Saturday, 31 August 2013

Film Review- Satyagraha

Crusaders of the Lost Ark

Film: Satyagraha

Cast: Ajay Devgn, Amitabh Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal

Directed by: Prakash Jha

Duration: 2 hrs 31 mins

Rating: * *  1/2

Director Prakash Jha’s tryst with making films on contemporary issue continues. After his home state Bihar, Jha has moved to the national scene with films like Rajneeti, Aarakshan and the naxalite story Chakravyuh. With Satyagraha, the trend continues on the same lines and this time the focus is on the anti-corruption movement.

The problem with mixing fiction with reality is that, our film makers still haven’t got the knack of making such films effectively, Madras Café recently being an exception.  At best they skim the surface and make a point or two here and there but they don’t go for the jugular. Even if they make a film on anti-corruption (or science fiction) a romantic song and an item number is the order of the day, unfortunately.

Inspired by the Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal agitation, the story tries to integrate many other elements as well, like the real life incident of Satyandra Dubey who was killed by the mafia. Amitabh Bachchan plays a retired school principal who is also a man of principles. He is still involved with teaching kids in this village called Ambikapur and his gold medalist son is building bridges for the government while his daughter-in-law (Amrita Rao) is also involved with social service. The young man’s friend is Manav (Ajay Devgn) who is a big shot corporate guy who thinks that greed is good.

But not so after his friend gets run over by a truck and then the old man popularly known as Daddu decides to take on the corrupt system starting with the local collector. Corporate honcho gives up everything to fight for this crusade which also involves a lawyer and a policeman also joins hands later.

Their fight is against the local politician who also happens to be the home minister (Manoj Bajpayee) of the state. Daddu also has an ex-student who was a goon but now has become a youth leader (Arjun Rampal). Everybody on twitter and Facebook also joins the protests, nevermind if the story is set in a village. Kareena Kapoor Khan plays a television reporter who also joins the gang and a considerably dreary romance brews between her Manav.

Getting out of the hole that you dig can become very difficult when you mix real life events and fiction and the film flounders in the climax. While there are a few poignant points and moments on the face of it but if you dig deeper there are plenty of flaws in the screenplay.

The characterization to begin with – Manav is supposed to be this rich businessman who has built an empire and gives up everything but his motivation is not very clear.  Just after interval, everyone shuns him not because he was involved in a genocide but there are allegations of corruption against him (not specified what exactly though). Were all the people so naïve to believe that he become a rich guy without greasing some palms?

So overall while the intention is good, the screenplay has plenty of flaws and at the end of it, you are no wiser than you were before even though Jha had an opportunity to nail it. 

Amitabh Bachchan is first rate as the old man fighting for a cause. Ditto with Manoj Bajpayee who plays the scrupulous politician and he is cool as a cucumber. The chemistry between Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor Khan though draws a big naught. So while Satyagraha is watchable because of the issues it touches, it is not exhilarating which it could have been.

Film Review - We’re the Millers

Lewd and Clear

Film: We’re the Millers

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis

Directed by: Rawson Thurber

Duration: 1 hr 50 mins

Rating: * *

            We’re the Millers is a crude, lewd comedy aimed at the lowest common denominator. Filled with gay and sexual ‘jokes’ (can’t even call them innuendos) and a plot smaller than a Boson particle, the film stars Jennifer Aniston and even though she is a popular actress I can’t think of too many memorable films she has acted in. He’s just not that into you was in 2009 and The Good Girl was way back in 2002. For obvious reasons the word over-rated springs to mind.
            In this film she plays a stripper and does a fair bit of stripping as well. Her neighbor David (Jason Sudeikis) is a drug dealer and after he loses his cash and stash, he is forced to go to Mexico by his boss to pick up a drug consignment. He comes up with this wise idea of taking a R.V and going to there with his ‘family’ which now comprises of the stripper, a vagabond girl (Emma Roberts) and a young man Kenny who happens to be his neighbor. Their trip to Mexico to get the drugs, smuggle them across the border and outwit the drug lords, that makes up for the majority of the story.
            In between there are plenty of expletives and silly gags. How loud, and if at all you will laugh, depends on what you find funny. If a spider sneaking into a man’s pants and biting his crotch is your idea of humor, then go ahead make your day. There is nothing terribly wrong with that kind of humor but if that’s the only kind of humor in the whole film then Houston, we have a problem.

Film Review - Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Teen Spirit

Film: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Cast: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon Jackson

Directed by: Thor Freudenthal

Duration: 1 hr 45 mins

Rating: * *

             After a considerably lukewarm response to the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson is back, this time to battle the sea of monsters. Considering that the popularity of this teenager is a fraction of Harry Potter, the hesitation of the studios to put in big money is understandable. After all, it is pretty much familiar territory and too many heroes of the same mould doesn’t necessarily work well with kids.
            Even Chris Columbus who has a few credible films to his resume could not do much with the Lightening Thief. So unless you are fan of the franchise or a teenager (usually the two are the same), for the average audience sitting through this is an uphill task.
            Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) son of Poseidon and half God and half human has taken refuge at the Half blood camp, along with others of his type. There he meets his half brother who is a cyclops, he has just one eye in the middle of his forehead. There is a barrier around the camp which gets destroyed so the mission is to find something called the Golden Fleece which will help restore the barrier. The villain is Luke Castellan who wants to destroy Mount Olympus among other things. Percy embarks on a journey along with his friends Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover (Brandon Jackson) to save the day.
            Like yours truly, if you are not familiar with the franchise, there is way too much goobledygook in the film. There isn’t a great deal of excitement in the story nor do the action scenes grab your attention. Since the film was converted and not shot in 3D, you wish they would have stuck to the conventional 2D instead of messing it up.
Bottomline: this one is strictly for die hard Percy Jackson fans only.

Film Review - Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

In the Twilight

Film: Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower

Directed by: Harald Zwart

Duration: 2 hrs 10 mins

Rating: * 1 / 2

            I must confess that I had vaguely heard of the Mortal Instruments series of books and having seen the film, I have absolutely no interest in knowing more. Authored by Cassandra Clare it is like a cross between Percy Jackson and Twilight with a stronger tilt towards the latter because it has a young girl as the lead character. It is also being hailed as the New Twilight because that one girl starts liking two different men.
            The plot is so tedious and boring that it doesn’t hold your interest for more than the first ten minutes. And with every passing minute, you couldn’t care less about any of the characters.  
            Clary (Lily Collins) is a teenager who sees strange symbols, her mother knows the reason but refuses to enlighten her about it. Clary witnesses a murder and it gets murkier when she finds her home ransacked and her mother is missing. But then comes a Shadow hunter (Jamie Campbell Bower) who specializes in ‘slaying demons’ and you know that the film is going to go downhill from there because there is more mumbo jumbo to come. The quest it seems is for the Mortal cup that allows humans to become half angels. I would have been happy with a cup of tea which was badly needed to digest all the info about vampires, werewolves, demons and Shadow hunters. Oh yes and you can use the Mortal cup to open a portal which the villain does to and gets all the demons to help him.
            The special effects which are not great anyway, cant be of much use when the story is so insufferable. Apparently, a sequel, City of Ashes is being planned. I hope they abort the idea before it is too late.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Film review - Kick Ass 2

                          Just For Kicks

Film: Kick Ass 2
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Aaron Taylor Johnson
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Duration: 1 hrs 43 mins
Rating: * * 1 / 2

                         When Kick Ass was released a couple of years back, it become a hit even though there were no big stars in it. The sequel has a new director and tries to kick ass but manages to do so only partly. How much you enjoy this film though would depend on how old you are – the younger ones would like it more because this is a film meant to appeal to teenagers but the film comes with an Adult certificate and deservedly so.  

            The previous film was about a high school boy who wants to become a super hero without any super powers. This time the focus is more on Mindy aka Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is extremely skilled when it comes to fighting the bad guys. Dave aka Kick Ass (Aaron Taylor Johnson) is her good friend but after a couple of outings Mindy promises her uncle that she will indulge in any more heroics. Kick Ass meanwhile meets a motley crue, all of whom disguise as superheroes, lead by Col Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). The villain of the piece is Chris, the son of a character from the first film. Chris nicknames himself something that is unprintable here and he wants to kill Kick Ass.
            There are a few gags a bit of action, but nothing will broadly appeal you unless you are of a certain age group. Along with the action, it is the performance of Chloe Grace Moretz that leaves an impression but otherwise Kick Ass 2 doesn’t have much to gloat about.

Film review - Planes



                           Up Up and Away

Film: Planes

Voices of: Dane Cook, John Cleese, Priyanka Chopra

Directed by: Klay Hall

Duration: 1 hr 30 mins

Rating: * * *

            We have seen cars race, recently we saw a snail who wanted to race and now it’s the turn of Planes to race – new ideas seem to be getting more and more scarce in Hollywood. Having said that, this Disney Pixar venture offers some decent entertainment despite of treading on familiar lines, thanks to the characters and some smart lines.
            As far as the story is concerned I have more or less given up expecting anything novel in animation films. It is usually the underdog story who has to fight against a legendary champion (who also happens to be the ‘bad guy’), the underdog will also have a fear to overcome, he will also have a friend with whom at some stage there will be a misunderstanding but in the end all will be well.
            That pretty much sums up most of these theme based animation films released in the last couple of years. In between all that, there will be lessons on friendship, sacrifice and that’s always a good thing for kids to watch.
            Planes is about a, well plan, his name is Dusty (voice of Dane Cook), crop duster who wants to fly fast (he cant fly high because he is afraid of heights) to compete in a around-the-world contest. No one expects much from him to but he makes it in the qualifying race, his friends cheer him and he gets a chance to participate in the race. His competitions include a Brit, Mexican, Canadian and Indian (voice of Priyanka Chopra). They fly all over the world from one country to another, including over the Taj Mahal (with A.R. Rahman playing on the soundtrack).
            The finale is a close one but the end result is as predictable as the fate of the Rupee these days.
            Apart from the vibrancy of the colors and high quality animation, there are enough references and lines to keep the adults interested. With kids, as we know, anything that's animated is fine by them.

Film Review - Jobs

                             The Odd Job

Film: Jobs

Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Dermot Mulroney

Directed by: Joshua Michael Stern

Duration: 2 hrs 8 mins

Rating: * * *

The world can be divided into two kinds of people – those who use and swear by Apple products and those who don’t, the dice though is strongly loaded in favor of the latter. But there is no denying that at the helm of Apple, Steve Jobs created something very special which almost went on to became a part of people’s persona. Coming to the film, the results are mixed. I was not bored while watching, in fact it kept me interested, but in the end the pay off wasn’t quite exciting.

The film attempts to cramp in a large part of Steve Jobs life, starting from his college days. After doing the odd job, he returns from a trip to India and starts his own enterprise along with his friend Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) and Apple Computers was born in a garage.

Even after the capital investment by Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), his professional life has its shares of ups and downs. He was dropped from the team that were designing Apple Lisa which later became a big flop but by then Jobs was a part of the Macintosh team which wasn’t particularly successful either. In fact in the mid 80’s Jobs was forced out of Apple only to make a comeback a decade later. The film opens with him introducing the Ipod in 2001 and that’s the last reference to him as far as the chronology is concerned.

One of the facets the films establishes and is widely known, is that Jobs wasn’t the nicest man to be around with but at the same time he was a visionary and had great dedeication to his product. His single goal in life was to create something different that would that people would be able to associate with on a personal level. Needless to say, it was the second innings of his career that made him the legend that he is and since everyone knows that, the film doesn’t dwell on it.

While the film is eminently watchable you can’t help but get the feeling that some of the jigsaw puzzles are missing.

The supporting cast and Ashton Kutchers performance is commendable. Against all odds, he is done a very commendable Jobs (pun intended) and on the whole, the film is watchable.

Film Review- Madras Cafe



                         Truth and Dare

Film: Madras Cafe

Cast: John Abraham, Siddharth Basu, Nargis Fakhri

Directed by: Shoojit Sircar

Duration: 2 hrs 10 mins

Rating: * * * 1 / 2

To put it plainly, Madras Cafe raises the bar for commercial Hindi cinema. Firstly, films that mix fiction and reality are an extreme rarity in Bollywood and equally rare is a no nonsense approach in making it. There are no item numbers (heck there are no songs either), no juvenile gags and no melodrama, yet Madras Cafe grabs your attention right from the word go. Recently we had Nikhil Advani’s D-Day which was a brave and commendable effort and this time it is Shoojit Sircar who has pulled it off in good style.

Some might complain that the way the film is structured it may not be easy to follow especially in the initial parts where the foundation is laid. The reasons for that is, one, you have to be super attentive and two, there is usually way too much spoon feeding in most of our films.

A spy thriller would be an apt way to describe the film which has elements of reality. The names have been changed perhaps keeping the sensitive issue in mind but anyone who has elementary knowledge of India in the 90’s can easily figure out that LTF is a name for LTTE, Anna is Prabhakaran their leader and the ex-prime minister referred to is Rajiv Gandhi.

John Abraham plays Vikram,Singh, his wife thinks he is in the army but actually he is a spy working for RAW. The story is told in flashback when there was a major crisis in Sri Lanka in the late 80’s. Agent Vikram is sent to Jaffna where he has to deal with a rather non-cooperative boss (Prakash Belawadi) and gradually he discovers that there is a sinister plan being hatched, to assassinate the ex-PM.   

There are several characters in the periphery – quiz master turned television show producer Siddharth Basu plays the Vikrams boss in Delhi, Narghis Fakri is a London based journalist who is covering the war (mercifully she doesn’t speak Hindi) and tv journalist Dibang is also seen in a cameo as the plot thickens.

Since this is not Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, you know how the film is going to end. There is double crossing and all that and it even suggests that there was a larger international conspiracy involving the LTTE.

As for the politics of the whole issue let’s just say there are two sides to every story and leave it at that.

Slickly shot and edited, technically Madras Café is an accomplished film. Even though there are no songs, the background score makes an impact. Some of the dialogues initially seem to be a bit out of place – for instance English words like concern, express and intervene are all used in one sentence which is primarily meant to be in Hindi.

Hats off to the supporting cast - Ajay Ratnam as the Prabhakaran look alike, Prakash Belawadi as the forever drinking boss and Siddharth Basu also throws up a surprise in his role. Nargis Fakhri does much better than what she did in Rockstar. John Abraham’s acting capabilities are very limited to put it politely but to be fair, he has done a decent job in the lead role. As a producer he fares much better and Madras Café is a taut thriller you don’t want to miss.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Film Review - Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Dobaara

Ek Fool Do Maali

Film:Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Dobaara

Cast:Akshay Kumar,Imran Khan,Sonakshi Sinha

Directed by: Milan Lutharia

Duration: 2 hrs 33 mins

Rating: * *

            Basking on the success of Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, we have the sequel and as it has been happening with most sequels, this one is also tepid. The previous film had a decent story and captured the essence of that period but this one just gives a sense of déjà vu. Similar characters and some very heavy duty dialogues doesn’t help the cause but more over, it is the insipid story that is a let down.

            The triangular love story of ek phool do maali has been done to death in Bollywood. Instead of two ordinary men, we have two gangsters this time, one of whom is modeled on Dawood.

            This film takes off from where the previous one left. Akshay Kumar plays Shoaib a dreaded gangster who has bumped off his mentor. He likes to wear those dark glasses at anytime of the day or night. He takes two young boys under his wing and fast forward 12 years later, he is fixing matches in the Gulf. So much so, that the umpire and two captains have to wait for Shoaib bhai to arrive before conducting the toss.

            Hoodwinking the police, he comes back to Mumbai, joins his mistress (Sonali Bendre) and the little boy has grown up to be young man Aslam (Imran Khan) who becomes his protégé. After the tussle with their enemies, the focus shifts on a budding actress Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha, modeled on Mandakini whose real name is Yasmeen) and going by her behavior, you want to immediately subject her to an I.Q. and psychology test fearing the worst. Apparently, she has moved to Mumbai and gets friendly with both the men with neither of them knowing she is pally with the other. Hell hath no fury like a gangster scorned that is what we learn towards the end.

            The writing is lame and the characterization is no better. While Akshay Kumar adds some credibility to his, there is nothing that you feel for the younger pair. Imran Khan looks a bit too suave to plays his role and Jasmine’s character has to be the dumbest you have seen in a long time. Besides, what is the point in showing a real gangster with some degree of sympathy?

            The dialogues are extremely clunky, sample this –“Machchar jiska bhi khoon peeta hain, marta bhi usike hathon hain” or “Pyaar bahut badi googly hain, mil jaye to badaam nahin to moongfali hain” but this one takes the cake –“Meter kitna bhi tezz bhaage, taxi se aage nahin bhag sakta”. Whoa!

            The vintage style of background score is impressive for most parts and the production values are in sync with the times. Now only if the story was not so outdated, we would have had a better time at the movies, dobaara.





Friday, 9 August 2013

Film Review - Chennai Express

                                   Please Mind the Gap

Film: Chennai Express


Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone


Directed by: Rohit Shetty


Duration: 2 hrs 22 mins


Rating: *  *


        In a nutshell, Chennai Express is a film about a South Indian girl in Mumbai who has escaped from the clutches of her tyrannical father. In order to escape further, what does she do? She boards a train that heads back to her village. 
            Now that is kind of respect this film has for logic. But when you have two big stars, a director with three films that have made it to the Rs.100 crore club, who cares about logic? The film makers know that the audiences out there are suckers who will throng the theatres anyway, logic, reason and common sense be damned.
            The case is not against entertainers per se; there have been many films that have entertained the public aplenty, and also left something that you could take home or remember after you have left the theatre. But some so-called mass entertainers have such convoluted storylines that you would rather forget everything you saw rather than savor it.
            In the case of Chennai Express, the fault is not so much with the director Rohit Shetty as it is with the writer Yunus Sajawal. If you see Sajawal saab’s filmography, it will boggle your mind – Rascals, Do Knot Disturb, Tom, Dick, Harry, God Tussi Great ho and many other travesties are credited to him.
            For the nth time in is career, Shah Rukh Khan plays Rahul, after his grandpa’s death, he is on his way to Rameshwaram to immerse the ashes. Actually he is fooling his grandma and heading to Goa to join his friends when he boards you know which train. As if the lend-me-your-hand-while-the-train-is-leaving-the-platform scene was not enough in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and subsequent films, it is repeated here again and right away you know that novelty is not to be expected in this film. The damsel in distress is Meena (Deepika) who is being hounded by her father’s goons and after a brief journey, they are all in the village where her dad rules the roost. . She speaks with an accent so heavy you may never have heard anything like it before (Mithun Chakraborthy in Agneepath comes close) but then accurate portrayals have never been Bollywoods forte.
            In between all the buffoonery, you also get to see some unabashed product placement for a phone that SRK endorses, not to mention the considerably lame references previous films time and again.
There isn’t a great deal that happens in the second half as the plot just meanders on. Since it is a Rohit Shety film, it is mandatory for a few cars to be air borne before they come crashing down. We are also subjected to some not so melodious singing (to put it politely that is) by the two stars, when they try to communicate via parodies. In the end she also mentions that her childhood friend is in Pune so why did she board the train which takes her back to the village? As Deepika would have said in that accent, “Fillum ka story dekh ke mera multiplex ke dewaar pe sar phodne ka man karte
And there are more stereotype characters than you will ever find – the father wants to get his daughter married against her wishes to some one else so that he can spread his fiefdom.The self deprecating humor works but only sporadically, at least they don’t try to pass of SRK as a thirty something young man.
The music doesn’t have much to hum, barring the titli song. As far as the acting is concerned, Deepika Padukone holds fort which not many actresses would have been able to with such conviction. Shah Rukh Khan occasionally shows his knack for comedy but most of the time he hams and is so over the top that could easily fly over Burj Khalifa. 
So to sum up, there are two types of people in this world – those who can leave their brains behind and enjoy a brainless ‘entertainer’ and those who have difficulty in parting with their grey cells. Ask yourself, which kind are you?