Saturday, 12 December 2015

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

Greedy oil industry craving for whale oil. Enlisted sailors. A ship sets out. Families bidden goodbye. Sails are set. Harpoons sharpened. 

Authoritative captain vs aspirant first mate. Grumbling crew. Days at sea. Two thousand barrels of oil to fill. Then a whale hammers into their lives...     

Based on a true story that inspired Moby Dick, the epic 1851 English novel by Herman Melville, Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea recounts horrifying events during an expedition undertaken on the American whaling ship Essex in 1820.

In the Heart of the Sea review 
The industrial revolution era, stone-faced businessmen, hapless sailors, killing at sea and catastrophic consequences are impressively recreated. 

In the Heart of the Sea does depict the events with sincerity, making some clever use of 3D. 

This is a good action adventure in parts, evocative moments are rare though.

There are no righteous heroes here. 

In desperate times, the protagonists take extreme measures to stay alive. That is not the grouse. 

Howard has championed survival tales before (Apollo 13).

In the Heart of the Sea is satisfyingly entertaining, but not in a thrilling, heart-wrenching way. 

The movie's quiet, intense understatement works in the Melville sections, but not in its core tale. 

In the Heart of the Sea is worth it for the power and scale of what it implies about human beings and their vain attempts to conquer nature.      

Monday, 12 October 2015

Sicario (2015)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Sicario should have been titled: EPIC ANTICIPATION. 

You wait for something big to happen, thanks to the terrific Jóhann Jóhannsson's background score, only for the promised drama flame out to insignificance.

The makers of this take on the Mexican drug trade can't figure out where to linger. 

So it sluggishly flows from FBI agent Kate's (Emily Blunt, nicely done, badly sketched as a central character) point of view, giving us a mitigated view of proceedings, adding brutality, loss, and revenge, the latter as an unconvincing twist. 

Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro are competent, but apart from sluggish atmospherics, there is not much to salvage here.   

One arresting part...
Picture a group of black SUV's moving relentlessly from the US to Mexico and back, with a prisoner in tow. 

Then, amidst a traffic snarl, gun-wielders from either side of the law, draw their weapons and wait.

This is the only time, apart from the first five minutes, and the unexpected finale, that Sicario comes alive. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Ant-Man 3D (2015)

[*** stars / *****] 

The charming thing about Ant-Man is how not-so-serious it is in tone, the mumbo-jumbo, single-liners and attempts in humour are spot on at most times.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, great casting) is a skilled burglar who tends to return to crime, when nothing else works. His rotten luck finally changes when he is taken in by Dr.Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, welcome back) to take over his Ant-Man shrinking suit, much to the annoyance of Pym's daughter (Evangeline Lily, good act). 

Lang wants to spend time with his estranged little daughter and avoid prison-time, apart from earning enough. He hesitantly agrees to take on Pym's former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, adequate), the latter having removed Pym from his own company. Cross is in verge of creating his own evil version of the suit and unleash chaos, much to Pym's outrage. 

Toned-down execution works 
Director Peyton Reed gets the tone right for a superhero barely the size of a human finger.The sci-fi base is also not heavy on the audience. Controlling, befriending ants and insects by commands is endearing as in Disney's Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! (1989). 

Size doesn't matter here 
The toy train sequence is a breeze, there are no serious damages inflicted here, no blood and gore, just a nice,witty replication of a comic series featuring a tiny hero. 

Those expecting mega fight scenes will be disappointed. I loved the change, frankly Marvel has been overdoing its big hero vs big villain showdown to drabness. 

It was refreshing to see the scale brought down. Ant-Man is not among the best Marvel superhero films, notably Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Ironman (2008), but it is certainly an entertaining, engaging little film.

Stealing Act 
Actor Micheal Pena does a great, rocking take in a delightful cameo as Luis, the fast-talking Latin criminal with an accent. 

The rest of the cast are aptly selected, they fit into the texture of the movie.

There are not enough awesome 3D moments here, watching it in 2D wouldn't hurt you.    

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015)

[**** stars / *****] 

Tanu Weds Manu Returns works on the weight of its brilliant joke-skit situations, colourful characters, damn funny dialogues and how the excellent, spirited cast, (most reprising their roles from Tanu Weds Manu (2011)), enacts each bit with elan. 

The plot is just a prop, we are not complaining, because the humour is a mad riot and just keeps rolling and rolling.

Kangana Ranaut is stellar as the mad, freewheeling Tanu, more so as Komal, the young Hariyanvi althlete, going beyond the accent and sportswoman's gait. 

Deepak Dobriyal is a steal for the sheer comic spontaneity he brings to his role. Madhavan quietly adds nuances to his unusual lead male role, that of a subdued, withdrawn, troubled husband. 

The rest of the cast get their lines too, watch out for Jimmy Shergill's just complaints and KK Raina's catarthic monologue on marriage. 

But this is Kangana's film, she is simply outstanding!

Director Anand L Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma pull off  contrived situations with great confidence and we have a surprise, surprise, a hoot of a funny comedy drama here. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Yennai Arindhaal (2015)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

The way director Gautham Menon goes about it, they might as well enlist him in a police encounter squad for real. As in his previous police-as-vigilante movies, beneath the wafer-thin layer of realism, a familiar hero-villain face off track takes center-stage. 

Where Menon's loyalties bend is more than clear. Criminals and gangsters are stylish, barbaric, wicked, epic and looming over the idealistic law-protecting hero, so they deserve to be killed as brutally, tit for tat, same old revenge tale. 

Yennai Arindhaal (Translated: Well...if you know me) has the protagonist-narrative monologue lending credibility to the events as it did to Menon's previous police depictions on film. 

The lengthy running time, despite the crisp editing mitigates impact. The villain track is stretched beyond elastic, the organ-stealing plot is too fantastic. 

The movie scores in its performances, Harris Jayraj's rocking soundtrack, sharp technical finesse and semi-believable lead characters. 

Ajith Kumar is effectively understated in his role, the larger-than-life cape doesn't suit him, he is more of an actor and a reluctant star. Arun Vijay as the antagonist is good. 

The film's endearing, believable parts - the Ajith-Trisha track and Ajith's 'caring father' part. 

Menon is best in handling male-female, family bonding, the action seems a commercial afterthought, though adroitly depicted. This is a kind of film Menon will never tire of making. It's a decent watch for a drama-action-gritty police story. 

For Gautham Menon's best yet, (both don't feature the police) try Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) and Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (2010).

(Subtitles saved the day for me, hopefully more regional films will be increasingly released on 70mm with English subtitles, in  days to come.)   

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Darr (1993)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Kiran (Juhi Chawla) studies in Shimla (Switzerland, undisguised). She is happily engaged to daredevil navy officer Sunil (Sunny Deol). 

But there is another secret suitor, her college mate Rahul (Yes, Shah Rukh Khan), a shy, awkward one who sings an anonymous song for her, guitar to boot. 

The shy guy doesn't show himself. Instead he chooses to terrorize Kiran, stammering (Kkkkkk...Kiran) on the phone, shadowing her and then in murderous shyness, attempts to kill Sunil.   

Unconventional concept 
Yash Chopra's Darr is a rare Hindi commercial movie with a stalker shown in negative light (well, kind of).

The makers of Darr do glorify the stalker's madness as a kind of feverish love. 

Hindi film heroes have stalked, teased and molested heroines no end onscreen, having the girls inexplicably fall for them, right up to the 'The Beginning' end credits. 

Shah Rukh Khan dazzles
Darr's trump card is Shah Rukh Khan's unconventional take on the Hindi film villain. 

The mannerisms that became repeated over several films and are now perennial mimic artist source material, were very effective in Darr

Darr review 
Despite the problematic depiction, Darr is a decent take on possessive love. 

The high point is when the three protagonists come together for a gentle conversation before the truth pops out. 

Songs, though beautiful, affect flow and mitigate all sense of dread. 

For once, even if in patches, story does take over starry airs. In ego-infested star-insecure Hindi film territory, that itself is a monumental achievement.        

Monday, 19 January 2015

Shuddh Desi Romance (2013)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Shuddh Desi Romance has a reluctant, compromised heart at the core of its plot and that almost kills all its good, great, charming parts. 

Psst...Live-In Relationships
A long-winded, bumbling arrival to apply the vermillion on live-in relationships, the makers of Shuddh Desi Romance are too wary of disturbing their family audience to give it a free-wheeling touch. 

This is despite the kisses, bravado and modern attitude, which all seem pat and candy floss, things that can happen only in 'bed-of-roses' films. Even for the lovers of the make-believe, Shuddh Desi Romance isn't crazy enough.   

Life is a Bed of Roses?
Dabbling comedy, drama, romance doesn't help either. Just comedy would have suited the film's take on youth and their irrelevant, confused outlook of relationships. 

The metaphors and visual hints don't register here. Shuddh Desi Romance is fiery when it sticks to the fun of it, the chemistry of the main lead sizzle in those parts.

As for the characters not seeing an inch of gritty time earning their livelihood is another bubblegum convenience. This is best blamed on Yashraj's sleek production values that color all social-economic classes in one eye-pleasing shade.

Andriod or Human? 
A human being cheated out of marriage, months later, reconciles and sleeps with the same man. She is again left stranded by him. Yet she takes it all serenely without any anguish, just because this is a romantic comedy. Blame it on Yashraj again.

A visual treat of Jaipur, Sushant Singh Rajput and Parineeti Chopra's acting chops, (Vaani Kapoor's confident turn let down by weak characterization, Rishi Kapoor is good) and two Sachin-Jigar songs are prime viewing reasons.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Ugly (2014)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

Ugly reeks of familiar Anurag Kashyap elements, from suicidal tendencies, alcohol, cigarette smoke, enclosed rooms to mentally-ravaged characters. But like his best films, the combustive combination is startlingly real.

The daughter of an estranged, aspiring actor disappears from his parked car in one of Mumbai's crowd-infested streets. A prime suspect is killed in the heat of a chase (chase scenes, another Kashyap authority). 

The actor's ex-wife has a police officer for a second husband. Old wounds, vengeance and greed rises up like a writhing snake. There is a grim persistent stench to the proceedings. The culmination punches in like an old parable.    

Purposely devoid of style, buoyant in its stark performances (Girish Kulkarni steals the show), Ugly is a credible watch for cinema lovers.    

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

[*** stars / *****] 

As one who adores the JRR Tolkien book, this has been a disappointing movie trilogy

Thankfully, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the most engaging of the three movies. 

Peter Jackson is in genius territory when it comes to detailing large scale fight scenes, body language and fighting styles of each race/army. 

But some of the battle scenes are downright atrocious like the pointless appearance of the were-worms and the shockingly lame Legolas video-game mode fight.   

Creative liberties, character quelling, and additional characters are ho-hum. 

The only welcome deviation (spoiler alert-spoiler alert-spoiler alert) is the grand manner in which Smaug is shot down.

There are many aspects that the film scores on, barely as ravishingly as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

But as a Middle-earth expert there is a limit to the bad Peter Jackson can do. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is  impressive in bits and pieces.