brought out of a sulk by the lure of video games, the way he gets ready for a ‘time unspecified’ trip to Rashtrapati Bhavan by packing his bag the night before and then not budging from the sofa in a state of 100% prepareness or his 'Google se bach ke kahan jaoge' attitude. And I really really liked his initial interactions with Abhishek, his relationship with his mom and grandmother and (at the risk of repeating myself), the beautiful way other school kids recognise Auro is special and treat him that way without being patronising or rude. Vidya turns in one of her best performances after Parineeta. Abhishek is charming, fun to watch as he engages with Auro. And Amitabh Bachchan delivers as a 12 year old, conveying age through his eyes while behaving like a child through his actions. All were very good indeed.

I liked also Vidya Balan’s response to a inquisitive mother (‘whats wrong with him ?’). I wish most mothers with disabled children could have the courage and sense of humour to behave as she did. I liked how she over-rules the cautious doctor especially with regards to school and ensures Auro gets to live freely and makes sure she or anyone else doesn’t overly smother him. The background score, slightly quirky, fun, ensured that we didn’t feel to intense or heavy and kept things light in the first half. And the opening credits were lovely, a nice unusual touch.

Where the movie stumbled was in not having a brilliant script or from shying away from clichés, especially in the second half, where it almost seemed like the film maker wanted us to cry / weep. The novelty of watching Amitabh as a 12-13 yr old can hold attention for 3-5 minutes, not more. After that it needed a great storyline and the film lacked here. The whole political thread seemed slight out of place – something where Abhishek actually had a point of view around disabled children or single mothers but then changes his thoughts after observing Auro, could’ve made it more engaging perhaps. There were a couple of implausible events – the way he tackles the media or deals with the rumours around Auro, his mother and him being cases in point.

We have a film which everyone associated with it can proudly put on their CV. It’s a change from the run of the mill grist churned out by Bollywood. Its different from the mindless so called entertainers that afflict our industry currently. However, its not a classic and is over-hyped. The reactions of the film fraternity were interesting at the premiere. They said something to the camera and something else privately. And everyone seemed unsure of what to say, asking each other ‘what do you think?' and almost scared to say anything bad about the film. That perhaps was the real verdict…and not what has been published otherwise.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

De Dana Dan

Rating : 3/10
Release Date : 27th Nov, 2009
Time : 165 minutes
Director & Writer : Priyadarshan; Music : Pritam
Starring : Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Suneil Shetty, Sameera Reddy, Asrani, Johnny Lever, Rajpal Yadav, Archana Puran Singh, Chunky Pandey, Paresh Rawal, Shakti Kapoor, Neha Dhupia, Aditi Govitrikar, Sharat Saxena, Vikram Gokhale

I’ve liked some of Priyadarshan’s comedies before – Hera Pheri and Bhool Bhoolaiyan were both v good. But I didn’t like Bhagam Bhag and I most certainly didn’t like this. Very very loud (a very shreiky Archana Puran Singh in particular managing to crack the pain barrier a few times), very very slapstick, full of facial contortions, sleazy and vulgar in parts and completely storyless and also completely over the top.

Akshay and Suneil are both down and out, strugglers in Singapore. They both have rich girlfriends though (Katrina and Sameera respectively), and in order to make their marriages materialise, they decide to kidnap Akshay’s employers beloved dog. Things go wrong, both the girls are engaged to marry Chunky Pandey, who is a scamster businessman, Paresh Rawal’s son, who in turn is being chased by a cop for cheque bouncing. The mafia (Asrani) also gets involved, along with his hitman (Johnny Lever). And everyone lands up at the Pan Pacific hotel.

I don’t think they left out any comedian in the industry yet managed to produce an unfunny film. Terrible songs (really terrible), desperate hamming in the name of acting and a brainless plot combine to make a film that was painful to watch.

However, fair to point out that my kids had a rollicking time as did a few others in the hall, so perhaps my poison is another man’s tea…

Monday, November 23, 2009


Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 20th Nov, 2009
Time : 158 minutes
Director : Roland Emmerich; Writer : Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser; Music : Harald Kloser & Thomas Wanker
Starring : John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Zlato Buric, Johann Urb, Beatrice Rosen, Liam James, Morgan Lily, Chin Han, Osric Chau, Jimi Mistry

Its cheesiness personified, it’s a ‘disaster movie’, very filmi, very Americanised, and very predictable. Yet, through the charms of John Cusack, the non-stop tension built up, the amazing special effects and great acting by most of the supporting cast, it still manages to tug at your heart strings, makes you care…

The Mayans predicted it, modern scientists discovered it recently, that due to a unique line up of planets, occurring every 640,000 years, the world is about to come to an end in 2012. The Earths crust is going to be displaced, massive earthquakes, tsunamis, melting of the Earth’s core are just some of the scenarios predicted. A scientist in India (Jimi Mistry, with a horrible Americanised Hindi accent) is the first to connect the dots, he works with Chiwitel who in turn works with Oliver Platt who in turn works with the US President, Danny Glover as they tackle this crisis.

The key ‘human angle’ plot involves a divorced, failed novelist, cum limo driver, John Cusack taking his kids out camping with the permission of his ex-wife, Amanda Peet, and her new husband. How he gets involved in the whole thing and then tries to save his family. Further sub-plots include a Tibetan monk in China, the getting together of the worlds G8 nations, the relationship between John Cusack and his son, who seems to be closer to his new step-dad and Woody Harrelson as the secret reporter, who knows what the G8 nations are upto…

Yet again, apart from one very minor thing about the Tibetan monk, all sub-plots involved Americans or in one case a Russian, based out of the USA. And that bugged me, for some reason. Americans lead the entire planet saving effort and the whole world more or less listens and dances to their tune. That bugged me as well. The movie could’ve been a lot better, if it had some more ‘global’ sub-plots, a more global feel. The special effects are great. And they don’t stop coming…one after another, they just keep throwing them at you (pun intended)…The ending was more than a bit corny but still finds a way to make you feel good.

Its not bad, worth a look see and it does manage to evoke some emotions, makes us fall in love with mankind, with life itself. And since the scale is what sets it apart, definitely in the cinema vs a DVD.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Rating : 7/10
Release Date : Nov, 2007
Time : 109 minutes
Director : Robert Zemeckis; Writer : Neil Gaiman & Roger Avary (based on an Old English tale); Music : Alan Silvestri
Starring : Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright-Penn, Brendan Gleeson, Alison Lohman, Angelina Jolie

Some legends invoke feelings of heroism, adventure, make goose-bumps come all over and entice you to prance around with swords and helmets, slaying imaginary dragons. This tale is one of them. For added incentive, its ‘motion-capture’ animation leads to as life like imagery as animation can get and its star-studded ensemble cast, including the likes of Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins and Brendan Gleeson, not only lend voice, but also form and faces to the characters.

A monster named Grendel (who interestingly only speaks in Old English), terrorises the kingdom ruled by Hrothgar (Hopkins), an ageing king who loves mead (wine), women and the occasional party. However, the noise from his merry-making is exactly what provokes Grendel to visit, thus making his mead-hall also a place of sorrow. Along comes Beowulf, a Geat warrior, one of the true adventurers and slayers of several creatures. Overcoming Ungerlaf’s (John Malkovich as the kings advisor) scepticism (“tell me, is it true that you lost a swimming match vs Braac ?”)and also putting aside the obvious admiration of the lovely queen Whealthow (Robin Wright-Penn), he now prepares for the battle with Grendel by opening up the mead-hall and getting his men to sing, loudly.

We witness fights with not only Grendel, but also Grendel’s vengeful mother (Angelina Jolie) and a fire-spewing vicious dragon. We see the ice-cold, frigid countryside being lit up by these amazing battles. And we see some fascinating relationships, how Beowulf copes with advancing age and responsiblity, his relationship with the steady, even-headed queen, the exchange between him and the king Hrothgar and finally, his camaraderie with his fierce and trusted lieutenant, Wiglaf (Gleeson).

There are moments when you have to blink and remind yourself that you’re watching animation – the characters are so life like, with true skin colour and the actual faces. And it’s a gripping story, not letting up for even a moment, enveloping you into its world and not slowing down – either you’re involved in the action or a fascinating relationship progression.

A great music score and a superb ending only serve to enhance the film. Excellent, almost impassive, performances by Winstone and Gleeson, as well as Wright-Penn stand out in our memory while Jolie’s little cameo lends the film its undeniable oomph factor…our first glimpse of her, as she steps out of the pool, her form encased in liquid gold is hard to forget. John Malkovich’s role wasn’t totally fleshed out, too little was made of this. Also, didn’t totally understand the significance of the Golden Horn. But neither distracted from the enjoyment of the film.

It’s a bit vicious, gory and dark, especially in the first half hour, but once it picks up, there’s no stopping the roller coaster ride. This one is ‘A’ film and definitely unsuitable for children, both for its extreme violence as well as for its sexual overtones and imagery. I’ve grown up watching animation features from Disney and Pixar, but even for me this was a new experience. One I’m not going to forget in a hurry…