Friday, November 30, 2012

Movie Review: Talaash

How much you like the big reveal of Talaash depends on how much cheese your digestive system can digest and how many palms your face can accommodate. But no matter how corny the twist, the big difference between this film and, say, a Vikram Bhatt movie is the presence of the one and only Aamir Khan, who keeps things interesting  and serious, and more importantly by not coming across like Joey Tribbiani cast in a drama.

Compactly directed by Reema Kagti, Talaash is part murder mystery, part drama, part melodrama and full Aamir showcase. Whether it’s the piercing stare of its leads eyes, or the blue-green-yellow canvas of cinematographer Mohanan that does the trick, or Ram Sampath’s moody soundtrack, Talaash almost never fails to be atmospheric and immersive. The plot is simple, unfortunately a bit too simple – a speeding car on a night in Worli mysteriously loses control, rams into the footpath and drops into the sea, killing its driver, a famous movie star. Inspector Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) investigates the case, dealing with shady pimps, an irresistible hooker (Kareena Kapoor) and a limping tapori aptly named Timur (Nawaz). Shekhawat also has to battle his own inner demons and deal with his depressed wife (Rani Mukherjee). If you’re looking for an action packed twisty-turny noir, you’ll have to look elsewhere because Talaash unfolds at a leisurely pace, and doesn’t offer much more than a clich├ęd finale, however the journey is itself adequately gripping. It’s not as intelligent as its trailers made it out to be, but is still an engaging enough ride and a nice alternative to folks tired of Salman Khan and Rohit Shetty’s daft brand of cinema.

It helps that Aamir is omnipresent in the film, because he is perhaps the only current Bollywood star who can make a mediocre story interesting. He seems committed to his role, complete with brooding eyes and a permanent Matunga policewala scowl. Much has been made about his short stature but the man carries the uniform convincingly, partly due to some expert bit of camerawork. Reema Kagti probably used the same camera techniques that Peter Jackson employed in Lord of the Rings to make Gandalf taller than the Hobbits. Sadly Aamir’s mustache, which is the biggest mystery of Talaash remains unsolved even after the end credits roll. The other goodie of Talaash is Rani Mukherjee - the silver lining in the horrifyingly horrible and terrifyingly terrible Aiyya acts her butt off here, and it’s ballsy of her to appear sans any makeup. Nawazuddin Siqqiqui is great in what is probably his last role as ‘that guy in the movie’ - he plays the same character as the one in Munnabhai MBBS, and it boggles the mind to grasp that Talaash is set in the Munnabhai universe. There is also Shernaz Patel in the most thankless role of her career as a hyperactive psychic who seems to regularly consume the pills that Charlie Sheen carries in his pockets. Kareena is her saucy and sassy self, smiling like the Cheshire cat.

It remains to be seen what dialogues Anurag Kashyap added in Talaash, because those who watch the film can testify to the unintentionally hilarious line reading in the final twenty minutes – although they only exist due to the nature of the twist. There are a couple of curiously tacky scenes, one of which involves a couple staring at each other, unable to reconcile, while their ghosts pop out of their bodies and embrace. It’s meant to add drama but given the talent involved in the film it ought to be better than it is. Post ZNMD and now Talaash Zoya Akhtar and Kagti seem to be a filmmaking team which makes truly gorgeous looking cinema that just barely manages to rise above the lackluster story. They manage to capture the little moments unlike anyone in the industry. Hopefully they choose a solid script next, because they’d be an unstoppable force with one of those in hand. 

Movie Review: Red Dawn

Red Dawn is a remake of the 1984 movie of the same name, and the biggest difference between the two films is that the newer version is considerably dumber. It’s got all the crummy B-movie vibe of the original in addition to its own flavor of brainless xenophobia.

Starring a singularly uncharismatic pack of youngsters, including Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Josh Hutcherson (Journey), Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas (from Transformers 2) and Friday Night Lights hottie Adrianne Palicki, Red Dawn makes the mistake of confusing American patriotism with teenage bigotry, unabashed racism and classless antipathy. While the original was a campy escapist piece of cinema, the new version is a ditchwater dull, albeit thoroughly offensive piece of drivel.

Without getting into any semblance of logic or sense, the story leaps into a city in Washington suddenly being taken over by the army of North Korea, complete with paratroopers and jingoistic flag bearing soldiers. As the buildings blow up and people scream for help in the siege, a motley group of youngsters called the Wolverines pick up guns, get together and form a team to retaliate against the Korean forces.  And just like in a bad video game, the kids run around shooting Koreans and mouth bad one liners, and even save their girlfriends and come to terms with their daddy issues. The actions sequences are only too obviously low budget, and the jittery camerawork fails to provide any entertainment whatsoever. The acting is mostly abysmal and the constant pro-America sloganeering is unintentionally hilarious at best.

Red Dawn was made three years ago, and it is quite apparent why it didn't succeed in finding distributors for so long. Funnily, the antagonists in the film were originally Chinese, and were digitally converted to North Koreans so as to not offend the good folks from China. Sadly none of the alterations fail to offend the audience’s intelligence. It would probably have worked had the film been a straight up cheese and ham entertainer like The Expendables 2, with Nicholas Cage in the lead.

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn 2

Yann Martel wrote in Life of Pi, when you've suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling. Such has been my predicament ever since the first Twilight movie, and each successive sequel has been significantly more painful to endure. Expecting the big finale to be any improvement is a stretch, and it delivers exactly what you expect – a big rollicking glob of terribleness. 

A review of a Twilight movie is as necessary as a vote in North Korea. Twi-hards are going to line up to watch the films, no matter what the scenario. Had Kasab been a Twi-hard, his last wish would’ve been a YouTube stream of the Breaking Dawn 2 trailer. At this point it is futile to comment on the lack of a good story, the necessity of decent actors, the wish for good special effects and the prerequisite of on screen chemistry. The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn 2 doesn’t remotely have any of those qualities, and it doesn’t even attempt to interest those who don’t slobber at the sight of male vampires with shaved chests and glowing nipples. Instead it has the same exceedingly serious and in turn unintentionally hilarious tone that firmly attaches your palm to your face.

To get into the story details would probably lower the reader’s IQ, all you need to know is that Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) have a baby girl named Renesmee and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is attracted to her. In case you’re wondering if the Twilight Saga openly champions child porn, then you’re right – it does, and why such a book is an international bestseller and a three billion dollar movie franchise still remains a mystery. Anyways, the finale Breaking Dawn 2 is a soap opera full of waxy bores, where the Maybelline eyeliner wearing Volturi, the Revlon lipstick wearing werewolves and the Dabur Amla Kesh Tel vampires are at war with each other, all for the future of the little girl. Bella is now a full-fledged vampire and can run like Forest Gump. She also has superhuman strength, but not nearly enough to muscle out a facial expression. Edward is protective of his family and will stop at nothing to save his loved ones and Pattinson’s acting career. Both Stewart and Pattinson have tried their hands at films outside the Twilight zone (Snow White and the Hunstman, Cosmopolis) but have failed spectacularly, and it remains to be seen if they pick good projects or end up as Hajmola commercial models.

With Breaking Dawn 2, fans of the Twilight series will scream in delight and cry torrid tears for witnessing the epic finale and waving goodbye to their favourite characters, and to be fair the film does well in catering to its core audience. All isn’t lost for the Twihards, as they can now look forward to the other Stephanie Meyer series The Host which begins next year. For the rest of us, it’s time to be thankful to the Twilight series for bringing us Anna Kendrick.

(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi is two different movies put in one – the first is a gorgeous, stunning collection of frames that tosses you on an emotional journey just like its protagonist, and the second, a heavy handed sermon on the necessity of God and the meaning of life. It succeeds gloriously in the former, and falls flat in the latter. Either ways, the film provides ample proof that director Ang Lee can make even an inanimate object filmable. 

The film stars Irrfan as Pi and newcomer Suraj Sharma as his younger self, but the guy who makes the most impact in Life of Pi is a CGI tiger called Richard Parker, and it is a testament to how insanely sophisticated computer graphics have become. Every scene is so meticulously put together by Lee and his crew, so compelling and eye popping it’s nearly impossible to separate the CGI from the practical effects. The Hobbit hasn’t released yet, but you would be hard pressed to find a more gorgeous movie this year. Take a look:

Lee’s adaptation remains faithful to Yann Martel’s book – after a devastating storm Pi is marooned at sea on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and Richard Parker the tiger, and has his task cut out to survive. The tiger is so hypnotic to watch you won’t believe it until you see for yourselves. Only a blind Oscar voter would not be able to see the amount of technical effort put in Richard Parker. It almost seems like Ang Lee channeled all his sorrow from The Hulk’s failure and created a CGI character that will forever be remembered as iconic. Parker’s eyes are so powerful they actually manage to flood your brain with the questions layering the theme of the book – whether it is possible to tame a wild animal and become friends with it, and whether a wild animal whose life you save will ever return your favor. One moment you’re frightened to look into his eyes, the next you feel your heart wrenching as they betray the ever so slight sense of helplessness when Parker hangs on for life. But the tiger isn’t just the beauty of Life of Pi - there are Avatar­-esque bioluminescent blue-green vegetation, vast expanse of sea, meercats and algae that emit just the right amounts of magic and realism. 

Unfortunately, the two hour long, carefully crafted emotional buildup leads to a finale that consists of a long, uncut monologue by Pi, and is absolutely infuriating to watch. Those who’ve read the book will know that the climax is a frightening turn that explains majority of the magic realism throughout the movie. But what we get is a droning line reading of the same, and it totally diminishes the impact of the events, and goes completely against the point of the whole film. Why bother making a two plus hour movie if the most important events of the story won’t even be shown on screen? Might as well put Irrfan in front of the camera and let him narrate the whole story in twenty minutes. Moreover, the spiritual themes that pop in and out fail to connect on any level and are only jarring to the viewer. The metaphor of the duality and unpredictability of life, like the stillness of water and the raging waves may seem hammy to some. Ang Lee is a master of emotional jangling, but questions of nature and faith are best left to the venerable Terrence Malick to realize on screen. Irfan is strictly ok, and it remains to be seen if this becomes his big Hollywood break. Fans of Tabu will be disappointed as she makes a blink and miss appearance, but Suraj Sharma is quite a find.

Life of Pi nearly misses out from being a masterpiece, but it is a hell of a beautifully crafted film and is remarkably touching for its most part. It has been marketed as a 3D film, but it should be watched ONLY in 2D, on the largest screen possible. The 2D version is much brighter and more immersive than the dimly lit 3D version, although neither version fixes the curious lack of emotion in the finale.

(First published in MiD Day)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Movie Review: Jab Tak Hai Jaan

It is hard not to feel upset while watching Jab Tak Hai Jaan, not just because it is the last film directed by the legendary Yash Chopra, but also because the movie borders on cruelty towards us, the paying audience. Packed with characters who all behave well below acceptable human IQ levels, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a canceled TV soap opera crammed into 3+ hours of banal and lethargic plotting.

But how can an unbeatable formula that had been set in DDLJ possibly go wrong? It probably won’t, because it will undoubtedly rake in hundreds of crores of rupees. Because in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is the king. And King Khan in Jab Tak Hai Jaan plays Guy Pearce from The Hurt Locker, shifts into Guy Pearce from Memento, hurls one-liners like Guy Pearce in Lockout, and looks like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. Mostly he plays a guy who gives piercing looks to the ladies on a motorbike to the backdrop of the music from Motorcycle Diaries. That’s not to say Shahrukh provides the only unintentional laughs in the film – Anushka Sharma’s entry itself is funny enough to dislocate your lower muscles – the opening shot is the camera lingering on her bum, after which it roves around to her crotch and then firmly affixes itself to her boobs. She then takes a semi naked dive into a lake in Leh, and then screams that the water is too cold. Perhaps she expected centralized heating in Ladakh lakes.

To complete the Bermuda triangle of accidental funniness, there is Katrina Kaif’s character, who makes her entry in the ‘white white snow, ek laal pari ki tarah’, the sight of which makes Shahrukh stretch out his arms towards the sky and slow dance like Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands. Katrina’s character is goody goody Diana Penty from Cocktail but is secretly Deepika Padukone from Cocktail. Shahrukh falls in love with the latter, and decides to ‘free’ her Deepika-ness – a task that he achieves by bringing her to a nightclub where she suddenly drops all her inhibitions and starts doing a ghanerda favela dance. And just when you think things couldn’t get any funnier or more ludicrous, the writers throw in ham fisted characters (Rishi and Neetu Kapoor) who justify women cheating on their loving husbands. And before you know it, Shahrukh fails to diffuse one of the bombs from the script and a macguffin explodes in our face –a religious macguffin that involves a girl breaking up with a guy because she’d made a promise to Jesus Christ. Luckily the film wasn’t set in Brazil or the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio would’ve facepalmed.

The biggest asset of Jab Tak Hai Jaan, apart from Anushka Sharma’s legs is Anil Mehta’s photography. Rahman’s music is a disappointment although ‘Challa’ is hurled in again and again to keep the audience from flatlining. There is enough material in the film to make doctors, Indian army personnel and London police look stupid, but the most amusing gaffe is Anushka’s character referring to herself as the ‘makeout breakout generation’, the new youth of India. The only agenda of this ‘new youth of India’ is apparently to sleep around and dump people. Well at least the film makes up for its condescending short sightedness by including a Pakistani character as SRK’s London roommate. 

But all the flaws could be overlooked had Jab Tak Hai Jaan offered the slightest hint of a decent romance. Sadly it neither caters to the hopelessly romantic nor the aforementioned new youth of India. Shahrukh breaks his rule like Jason Statham in Transporter and kisses a girl for the first time on screen. It doesn’t help that he is the most unconvincing kisser in the long, sad history of unconvincing onscreen kissers, but what really sticks out as unromantic is the sex scene where we see a hairy toe rubbing against an immaculately manicured toe. 

About as exciting as British food and as romantic as standing without an umbrella at a rainy bus stop in Croydon, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is stuffed with star power without an ounce of logic or heart. The only big takeaway from the movie is Anushka Sharma’s character mirroring her own real self, who despite being more talented and charming, is sidelined in an industry that for no reason prefers Katrina Kaif over her.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Movie Review: Stolen

What do you get when you take the already ludicrous plot of Liam Neeson’s Taken and put Nicholas Cage in it? Theoretically, an over the top guilty pleasure of a camp fest. Sadly, in this case we get Stolen, a retarded cousin of Taken.

Directed by Simon West, who made the fun Con Air and the recent (terrible but also fun) The Expendables 2¸Stolen is so behind the curve it’s hilarious. We have Nic Cage as Will, a heist grandmaster who teams up with Vincent (Josh Lucas) for a failed robbery which results in his imprisonment and Vincent’s death. Eight years later, Will steps out of prison to discover that Vincent is still alive, and has kidnapped his daughter to demand $10 million for the failed heist.  Will has no choice but to recruit the hottest chick that he can find and rob a bank to pay off Vincent.

West makes no bones about delivering the most comatose action sequences that he can muster. From the tiresome running and jumping to the flashy editing to the numbing camerawork to Cage’s bored expressionless face, Stolen makes sure you beg for the minute hand on your watch to speed the hell up. The only interesting bits of the film come from Josh Lucas who seems to enjoy looking stoned, earnestly mumbling the corny lines from David Guggenheim’s script. The best scene from the film involves Vincent threatening Will’s daughter by showing her his mutilated hand, even though actress Sami Gayle looks like she could be threatened by a dangling her Revlon mascara case over a balcony. There is also Danny Huston as an FBI agent who gives John Abraham a run for his money when it comes to shifting the muscles on his face. 

Cage, on the other hand is neither in his fun B-movie avatar nor in his senses – his sole purpose on camera seems to be staying awake and reading the lines off a teleprompter. Generally terrible Nic Cage movies are passable harmless fun over a couple of drinks but Stolen takes itself too seriously for its own good. Had the film carried the OTT tone of Drive Angry 3D or Bad Lieutenant or this movie, it would’ve probably been a worthwhile watch.

(First published in MiD Day)