Friday, 24 November 2017

Justice League (2017)

[*** stars / *****] 

Finally, here is a DC movie that works just about right at all the levels. Clever, singular action, a passable The Lord of the Rings kind of central premise, a hefty but one-dimensional villain, good inter-superhero chatter, some "we crack jokes too" laughs, another world-threatening mission, and CGI overload, within the sharp 121-minute running time, Justice League manages to keep us entertained.

Better than Batman vs Superman 
A giant leap from the flimsy, irritating terrain of the hugely disappointing Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). No common mother names here, nor the strange question, why did Batman and Superman hate each other anyway?! 

Why so 'darkious'?  
The dark, melancholy Zack Synder ambiance worked in the impressive Man of Steel (2013) as an ominous shade. Here it adds heaviness and unwelcome gloom.

The cast engages 
It is the lead characters that stand out for us. Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller and Henry Cavill are all good. Jason Momoa stands out as stellar casting as Aquaman, right next to Gal Gadot.     

Forced humor
The goofy jokes only suit Miller's The Flash though. That Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman start cracking one-liners out of the blue and context, doesn't fit in. Neither does Cyborg's "Booyaa!" 

Good, not much fun
Though Justice League doesn't rock and there are no impressive set pieces, it makes enough noise to not end up as disappointing.

Watch Justice League in 3D for a better visual experience. The wait gets longer for that one standout DC movie since Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008).  

Friday, 17 November 2017

Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017)

[*** stars / *****] 

Jaya (Parvathy), a 35-year-old single woman meets the older Yogi (Irrfan Khan) on an online dating website.

In the tradition of romcoms, man and woman meet, clash, travel, clash, clash, clatter, meet the man's ex-lovers, travel, have a cathartic moment, clash, clatter, clash, travel, realization dawns, the end.

If Tanaju Chandra's Qarib Qarib Singlle doesn't go the irritatingly tiresome, similarly themed, Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017) way, it is largely because of its great lead casting and their performances.

Irrfan Khan again crackles in brilliance in making an underwritten role work at so many levels. Parvathy, a Malayalam film regular, is the x-factor here, playing a dull, stagnant, evasive, troubled and uniquely engaging character.

The story offers nothing much in freshness. The central premise is flimsy and potato-wafer thin. Yet there is a tangled breeziness to the proceedings. Irrfan and Parvathy make every scene together come alive. The couple's varied dynamics gives the film a genuine 'opposites attract' feel to it.

Somewhere between the conversations is the hidden unwoven literature that this film could have been (the double "ll" in "Singlle" take, among other touches).

The dour end doesn't help, but Qarib Qarib Singlle has enough laughs and moments to be a good three-stars-out-of-five watch at the movies.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Much like its predecessor, Kingsman: The Golden Circle celebrates its own illogical, nonsensical, pop culture bursts and spy spoof vibes. This is how an assuring badly made and overplayed James Bond movie would look like. Kingsman: The Golden Circle knits its own little yarn to make it a clever, show stagey mockery.   

The drippy, laughing-at-itself spectacle entangled me to this one. The American addition 'Statesman' is a nice rowdy peg too. 

British-American Tango
The action sequences are a real bang-beat rhythm of a roller coaster, as are the straight-faced wit-spewing characters. Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Mark Strong, Channing Tatum, Taron Egerton, Julianne Moore, Colin Firth...The best ensemble cast assembled this year? By a long shot!  

Moore makes a bitchy baddie, but she can't top Samuel Jackson's subtle delicious villainry in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Firth is ever-dependable, Bridges gets a nice cameo, Egerton holds his own. Strong, Berry and Tatum bring in adorable wackiness. 

Themes, Toys, Kicks
Going anti-drug is a nice, cute theme. The Donald Trump caricature is overemphasized and blunt. John Denver songs, cowboy twang, one-eyed return, fabulous landmine death scenes, surviving bullets shots in the head, whiskey, ginger ale, champagne and Elton John. Umbrellas, butterflies, retrograde amnesia and a menacing robotic future. Everything looks slick, bright, kicking, dodging and alive.   

Glaring plot holes roll as big and rumbling as bowling balls. But this is an action comedy spoof genre that loves not having a watertight story. 

Gross, Oh Yeah!
Somehow, director Matthew Vaughn makes us digest cannibalism, minced human meat, atrocious body slicing, a graphic sexual act for implanting a tracking device and still kept me atrociously entertained. He makes grossness and utter disgust an art here.      

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is as boisterously frivolous as it intends to be and I love this film series for that consistent, creative cheekiness.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017)

[**** stars / *****] 

Director R.S. Prasanna's remake of his own Tamil family comedy Kalyana Samayal Saadham (2013) is a terrific laugh out loud hoot. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan takes up erectile dysfunction to mine jokes, without ever going below the belt, a mean screenplay achievement.

A surprisingly restrained fun movie that while working within family movie dimensions, both tackles and deflects from talking taboo at the same time. An Alibaba and forty thieves analogy showcases this midway road to hilarious effect.   

This is not a lazy scene-to-scene remake. The director sets up his arranged marriage family fun around Gurgaon and invests in each character's ethos. Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar's engaging chemistry tops this film over the Tamil version. The supporting cast gels in with great effect, especially Seema Pahwa as the girl's concerned mother.

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is irresistibly unavoidably funny.  

Friday, 11 August 2017

A Wednesday (2008)

[*** stars / *****]

A Wednesday does a hypnotic audience grip in its final act. The point it makes is instantly powerful and debatable.

The first hour though is an irritating mix of cliches, jarring background music, and some unintentionally laughable dialogue. The pace slackens in bringing various characters to the mix. The screenplay needed a serious fast forward for breathless, memorable impact. 

Naseeruddin Shah's excellent portrayal of the main protagonist binds us. So does Anupam Kher's restrained act. Jimmy Shergill's angry cop needed meat and reason. 

Though A Wednesday doesn't build up craftily, it hits the ground running, making it flawed, but solid entertainment.  

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Gurgaon (2017)

[*** stars / *****] 

Preet (Ragini Khanna) is back home from abroad to her ultra-wealthy family, with a degree in architecture. She wishes she wasn't home and soon brutally discovers why.

The whiskey guzzling monarch Kehri Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) stands for Gurgaon's sudden shift, from a sleepy farmer's belt to a concrete demon. Swimming in wealth, Kehri has bequeathed his mammoth property to the adopted daughter Preet. The disregarded elder son Nikki (Akshay Oberoi) resents impassively while splurging in self-destructive angst.

Based on true events, Gurgaon sheds a cavern dark, nightmarish light on stubborn traditions and human nature. Debutant director Shanker Raman hits with silent gloom, conveying numb hearts, greed, lust for power and a family built on real estate boom and bloodshed. 

Chauvinists, child murderers, desperate kidnappers. Gurgaon could have punched into audience hearts with reminders of unforgettable cruelty. Instead, it attains a disinterested, distant rhythm, leaving us less shocked at the end. 

Gurgaon is still a decent alternate watch for the haunting, fiendish night scenes, top-notch performances, and for conveying how greed and animal instincts detonate across generations.  

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young woman, wakes up after a car accident with her leg chained to a wall and locked up in an underground bunker. 

A bulky old captor Howard (John Goodman) turns up, narrates how he saved her from a large-scale attack by either Martians, Russians or North Korea. That the air outside is not breathable and they will have to live underground for one or two years at least. He assures her that nobody is alive out there. Michelle suspects otherwise.  

Building up consistent nerve-wracking suspense, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a high-quality sci-fi thriller. The final act holds up, despite a much-visited premise, for the dark execution and grit. Highly recommended.

Titli (2014)

[**** stars / *****]

What would you do if you were born into a family of carjackers and robbers? Titli, set in Dehli's dark, discarded underbelly is a stark, gritty, engaging, Kanu Bhel-directed dark drama on what it is to be born into a family of criminals. 

Titli (translated 'butterfly') is the hapless younger brother (Shashank Arora), scheming to flutter away for good. His brothers get him forcibly married instead. Soon, the new bride (Shivani Raghuvanshi) is a terrified, unwilling accomplice to the family business.

Arora, Raghuvanshi, Amit Sial and Lalit Behl are all good, Ranvir Shorey is stand out terrific as the cold-hearted, fearsome elder brother

Watch it for the unusual story arc, splendid performances and intoxicating whiffs of cinema.  

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Cloverfield (2008)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Making a found footage monster/disaster movie like Cloverfield is a tricky affair. How much to accidentally show and how much to conceal?The film gets it breathlessly right in bits and parts. The Statue of Liberty's beheaded debris stays with you.

Keeping up the tension with an amateur camera shoot feel takes some doing. Some lame direction and a distant connect for the main protagonists negate fear and unpredictability to an extent.

Culminating events into a unraveled love story and somber deaths dull impact. What is a monster movie if the characters don't die magnificently. Eh?

Cloverfield is mitigated, very effective in parts, worth a watch for the exciting narrative medium.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Agantuk (1991)

[*** stars / *****] 

An impostor? An opportunist? Greedy? Anila's (Mamta Shankar) long lost uncle Manmohan Mitra (Utpal Dutt), her sole surviving relative, returns to meet her after 35 years of running away from home. Anila (Mamata Shankar) is caught between happiness and suspicion, her husband Sudhindra (Dipankar Dey) is wary.

Aguntuk (The Stranger) was Satyajit Ray's last film. It stands out as a deep, intellectual comment on humanity, the idea of civilisation and where exactly are we going. 

Ray's genius is in allowing the audience to interpret and read between the lines. Mitra represents free, unconventional thinking while Anila's family stands for the routine and the tested. Mitra is a metaphorical alien to traditional, largely unquestioned surroundings. As these distinct worlds collide, a rebel knows that he has no place in a crowd.

Though not as evocative as Ray's other simpler, gripping, widely accessible drama masterpieces, a master is at work here. Expect intellectual fireworks and deep, passing insights, a trademark quality in Ray's latter films. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

A Death in the Gunj (2017)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

In 1979, an extended family gets together at a sleepy village home of McCluskieganj, owned by their own family seniors, OP Bakshi and Anupama Bakshi (Om Puri and Tanuja). 

The group: Married couple Nandu and Bonnie (Gulshan Devaiah and Tillotama Shome) with their little daughter Tani (Arya Sharma). 

The boisterous alpha male Vikram (Ranvir Shorey), the 'soon-to-go' to Australia, Brain (Jim Sarbh), flirty, sensuous Mimi (Kalki Koechlin) are all there. 

But even in this varied group, the young, fragile, troubled Shutu (Vikram Massey) stands out for the audience, while he is sidetracked by his relatives. This is Shutu's story and through him a penetrating magnifying glass on bullying, introverts, human nature, meekness, and isolation.  

Simmer, Simmer
Actress Konkana Sen Sharma's directorial debut A Death in the Gunj is a little gem of a movie, with a slow, drawn out simmering, haunting quality. 

This is no Agatha Christie-like murder mystery, as the title may suggest. A death is promised in the first scene itself. The film deftly cuts through seven days leading to a tragedy. Just like life, you don't know what to expect.  

Sharma triumphs in lingering over the geography and the characters. The wonderful cast seems less made of actors and more of real people. 

The director succeeds in great understatements, revealing only what is required, leaving much unsaid and thus engaging us continuously. Her approach fits into building up a powerful drama. 

Undoubtedly one of the films of the year, A Death in the Gunj is available on Amazon Prime (India).

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Despicable​ Me 3 (2017)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Riding on tried and tested elements from the earlier parts, comic good vs bad premise (dance fight!), twin brother bonding, minions and little girl cuteness, Despicable Me 3 keeps the laughs and sniggers (snigger, snigger!) coming from time to time. 

There is no central bonding force here, but more of episodic scenes, instead of a rollicking main story. Some grating stuff, no particular flow, humour is the superhero here. 

Still, the animation works for its bright-lit proceedings, bubblegum attire, an 80's style (irritating at times) villain and candy-cute kiddy stuff. The minions especially light up sections. A passable, fun watch.

You rate our movie not so good? 

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Mummy (2017)

[** stars / *****] 

An ambitious Egyptian queen-to-be goes on a family murdering spree to ascend the throne. For her sins, she is mummified alive and sunk in a mercury-filled grave. Centuries later, she is unwittingly released by treasure hunter/ US Army personnel Nick (Tom Cruise, chirpy at 55) to wreck havoc. 

We are soon caught in a swirl of curses, evil, an ancient dagger, mummy victims,  and immortality talk. Sounds familiar? 

A friend made a valid point prior to the The Mummy morning show. We are still viewing the same movies that we used to watch in our childhood. The more movies we watch, the more they remain the same? 

Hollywood is so embroiled in sequels and prequels, that more commercial movies are resembling extended, tiresome TV episodes now. 

The Mummy reboot review  The Mummy stands out as the most unnecessary remake in recent times. The reboot does score in eerie atmospherics and some stunning special effects where it lacks oh so badly in the story.  

Russell Crowe's Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde turns are a miss, while Sofia Boutella as Mummy/Ahmanet is great casting. So is a lively Annabelle Wallis as the female lead. But the lack of creative spunk and freshness lets them all down.

Apart from the stunning plane crash sequence, the proceedings attain a predictable quality. Finally, The Mummy entertains thanks to its art direction and cast, but don't expect anything new.

Fresh ideas, please.

The terrific plane crash sequence, the only exceptional take away from the film. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Directed by noted female director Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman ends up as a largely underwhelming, if not a disappointing origins movie. Jenkins brings in sensitivity, friendship, love, sacrifice, and loss, but not a fast-paced, throbbing with adventure superheroine movie I longed for. 

The DC franchise can take heart for their prize casting though. 

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman, her persona, diction, mannerisms spot on. You may well believe that Wonder Woman is actually around, alive and breathing. Such is Gadot's screen impact. Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen and Ewen Bremner make a good supporting cast.  

There is an expansive, admirable anti-war theme that blunts possibilities of mad escapist comic book elements, a pity. The 'naive heroine in the city' episode is funny, the motley 'Saving Private Ryan' kind of bonding during World War I, mildly adorable. 

But the much-awaited, scattered action is hardly thrilling, even when the Greek God of War is involved. A dull, cold bad guy negates all fun. 3D is merely present and seldom used to awe effect.

Wonder Woman ends up as just about satisfying on the big screen. 

Hopefully, the forthcoming Justice League movie will bring in the action and team play dynamics together for high-octane entertainment.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Sachin:A Billion Dreams (2017)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Sachin: A Billion Dreams could have been a cracker of a feature film. Instead, apart from its initial sparkling reenactment of Tendulkar's notoriously naughty childhood, it walks down a safe, supervised, documentary road. 

Sachin Tendulkar, the diplomatic sports ambassador then takes over to narrating what we Indian cricketing fans more or less know.This 95% documentary/ 5% film is mostly a chronological compilation of everything available on YouTube. 

Don't look for new insights, outspoken statements or controversies. Anjali Tendulkar is the only one to let go, revealing how she had to forsake her glittering medical career for Sachin. She also tells of a grumpy, disturbed Sachin, his guilt and agony apparent while captaining the side. 

There is a distant hint at Mohammad Azharuddin, envy and that's it. The rest is hero worshipping and awe galore. The home videos do add a touch of exclusivity. There are some nice revelations too, but not enough.

Also, director James Erskine's positioning of the little master's journey running parallel to the Indian story is an underutilized film element.       

Sachin: A Billion Dreams review 
Sachin: A Billion Dreams is a watered down, undeniably powerful tale because of Tendulkar's mammoth and legendary efforts rather than the film-making. 

Catch it for the nostalgia and the legendary. 

If you are a die-hard Tendulkar fan, this is your reliving-the-journey moment. 

Sachin! Sachin! 

Oh yes.   

Friday, 21 April 2017

Fast & Furious 8 (2017)

[** stars / *****] 

A bucket of popcorn and the latest Fast & Furious movie now share a similar notoriety. Both are superficial, temporary and at best, a passing joy. Fast & Furious 8 resembles a below par TV series. The only saving grace, since Fast & Furious 7 was so, so bad, that Fast & Furious 8 seems a relief in comparison.  

The formula is in place, one just goes through with it, with assembly line mechanics. Fast cars, hero-gone-rogue, somebody's baby boy, heartless villain, a couple of hot girls, pseudo machoism,repartee-filled dialogues, big-budget mega blasts and the main characters, barely getting scratched.... 

Fast & Furious 8 review  It is all a money-making, 'play it ultra safe' Hollywood territory. 

What a waste of an ensemble cast! For Vin Diesel is an underrated act, Charlize Theron is spot on. Dwayne Johnson is good as usual. 

Michelle Rodriguez seems jaded, while Kurt Russell is enjoying himself. Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson (dumb but lively buffoonery) stand out. But there is not an inch of cohesion to hold their parts. 

Everything happens with epic predictability. You know nothing can beat Diesel and team (yawn). Certainly not nuclear submarines and definitely not anything remotely Russian! 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

[***1/2 stars / *****] 

This live action remake of a 1991 animation classic plays it safe, but for little plot and character tweaks. By retaining the original soundtrack and musical storytelling, Disney mostly dampens the experience for young and adult audiences alike.

Characters mouthing songs at every opportunity is now a time-jaded medium. Yet two song picturizations bring out the film's best, classic moments. Gaston, a uproarious, witty, humorous song on vanity is good 3D fun. The Beast's anguish hits you harder in live action, via the heartrending Evermore. Applause for the original music composer, Alan Menken and the sharp-witted lyricists, Tim Rice and Howard Ashman.   

Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Bella. A dream role rendered almost perfectly. She is the film's strength, exuding courage, grace, and nobility.Dan Stevens is effective as the Beast. 

Luke Evans stands out as Gaston. Evans nails a role that could so easily be irritating and exaggerated. The much talked about 'gay' moment, is a blink-and-miss hint. 

Beauty and the Beast review  Classic in parts, and a good children's film otherwise, Beauty and the Beast (3D) is a pleasant one-time fantasy watch.No new daring territory is covered here, which is both a pity and joy. A joy, for Beauty and the Beast as a bedtime story for kids still echoes as relevant. For a darker, mature treatment, don't ask Disney ever. Never.    

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lion (2017)

[*** stars / *****] 

It's 1986 and 5-year-old Saroo lives with his mother, elder brother Guddu and little sister Shekila at Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh.

Saroo's mother breaks rocks at a quarry for a living, the brother subsists on odd jobs.

One day, a stubborn Saroo insists on accompanying Guddu to work. The older sibling relents and the brothers take the evening train. Saroo is sleepy on alighting, so Guddu leaves him at the potentially safe and deserted station, promising to return in some time.

Hours later, Saroo wakes up calling out his brother's name. He boards an empty train and falls asleep.This is where Saroo's epic lost and found journey begins, spanning two continents and two decades.

Lion review 
Lion is a competent recreation of an amazing true story. The first half is harrowing, largely poignant thanks to Sunny Pawar's charming, astonishing take as the young Saroo. In comparison, the second half seems stretched to evade the imminent conclusion. 

Somehow, searching on Google Earth for a lost home is not as cinematic as a lost boy in a wicked city.

Dev Patel is expressive, the performance pales in comparison to the emotions Pawar evokes.Rooney Mara's girlfriend character is a story-staller. Nicole Kidman is poignant as the mother, David Wenham as the father is adequate. 

How Saroo and Manthosh get adopted by Australian parents is never clearly explained.The film's touching climax make up for the hiccups to a degree.

Lion is not without its flaws, but sincere emotions are at play here and they make Lion a necessary one-time watch.The film title origins is a nice, little tidbit at the end. 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Split (2017)

[**1/2 stars / *****] 

Kevin, a man with multiple-personality disorder carjacks and kidnaps three girls from a supermarket parking lot.He locks up the girls in a room and chillingly reveals at different times, a few of his 23 distinct personalities. Even as the three girls get more desperate to escape, Kevin's psychiatrist gets ominous emails from Kevin's protective personality Barry.  

M. Night Shyamalan has the gift for compelling visuals, eerie atmospherics, and engaging dialogue.He has that uncanny knack to build suspense into a film, scene after scene.What he hasn't had for a long time is a solid, convincing storyline, ever since his debut masterpiece The Sixth Sense (1999) and the very effective, Signs (2002).

Split review  
Split, despite the lack of story, and psychiatric mumbo-jumbo is still mildly engaging to an extent.But once Shyamalan gets to his oft-repeated twist climax, it merely scratches the horror/thriller genre surface.

Catch it for James McAvoy's alluring, impressive take as a dissociative identity disorder patient and some genuine Shyamalan moments.

Maybe the Bruce Willis cameo will result in a better, bigger film.Until then, die-hard Shyamalan fans have to contend with more The Sixth Sense reruns. Phew.