Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Rating : 7/10
Release Date : January, 2008
Time : 93 minutes
Director : Pierre Morel; Writer : Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen; Music : Nathaniel Mechaly
Starring : Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Olivier Rabourdin, Gerard Watkins, Arben Bajraktaraj, Xander Berkeley

Bryan : I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
Marko : [after a long pause] Good luck.

Every fathers worst nightmare comes true when Liam Neeson’s daughter is kidnapped and taken for the flesh trade while she is holidaying with a girlfriend in Paris. Except that Liam is a former spook, who’d quit work just to make sure he remained close to his daughter (Maggie Grace) who lived with his estranged wife (Famke Janssen) and her new husband. Liam goes after the kidnappers and is told he has only 96 hours to find her before she vanishes forever…

The film is one of the most gripping ones I’ve seen recently and it is so purely because of Liam Neeson’s character in the film and his acting. In Commando, Arnold Schwarenegger http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088944/ also has just a few hours to find his daughter in a different situation but then he goes into the overt brawn mode, blowing up battalions, firing bazookas. Liam keeps it just a little more real, just a little more mind you…

Liam is shown as an introverted soft spoken person, very grounded, calling a spade a spade, associating with his friends rarely and clearly, even though he doesn’t see his daughter a lot, his life revolves around her. He is actually conversing with her while she is kidnapped and her instructions to her are chilling yet brutally practical at the same time. His earnestness, desire to overcome all obstacles, clear focus at all times is what makes this movie tick. He communicates forlornness, sadness along with steel and cold competence all at the same time.

Kim : You don't have to worry.
Bryan : That's like telling water not to be wet, sweetie

The movie also doesn’t waste much time with the peripherals, getting to the point and staying there. Its fascinating following the path of the flesh trade. It doesn’t seem too far away from the truth. The action is slick, the camera angles interesting, the relationships and storyline taut. When he does seek help, especially from a French cop / former pal who is now stuck behind a desk job in Paris, there is not much time wasted establishing the relationship or discussing the weather / life but is straight to the point.

When things are going well, we would probably not want fatherhood tips from Liam. But if there is trouble, we would want to be like no one else but him. And that’s the power of the film, it made the whole thing seem plausible …I rarely watch films on TV actually and the irritation I felt with every ad break just reinforced why I don’t enjoy the experience even though I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dhobi Ghat

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 21st January, 2011
Time : 100 minutes
Director & Writer : Kiran Rao; Music : Gustavo Santaolalla
Starring : Aamir Khan, Monica Dogra, Prateik Babbar, Kriti Malhotra, Kitu Gidwani

Slow but mesmerising. Connected strands yet not totally linked together. Beautiful while remaining gritty. Real, uplifting yet poignant. Dhobi Ghat is the story of four characters but its not so much about the characters themselves than the lives they lead. We don’t really get to know or understand any one of them completely, they still manage to do things that surprise us while we get to see a few days in their eventful lives.

Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) is a newly wed Muslim bride, who’s come from her small village to Mumbai to settle down with her husband. She misses her family a lot, shows girlish delight at several things in Mumbai (the shops, the rains, the colourful bangles) and has been capturing it all in a video letter for her brother. The house she lived in is later occupied by Arun
Arun (Aamir Khan) is an artist, eccentric, moody, introverted and a man of few syllables. Struggling to put his past behind him, he’s moved into a small flat in a crowded market place. He seems to find pleasure in small things but human company is clearly not what he craves. After an art exhibition and a few drinks he sleeps with Shayi but next morning he cant wait to get rid of her.

Shayi (Monica Dogra) is on a sabbatical from an investment banking job in New York, doing the things most NRI’s tend to do (attend art exhibitions, party, smoke weed etc). A determined, fearless person, she’s not afraid to rough it out and shows a lot of sensitivity to those less privileged. She’s also a keen photographer and decides to photograph the picturesque Dhobi Ghat, aided by her dhobi, Munna

Munna (Prateik) is also from a small town, does multiple jobs including being a dhobi and a rat killer, aspires to be an actor and gets along with everyone (possibly a little too much with one of the housewives he delivers clothes to). He has his feet firmly on the ground, again is not giving to talking too much, doing his work diligently and taking pride in it. Amongst the houses he delivers to is Arun’s.

The acting performances (all four of them !), the background music (some haunting scores including a song by Begum Akhtar and the theme score), the still photographs used in the film (I want to buy them), the different locales in Mumbai (didnt know it could be so pretty), the interesting camera angles and the mixing up of different colours (black and whites alternating with dashes of furious colours) give this film its beautiful, mesmeric quality. You get drawn into their lives. You want to find out more about them, share in their triumph’s and failures.

I wish the pace of the film was slightly faster, the stories came together more neatly in the end and that there was a point or a theme which bound the four vignettes together. There is a little bit of sense of unfinished business when the film ends.

However, there is a sense of adventure as you watch the four separate lives unfold. There is a sense of spontaneity as you watch the four characters, they don’t seem to be acting to a script. There is no single message or issue raised but it still makes you think. About life. Fairness. Relationships. People and their circumstances. I enjoy such films but its not for everyone

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Yamla Pagla Deewana

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 14th January, 2011
Time : 163 minutes
Director : Samir Karnik; Writer : Jasvinder Singh Bath; Music : Various
Starring : Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol, Dharmendra, Kulraj Randhawa, Nafisa Ali

One recent trend in Hindi films is that the best jokes are revealed in the promo’s leaving very second rate ones for the actual film. This is the case with YPD as well. Lots of ordinary jokes, Punjabi sterotypes (everyone drinks Patiala pegs, is dumb and over the top), unnecessary sentimentality, cringe-worthy songs (apart from the title track) and a wayward storyline that goes on for far too long. Sunny does what he does best, puts his dhai kilo ka haath to good use and constantly beats up people. Kulraj looks pretty. Anupam Kher makes for an interesting sardar. And Bobby overacts badly.

This is a story of brothers being separated, one (Sunny) going with mom (Nafisa) to Canada, settling down there with gori mem (Emma Brown) and two kids who abuse each other in Punjabi. The other (Bobby), staying with Dad (Dharam) in Benares and the duo conning people for a living and living the high life (wine, women etc). When Nafisa finds out that her estranged hubby is still a con-man, she sends Sunny to find them and bring them. Dharam refuses to accept / recognise him so he makes himself indispensable to them by becoming their muscle-man, beating up people to ensure their tricks continue unabated.

Then Bobby falls in love with Kulraj, who’s from Punjab, who’s brothers (eldest being Anupam Kher) are trigger and fist happy and want to get her married only to an NRI. So Sunny now has to make sure this happens. Can he ?

This is one of those films where you know the composition of the final frame very soon after the first few. So it totally relies on making the journey interesting but unfortunately that happens only in fits and starts. The whole separated brothers, emotional mothers stories died out for a reason. The romance between Kulraj (looks nice) and Bobby was half-baked – all he did was look goofy, talk funny, bring her baingans and she fell for him.

The best moments come in the second half when the Deol clan move to Punjab and their home turf of sarson ke khet, small village etc. Kulraj’s cousin (Sucheta Khanna), has some of the funniest moments as she falls for Bobby (wearing a t-shirt which says ‘Welcome to Caneda’, calling him a very ‘impotent’ person etc). Mukul Dev and Puneet Issar have decent cameos. And there is a typical madcap ending which comes at least 20-25 minutes after it should have is how the film concludes.

One of the biggest attractions of the film for me was watching Dharamendra again. Well there are parts of you that do want to see him on screen again and parts of you which wish that he retires peacefully or at least doesn’t do the kinds of things he was made to in this movie (dressing up weirdly, kissing item girls etc). Unfortunately, the latter were more than the former…

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 24th December, 2010 (India)
Time : 95 minutes
Director : Tom McGrath; Writer : Alan J Schoolcraft, Brent Simons; Music : Lorne Balfe, Hans Zimmer
Starring (voices of) : Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross

Megamind : I was destined to be a supervillain, and we were destined to be rivals! The die was cast! And so began an epic enduring lifelong career... and I LOVED IT!
[a gallery of newspaper articles appears, featuring Megamind and Metro Man's battles]
Our battles quickly got more elaborate. He would win some, I would ALMOST win others! He took the name: Metro Man, defender of Metro City. I decided to pick something a little more humble: Megamind, incredibly handsome criminal genius and master of all villainy!

What a delightful, thought provoking movie ! This continues the trend of animated films having layers of depth that you’d scarcely credit such films with. I remember Incredibles having similar layers, with some elements which can appeal to the kids but enough dialogue in there to stimulate the adults

Megamind is constantly concocting evil plans which are equally constantly being thwarted by the dapper Metro Man who lives in Metro City and is soon going to have an entire museum dedicated to him by his adoring public. Most of Megamind’s plans are not about bloodshed or mayhem but involve the pretty reporter from a TV channel, Roxanne. Leading to such charming exchanges when she is kidnapped yet again, as “Can I get my miles on my kidnap loyalty card?”

Then, one day, as much to Megamind’s surprise as anyone elses, he actually manages to finish off Metro Man. The entire city, Roxanne and Megamind’s loyal assistant, Minion are stunned. He now takes over the entire city. And then slowly he gets bored…

Existential questions pop up. Can anything truly remain fun if there is never anyone who can stop you for anything ? How many times can you loot banks, terrorise people, wreck things before it ceases to excite. Can evil truly prosper if there is no good ? How can you continue to innovate, come with one fiendish evil plan after another when there is no constraint, force of good to stop you ?

He actually begins to miss his old pal, Metro Man ! He becomes sad, introverted. And then he has a brainwave…he will recreate a superhero, he will endow an ordinary person with Metro Man’s powers and then life will be truly fun again. At least that’s the theory…

The jokes fly thick and fast.
Megamind : (removing cloth bag from his captives head) Miss Ritchi… we meet again
Roxanne : Would it kill you to wash the bag ?

There is a sub-plot with the reporters nerdy cameraman, Titan, also having the hots for her. There is a assistant curator in the museum who also suddenly becomes an important character. There is Minion who cant understand whats happened to his boss as he’s still having fun plundering and pillaging. There are a couple of surprise twists at the end, very interesting ones which raise even deeper philosophical questions, none deeper than the eternal filmy question “Can the bad guy ever get the girl ?”

After a lifetime spent watching Amjad Khan, Pran & Amrish Puri (to name a few) fail miserably, it’s a point of view worth watching.

Simply delightful…

Gulliver's Travels

Rating : 3/10
Release Date : 24th December, 2010 (India)
Time : 85 minutes
Director : Rob Letterman; Writer : Joe Stillman, Nicholas Stiller (based on the book by Jonathan Swift) ; Music : Henry Jackman
Starring : Jack Black, Amanda Peet, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd

The scale of the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy this one will make a Liliputian out of anyone

This is the age old story if Gulliver, who travels to a place named Lilliput, almost existing in a parallel world, where everyone is extremely tiny (the size of a toe finger) and his adventures in that strange land

To contemporize the story, Gulliver, played by Jack Black, is a non-entity working in a mailroom of a travel office, the kind of guys who for several years cant bring himself to ask his crush, Amanda Peet (who works in the same office) out. He suddenly finds himself in Lilliput. Here he finds himself feted by the residents of Lilliput as he thwarts an attack by their foes and rescues the royal family (in a rather unique fashion). However, he does make an enemy out of the General (Chris O’Dowd), who suspects something amiss in the tall tales that Gulliver tells. Will Gulliver and true love triumph over the Generals machinations ?

Jack Black was brilliant as the crazy guy in High Fidelity. Here he comes across as forced ‘whacky’. The playing with the Star Wars figurines, the way he puts out the fire, the dating tips he gives out, the jeans with the butt showing…they all have a tired, laboured feel. The entire subplot with the princess (Emily Blunt) and the commoner (Jason Segel) or even the ‘main’ plot between Jack and Amanda were not really fleshed out well, didn’t integrate too well with the rest of the story

Logically, there were several flaws. Comically, there were a few funny moments (the plays about his ‘life’, the Times Square replication with the ads, the moments in the dollhouse) but these weren’t sustained. Storywise, it was all too predictable.

This one is best left for the kids…

The Tourist

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 10th December, 2010
Time : 103 minutes
Director, Co-Writer : Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck; Co-Writers : Christopher McQuarrie, Jullian Fellowes, (based on Jerome Salle’s ‘Anthony Zimmer’) ; Music : James Newton Howard
Starring : Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Stephen Berkoff, Rufus Sewell

This one has a surprise ending that ruined it for me. The movie itself, while mildly interesting, somehow struggled to hold my attention completely. Blame to be laid at the lack of chemistry perhaps, between the lead pair, and a slightly stretched storyline.

Jolie is constantly under surveillance ever since she has been deserted by her lover. He had robbed a mafia type of a huge amount and the British government of a slightly smaller amount. Out of the blue he gets in touch with her again, instructing her secret agent style to take a certain train, at a certain time in order to meet him at a given location. Part of the instructions include finding a decoy on the train (Johnny Depp) who is similar to him in build and broad physical outline. Soon, Jolie is charmed by Depp’s small town sensibility but his life is now in danger as he is hunted by both the mafia and the Brits, convinced he is the real thief.

Depp doesn’t really suit this role. Stumbling, stuttering, fumbling, being unsure is not how you want to remember him or think of him. And because that’s how he’s portrayed, he doesn’t really pair up well with the statuesque, self-assured Jolie who is stunning as ever. You can get why he falls for her but not why she would even look at him twice. The locales are interesting, continental Europe at its most beautiful with a large part of the action happening in Venice (don’t think there are too many secret agent stories which don’t involve this city).

There is a forced feel to the film and then in the middle it struggles to hold your attention (especially in the romantic bits). Beautiful locales, beautiful people but not quite a beautiful story. Almost like a Hindi film.

PS : Cant believe this is the same director who made the brilliant ‘Lives of Others

Tron : The Legacy

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 17th December, 2010 (India)
Time : 125 minutes
Director : Joseph Kosinski; Writer : Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz; Music : Daft Punk
Starring : Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen

I didn’t understand the story at all, the rules, the constraints went truly over my head yet I enjoyed the film for its styling, its cool look and Jeff Bridges performance.

Not having watched Tron, the first part, all I could gauge was that it was about Jeff Bridges inventing a game, disappearing completely and then his grown up son, Garrett, one day discovering an alternate reality world created by his father

There are clones, other beings called ISO's, identity discs which can be used as weapons and have boomerang properties, a mysterious portal that opens or shuts at fixed intervals (don’t really understand why) and some games played to death gladiatorial style. Didn’t really get any of this

However, the entire styling, with people dressed in neon outlines, the batons which transform into neon-outlined bikes, cars or flying machines, the arena where the contests happen, all of this is really eye-catching. And the places, the rooms, the clothing is very very cool. The white minimalist look of Jeff Bridges room, the outfits worn, the cool discotheque were all done with panache, with a definite styling palette in mind.

Jeff Bridges was the only assured performer – he has always managed to fit into different roles with ease and this one is no exception. Whether it’s the young cloned avatar or the ageing patriarch, he is good to watch. Garrett and all others seemed very unsure of themselves, not very convincing.

All in all, as I exited the hall, I did it in a confused state mind but with definite praise for its coolness quotient. Think of it as food which it isn’t very tasty but beautifully presented…