sashank_kini-1

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The President Is Coming
(2009)

Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapoor's satirical mockumentary is too incredulous to work as a satire or mockumentary, and edges on farce with non-stop tomfoolery.
When we were kids, we played a popular game called 'Simon says'. In this game, one kid from the group became 'Simon' and issued instructions to the rest of the group, like 'Simon says sit' or 'Simon says jump'. The person who failed to perform the action immediately lost the game and sat out until the winner was declared. The six contestants who compete in a reality show that offers the winner a chance of the lifetime to shake hands with President George Bush (now former President, of course) are so hare-brained and crotchety they'd all fail in first round of a Simon Says game, forget making the list of NDTV's top entrepreneurs (as the film states. The only way this can be justifiable is if NDTV is equally harebrained) or worse, representing India to greet a President. It isn't just the contestant choice that's ridiculous but the selection committee itself which includes two unhinged women who conduct a series of absurd tasks in elimination rounds. It's really a stretch to believe that the US consulate would these circus freaks to work for them, who seem fitter as inmates of a mental asylum. The only reality shows that fits the bill for these cartoons is the garish 'Timeout with Imam', the Indian 'reality show' (though it's obviously scripted) that's currently polluting MTV India. For those unfamiliar with the show, think Spencer Pratt & Heidi Montag.

Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapoor's satirical mockumentary is too incredulous to work as a satire or mockumentary, and edges on farce with non-stop tomfoolery. The characters in 'The President is Coming' are so in-your-face obnoxious and in-each-other's faces offensive that they put you off so much, you'd wish that carnivorous plant from Cadbury Bournville commercial would devour them up. These aren't likable caricatures, like Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory or Meryl Streep's wonderful Camilla Bowner in 'Web Therapy', whose verbal darts during their repartees are sharp but don't hurt. In 'The President is Coming', the characters want to draw blood every time they open their mouths. At one point, a guy asks a girl 'Are you a sl*t?... A wh*re?' (later, it is found that the girl had recorded a sex-tape with another male contestant in the past) like he's asking about weather. Even the wicked Barney Stinson from comedy series How I Met Your Mother would've been more tactful.

There are seven contenders fighting for the title of 'The Most offensive character' in the film. Let's begin with the host Samantha Patel, a bossy uptight always-Miss-Right anchor who dons Barkha Dutt's bob cut. There's hardly a moment where we don't see her putting down her timid protégé Ritu Johnson and telling her who has the last word. She's later found to be a kleptomaniac stealing cutlery and statues from the location of the reality show. It's surprising that this character, who wants to remain in the spotlight always, doesn't ask the reality-show's camera-man (who's off-screen, holding the camera, through which we view all the action) for close-ups, or come too close to the camera only to block others from view.

The six contestants include Maya Roy, an author who loves the works of Ernest Hemingway, except she thinks she's better. A strong-minded forward-thinking divorcée, she is irked by the misogynistic, homophobic, antediluvian thinking of co-contestant Ajay Karlekar, a Hindutva social worker who believes he and George Bush share the same qualities (he's got that right, at least). She is also very shrewd, using contestants' weaknesses to get them eliminated. One victim is South Indian Ramesh S., a closeted homosexual who is learns all the rules of straight-flirtation but never gets them right. Then there is billionaire's daughter and budding entrepreneur Archana, a scatterbrained brown skin Paris Hilton without the puppies, and Rohit Seth, an accent trainer running the unimaginatively named 'Speak easy'; this is the couple that was involved in the sex tape scandal. The guy who asks her whether she's a sl*t is Kapil Dev Dholakia, a stockbroker who can speak stocks and shares very easily but nothing else. When asked what the capital of US is, he replies 'Dow Jones'. The film gives this painful guy a sweet revenge by dressing him up as Madonna in the Round 'American Masquerade'.

You just can't choose some who calls Osama Bin Laden as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as one of the top six contestants of any quiz based reality show, especially one where the winner meets Mr. Bush. One just can't be so ignorant, so offensive and so ludicrous unless paid handsomely by the TV to act this way. There's also some obvious blunders for which no explanations are provided. Firstly, where's the entire crew that's shooting the event? Are we to believe one that there's only person shooting AND operating the boom mic (a device to capture sound. Oftentimes makes special appearance in films due to careless editing) and there's no security except one mousy watchman? And why would one character reveal a maleficent hidden agenda in front of TV cams and security cams? All these annoyances and blunders rob the spotlight from moments of mild delight.

Ernest Hemingway once said 'The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof sh*t detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it'. Anuvab Pal may not even make it to the long list of such writers. His film reeks.

Thalaivaa
(2013)

Such a god-damn ridiculous piece of trash it should be kept out of human reach. This film doesn't even deserve the controversy it's getting.
Tamil A.L. Vijay's Thalaivaa has courted controversy after theaters in Chennai which originally intended to play the film received bomb threats, thus leading to a no-show on the first week of its release. It has however reached a cinema hall in the quaint but economically mushrooming city of Vadodara, my home-town. And my brothers, or rather bros, in Chennai, consider yourself saved (except for that poor fan-boy who committed suicide after his idol Vijay 's ( i.e. the lead actor and not A.L. Vijay ,the director) film didn't see a release in Chennai. Bro, a word of advice: there are better things worth giving up your life for)! For the film is such a god-damn ridiculous piece of trash it should be kept out of human reach.

I believe one S R K Karnan has filed petition with the Chennai High Court alleging that the film portrays the lives of his father and grand- father, two social leaders in Mumbai's slum-ridden area of Dharavi, in a highly unflattering light by distorting facts and depicting the two men as dons and thugs. His petition would probably be rejected, but if he does make another one claiming his lineage is portrayed as boneheaded idiots, he'd probably win the claim. Thalaivaa is hardly a biopic. Neither is it about "the people" as the protagonists in the film often claim. It isn't about Anna, who if Karnan's claim is true has been based on his granddad. Neither is it about Karnan's father. It's all about the idiotic hero Vijay. His screen-time and close-up shots confirm this. He dances , he romances, he sings, he jokes, he does dollops of dishum- dishum (fight) and some poor imitation of Robert Di Nero in Godfather and Abhishek Bachchan in Ram Gopal Varma's Sarkar/Sarkar Raj, whenever he gets a free time from all the dancing, romancing and dishum- dishuming.

He's a wannabe dada/don. The film itself is a wannabe Godfather, a wannabe Sarkar, a wannabe typical-Indian-romance (but with twist) and at times even a wannabe ABCD (Prabhudeva's film on dance). It spends much of its time worshiping its hero Vijay, to an extent that it kills of Anna's character (played competently by Sathyaraj) pretty quickly. It wastes little time to reveal its true intentions of becoming another in the endless list of forgettable kitschy 'romance-drama-action' money- spinners that are dumped on mass audiences by Kollywood and Bollywood. Sathyaraj, playing Anna, is a former coolie who eventually becomes the protector of honest slum-dwellers of Dharavi by delivering justice through violence and force. But the film relegates him to a shadow, one appearing occasionally to tell his son how busy he is, as soon as Vijay enters. He plays Anna's NRI son-settled-in-Melbourne Vishwa, and the film abruptly switches gear from dead-serious drama to hokey-jokey comedy. Comedian Santharam joins in as Vishwa's buddy Logu to fuel the film's path of self-destruction, and for a while we get an unappetizing feel of watching 'Sarkar + Comedy'.

Enter love interest Meera (played by dusky beauty Amala Paul) and the film enters 'romance mode', spending almost an hour till we exclaim "Oh my goodness! What happened to the original plot?!!" (that comes right before the interval, so you can be bold enough and try to ask whether you can come in after interval and pay half the ticket price. I wouldn't recommend that either as things get even worse post-interval). Vishwa and Meera participate in a dance contest and win, overcoming hurdles like being attacked by their competitors. But why are these things important in a film about Dharavi, its people and its self-proclaimed leaders? Why on earth would he think including a series of comedy sketches, one involving a cook who cannot cook, another about a bunch of single-men in Melbourne pining for Meera and the third involving Meera lying about her marriage with a sleazy-looking B-grade movie star, would be a good idea? Because they absolutely do nothing to further the plot, and they last as long as Durex condoms. And how ridiculous is it for a film to forget itself, and jump from drama to comedy to romance and return only to kill of the character of Anna, poor Anna in a car blast?

Twists before the second half – Meera and her dad turning out to be undercover police after they visit Mumbai along-with Vishwa under the pretext of discussing with Anna about Vishwa's marriage with Meera, and a guy named Bhima claiming responsibility for killing Anna to avenge his father's murder (Anna had killed a hate-monger named Varadarajan Mudaliar in the past). Bhima is really a weirdo – he meditates chanting Anna's name (then Vishwa's; actually the words chanted during meditation help in relaxation so it's hard to understand how chanting one's villain's name will increase animosity towards that subject: weird spirituality) and he sounds like an evil cyborg, credit awful dubbing (he's played by Abhimanyu Singh, a pucca Punjabi puttar). Vishwa meanwhile spends his time either channeling his inner Sylvester Stallone/Salman Khan, pounding men after men with brute energy, or drinking bhaang and doing masti (fun). The condition of this film post- interval turns from rubbish to muck to sheer atrocity.. I recommend a CT scan after watching this film.

Ship of Theseus
(2012)

The Ship of Theseus is a painstakingly dialectical observation of the transient human forms journeying in the sphere of reality.
The Ship of Theseus is a painstakingly dialectical observation of the transient human forms journeying in the sphere of reality. It examines the paradoxes in arguments about human beliefs, values and ideologies, exploring through the cave of space and time to find answers in the arcane light of truth. The film is deep, sometimes dense enough to put you into a storm of confusion, yet its mysterious powers to stimulate your mind into questioning the basis of existence is nevertheless a remarkable feat for writer-director Anand Gandhi. It's all the more astonishing to know that Ship of Theseus is Gandhi's debut feature film, and wait it you hear the biggest shocker – this work comes from the same man who began the incredibly contrived 'evil mother-in-law vs. saintly daughter-in-law' tradition in Indian television soaps such as 'Kyuunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because the mother-in-law was once a daughter- in-law herself)' and 'Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii (Story of Every Home)' more than a decade ago.

This man has completed his journey, his eight-year pilgrimage at last (he conceived his idea in 2005, after making two short films 'Right Here Right Now' in 2003 and 'Continuum' in 2005) and he has found some answers, which he brings to the world in the form of Ship of Theseus. His search is probably still on, yet this film is as good as it gets.

Anand Gandhi captains his Titanic Ship along its course, and it remains totally unhampered by any stupid icebergs. The easy way to look at this movie is that it's about organ donation, but on closer look, you'll see the theme of 'reconfiguration of human psyche by external forces' shining through. The film's structure is so massive, it's themes so multitudinous, that you don't feel sure at times whether you are moving in the direction the film intends you to move. My advice for those who can't understand everything would be to leave it to God and just understand what's easier for your mind to comprehend. Subsequent viewings will reveal further answers.

The cinematography by Pankaj Kumar is extremely fluid, and Gandhi allows the camera to remain static over long periods of time. That's where our actors, Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah (also the producer), do all the excellent visual communication, bringing an emotional intensity which gives these philosophical concepts a simpler, human form of expression. There's some powerful imagery here that draws our focus to the grand scheme of things. We begin to question ourselves then, wondering "God knows why…?". Our journey begins.

For the full review, go to http://sashankkini.wordpress.com/

Nine
(2009)

Nine has characters who represent characters of another film but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions
About one year ago, I went to watch a Gujarati play on the theme of 'harrassment of women by their NRI husbands', written and directed by an acquaintance who was pursuing his Postgraduate Degree in Dramatics. As this was a local play with a completely local cast, I decided to bring a buddy along for moral support in case the play stank. Unsurprisingly, the play proved to be a massive disappointment with its crude treatment of the subject matter and ridiculously unnecessary focus on supporting characters (like making the gravedigger the lead in Hamlet). Yet, to my bewilderment, people cheered on and gave it a standing ovation it didn't deserve. I realized later that the antagonist in the play was a very popular name among Gujarati audiences, and so they cheered him on as he hammed endlessly, while I looked on bemused at all the beaming faces around me.

When the seven ladies of Nine (Dench, Cotillard, Cruz, Loren, Fergie, Hudson and Kidman) turn up one after the other in the opening musical sequence of Nine, I sat looking at the screen with the same bemused expression, and the question 'What am I supposed to feel here?' crossed my mind. These seven wonderful dames of acting may have caused a flurry of applauses had this been a live play (Nine is originally a Broadway musical), but they little impact when they such a grand entry on film for the simple reason that the entire thing is 'filmed'.

I have not seen Fellini's autobiographical classic 8 ½ either (on which both the play and the film are based), although the DVD does wait for me in the cupboard (will follow Mr. Roger Ebert's advice in his review and catch the film tonight). This makes me more alien towards Nine but not too much because I have seen Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita' four times and regard it as one of my favorite movies. So the parts which evoked a sense of familiary were Nicole Kidman's 'ideal woman' character and Daniel Day Lewis' 'detached persona looking for a centre', which Marcello Mastroianni played excellently in LDV. The main question here is: does Nine work as a musical and a movie independently in its own right? The answer is sadly a no.

The experience of watching Nine can be compared to visiting 'Marina Abramović's – The Artist is Present' exhibition without having any clue of who she is or what she has done. The film has characters who represent characters of another film but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions who don't really care about each other or this film. They function like the (actually) moving portraits in the Harry Potter stories; they wink, they smile, they laugh, they cry like humans but in the end, they remain portraits. And the worst part is that they're given such dark and ugly sets to sing and dance around, robbing all the richness off the mise-en-scène.

The reason for such unappealing sets is that all the performance pieces are figments of Guido Contini's often prurient imagination. The protagonist suffers from artistic block after two of his films flop following a streak of critical and commercial successes. After one reporter boldly asks him during a press interview whether 'he has nothing to speak about', Contini performs a great escape and books a room for himself at a hotel under a pseudonym. His next movie 'Italia' does not have a script yet and its cast and crew are left stranded without Contini, who spends much of his time at parties and events dreaming and fantasizing about the women in his life. There's angelic Claudia Jennsen: his inspiration, Luisa: his lonely wife, Carla: his sexy mistress, Lilli: his costume designer, Stephanie: an alluring reporter, Saraghina: a prostitute from his childhood, and lastly his Mamma. And unfortunately, everybody gets a number or two to perform (in Contini's mind). This basically goes on in a repetitive manner till the end, where finally the plot decides to move another inch or two.

There is not one song I can recollect now, except 'Cinema Italiano' which too stays in mind only because of its irritating hook. The other reason I think the number is easy to remember is that it's got a livelier and brighter set with performances we can actually see. The rest of the numbers are hampered by lack of light; if one has seen Gene Kelly's super-duper-brilliant 'Singin' in the Rain' he or she would remember the incredibly colorful sets and lighting which instantly evokes the performances to memory. The performers themselves in Nine do not impress us for most part. Fergie, Dench and Cottilard know how to 'sell a performance'; Fergie as most would know is an established singer-performer while Dench has a grande damme showstopper charm. Cruz is predictably sexy (with delectable bosoms) while sex-goddess Loren is motherly. And what about the man of the house: Mr. Daniel Day Lewis?

Oh, what a disappointment. Bringing a characteristic method approach to become Guido Contini, Lewis fails to get the 'performance element' that protagonists of a musical require that too in plenty. And I remember actress Meryl Streep telling in her interview with James Lipton that 'she added the element of performance in her acting after being mesmerized by one of Lisa Minelli's performances'; watch 'Mamma Mia' and you'll get what she means. Actors in a musical should have the ability of selling themselves through their characters. Gene Kelly does it best. Lewis however buries himself deep within his character and makes his whole act damn gloomy. And he ain't that good a singer either. Neither is he as addictive and infectious as Streep, who radiates even in her worst films. In fact, Lewis on a bad day digs the grave for his character and the whole film. That's a tragedy.

Sixteen
(2013)

A simple story with a share of heavy-duty moments handed to actors who seem less capable of handling the same. The plot makes for an interesting though not compelling watch.
Sixteen is a simple story with a share of heavy-duty moments that are handed to actors who seem less capable of handling the same. The scene mentioned above isn't the only time Highphill Mathew slips, in fact in another scene coming towards the end of the film, he again isn't able to do much justice to his character. It's a scene which has the actor break down out of compunction for his past misdeeds, and all poor Highphill is able to do is whimper weakly because he's no Laurence Olivier.After hammering his boorish (although caring) dad dead with the same trophy used by his dad as a weapon to verbally denigrate him for declining results, Ashwin flees his home on foot. A few shots show him running hopelessly along the streets of Delhi, and the camera moves in and out during this scene. It's just how this scene should be shot, except that actor Highphill Mathew does not know what he should emote in this short span of seconds. All he does is run- he could be a runner for a city- based marathon, or a guy who's escaping a bunch of thugs or simply a jogger who wants to remain fit. But he's none of that, and that's where Mathew falters; he needs to convey a range of conflicting emotions while he is running, for the simple reason that he's just killed his own dad, whom he loved for his caring nature and loathed for his violent temperament. Alas, all his sweat and his father's blood go wasted.

And this is where the low production value of Sixteen acts against the film because it supplies a theatrical look to the indoor scenes. And the 'stage' needs actors who can bring the fullest of emotions to set the screen on fire, because there is no great locale or elaborate décor to draw attention away from the acting. Its sweet when things work, but when things don't, our actors look like stationery lazy stools and chairs supplied with lazier voice-over. And director Raj Purohit has his own amateur moments; note that he's responsible for most of the creative decisions, also writing, editing and penning lyrics apart from directing Sixteen.

a) Most of the film is captured in mid-shots (head to torso) of two characters occupying the screen. And mostly it's the camera cutting back and forth from one person to the other.

b) There is a soundtrack with about six-seven songs that is completely unnecessary (who is going to buy the album anyway?). Unmemorable numbers with forgettable lyrics penned by Purohit extend the film to over two hours; a taut ninety minutes would've been enough for Sixteen.

c) Characters in this film are neither entirely good nor totally evil. The shades of grey make them interesting. However, Purohit unnecessarily misleads audiences by painting a crucial character as a villain, a sexual predator, a potential pedophile in one scene by adding ominous background music for him, when the guy is just like any other human, with shades of good and stains of bad.

d) We get a cheap little editing technique in one scene. One girl is shown asking many questions to her friend, and the camera cuts repeatedly after each question. After we hear the questions, we then get to know how the other girl has answered the questions. So the camera shows her next saying 'Hmm…' a couple of times. This kind of editing suits a short film, but it looks clumsy in a feature film like this and also confuses the viewer about the tone of the movie. Is the scene funny because the girl isn't paying any attention, or should we sympathize with the girl, whose boyfriend has just dumped her? The latter requires the character to stay stationery so that we can know that she's sad and that her friend is concerned about her. Instead, this is turned into one sloppy gag.

e) Purohit wants a feel-good ending for the film. But he's the guy who wants his audience to smile so he can see their sixteen teeth on the upper jaw and sixteen on the lower. So there's a prolonged happy ending that assures, then reassures, then emphasizes, then marks with a big arrow that the ending is indeed a happy one. I would've smiled showing all my thirty-two brown teeth (thirty-one real and one fake) had the film ended with the other happy ending I saw ten minutes before.

Now that I've scolded 'Sixteen' like a fussy parent for its little mistakes, I can calm down and encourage the movie like a forgiving parent for all its goodness. The plot makes for an interesting (although not compelling) watch and I'm happy this film is uninhibited in its portrayal of young Delhi. The most memorable storyline would be the 'Lolita' inspired love triangle between 16 year old Tanisha, her aunt and a dapper 32 year old writer who lives in their house as a tenant. The story of the two other girls Anu and Mehek also have interesting turns, especially the point where the promiscuous Anu realizes that her parents live an open marriage (my cousin, who saw the film with me, cried 'What!', never having heard the term 'open marriage'). Ashwin's story starts strong but dwindles after his escape, and both I and my cousin totally forgot his character until he came back after a long absence.

I asked my cousin, a regular visitor to Delhi, what she thought about the depiction of these teenagers. And then she began with stories of how absolutely crazy, stupid, looks-and-fame obsessed Delhiites were, just like Anu, Ashwin, Tanisha and Mehek. All at the age of sixteen.

More on http://sashankkini.wordpress.com/

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
(2013)

Each subplot has been stretched 400m when it could've ended in a 100m dash. That doesn't stop Bhaag Milkha Bhaag from being a thoroughly entertaining biopic, Bollywood style.
It has been a while since Bollywood has brought out a three hour epic, and therefore I was apprehensive about the audience response towards Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, which runs close to 189 minutes. Predictably, a couple of youngsters began texting on their cell-phones ten minutes after the movie began. This activity however stopped after a while, and the theater hall became unusually silent and more responsive towards the film than the PJs (poor jokes) messaged by their buddies on WhatsApp. The girl besides me too paid attention (reacting stupidly with a 'Eww!' every time Farhan bled or spat) as the movie paced towards its finisher. Just at the end, this same girl who spent the last two and three-fourth hours cackling at the most inappropriate moments (carrying all the symptoms of a 'Dumb Blonde', except she was brunette) said what can be the best way to summarize this film: Every subplot has been stretched too long. I too had the same thought running in my head, but to hear these words from her mouth made it easier for me to understand why this movie doesn't work the way it should.

Director Rakyesh Om Prakash Mehra has indeed stretched each subplot to a four hundred metre stretch when he could've ended it all in a hundred metre dash; this wasn't unexpected really, as his first and probably the best effort to date Rang De Basanti itself lumbered as it came to a tragic close. This is a thoroughly entertaining biopic Bollywood style, which looks back at itself, frets that it hasn't done enough to honor Milkha's glory (and enough to become commercial), and so adds more and more till it exacerbates its weaknesses and exhausts us patience. It's like watching a Life Time achievement honoree who just doesn't know when to end his speech; you either need a Professor Umbridge to 'Hem Hem' him or a Meira Kumar to cry 'Baith Jaiye!'.

Anyone who has seen Orson Welles' Citizen Kane will remember how Kane's life was seen through the eyes of different narrators, each giving an insight of his or her experience with the publishing tycoon. No one says anything he or she cannot know, and that's what makes their stories fascinating and believable. Now what would be the chances of Milkha Singh telling his coach Gurudev that he had slept with the Australian girl on their Melbourne tour? Or that he had snubbed the reigning Indian female swimmer's advances? Writer Prasoon Joshi thinks nobody would notice this implausibility but it ain't that hard to figure out; the story's framing device could've had two narrators – Gurudev, who would narrate about Milkha's training, and Milkha himself, who would take us to more personal memories using flashbacks. We shouldn't be blamed for going 'Huh?! But how does he know that?' often during the film.

There is a 'havan' song in the film which has stirred Hindu organizations, who demand that the part be removed. Yes, the song should be removed but not for the reason they're giving; the real reason is that it's an unnecessary number beginning abruptly and making little impact on the film's continuity. The romance between Milkha and Biro (played by Sonam Kapoor, who seems out of place in every film she has starred in, especially here where she sounds like a 'Mehemsaab' in a little village) is given too much screen time; far more interesting is the romance between Milkha and Australian Stella, which is dominated by music when words could've made their moments sweeter.

Scenes which could've been inspiring are made insipid with unrequired gags, and many points could've been subtler and more incisive. A cutting remark by a Pakistani coach, for example, didn't require to be highlighted with such emphasis (close up shot of Milkha's face losing color followed by another close up of the haughty Pakistani coach) and could've been replaced with subtle digs usually heard among rivals. The felicitation at the end takes too long to end, and I personally felt the film could've ended right after Milkha's personal journey reached its resolution.

Yet, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is an enormously entertaining and sometimes engrossing biopic (Mehra's especially strong when it comes to transitions; the occasional shifts to Milkha's childhood is especially worth a watch); its lead Farhan Akhtar is a strong presence who is consistently watchable, faltering only towards the end when the emotions he needs to bring are too overwhelming for him. It's funny how whenever I heard 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag!' I could also hear 'Run Forrest Run!' in my mind. That's a line from the Tom Hanks film 'Forrest Gump, an emotionally richer (much richer) movie. Try watching that film after Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and you'll see the difference.

Full review on http://sashankkini.wordpress.com/

L'amore in città
(1953)

The sum effect of the Love in The City's six segments is zilch, and that's what makes the film a devoid-of-director's-passion fruitless watch.
Love is the City is an anthology film of six segments badly assembled. There is a theme of love that underlies each segment in different and unique ways, but there is no pattern or connection that makes this 'love' representative of love in Italy. Without a unifying structure, we feel like poor Daffy Duck from Duck Amuck, constantly subjected to the film's inexplicably changing tones. We give up ultimately, disappointed and spurned.

This movie could've left its happier, lighter moments for the first half, and the bleak, poignant moments for the second. Or vice versa. Its abandonment of an overall rhythm makes it damningly ineffectual. One of the film's directors (and these are major Italian directors whose best films have been regarded among the finest in world cinema) apprises us seconds before first the segment begins, that 'we should not be expecting the genric Hollywood style of representation. This movie shall not rouse our passion like a Marilyn Monroe flick'. I'd rather have switched my DVD to Monroe's Seven Year Itch and be bewitched with her beauty than watch this. Love in a city is sadly a passionless film, cold and colorless as a whole; it's a modified version of the proverb 'Too many cooks spoil the broth' – here, the six cooks or rather Masterchefs together create no broth!

Instead, each one throws in his flavors, ignoring what the others are making. After the dishes are made, there is a chaos in the kitchen because everybody has created something highly dissimilar from the others: now how shall they serve this to the hungry guests? One of the six 'Masterchefs', probably Carlo Lizzani, nervously shows up and tells the guests just how 'different' this experience shall be, because the ingredients include non-actors who give first-hand account of their experience. He fingerpoints rival Hollywood offerings, blaming them for being simple, straight and unmemorable. The guests looks on wide-eyed, anticipating something challenging and unique.

Dish number one enters. It's called 'Paid Love', and Carlo Lizzani has prepared it. The name itself suggests that its got something to do with prostitutes. There's a narrator here who takes his camera to desolate streets at night to film streetwalkers. Many prostitutes play themselves as if they are being interviewed extempore. Vallie is questioned about shoes, Tilde says she takes ten cups of coffee everyday, another talks about being abandoned at a young age. Anna, a harlot with a manly appearance, if filmed at home where we learn 'she'll read Mickey Mouse before she goes to bed'. All the subjects occupy the centre of the frame. The bleakness of their existence is captured well. Would've been ironic had the interviewer himself used the services of the prostitute at the end, but that's not what this film intends to show. It remains like a documentary for the fifteen or so minutes it stays on screen.

The next dish is brought out. There is a flurry of excitement among the guests when the name Michelangelo Antonioni is heard. Slowly they see a couple of faces usher in and stand in front of a huge wall. Another narrator introduces them as 'people who had attempted suicide and were here to share their experience'. Raw stories of unfulfilled love, of deceit are shared by the people, one after the other as they relive their haunting experience. Many unsettling images come up, like when one woman speaks of the moment when she had fainted after plunging into the river, and as she speaks the image of the flowing water is captured as though it's her that's floating. It's an eerie piece all in all.

Dish three is a peppy one by Dinio Risi with waltzing, dancing, swinging, flirting and wall-flowering guys and gals. That's more than an adequate description for the piece. Dish four soon makes guests quiver with mad excitement as the name 'Fellini' is pronounced. This part includes a third-person view of the narrator, a journalist who investigates marriage agencies to learn what people are willing to do to get married. Led by sprightly little boys and girls to Mrs. Cibele's office, our journalist, after a small talk with her husband, tells Mrs.Cibele about a 'friend who suffers from a werewolf syndrome and can only be cured if he gets married'. To the journalist's surprise (there's no such friend, obviously), Mrs. Cibele agrees to find a girl for his friend and gets him one without any difficulty. Later it's found that the girl is highly impoverished and is desperate to marry anyone who can take good care of her.

Dish five, the most elaborate one (not in terms of content but rather in terms of duration) deals with an impoverished hapless mother's love for her child which reunites the two ultimately, inspite of her attempts to abandon him. A haunting score is heard often, as if angels from the heaven above are lamenting this woman's misery and pathos. But there's little for us to care for this woman or this child to even bother sympathising with them. Dish six is sexyy, perky and quirky, capturing pretty, glowy busty women from far and up-close, and the never-ceasing dirty male gaze.

Each dish has moments but it is when the six (or seven) 'Masterchefs' or directors – Lizzani, Antonioni, Risi, Fellini, duo Zavattini and Masseni and Lattuada – announce 'That's a wrap! Thank you for coming to the show', that the guests (we, obviously) begin wondering "What exactly have you given us?" The sum effect of the six segments is zilch, and that's what makes Love in The City a devoid-of-director's-passion fruitless watch.

The Heat
(2013)

Although worth watching once for Bullock and McCarthy, The Heat is a lukewarm buddy cop movie that works better when the cops actually solve the crime.
... In the latter half of The Heat, when an overpowered baddie asks Sarah and Shannon who they are, Sarah proclaims "We are 'The Heat'". The team name is never mentioned again. The title seems apt when you glance at the rocket launcher actress Melissa MCarthy is holding in the film's poster (yeah, and both she and Sandra Bullock have a 'Bring It On!' look), plus you know there's a lot of heat between Sarah and Mullins at first, but to me it seems ridiculous Sarah would christen her team with a name like 'The Heat' when I think I heard the word being used only one in the film in any context. And don't wait for a scene where Melissa's character Mullins blows up helicopters or something using her rocket launcher because the weapon is never used. What is used is a hand grenade, that too one that's bought by Mullins on EBay, but it does work for the ladies at a crucial moment in this film. 

What surprised me was the lack of weaponry used here, even though there's a scene where Mullins shows Sarah an array of gun, grenades and launchers cloistered in the refrigerator in her messy apartment. Yet, the violence in The Heat remains pretty high, and the worst part doesn't come from a Magnum or a shotgun but a little straw. A distasteful moment that's funny but will make you go sour is when Sarah applies her unique technique of treating a guy who's choking on food stuck in his windpipe; she calmly makes an incision in his neck, then injects a solution and finally inserts a straw into the opening. But the poor guy keeps choking and bleeding profusely, and Sarah finally panics and screams for ambulance. Mullins simply thumps him once on his chest and he coughs out the food; the guy is later hospitalised for severe bleeding. Try watching this particular scene while sipping your Coke with a straw! 

Paul Feig's latest offering remains lukewarm until the two lead characters willingly work as a team post interval, and the film pays attention to the neglected case that was waiting for its turn to catch fire. Watching these two ladies bring in their own personalities to handle situations works better than watching them squabble with one another. Watching two ladies with opposite personalities bicker, bitch slap and cat-fight each other is fun for a while, but Sandra and McCarthy are evidently not that great at improvising. They often rely on awkward silences to evoke laughter; this is when a gag leads to an awkward silence where characters stare at one another or at the camera. A sigh is then heard - that's us. 

Many of the jokes aren't inventive either. Plus, some go on for too long. Take the scene where Mullins refuses to let Sarah intervene in her case and takes the male police chief to task for being helpless. In a rampage Mike Tyson mode, she fires verbal shots by humiliating the chief in front of the entire police force - she asks loudly whether anyone has found his balls around somewhere and proceeds to give an unflattering description of the same. I did laugh, for a while I did, but McCarthy seemed to go on too long, and the camera doesn't cut quickly enough to reaction shots of the humiliated chief and others.   

Yet, you never get fatigued watching Bullock and McCarthy on screen and that alone makes The Heat worth watching once. This film serves the role of both a prequel and a sequel; the first half, with Mullins and Sarah adjusting to each other is like a prequel and the second, where the two ladies whoop butt, a sequel. The only thing this movie needs now is one more sequel, with maybe a guy joining the two ladies, and nothing more.   

To read the full review, go to http://sashankkini.wordpress.com/

Raanjhanaa
(2013)

Makes you want to thump your forehead with a sledgehammer. It's less painful to gouge out your eyes than to watch Dhanush and Sonam attempting to romance in Raanjhanaa.
Sonam Kapoor is box-office poison, and it's entirely her own bloody fault for poisoning her films with her forgettable performances. In Raanjhanaa, she plays Zoya, a rebellious Muslim girl who participates in anti-government rallies and satyagrahas along with her boyfriend Akram, a student leader. Both study at Jawaharlal Nehru University, a prestigious college in Delhi which may get a bad name now because the film suggests that all the agitations and fierce political and philosophical debates held by it's students fall useless to a common man's smooth-talk and makhan-maroing (buttering).

I digress here but I cannot help it; my mind is boiling with such an intense agitation, I can't stop complaining (read: spewing venom) about each and every frame of this 'ch*du' film. Raanjhanaa has little to do with politics, and its basically about a loafer named Kundan being besotted by Zoya since childhood but losing her after her parents find out she's in love with a Hindu. The political angle is basically to add some complexity to their love story, and Sonam's part involves falling in love with Kundan, losing him, falling for the JNU guy and later losing him forever after his death, and then the gradual reconciliation with Kundan  but with a twist. 

Sonam seems like an actress who must've slept through all her acting classes and needn't have to sleep with anyone to enter the industry, being the daughter of actor Anil Kapoor. She does not know how to pause, how to intonate and how to feel her lines; she has a few stock expressions (adding a few with each film. In a previous debacle called 'I Hate Luv Stories', I remember she just had two) to fall back upon and enough of glycerin to help her cry. But she has next to nil screen talent.

Complementing her in ineptitude is Dhanush, a National Award winning Tamil superstar who may have some screen talent (didn't see much here through) but has zero screen presence as lovestruck Kundan. Even an apparition would've had more screen presence than what Dhanush had in this film.

 Let me prove this. He has a stick figure for a body but so does Nawazzudin Siddique, so this point isn't valid. He moves as though there are strings attached to his hands and feet, especially when he dances. When he acts it seems as though he's thinking how he shall speak the next sentence in Hindi convincingly. It end up looking like he is practicing how to act on screen than actually acting. His diction is poor, and his narration is very flat because he is afraid he might screw up if he takes any intonations. He has zero charisma and little confidence here; it's better he literally glue himself to the South and never ever look North towards Bollywood - the pole star doesn't shine on him.

His character Kundan has a dreadfully ill-defined characterization; he spends the first forty (agonizing) minutes of Raanjhanaa hitting on Sonam's Kappor' character Zoya, first as a teenager, then an as adult. He saves her from getting married to a suitor chosen by her parents, and later convinces her father to allow her to marry the man she loves, all while loving her unconditionally himself. 

After her boyfriend is discovered to be a Hindu and is beaten up by the Muslim community (throw in caste issue just to make the film more controversial), Kundan accompanies Zoya to her boyfriend, who has been shifted to Delhi.

On reaching his home, Kundan releases that he is dead; the man is so shattered he runs out crying and vomits (buttermilk most probably, judging from the color) in the garden as though HE was the guy's lover. Later he becomes a chai-walla at JNU and joins Zoya and her fellow student protesters in rallies.

 It doesn't take much time before he replaces Sonam as the leader in their youth party, and then Raanjhanaa's director Aanand Rai decides a further twist of betrayal is required, along with an obligatory 'American Beauty'-like monologue at the end, where Kundan narrates the fate of each of the film's major characters. Of course, as nothing in the film can be taken seriously, the monologue sounds just as cheap as everything else.

'Ch-tiya' (stupid) is used a couple of times in the film and some people in the audience snickered like ten-year olds only because Dhanush was mouthing them. They really should've sat next to me because the words that flowed from my mouth while watching Raanjhanaa were way worse than ch-tiya. 

This is a movie that seriously lacks in all aspects of good film-making; along with weak and inept performances, it has horrid writing, weak cinematography and wasted music. The movie doesn't give the feeling of Benaras, where much of the film is set and many of the scenes have an artificial look look like they were shot on ready-made sets. The writing keeps adding new elements recklessly, like it mixes politics into the film in the second half just to tick the f**k out us. Nobody in the cast or crew knows how to 'capture a moment' and that is what good film-making is about. And its funny how composer AR Rehman's name roars out firsts in the closing credits, because the music is forgettable and functions only to fill the runtime, which should've been filled with good writing instead. 

Raanjhanaa is a kind of film that makes you want to thump your forehead... with a sledgehammer. It's less painful to gouge out your eyes than to watch Dhanush and Sonam's attempting to romance in this movie. It's Benaras is 'bina ras' (without essence), there's only 'vish' (poison) here. But it was kind of expected when the film's lead is the one and only Ms. Box office poison herself.

Monsters University
(2013)

Until interval, your eyes don't open with the usual sense of wonderment while watching Pixar movies. Post intermission, they do, oh yes they do!
A timid clownfish who travels hundreds of miles in search of his son and an amnesiac regal blue tang who guides him along. A rat who can cook teams up with a prestigious chef's illegitimate son who can't. A trash compactor robot on Earth who falls in love with an advanced robot visiting from outer space to inspect for signs of life. A grumpy old retired widower who flies along with his entire house to Paradise Falls and a tubby little sprightly boy scout who is accidentally carried along. These are some of the unique pairings that have wonderfully driven Pixar Animated Studios to Oscar glory. Now consider this : a green little monster who knows each and every way to scare but can't actually scare anybody, and his mighty college companion who can frighten one to death but is a one-trick pony. Does this Pixar pairing seem unique enough to hold up to its predecessors? No really...

That's problem number one Pixar's latest venture MU has to overcome. Problem number two: the movie is a prequel. Pixar is hardly known to make prequels or sequels; its only super successful franchise is the Toy Story Series, which began in 1995 and has continued with two hugely acclaimed sequels, the third part being nominated for the prestigious Best Picture at the Oscars. The other known franchise is Cars, whose sequel Cars 2 cold barely score among critics (I adored both the films though). 

This seems to be the decade of sequels of Pixar; on one hand, MU comes ten years after the brilliant Monsters Inc, while on the other, Pixar classic Finding Nemo continues its legacy with Finding Dory, to be released in two years. Sequels or prequels is equal to familiarity, and we always expect Pixar to give us something new and original. Nobody bothers when rival studio Dreamworks clings to its green ogre Shrek to ask money, but we have come to expect much greater things from Pixar, so the thought of watching its memorable characters do another act disconcerts us because we've seen the best already. 

Problem number three: this movie is set in a college. You'd ask what's wrong about that? American Pie was set in college and it worked. But keep in mind why American Pie worked: it was an R rated comedy about the three-letter-word with a lot of four-letter- words used in their three-letter-word context. MU is G rated, and it's comedy involves watching the lunch lady serve garbage to students while freshers are given a totally positive picture during an orientation of MU conducted by a hyper-cheery girl. There are jock monsters, geek monsters, blonde monsters, prep monsters and other monsters of different shapes, sizes and colours in this university led by a staunch female dragon Dean. Oh so familiar you'd think if these were actors instead of monsters, this film would have been instantly forgotten. 

Some of the names are cringe-worthy too - the movie's protagonist Mike goes to 'Frighton' Elementary School as a child. Its a take on the word 'fright', get it?Uhm... not so bright. Also, you'd be surprised during this film to find sequences that remind you of other films. There's an 'initiation ceremony' that'll take you straight to the Ring of Fire sequence from Finding Nemo. The first part itself with the monster introductions feels similar to another animated film Hotel Transylvania, which albeit spent too much time showing one monster after the other. Five problems or rather challenges already, and does Pixar manage to overcome all of these? Yes, to a large extent it does.

I'd probably use the word 'redeem' than overcome here; MU redeems itself by getting back its Pixar magic post interval. Until then, your eyes don't open with the usual sense of wonderment while watching Pixar movies. You want to be googly eyed like the protagonist Mike when he steps into MU for the first time, but you are unfortunately squinting instead. When you see his initial rivalry with Sullivan, you feel like you've seen all this before. Even when actress Helen Mirren unleashes her Miranda Priestley cum Sister Aloysius as Dean Hardscrabble, you still wait longing for signs of Pixar again, feeling as though you're watching a Dreamworks film that's been mistakenly marketed as Pixar's. 

By the interval, I'd coined the term 'Pixar's blot' for this film, because I found nothing to positively surprise me in this work. This term would not be used for this film at all, however, as the second half surprised me - in a big way.

The film wakes up and becomes altogether special once Pixar's magic slowly fills in like the scare-meter used by students of MU to record scare-levels of children. Once Mike makes a wager with Dean Hardscrabble to retain him into the 'Scare Program' (he is suspended from the same for creating a chaos during their exam) if he stands the winner of a college event called 'Scare Games', he teams up with four other not-scary-in-the-slightest fraternity guys and his rival Sullivan, who's also suspended and joins their team Oozma Kappa only to get back into the program; when the team begs to understand each other's strengths and capabilities, you begin to see Pixar's flashing light that you were waiting for so long. There's an unexpected surprise I won't disclose here, and eventually the film's broader themes seem to have the depth of Pixar's earlier efforts. The only problem in the end is the first half itself, which although seems necessary after watching the whole film, has no moment of Pixar spark. That jumpy little lamp you see every time he logo appears (he's Luxor Jr., from an earlier short film) was probably on low voltage until the interval. Thank goodness everything turned out right afterwards and it burned bright. But I constantly was worrying the little bulb would blow out, and I don't want to get that that feeling again, not from Pixar.

The Blue Umbrella
(2013)

A typically touching Pixar short, The Blue Umbrella is not Pixar at its best yet it's heartfelt story shall move you
Grade: BB / 60%

My screening for Monsters University began with Pixar short called 'The Blue Umbrella'. Not surprising as Pixar is known for screening a short film before its main features, but Indian theaters never played one perhaps, until today.

A typically touching Pixar short on a blue colored umbrella (with little eyes) enamored with a red colored umbrella-ina (also with little eyes) one rainy night, The Blue Umbrella is a familiar tale yet Pixar livens up this film with its little magical moments. Its not just about to umbrellas here, but about two people - the owners of these umbrellas - who meet for the first time, after the blue umbrella chases after it's or rather his lady love, using the wind to move.

And the entire street -the drain pipes, the traffic signal, the street lights, the building windows -  witnesses this incident with their little eyes. When a car threatens to mangle the blue umbrella that's helplessly lying in the middle of the road, the drain it's lying on blows out steam so it can avert the accident.

It's not Pixar at its best; for that you'll need to catch 'Geri's Game', 'Knicks Knack', 'Lifted', 'For The Birds' and ''Presto'. But you'd surely shed a tear or two at the very end because you'd find 'The Blue Umbrella' simple yet very heartfelt.

Man of Steel
(2013)

Superman is a welcome addition to the list of recently rebooted superheroes. It's worth catching this flight once.
Superman is a welcome addition to the list of recently rebooted superheroes that includes Spiderman (where Andrew Garfield replaced Tobey Maguire to don the new Spidey suit in The Amazing Spiderman). Henry Cavill is the young man in blue suit and red cape (without the red trunks, thankfully) who's our Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El this time, and the actor has everything that makes him the perfect choice for Superman -  a square-jaw, an extremely ripped body  and a dashing appearance. 

The character he plays is the strongest of all superheroes, but he is a superhero with a big heart  and Henry Cavill has the face of a charming guy, a loving son, a doting lover and a responsible citizen, everything which makes us instantly empathise with him. 

The character he plays is the strongest of all superheroes, but he is a superhero with a big heart  and Henry Cavill has the face of a charming guy, a loving son, a doting lover and a responsible citizen, everything which makes us instantly empathise with him. 

It takes Zack Snyder an entire film to establish Cavill as the harmless, bespectacled office employee Clark Kent, yet we already get to see our Superman saving the whole world from total destruction in Snyder's Man of Steel. My concern here is that when Snyder keeps the stakes so high in the first film itself, how will this franchise (everybody knows there are two more films to come in the near future, and then a similar reboot) move to a whole new level in the sequels? 

That is what troubles when I see the recent 'saving the whole wide world' trend in superhero movies. There was a time when common people ( i.e. Everyone excluding the Superhero and his nemesis) had some powers of their own but now it seems everyone has little job except to be attacked until their Superhero finally rescues them. Man of Steel had me wondering that when human beings on earth could use their technology and knowledge to create televisions, skyscrapers etc, why do they fall completely helpless a race from Krypton, whose world looks quite barren compared to Earth, invades them? 

Apart from this, I've observed that CGI has upscaled the level of calamity to a 11 out of 10 and nobody really bothers about property destruction worth billions of dollars in Superhero movies; in Man of Steel, it seems as though the CGI team invaded the sets of the film as the second half was being shot, drove out Snyder from his chair and took over until the very end. Half the city is blown to pieces with skyscrapers tumbling like a house of cards, and still everything turns fine just like before the moment good wins over evil. Wouldn't it take months or maybe years for redevelopment of a city, but no one pays attention to that!

In spite of these grumblings, I found myself liking Man of Steel more than the other Superhero blockbusters released this year like The Ironman 3. While director Snyder falters during the action sequences (he similarly botched up the nearly unbearable Sucker Punch), he is able to film the flashback sequences well, which form the core emotional content in the film.

While the first half of Man of Steel is entirely taken up in building the plot, going back and forth in time to give much insight on Clark's childhood and boyhood, the second half is taken over by a non-stop chain of action sequences. Something's going on everywhere and you feel quite disoriented because the first half did a commendable job of holding you in.

There is little to write about the second half except 'Noise! Blasts! Destruction! Noise! Noise!!' and the sequences are not as smart as those in Tobey Maguire's Spiderman;   Spiderman could use his web to ingeniously trap his enemies, while all Superman can do is 'Pow! Pow! X-Ray Vision!'. And while I do commend Lois' tenacity, I thought her character seemed a little too over-zealous; take the scene where Zod asks the army to hand over Lois and she says 'I'll go' like she's going shopping. I would've wet my pants had I been in such a position.

Still, still, still I do believe this movie works. It's sequels should scale down the scope and scale action and restrict to the destruction of New York or whichever place they're shooting in, instead of 'World destruction'. Maybe Superman should think twice before destroying property, and the sequels could have more sequences that show him saving a specific group of people (like Spiderman saving passengers on a runaway train in the brilliant Spiderman 2). This film has its moments, like the part where Superman finds out his true identity and soars across land and seas in his newly obtained suit. The first half soars in the same way; the second half spirals unsteadily but lands safely in the end. It's worth catching this flight once.

Read the whole review on http://sashankkini.wordpress.com/.

Fukrey
(2013)

Fukrey is an overwrought, overindulgent effort that's got little of the subtlety it requires. This Fukrey is 'phuski' for me.
When characters in a movie are quirky just for the sake of being quirky, we begin wondering why they are acting weirdly. Fukrey has a minor character who steals cylinders and petrol tank of vehicles, maybe because he is addicted to the smell of petrol or he is an arsonist; we'll never know the reason why he does so, nor shall we ever know why he's dressed like a beggar when he reveals to everybody's surprise that he is very rich and owns a couple of rental establishments.

His oddity has no justification, and that annoys us; the problem here is that Fukrey is set in a 'real' world inside the film and that's different from say Quentin Tarantino's movies, which feel as though they're set in another world, Tarantino's world. That stamp is missing in Fukrey, and if this is a true representation of Delhi, then I'd seriously think twice before booking a ticket because Fukrey is 'Pakau'.

It is Pakau to an extent that I found myself wondering "Where the heck are these guys going?" about three or four times during the film. I sighed loudly a couple of times. I threw my hands in the air out of despair once. In the second half, when one character was rambling endlessly, my mind screamed "Stop!" in exasperation. 

The problem with Fukrey is that dialog writer (and director) Mrigdeep Singh Lamba makes it very obvious that it's his debut effort; the film is overindulgent, and it does not have a clue when it should stop and that's why all the subtlety is lost.

It seems as though Lamba was thinking this while shooting the film: 'Just look at all these Bollywood directors, making films that barely have stuff. I'll make a film that has lots of stuff: a crackling narrative with loads of dialogs, totally eccentric characters and the daring-and-dhamaal Delhi attitude. Those Choo-Chi-Yaas Ki Maa Ki Chooch!'. And so his film includes characters with nicknames like 'Choocha' (and its variations used as euphemisms for Hindi gaalis/swearwords) and 'Bholi Punjaban', and attitude-wale dialogs like 'Agar Paise Nahin Mile to Tere Pichwade  Ko Khol Ke Nikaaloongi (If I don't get my money back, I'll rip your a** apart to get it!).

Everyone tries so hard to entertain us, to be different  that the final product ends up feeling stodgy and overcooked; the film's pace derails so often I felt like the movie was an hour too long. The word 'derail' reminds me of the couple of shots of a passing train I saw during the film; I kept thinking that the train would be used for a scene at some point because its seen quite often, but it never is. Fukrey takes up too many things, and hardly does justice to an of them.

I come to the plot first. Four guys - Lali, a Sardar ka puttar working at his daddy's dhaba, Dilip aka Hunny and Vikas aka Choocha, two slackers who want to enter college only cos the chicks are hot, and Zafar, a guitarist who dreams of recording an album but falters every time opportunity knocks his door - agree to do a 'jugaad' (gamble) by striking a deal with a local female don Bholi Punjaban (she has 'Sin-drella' tattooed on her back. 'She's the baddest b*tch!'... At least the film wants us to think so). 

The deal involves something to do with lottery that I don't remember clearly because of so many ridiculous dialogs hammered at me, but I remember it having to do with Choocha's symbolic dreams which Hunny believes can help predict the winning lottery number. When the four fukreys (the word used by Bholi for addressing the four) fail to pay back her money, she makes their lives difficult. She asks them to sell drugs at a rave party, then informs maliciously the police to raid the party and frame the four. She threatens to seize Lali's father's dhaba with the property papers pawned by Lali. She has tough African henchmen waiting to break their bones in case they falter. 

The movie also has to do with Choocha and Hunny leaking exam papers but I don't know what ultimately happened to that. Many other insignificant things take place during the film but I don't recall them. At points, Fukrey seems like a couple of sketches featuring recurring characters glues together to give a feel of continuity. You often forget where the film was heading in the previous scenes, and you also fail to understand the characters' intentions at times. 

Fukrey is unnecessarily dense, and should be condensed quite a bit to make sense as a film. I see effort, but little wit. This film would work better when it follows 'Less is more'. Fukrey is a bit 'phuski' for me.

The Hangover Part III
(2013)

A pointless film with an astoundingly shallow plot, whose sole purpose is to be as nasty as possible in an attempt to humour us. The result - we rarely rejoice this Hangover.
Hangover III is a kinda pointless film with an astoundingly shallow plot, whose sole purpose is to be as nasty and crass as possible in an attempt to humour us. The result - we rarely rejoice this Hangover. 

Unlike everybody else present in the theatre hall, I haven't seen the previous instalments in the Hangover series. And yet I felt throughout as though I was watching not a film but a season of Hangover; littlest thought has been given to the plot, and the characters have simply been thrown into a couple of pretty straightforward situations and given some silly sketches to perform. And it doesn't help that our three leads sleepwalk their parts, totally unenthused by the material. Even as a non-fan, I can clearly sense that Hangover has jumped the shark.

What writers Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin do here is expand a few loose threads from the previous films or rather 'episodes'. It begins with our jailed Korean lunatic Leslie Chow escaping Klong Klem prison after creating a prison riot to distract authorities. On the other side, rich bum Alan seems to live his life leisurely, buying a giraffe and accidentally killing it and indulging in similar misdemeanours. That's when Alan's family and his buddies, including fellow 'Wolfpack' members Phil, Stu and Doug, decide that he needs an intervention. 

And so our four heroes embark on another journey, expecting nothing to bother them this time. But soon their journey turns to another wild ride when a couple of guys in pig-faced masks ram their vehicle and kidnap them in broad daylight. They are taken to an isolated spot, where we learn that their kidnappers are Marshall's men, which includes Doug; Doug had a minor role in the first film and Marshall's name was only mentioned by him once in that film. 

Marshall informs Phil, Stu and Doug that their friend Alan has been in constant touch with Leslie Chow via the internet; the two crazy net-pals loved sharing the inane and insane misdemeanours they committed, it seems. Marshall wants to hunt Chow down and get the gold-bricks (worth millions) that Chow stole from Marshall's men (they in turn had stolen it from the bank) years ago. Now that he has found the only link to Chow, he gives Phil, Stu and Alan the task of finding the madman and bringing him to Marshall. If they fail, Doug, who shall remain with Marshall's men, will be killed. 

It doesn't take much time to find Chow as the guy tells Alan via internet to meet him in Mexico. Chow is really a disgusting piece of sh*t who shall, for Christians at least, die a horrible death in hell! The insane guy who speaks very much like Hannibal Lecter, brags how he spends his time in Mexico (you know the way most people do) cockfighting, giving men blowj*bs etc (certainly going to hell!... According to Orthodox Christians, at least). The four make a plan to retrieve the stolen gold from 'Chow's mansion' in Mexico, and they succeed, except that it's not Chow's mansion but Marshall's and the 'stolen' gold was Marshall's half that wasn't stolen by Chow before (but it is now, obviously).

Now it would hardly make sense for Marshall to rely on Phil, Alan and Stu but the makers of Hangover need an excuse to harass our trio further. So Marshall orders them to find Chow, get gold or Doug's dead. The makers also need to come up with an 'intervention' for rich bum Alan, so there's a 'what-can-at-least-in-this-case-be-deemed- as-touching' moment between him and Jade's son Tyler (Jade is recurrent character from Hangover 1) plus his romantic connection with Cassie, a pawnbroker who rejoices in treating her mom like sh*t. All roads finally leads the three to Vegas, where it all ends indeed.

There are a lot many times you'd hear the f-word in Hangover III, usually in flat and unimaginative dialogues like 'F*ck!' 'What the f*ck's going on?' 'Motherf*cker'. We chuckle a couple of times, then start wondering whether it's really funny. Do the filmmakers want us to guffaw like an idiotic teenager whenever the 'f-word' is spoken? Is being nasty all the time real comedy? 

Even the situations in which the characters are thrown are given very less thought. Consider the scene where Chow and Stu enter the mansion to disable security cameras and buzzers before the rest can proceed. Except for Chow acting like a mad dog (literally), crawling on his fours, sniffing Stu's butt and later saying he's color-blind while instructing Stu which color wire to disable, nothing else is done to make the situation more interesting. Hangover III has one-dimensional situations, and that's just sad.

The trio of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis are barely risible and act like they've been given a chore. On one hand, a cardboard would've looked more excited than the disinterested Bradley Cooper and on the other hand, Ed Helms does bad comedy. With more focus given to Zach's character Alan this time, he fares better yet totally fails on occasions. Like the part where Alan complements Phil's body in a Diesel t- shirt (never include product placement in a joke): a total FAIL. It's only fresher (to the series) Melissa McCarthy as pawnbroker Cassie who injects some freshness to this feeble film. 

The movie says 'It all ends here' but Tyler's and McCarthy's introduction plus the post- credits scene hint there's more Hangover in store. Wish these guys would hang up their boots and retire and say "Nevermore!".

Bend It Like Beckham
(2002)

This movie is about hopes & dreams dribbling their way past disasters. The film is well balanced - there's comedy, drama, romance, football and yeah, Beckham!
Indian 'Kudi' Jasminder dreams of playing alongside David Beckham one day (he doesn't need an introduction, I guess). She constantly talks to his poster, stuck behind her bed on the wall, like he's her best buddy. She maybe the only straight girl who doesn't dream of getting into his pants… rather shorts, unlike those bimbos her sister Pinki hangs around with.

She's pukka to her Indian roots in all ways, except her love for 'football-shootball'; that makes her mother Mrs. Bhamra go 'Hai Rabba!' (she turns like a typical Indian lady to the poster of Guru Nanak, the religious guru of Punjabi Sikhs, every time she hears 'Football'). Mrs. Bhamra wants Jasminder to get a husband… and learn some cooking – who else shall cook roti-shoti for him but she, right? She has high hopes her younger daughter would marry Teetu, Jess's (Jasminder's nickname) friend since childhood. Of course, Teetu will never marry her – he's gay, still closeted.

Teetu and Jess play football with a bunch of their Hispanic, Indian and Afro-American soccer buddies at a local park. Juliette or "Jules", an English girl is impressed with Jess' moves; Jules plays for Hounslow Harriers, a local football team coached by Joe, who's also her crush. Jules brings Jess to Joe and soon Jess joins Joe's team (hey, this could be a decent tongue-twister!) without informing her parents. It's totally a success tale for Joe and his girls on field, but it's the off-field drama that brings 'Bad News' every time.

Everyone's got problems of their own, so Bend it Like Beckham never 'All About Jess', though Jess' definitely in s##t the most (in her own words). She's got the stuffiest family you can imagine (they seem stuffy to whites at least. To Indians like me, it's like watching home!) – a dad who can't forget his disaster past with goras (whites) and cares for Jess too much to see her facing a similar treatment, a mom whom we know of already but wait… my notes also say 'she'll drop dead if Jess is found with a white man'; Jess' sister Pinki is better that the parents at least but she's the girl Jess would hate to become – the looks- obsessed bad girl who has no problems having sex in a car (Jess' shy to expose her bra even in a girl's locker room, but that also could be because her seamstress comments on one occasion that Jess' breasts look like mosquito bites!). Family's no-no to football – check. Then comes Pinki's marriage, and Jess can't keep her secret from the family forever; she doesn't actually, as she's caught often, but Joe somehow convinces her to play on.

Jess does play on, mainly because football's her passion but also because she likes the lean and handsome Joe (cue thunder effect for Mrs. Bhamra). That sours up her friendship with Jules, who sees them almost kiss outside a club.

Poor Jules risks losing Joe to Jess and her mother Paula Paxton doesn't make it any easier for her – she wrongly thinks Jules and Jess are in love! Paula does clarify that 'she has absolutely no problems with lesbians. She was cheering for Martina Navratilova herself', but that doesn't stop her from getting snooping around whenever Jess and Jules are together – the perfect prototype of a hypocrite. Plus she's Mrs. Bhamra's English counterpart when it comes to discouraging her daughter from football.

'Bend it Like Beckham' is all about hopes and dreams dribbling their way past disasters. What's best about this film is that it doesn't favor only one culture and acts bigoted against others. This makes the movie not just for 'Indians only', but just about everybody.

It's a very balanced film – there's comedy in it, drama, romance, football and yeah, Beckham! The Indian humor has been tastefully sprinkled in to spice up taste-buds, the drama is appropriately light and breezy and the romance is sweet like juicy mangoes. Gurinder Chaddha, the film's director, scores a winning goal, and we're all here to cheer.

Hugo
(2011)

Martin Scorsese is a magician who loves making movies, and each and every minute of Hugo is a testament to this. His Hugo timeless creation - a cinematic ode to films
Martin Scorsese is a magician who loves making movies, and each and every minute of Hugo is a testament to this; with his arms outstretched, he invites us to be hypnotized by his timeless creation, a cinematic ode to films – a medium that shall carry on so long as we dream, so long as our spirit for adventure doesn't die and our purpose of life remains strong.

Broken is the life of Georges Méliès, a man, a magician celebrated once for his innovative contributions to film, and only can Hugo Cabret being back happiness to his defeated existence; it is Scorsese who colors their lives with wit, with charm, with humor, with a tinge of sadness but most importantly, with hope.

Hugo is a visually brilliant film, a Scorsese's vision of Paris, and you soon fall in love with its characters, their lives, their desires, their dreams. It is an ode to cinema, and yet it remains entirely Scorsese's and that is what makes it new and fresh.

'Time is everything' chimes Hugo's uncle Claude, a drunken lout, as he brings Hugo to train station Gare Montparnasse's clock-tower where he mends clocks; Hugo's father has just died in a fire accident, and his son, now orphaned, is taught by Uncle Claude how to mend clocks. We see of Uncle Claude no more, its only Hugo and his little, secret life inside the enormous castle of a clock-tower. Scorsese opens the film with turning clock wheels dissolving into Parisian streets, then gives us a scintillating glimpse of Paris like we've never seen before, before taking us down to Gare Montparnasse station, moving along the station life and rising to the clock face but closing in near number five, where we see finally see Hugo's eyes.

Hugo controls time, the station time to be exact, and so long as the clock functions fine, he remains safe. His only hurdle outside is the station inspector, a hard-hearted monomaniac whose sole purpose is to catch hold of orphaned children loitering in the station and send them off to orphanage. Through the dial, he watches the movement outside – the amusing courtship between café owner Madame Emile and newsstand owner Monsieur Frick, flower lady Lisette's morning greetings to passersby, the station-master's watchful eye and toymaker Georges' tiny shop. He's particularly keen about Georges' shop because he steals toy parts whenever Georges dozes off to sleep; he needs these parts to fix 'Automaton', a mechanical man Hugo's father left behind unrepaired. Automaton, when fixed, will write down something and Hugo believes it would be a message from his late father.

But while attempting to steal some parts one day, he's caught by Georges. The toymaker threatens to alert the station-inspector unless Hugo reveals to him why he is stealing toy parts. When Hugo remains defiantly silent, Georges peruses the diary he's holding and mysteriously utters 'Ghosts!' before taking away the diary from him and declaring to burn it. Before Hugo can persuade him to return the diary, the station-inspector Gustave and his Doberman Pinscher give him a chase. Hugo escapes, but now has to find a way to get the diary back; he follows Georges to his home one day and beckons his goddaughter Isabelle to meet him.

The two little explorers embark on an adventure to get the book back and find the key that would make Automaton work. In doing so, they discover something they'd never even dreamed of – toymaker and Isabelle's godparent Georges is the man behind pioneering movies like 'A Trip to the Moon'; yes, he is indeed THE Georges Méliès, but he's defeated and lost all his former glory. And he's dead, according to Rene Tabard's book on film history, but that's until Rene meets Hugo and Isabelle in the public library, and things soon begin to change, for everyone.

Along the way, we learn how cinema began and just how important it was for the makers. Even today, you have filmmakers complaining that the glory days of film are over. Even Scorsese's film, as good as a film can get, still could hardly match up to collections of the Transformers movie released in the same year. The truth is, so long as you have love what you're doing and haven't lost the burning desire to do it, you'll live a happy life and be proud of what you've accomplished. And Scorsese should take a bow for creating Hugo.

Wouldn't have been such a delight without its wonderful cast – Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz, who are expressive and believable, especially Moretz. The wrong casting would've made Hugo and Isabelle snotty and annoyingly precocious children, but Asa and Chloe play it right. Sacha Baron Cohen is a comic delight as Gustave while Ben Kingsley is convincing as the crabby Georges and touching in his later scenes. The DVD comes with a special feature that includes the making of Hugo, and you get a good insight on what these actors felt working with a man, a magician like Scorsese who loves making movies.

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Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
(2013)

Ayan Mukherjee's Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani isn't an effort but an attempt at direction, a miserably lazy one that too. Yeh Jawaani Hai Puraani, Bahut Puraani.
'Yeh Jawaani Hai Ghissi Pitti' 'Yeh Jawaani Hai Puraani''Wake Up Sid (Hangover Version)' could easily become alternate titles for 'Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani'… no, let me change that a bit – more suitable titles for Ayan Mukherjee's sophomore effort… no, not really an effort, more an attempt at direction.

He serves you cold soup this time and that isn't the worst part – he also serves you the same soup. With a heavy handed treatment; it feels like your college canteen's old lunch lady's made the soup. That's how lazy Ayan Mukherjee is this time - his story is trite, his dialogues are stale, his characters are hackneyed, their situations clichéd and their resolutions tiresome. This guy seriously needs to grow out of this 'follow your dreams' 'accept change' 'settle down' phase; yes, he got his chance in 'Wake Up Sid' and he fared well, but this is plain directorial lethargy.

Deconstructing Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani's plot shall begin with a cliché – it's about four young friends. Oh, a respite – two are boys and two are girls so it's not the 'all-guy film' or the 'all-girl film'. This film starts with one of the girls reminiscing her past, as the other is to get married. The girl who's narrating is Naina Talwar (Deepika Padukone), and she takes us eight years back into the past, when she was studious, plain-Jane, good-girl Naina. And as all studious good-girls need to be spectacled, she dons one. Still looks hot in it, but since it's Bollywood and spectacles is equal to 'behenji or nerd', our Naina's totally ignored by guys.

She's in the supermarket with her snobbish mother, shopping in her little skirt/shorts (anyway, she's showing legs, but nobody notices because she's got 'spectacles' on). She hears someone yell near the exit counter; it's Aditi, her former schoolmate. Aditi is mad at a young stout kid who was checking out her legs (according to her). He tells her she's not that hot – she gets madder. Naina approaches her, they greet, Naina's mother talks about her daughter, Aditi praises Naina for being the 'padhaku' type and then tells about her trip to Manali. The scene ends with Naina being secretly invited by her to the trip.

Next scene at dining table. Naina's mom's insulting Aditi for being the 'bad girl'. Naina throws a tantrum with 'I want a holiday' and then leaves the table. Next we see her checking out Make My Trip Site, probably co-sponsors for this film because they're everywhere! Our brave girl Naina slips out the next day and joins Aditi for the trip but Aditi isn't alone – she's with Bunny and Avi.

We're already introduced to these two chaps – Bunny is the photographer who dreams of travelling around the world (for some reason, Ayan can't think outside the box; Ranbir Kapoor in Wake Up Sid = photographer, Ranbir Kapoor in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani = photographer) while Avi is an alcoholic who loses lots on gambling (no idea how he gets the money). We first find Bunny in a brothel filming with a foreign crew about prostitutes; so there's the usual 'spicy talk' with the prostitute, then a totally purposeless dance number featuring Madhuri Dixit. But we know why it's been added – it's a Karan Johar production, he was a judge with Dixit on a dancing reality show, he must've thought it appropriate to randomly place her in a dance number that's got NOTHING to do with anything. She looks lovely though, and her dancing is sensuous and expressive but why on earth (or why in a brothel of all places) is it there?

So Bunny's the photographer who calls his step-mom 'step-mom' (ridiculous and childish – why not the first name?), Avi is the faltu (useless) alcoholic, Avi is the cool girl and Naina the 'scholar'. All board the train to Manali, their trip being sponsored by MAKE MY TRIP (they could've just had the four break the fourth wall and shout 'I love Make My Trip!). They meet hot chicks, and Bunny has a crush on one of them called Lara, a hot but dumb chick like you see in every other college movie; the girl actually has a background music' played whenever she's on screen and it's so kiddish, your brain feels embarrassed that it has gifted you the power of hearing for these sounds. Okay, so on trip our Naina loosens up (she wears lenses and voila turns into a hot crazy babe in a day), begins enjoying life (she gets drunk. Don't tell her fussy mom though) and falls in love with Bunny, who's commitment- phobic. There's a scene where both Naina and Bunny scream from the edge of a hilltop and you really wish they'd slip and fall to their deaths so the film could surprise us.

The film never does surprise us. Our hero Bunny leaves for US after the trip, Naina becomes Aditi's best friend, Aditi decides to marry a podgy guy named Taran after Avi doesn't reciprocate the feelings she has for him, while Avi remains a drunkard and is in huge debt. The second half's more embarrassing and most of its set around Aditi's marriage. Random characters come and go and we are meant to chuckle (we don't, not once). There are the 'buddy movie serious scenes' we don't give a rat's a— about; they're a chockfull of banal moments stuffed with platitudes you'd find on Facebook, written by IQ 100 boys and girls who only think their crappy thoughts are profound.

This kind of film minting hundred crores at the box office is sheer criminality. Don't encourage Ayan Mukherjee to make more like these! Stop Johar from making money like this!

And do reconsider your Make My Trip subscription if you have one – they'll take you to Kashmir, calling it Manali!

Aparajito
(1956)

In a simple world, Apu lives a profound life and Satyajit Ray captures his Apu's transition wonderfully in Pather Panchali's sequel, Aparajito
The sun wakes up in the land of Benaras. An aged temple priest scatters seeds for the pigeons. Men take their morning dip in the holy river bordering a ghat (series of steps). Women wash their clothes in the same waters. A couple of pehelwans (wrestlers) exercise with gadas (heavy Indian club) close to the river banks. Priests sit close by sermonizing to their loyal devotees. Ships can be heard at a distance. It is morning.

Have we never seen a morning like this? We probably have, at least most who live or have lived in India. Yet why do we watch this morning with a quaint fascination? This is because Satyajit Ray doesn't regard his morning sequence as an establishment shot as most directors would – his camera gazes with wonderment at how life begins in the land of Benaras, and that gives his morning a wholly distinctive identity.

We find young Apu walking beside the ghat one morning, passing by the chanting priests and their devotees and stopping where a pehelwan is exercising. He fixedly gazes at the gada which the hefty pehelwan is swinging around his body, and then leaves. After his father's untimely demise, he reluctantly becomes a priest at the insistence of a male relative.

But he seems to have little interest in this, as evident in a scene where he watches, in his priest's attire, a couple of young boys his age tumbling and gamboling happily at a distance and then follows them after ditching his dhoti. He watches as they enter a school and then at night asks his mother whether he can join the same school. Once he gets admission, he's found to be a bright student who can recite lok-geet (folk music) fluently, and we realize maybe his short stint as a priest did pay off well.

Apu's world is simple, yet his life is profound. There isn't explicit symbolism anywhere yet but we know how symbolic each event in his journey is, as evident from the paragraph above. Moving to a big city like Benares from a tiny village like Nischindipur, living the city life shortly till the death of his father, moving to another village called Dewanpur, attending a school nearby and earning a scholarship, moving to Calcutta for further studies with little enthusiasm to return to the dismal village life are covered in Aparajito.

Apu's thinking, values and priorities blossom as his life passes these phases; take a scene in the film where Apu, in his teens, watches a couple of street children performing but finds their act uninteresting and leaves. Had this been young Apu, he'd be very enthused by their performance and watched it till the end. Aparajito is Apu All Grown Up.

His self-sacrificing mother Sarbajaya gives him all her hard-earned money so he can move to Calcutta, and she surrenders herself to a life of loneliness. Apu's priorities shift towards college studies and printing press work, and he only visits her once in every few months. Satyajit Ray uses still shots to capture her emotions and actress Karuna Banerjee's eyes speak volumes; her memorable 'Opu!' for calling Apu (Bengalis usually pronounce many of their words with an 'O' intonation) stayed with me long after the film ended.

Apu's college life was probably the only sequence that impressed me less, only because I've already seen similar scenes in many other recent movies. But what matters at last is our strong attachment to Apu's world; we laugh with, weep for and find joy in watching his world. Part of the credit has to go to Ravi Shankar's enchanting score, dominated by sitar, flute and dholak, for creating the right mood for each scene.

Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali and Aparajito give the pleasure of experiencing the same world through his eyes. And we are swept over completely.

Murder on the Orient Express
(1974)

Murder on the Orient Express is a sinfully delicious retribution saga. In this film adaptation, Director Sidney Lumet brings old fashioned fun alive with a glorious ensemble.
Murder on the Orient Express is a sinfully delicious retribution saga only Agatha Christie could've cooked up so deliciously. The author penned the famous novel in the year 1934 and its film adaptation comes exactly forty years later. Christie is too careful and smart to let anything go amiss, and she deliberately doesn't allow us to rack up our minds while reading her books; what I mean by this is that the cases she narrates become too much for us to make our own deductions and so we have no choice but to let Hercule Poirot, the famous detective protagonist in her novels, to solve them for us.

There's a funny line in the film that tells a lot about how we watch this film. It's said in the scene where Poirot's friend Bianchi and a doctor, who accompany him as he interviews each suspect, begin debating passionately on whether one suspect has a significant motive or not. Poirot keeps quiet until he hears the word 'fairy godmother' from the doctor; the detective then springs up excitedly and says 'Ah, now you've accidentally said something valuable!'. We as the audience would probably figure out just as much as Bianchi and the doctor, which is like very little. We don't have Poirot's grey cells, and so we let him speak and listen to him all ears like he's some kind of oracle. We may accidentally catch something before Poirot does if we're lucky, but it's a level 10 Sudoku for most of us, and we're barely able to solve Level 6 itself.

Agatha lays down her foundation quite neatly. Her novels usually consist of a lengthy exposition, where almost every major character is introduced (although true identities of some may not be revealed until later). In the Poirot series, our Belgian sleuth finds himself in the company of these characters, usually informally until there's a murder. Then his crime-solving begins. Paul Dehn, the screenwriter of this adaptation directly begins with Poirot's journey on a connecting ferry to Orient Express, doing away with his visit to a hotel in Istanbul which is included in Christie's book.

Albert Finney plays our Poirot, and he's got a very distinctive appearance; in the first scene, as he's sitting in the ferry, he looks shapeless with his little head sticking out of an overcoat that's too big for him. His hair is so neatly oiled and flattened it looks like he's wearing a swim-cap, and his queer moustache curls up like bull's horns. 'What a funny little man' is the first remark we hear about him.

The man who remarks this, Colonel Arbuthnot will soon eat his words back because he's later one of the suspects in Poirot's case. The British officer in British Indian army is travelling with a young English teacher named Mary Debenham aboard Orient Express. Others on this train include Pierre the French conductor, Natalia Dragomiroff the elderly Russian Royal and her personal maid Hindegarde Schmidt, Mrs. Harriet Hubbard the loquacious American socialite, Greta Ohlsson the Swedish missionary, Rudolf Andrenyi the aristocratic Hungarian diplomat and his wife Elena, Mr. Ratchett the incorrigible millionaire, his valet Edward Beddoes and secretary Hector McQueen. Poirot gets a seat with the help of Bianchi, who's a train company director; inside, he shares the compartment with Hector, who seems befuddled by this new guest.

Orient Express takes off once its passengers are in, first with the sound of the engine starting, then steam billowing out. The whole momentum indicates us to brace ourselves for this totally mind-blowing adventure that's about to come. As passengers meet and greet each other, our Poirot is beckoned by Mr. Ratchett the millionaire at lunch. Mr. Ratchett ask Poirot to protect him from threats that he's been receiving from an unknown person, and Poirot seems interested until the crazy millionaire pulls out a gun and tries to get his consent by force. Poirot dignifiedly leaves without accepting the offer, and the next day finds Mr. Ratchett to be dead, stabbed about twelve times in his sleep.

Under Bianchi's insistence, Poirot accepts to solve the case before the train reaches its destination; a snow storm the previous night gives Poirot more time for the same. The rest of the film is taken up by interviews with all the suspects one by one, ending with the show- stopping climax where Poirot has not one but two possible scenarios of the murder – the simple one and the 'complex / Poirot' one. Most of us would've chosen simple, even though it sounds disappointing, only because it would've been possible for us to think further – so it's better we ditch our theories altogether and listen to what Poirot's got to say.

Director Sidney Lumet brings old fashioned fun alive with a glorious ensemble to support him. Christie's characters are diverse and peculiar in their personalities, dressing sense and accents, and the ensemble here successfully brings these characters to screen, whether it's Anthony Perkins as nervous, jumpy and fidgety Hector who keeps biting his nails in tension or Lauren Bacall as the overly talkative and rambling Mrs. Harriet. And once the big climax is revealed, we do end up sympathizing with everybody.

The Balloonatic
(1923)

The Balloonatic is Always on a High When it Comes to Entertainment Value. Its Another Triumph in the Joyful Keaton Shorts.
The Balloonatic is always on a high when it comes to entertainment value present in Keaton shorts. For the first time, it begins with a close up shot of a spooked Keaton at The House of Trouble, a haunted house at an amusement park. As the camera zooms out of his face, we see him walk towards three different rooms, each time to be surprised by a spooky figure. Once he gets out of the house, he watches a stout lady enter the same place. She loves the haunted house so much she enters the second time.

Keaton however moves on to another thrill and soon finds himself on top of a hot air balloon. The balloon crashes and Keaton lands on a tree. While fixing the balloon, he also goes to a lake and tries fishing; in his Keaton-esque manner, he tries to block the flow of water by placing a barricade rocks at the shallow point, only for the water to collect on the other side and soon crash into the barricade and take Keaton along. He encounters a girl who attacks him at first for coming in her way when she dives into the lake, but later becomes close to him.

The ending takes you by surprise as you fully expect a disaster only to be baffled. That's the high point of The Balloonatic, another triumph in the joyful Keaton shorts.

Day Dreams
(1922)

Sadly the Better Moments Have Been Lost In Time. All We Can Do is Daydream of Them Now.
An incomplete film that sadly leaves up wondering about what Buster cooked up for us in the missing scenes. Still photographs and additional inter-titles have been added to give a feel of continuity, and yet many of the magical moments are probably lost. It's like eating a tomato and capsicum pizza without tomatoes and capsicum; the cheese base is tasty yet you are left unsatisfied with the core ingredients missing.

Similar to his other shorts, our protagonist here assumes different identities through the course of the film; he's a vet assistant, then a failed actor, then a janitor and lastly an escaped funny. What's funny is that his love assumes him to be a doctor, a successful theater performer and a Wall Street cleaner from the letters he sends her.

The irony of this situation would've been highlighted so well had those lost sequences, mostly involving her visions of his life abroad, been preserved. But all we can do now is daydream about these lost moments.

The 'High Sign'
(1921)

The Character of Keaton is an Intelligent Halfwit. He Thinks He Can Do Anything, Does Get Away With Something But There's Nothing He Can Do To Avoid Further Mayhem.
In The High Sign, our intelligent half-wit Buster trying his luck at shooting when he reads a newspaper ad wanting shooters at an amusement park shooting gallery. Our gypsy-like wandering hero lands up in a town, with an inter-title introducing him as a man going nowhere who's found anywhere and will land up somewhere. He steals a newspaper from the pocket of a guy and finds this ad; the guy later approaches Keaton and buys the same newspaper from him, not knowing that it was his own paper which Buster had stolen.

Before entering the park, he tries his hand at shooting and evidently stinks at it. Yet, Keaton is happy that he took out the practice targets, always the one he wasn't aiming at, and he accepts the job once he enters the gallery. Before leaving to his office in the next room, the tall owner instructs him that he wants to hear the bell go off every time Buster shoots. This puts our hero in trouble as we know he has little skill at shooting.

But Keaton is an intelligent half-wit, and so he devises an ingenious plan: he ties up a street dog to the bell and ties a meat bone close to the dog. Inside, when he steps on a lever kept hidden close to where he stands, the tied up meat will lower down. The tied up dog would try getting it and in its attempt cause the bell to ring each time the meat is lowered. This works very well until the dog sees a cat, a probability Buster never considered.

While this is going on in the gallery, we are also taken to the owner's office in the next room where we realize that the owner is actually the leader of a murderous group of extortionists called Blinking Buzzards. The group is impressed with Buster's 'shooting skills' after hearing the bell go off every time and assign him the task of killing an old man who refuses to pay him money. Our intelligent half-wit acquiesces.

Meanwhile, the target of this gang visits the shooting gallery along with his daughter and is impressed with Keaton's shooting ability. He requests Buster to protect him from the gang and our intelligent half-wit Buster, unaware that it's the same guy who's to be shot, acquiesces. The rest of the action continues at the old man's home.

I found out Donald O'Conner, the funny-man from Singin' in the Rain considered Keaton as a major influence. The 'Make Em Laugh' number from the legendary musical reminds me of the Keaton sequence in The High Sign when Buster tries to evade the gang of Blinking Buzzards at the old man's house by jumping from one room to the other, tearing up walls and sliding through connecting windows. I doubt any of Buster's contemporaries could top him when it comes to nailing the excitement of physical comedy. Anything is possible in Buster's world, like the scene when he slams the door into one of the gang members and we see his head popping out through the door.

Everyone including Buster himself considers him to be something he's not. He's not a shooter yet he's hired as a shooting gallery shooter as well as assassin as well as a guardian angel. And Buster plays along the situations creating comedy and craziness on the way. He likes exploring the possibilities of cinema and creativity in an age where cinema was still developing as a medium, and so he creates his world as he pleases. Take for example where he simply paints a hook on the wall and hangs his hat on it and it really does hang like there's an actual hook. That's how malleable and modifiable Keaton's world is. And High Sign is a high sign of what Keaton brings to the world of cinema.

Convict 13
(1920)

Buster Keaton Lives Like a Wandering Gypsy With The Most Adventurous Life You Can Imagine. Watch How He Finds A Way Out Of Difficulties Every Time ... Almost.
Convict 13 has an interesting concept; here, our Buster is totally hell- bent on getting his ball to its hole and literally fishes out the golf ball from a fish's little mouth when his ball drops into the lake. His game is interrupted when a convict escaping death row finds Buster unconscious (after one of his attempts at golf gone awry) and swaps clothes with him to make it seem as if Buster's the real convict. There's a sparkling sequence where Buster, unaware that he is wearing prisoner's uniform, readies himself to hit the ball as two cops stand to his left and right looking incredulously at him.

On realizing the change in his appearance, he gives them a slip and does manage to evade the not-so-bright cops until he finds shelter… in a prison! Then begins the prison saga, beginning with Buster meeting the love of his life - the socialite daughter of the prison guard – who tries to save Buster from death by switching the hanging noose with exercise rope. Another unforeseeable circumstance – a heavyset prisoner creating chaos in prison – leads to further mayhem. We wait and watch how Buster wriggles his way through each problem only to land into another until the film finds a fitting resolution to his tale.

Along with The High Sign, Convict 13 is probably one of my favorite Keaton shorts. It's like a harmless firecracker that sets off a chain of bombs, missiles and then the nuclear weapon itself! What was especially marvelous about watching Keaton was that while his character always had a smart solution for his problem, he never anticipated the possibility of a worse problem to occur. Consider the scene where he tries to escape from the army of cops; Buster walks in front of them as they follow him like a marching army, so when Buster turns in the opposite direction the cops stupidly follow turn along with him. That's when Buster sneakily escapes and finally hides behind a gate. Before he can take a sigh of relief, he turns to see where he is and finds out that he has reached right into a prison.

Later, when there's a riot in the prison and all the guards have been beaten unconscious by the burly cop, our Buster, again in dark about the riot, tries escaping the cops by knocking out one and wearing his uniform. He confidently enters the section wearing prison guard uniform, where the burly prisoner's waiting to knock him down thinking he's a cop. But Buster's not a prisoner and neither is he a cop; he is no professional golf player either so what is he?

This is answered in the next short: The High Sign. He's a man going nowhere, you'll find him anywhere and he'll land up somewhere. In a way, he's a wandering gypsy living probably the most adventurous life you can imagine. He's very unlucky, as evident by the number 13 given to his prisoner, but he never loses hope that he'll find a way out… almost.

Aurangzeb
(2013)

A promising premise ruined by sloppy treatment, Aurangzeb seems like the work of a bright marketing guy who's got little understanding of the nuance of quality cinema
Aditya Chopra is the Aurangzeb of quality cinema. A number of films produced under his Yash Raj banner seem to be made by bright marketing guys instead of passionate cinema-loving writers and directors. Yash Raj Films has both the power over Bollywood and the paisa to fund these marketing guys who then brainstorm a variety of promising premises that can easily rake in money at the box office. A few of these premises are executed well but a vast majority suffers from bad treatment. The fault is lazy writing, in most cases, and I think that's because the writers hired to pen the screenplay don't know what effective film writing is.

It's not like they're totally oblivious to film concepts, as they know how to develop a coherent narrative; the problem is that their work totally lacks the nuance that make films function as art. Aditya Chopra happily gives the green light to these projects, then casts either recognized Bollywood stars or fresh faces who can act 'the Bollywood way'.

'Our family is more important than our dreams' says Anupam Kher's character in the film, and Aditya seems to take this adage seriously – the 'fresh faces' he casts are usually related to someone in the big- bad-Bollywood family, thus crushing dreams of all those hopefuls who 'ain't from the "wood"'. Arjun Kapoor, producer Boney Kapoor's son plays our hero(es) here, taking on the double role of Ajay and Vishal, long- lost twins who're living completely different lives; while Ajay is the rich, reckless and spoiled son of a corrupt real estate developer, Vijay is… the other son living with his mother. We know nothing much about Vijay here, whether he had a life of his own, friends, interests etc because his basic function is to act as a plot device for the 'swap' that takes place.

Aurangzeb however doesn't begin with either of these two characters; it's the narrator Arya who narrates Aurangzeb's story. In many ways Prithviraj Sukumaran is as much a protagonist as Arjun Kapoor but since he isn't a big name in Bollywood, he doesn't share any space in the film's poster. The character he plays is the Assistant Chief of Police in Gurgaon who lives in a family of police officers. His uncle Ravikant (played by veteran Rishi Kapoor) is the DCP while his brother-in-law Dev (Sikander Kher) is another ACP.

Arya's father calls him one day to confide in him something important about his past. The tainted officer who retired after accepting responsibility for a mistake that led to the death of a woman and her son tells his son that he had fabricated the entire story up; he reveals that the woman and his son were still alive, and that he was in a relationship with the woman. He convinces Arya to take care of the woman's financial needs after his death; the plot itself is very eager to kill him and so, in the very next scene we see Arya visiting the woman to inform about his father's death. Some glycerin-induced tears are shed by her while Arya stands at a distance; just then her son Vishal arrives and asks what's happening. Arya reaches out for his gun because thinking he's Ajay but then stops when he finds out that he's Vishal. After he leaves their home, he calls up Ravikant and tells him to come over.

The beans are spilled soon as Vishal's mother reveals to her son who his father is: Yashwardhan, a crime-lord masquerading as a real estate developer; on realizing her husband's true business, Vishal's mother acted as a mole for the police and then left her husband, leaving Vishal's twin Ajay behind. So Yashwardhan is still under the impression his wife and other son were dead, and is currently having an affair with Nina; all we know about Nina is that she manages a high-profile escort business and helps the Yashwardhan's company by bringing in most of the clients.

Arya is surprisingly quick in convincing Vishal's mother to swap places with Ajay, and in the next scene itself, Ajay is taken hostage by the police officers and Vishal leaves to fulfill his task – getting confidential information about Yashwardhan's illicit dealings which would lead to his fall. Only in Shakespeare's stories you may have heard of such a quick swap taking place and so, to make the situation seem less implausible, there's a rapid set of shots during a song sequence which inform about the research Vishal undertook before the swap – he browses the internet to look at gun models: fabulous research! And what's even more surprising is that nobody suspects him, neither Yashwardhan, nor Nina or his fiancé Ritu. Ajay on the other hand 'plays Bigg Boss, Bigg Boss' ( in his own words) with his mother at a secluded house in the fields. Speaking about Bigg Boss, a reality show I used to watch when I was young, I am reminded of a similar swap taking place in the second season of Big Boss: it took merely ten minutes for the other housemates to spot the ruse!

Aurangzeb is replete in punch-lines but there's little subtlety and lack of meaningful exchange. Characterization is only skin-deep and so is Arjun Kapoor's performance, but he's only doing as he's told. It's Aditya Kapoor who's funding many of these projects and sadly even winning many awards in India; he's business sense is smart (his Wikipedia page mentions he graduated from Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics), but I wish he'd use his power and paisa to encourage quality productions. His production Aurangzeb has a workable premise but sadly ends up sagging with sloppy treatment. The film should fall.

The Bridges of Madison County
(1995)

Decent film worth watching once for Eastwood and twice for Streep, albeit one's willing to endure the contrived writing, middling supporting performances & weak framing device
"Robert, I want you to come" Francesca says with an almost pleading tone over the telephone, thus initiating the four-day amour between her and Robert, a travelling photographer on a short trip to Iowa. It is an adventure for Francesca, who considers herself a common Iowan housewife without a liking for change. She is anything but common, as Robert tells her in another scene, otherwise she wouldn't have said those words; Francesca fully knew what she was doing, yet she on her own accord went ahead. How long her relationship could last with Robert didn't matter to her then; what mattered was that she could find pure happiness with this man, a state she hadn't felt in years.

This adventure gradually becomes a spiritual journey for the unhappy housewife, gradually unraveling the mysteries of life and love. But the leap to a spiritual journey requires a renunciation from her adventure; otherwise the love shared between Francesca and Robert would culminate in nothing more than a liaison. And so, Bridges of Madison County does away with the pretty Hollywood ending and still, everything does end up well for everybody.

A thoughtful message indeed, but what troubles is that Bridges of Madison County is that it often makes us feel as though we're watching a typical lifetime film whose sole intent is to make big moral observations whenever and wherever possible. So the scenes are often plagued with 'that moment when there's momentarily silence after which a character speaks something big' – it often is found just before a scene ends. And while Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, our Robert and Francesca, do try not to allow this film to slip into a silly melodrama, the clichéd material sometimes becomes overwhelming for the two. The two other actors playing Francesca grown-up children do not help either, almost making it look as though two separate films of different caliber – the better one with Streep and Eastwood, of course, were spliced together.

Bridges of Madison County begins with Francesca's children Caroline and Michael arriving at their recently deceased mother's Iowa home for settlement of her estate. Both the children are married and both are unhappy with their marriages and yet they've neither cheated on their spouses nor have they thought of a divorce. Michael does have a valid reason for being mad at his wife though, because she says the darndest things at the most inappropriate time; just when Michael is handed the keys of Francesca's safety deposit box, she offhandedly jokes that Francesca could've left millions in the box for her children. No, it isn't a Hitchcock story so forget the millions; instead what's found in the box is an old camera, pictures and letters. Caroline begins reading one of the letters and learns that her mother had written a love letter once to a man named Robert. She talks to Michael in private and the two begin reading the letters after asking Michael's wife and the accompanying lawyer to leave. There's a silly line spoken by Caroline when she opens a magazine which has a picture of Robert Kincaid with the name mentioned clearly on the left; she assumes "This must be Robert Kincaid" even when the names clearly visible to even the audience's eye.

Letters reveal that Francesca deliberately kept the items for her children so they may know her secret and not consider her a mad raving woman for requesting in her will to cremate her body and throw the ashes near Roseman Covered Bridge, which Robert used to visit along with Francesca to shoot photographs for National Geographic. At first, both Michael and Caroline are disgusted but as they hear Francesca's story, first through her letters and then through her diaries, they realize how these four days profoundly affected their mother's attitude (positively) towards life, and they slowly begin empathizing with her and introspect on their own outlooks towards life and marriage.

Annie Corley and Victor Slezak, playing Caroline and Michael respectively, give stilted and forgettable performances. Slezak especially fails with his 'Chandler' look from Friends that can hardly be taken seriously. They're not completely at fault, as the framing device (kids reading mother's letters with such unwholesome curiosity it feels as though they've been given a copy of Fifty Shades of Gray) is weakly implemented; there's a poorly shot scene when Michael wants to know why his mother didn't leave the family and Caroline and he immediately turn their heads towards their mother's diary and then look at each other. The scene makes you wonder why a great filmmaker like Eastwood couldn't think of a better way of taking us back and forth in time.

It's the elders who steal the show. While Eastwood brings a gentle and very likable charm to his Robert, Streep goes way beyond everybody else in embodying Francesca. She's an encyclopedia of body language and came show passion by degrees. Watch the initial scenes where she keeps rubbing her hands and moving a little backwards as she's speaking to Robert, a usual sign for initial discomfort while talking to strangers. Later, when she's closer to Robert and meets him at the bridge, the two shake hands and we see Meryl use both her hands to greet him (keeping one of top of other), usually done while greeting more warmly. A very erotic moment doesn't involve sex but happens when Francesca simply adjusts Robert's collar and places her hand on his shoulder; you know Streep's worked her magic by watching Eastwood's expressions.

Bridges of Madison County is a decent film that's worth watching once for Eastwood and twice for Streep. But one should be willing to endure some contrived writing, middling supporting performances and weak framing device.

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