margulanabutrlov

IMDb member since August 2014
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    5 years

Reviews

Devi 2
(2019)

Devi 2 Review
A doting wife goes through a hard time trying to save her husband who is possessed by two spirits Many films in the recent past which were billed as 'horror-comedy' were devoid of both the elements - Vijay's Devi 2 is the latest to join the bandwagon. The first part which had Tamannaah and Prabhu Deva in good form is wasted here, thanks to mediocre writing. Contrary to the prequel, Devi 2 has Krishna (Prabhu Deva) possessed by two spirits, while his wife Devi (Tamannaah) has a tough time dealing with it with the help of a friend (Kovai Sarala). How Devi resorts to various ways to save her husband and their family life is narrated in a dull manner. The story, this time, is set in the backdrop of Mauritius for an unconvincing reason and many scenes appear staged and unreal. The parallel tracks involving Nandita and Dimple do not leave any impact and the mash-up of scenes from other films in a crucial scene shows dearth of originality. Sonu Sood and RJ Balaji make brief and ineffective appearances, and Kovai Sarala does what she does in most of the films. The songs do not add any value to the film, and the conflicts and antagonists are poorly written. A half-baked story with a decent star cast with good potential is let down due to lack of interest which is evident throughout. Overall, Devi 2 joins the long list of unimpressive sequels in Kollywood.

Dark Phoenix
(2019)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Review
His continuation of the X-Men franchise and sequel to 'X-Men Apocalypse' focuses on Jean Grey's powers. During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey is hit by a mysterious cosmic energy that heightens her powers. This transformation makes her unstable and extremely dangerous. Now she doesn't merely pose a threat to her X-Men family, but the world at large. The X-Men need to choose between saving her and saving the rest of humanity. Although 'Apocalypse' didn't live up to expectations after 'Days of Future Past', it managed to show us how powerful Jean Grey can be. 'Dark Phoenix' further builds on that, and yet the stakes feel slightly compromised. Sure, the world is at risk again, but not quite enough is done to make you care about the consequences. This is probably because we didn't spend too much time getting to know the new characters, mainly Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp). Now we're suddenly meant to care about them, particularly Jean Grey, over the course of this one film. Meanwhile, the more established heroes that we've connected to, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and even the surprise fan favourite Quicksilver (Evan Peters), all seem to take a back seat when it comes to character arcs and narratives. Yes, they all have their moments, but they're fleeting at best. All the actors have given solid performances, even with the limited material. Michael Fassbender gets the raw end of the bargain with Magneto, and yet, Fassbender really sells it. Same goes with James McAvoy, although this is probably the weakest version we've seen of Charles Xavier, and yet James McAvoy, is reliable as always. Sophie Turner has a fair amount of screen-time, and she brings the right amount of pathos to Jean Grey that helps move the film along.

The biggest problem in this film is its villain whose motives are pretty run of the mill - destroy this world to rebuild it in their own way. It's neither new nor exciting. Action wise, there are a few fun moments, but nothing memorable, especially with a third act that appears to be quite rushed. What could have been a big surprise twist with a lot more impact is ruined in the trailers thanks to lazy marketing. The weak screenplay and script weigh down the characters with some clunky dialogue. Despite good performances, 'Dark Phoenix' is a letdown for several reasons, least of all because the female characters in this film take prominence, and they deserve better. So do we.

Bharat
(2019)

BHARAT REVIEW
A little boy who is forced to be responsible early on, grows up with no regret of a non- existent childhood. He in fact makes it his life goal to put his family before him. The film follows the journey of Bharat (Salman Khan) over the course of several decades as he navigates the ups and downs of life. An official adaptation of South Korean drama Ode to my Father (2014), Bharat focuses on the personal and professional choices of its righteous hero, set against the social backdrop of its time. Separated from his father and sister during the Indo-Pak partition in 1947 as a child, Bharat decides to dedicate his entire life to keeping the promise he'd made to his missing father. He takes it upon himself as the eldest son of the house to look after his mother and siblings, hoping their family would reunite some day. From 1947 to 2010, the narrative traverses a period of over six decades. You see Bharat jumping risky odd jobs to make ends meet. He even falls in love with the feisty Kumud (Katrina Kaif), who is brave and honest enough to make the first move on him. "I love you. Shaadi ki umra ho gayi hai meri. Tumse shaadi karna chahti hoon," she says without batting an eye. She proposes marriage without fearing rejection. "I do and say what I think is right," she adds and doesn't mind teasing Salman, "Tum thodey self-obsessed nahi ho?" She was impressive even in Zero and Bharat is Katrina's best acting part till date. Her chemistry with Salman feels natural and she does a good job at portraying a woman who is self assured without being cocky. She is equal, even superior to her man and Ali Abbas Zafar makes no bones about it. Her hair is a different story though. The grey streaks are inconsistent as her character ages and the unruly curls feel unnecessary. What also stands out in Ali's writing is how he places Sunil Grover's character as Vilayati, Bharat's best friend and confidante. Our best friends are our soulmates, constant companions and it reflects here beautifully. Grover does compete justice to his well-written role and deserves more such significant parts. Sonali Kulkarni and Jackie Shroff are terrific as always. Interestingly, there's a hidden Sooraj Barjatya in Salman Khan, somewhere. In times of the 'hookup culture' being glorified in movies and web shows, his films with old school values often aim to get the families together and that stands out. He acts well and looks good. Salman's extreme closeness to his real family (parents and siblings), makes him ideal to play Bharat as he embodies his character's traits, thus making it more convincing. Ali on the contrary, plays a balancing act. He infuses emotions with ample fun Salman elements that will get his diehard fans to whistle. He mounts the meandering story in an unhurried manner on a huge canvas. While he manages to keep you hooked despite his complex source material and misplaced songs, Bharat has too many things happening at once and too many time leaps. This eventually makes the movie an exhausting, scattered watch despite the entertainment, humour and nobility it propagates. Also, the 'intention to inspire' is a bit in your face. While emotional manipulation happens in every film, the fact that it's evident here makes it a tad overbearing. The reverence is blatant. A little subtlety and crisp editing would have done wonders. Bharat is well-intentioned, entertaining and doesn't succumb to the trappings of commercial potboilers. The fact that it tries a bit too hard to prove that, is its problem.

Junglee
(2019)

JUNGLEE REVIEW
Raj Nayar (Vidyut Jammwal), a veterinary doctor from Mumbai, visits his father after a long gap of ten years in their Chandrika elephant sanctuary (Odisha). Soon after, a ghastly attack on the elephants by a bunch of poachers, led by (Atul Kulkarni), changes his life forever. Initially lured by the city life, Raj now decides to protect the gentle giants in the sanctuary, which has always been his father's dream. After a series of unfortunate events that happen in the reserve, Meera (debutante Asha Bhat), a journalist from Mumbai and Shankara (debutante Pooja Sawant), a mahout based in the sanctuary, also join Raj's mission of punishing the illegal hunters, who kill elephants for ivory.

Protect animals, save the elephants is the primary message that Junglee sends across and it does so in an action-packed way. The film also reiterates that if we pledge to stop buying ivory products, it will prevent poachers from indulging in this illegal trade. True to its theme, the film transports you to the calm of a jungle, away from your city, cell phones and chaos (shot in the beautiful locales of an elephant reserve in Thailand). Known for Hollywood blockbusters like The Mask, The Scorpion King and Eraser, American director Chuck Russell makes his Hindi cinema debut with this one. His fascination for mythology, Hindu mantras, our martial arts like Kalaripayattu and Lord Ganpati is evident, given the Indian essence and exoticism he brings to the story, from a Westerner's perspective. While the film scores higher on action than emotion, Russell's attempt at blending the two with a social cause, stands out for a variety of reasons. Along with cinematographer Mark Irwin (known for RoboCop 2), the director manages to capture the enormous animals in their natural habitat. Thankfully, there is no cutesy, orchestrated acting that the elephants are made to do, and they are a sight to behold. All the actors exude effortless comfort around the elephants, which is rare for an Indian film that revolves around animals. The last Indian film that captured the man-elephant camaraderie was Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), starring Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja. The film's highlight, other than its fight against poachers who kill elephants for tusks, is Vidyut Jammwal's brilliance as one of our finest action heroes. His action (without the help of a body double) is absolutely flawless and perhaps the best in the business. The jaw-dropping, lethal action scenes he portrays on screen and his mastery in martial arts puts him at par with the finest action heroes across the globe. A police station scene in particular, where a handcuffed Vidyut single-handedly dodges the cops, is spectacular. You see him fling himself on running vehicles, indulging in fist fights, and sliding through a tiny window and more. It's Chung Chi Li (who has worked with Jackie Chan in the Rush Hour franchise, and movies like Shanghai Noon and The Tuxedo, among others) and Parvez Shaikh's pulsating action that holds your attention and makes this film a paisa vasool entertainer, that is bound to attract families and children. Though Asha and Pooja, in their small parts, make confident and decent debuts. Atul makes his presence felt as the antagonist, who looks at killing mighty animals as a challenge. Understated and genuine, Akshay Oberoi and Makarand Deshpande are impressive in their parts, too.

Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava
(2018)

Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava REVIEW
Two warring groups, one village, bloodshed all around but here's one man Veera Raghava Reddy who's here to change the much popular diktat. It's a war-torn village Kommaddi, where heads fly faster than the words that its residents mouth. Two warring groups lead by Narapareddy and Basireddy too prefer to speak through their swords than words. Even a game of cards in this backdrop is addressed as 'five rupee worth faction'. In comes the son of the soil, Veeraraghava Reddy, the only sign of hope to instill some sense amidst this menace. Featuring an actor like Jr NTR known for his action potboilers, Trivikram utilises his presence and a commercial backdrop to drive home an important signal of peace, like the pigeon that accompanies the title card in the opening frame. Though the plot outline makes this seem like a Mirchi equivalent for Jr NTR - the cocktail of intensity, entertainment, efficient dialogue-baazi, all in measured amounts, keeps the film ticking along neatly. Trivikram masters the judicious balance of pandering to the masses and being a sane voice in the time of need. Aravinda Sametha Veeraraghava is definitely a film that marks a firm departure from the comfort zone of the director and the lead actor. It's a story that single-mindedly focuses on transformation, and one whose intentions remain consistent. The strong performances do a lot of good in ensuring an impactful film, that precisely paves the way for 'Rayalaseema' to turn into a 'Ratanalaseema'.

Melodrama often clouds the character arcs of women in factionism-driven films, that's where Aravinda Sametha differs from the pack. The Penimiti song is one example of the emotional turmoil that a woman suffers as her man sets out for a blood bath. And Aravinda, played by Pooja Hegde isn't Trivikram's quintessential heroine. Here she is studying anthropology and ethno-driven violence, being the critical link in showing the way forward to a character like Veeraraghava Reddy stuck between revenge and larger purpose. Supriya Pathak, Devayani, Eeswari Rao may have minimal screen time, but there's enough meat in their characterisation.

This transformational journey gives us a delightful interval action block where Jr NTR offers the goons a taste of death and yet doesn't tear them apart. While there's enough action and drama happening in the proceedings to keep you occupied in the first hour, things aren't quite seamless post the intermission. The one worry throughout Aravinda Sametha remains its predictability. But for a twist or two, you know the trajectory of its lead character. It's the humour quotient that keeps the film alive then. Naresh and Srinivas Reddy continue from where they left their delightful banter in A..Aa. Sunil delivers lesser laughs than promised, but that doesn't take away anything from his much needed return to his forte.

All it takes to make a solid commercial film is to redefine it in relevance to the times. It's not often you'd find a lead character asking people, 'what's so heroic about holding a dagger or slapping your thigh'. It's refreshing to watch NTR remain his controlled self in the film's entirety. Pooja Hegde gets a credible role as a budding documentary filmmaker, though it's hard to fathom an actor like Eesha being saddled into a role of nothingness. Trivikram's fascination for mythology lends well with the theme and the treatment scores over his indulgence this time. And Thaman's evolution as a composer truly benefits the film. A emotional drama camouflaged in a commercial exterior, here's a film that's courageous to stand apart from slapstick madness.

Majili
(2019)

Majili Review
An alcoholic and a failed cricketer, Poorna is a nuisance in his neighbourhood, burden for his father and a wound that needs to be nursed for his wife. His wound runs deep as its not physical, but an emotional trauma caused by a love story which changes him forever. Love, heartbreak and cricket is the premise around which Shiva Nirvana builds his latest love story Majili. He builds his characters slowly around this, but for the large part of the film, there's a lot of heartbreak and less love, while cricket is simply shown as an aside - most of it is exaggerated and flawed. Strangely enough, for a love story like Majili, there are a lot of action sequences. It seems people in Vizag, where the film is based, are willing to beat each other up at the drop of a hat. And there's seldom any closure to all the violence. It all seemed part of a mythical 'magic formula' that the director was trying to find. And yet, despite all of this, Majili keeps you interested and entertained for most part of it. The film revolves around Poorna (Naga Chaitanya), a failed cricketer, who becomes an alcoholic and borrows money from his wife Sravani (Samantha) to get his daily booze fix. He's a nuisance to his neighbourhood and a constant source of worry to his dad (Rao Ramesh). But Sravani remains convinced that he'll come around, that his wounds will eventually heal. Except his wounds are not physical - they are emotional ones that run so deep, it nearly destroys him. It's a failed love story (no surprises there), involving Anshu (Divyanka Kaushik), the daughter of a naval officer (Atul Agnihotri). As a budding cricketer, Poorna falls for Anshu (in a typical, dramatic hate-turns-love situation) and just when things seem to be going smoothly, he gets involved in a rift with his captain, quits the team and decides to work for a corrupt politician Bhushan (Subbarao) instead. And just like that, one bad decision changes his life forever. Quite often, the director seems to be in two minds and is unsure whether he wants to break stereotypes or tick every box that he thinks is needed to make the film work. In a lot of ways, the film is refreshing. Each character has depth and seems to have been nurtured with a lot of thought, the music is wonderful, and the pain of the protagonist is portrayed without turning the film into a sobfest. The director is helped by some brilliant performances from the lead cast. Samantha outshines everybody else with an understated yet powerful performance. Chaitanya seems more in his element when he's playing the bearded, heartbroken alcoholic rather than the younger cricketer that's shown in the flashback sequences. Rao Ramesh and Posani Murali Krishna are the ones who lift this film beyond the protagonist's sullen love story, with terrific performances. For all its moments of brilliance, the flaws in Majili are too glaring to ignore. For instance, the director seems to be confused about what to do with Subbbaraju's character. First he's shown as this evil goon. He then becomes more powerful but is then made irrelevant to the film or the plot. The film becomes a tale of two halves. From an abrupt end to one love story, it starts a new one, and it doesn't always convince - neither does the climax. But as Majili plays out, you sympathise with the protagonist, feel his angst and relate to his pain. The film has enough in it to keep you glued to the screen, and despite the ill-timed songs and unnecessary fights, Majili is worth a watch.

Maharshi
(2019)

MAHARSHI REVIEW
Rishi (Mahesh Babu) is a billionaire and the CEO of Origins, someone who has always strived for the success he now owns. His friend Ravi (Allari Naresh) needs help, how will he come through? It's not the first time that Indian cinema has tried to address a prevalent social issue through commercially entertaining means. And that is exactly what Maharshi does - going from being the story of a man who wants to dream beyond his means to someone who will go on to be the people's saviour, even if it's not something he actively seeks out. Rishi (Mahesh Babu) climbs the corporate ladder hard and fast till he's the CEO of a company called Origins. It has always been his dream to achieve success and to not be like his father (Prakash Raj) whom he views as a failure. So much so, that his fear of failure keeps pushing him to do better than he ever wants to. But he soon finds out it is his college friend Ravi (Allari Naresh) to whom he owes his success. Seeking out his old friend at Ramavaram, Rishi is pushed into something far more than just repaying a debt he owes. Maharshi is a film that, while commercially entertaining, is hard to describe. One moment you're looking at a man ascending to the role of a CEO and the other you're laughing along with three friends being silly at college. The third moment you find yourself being pushed, just like Rishi, into something much bigger than you bargained for, something much bigger than him no matter how important he is. While Vamshi Paidipally manages to pull off the tale of a successful man being humbled by something as simple as a farm land for the most part, he unfortunately fills it with commercial fillers which prove to be a drawback. Maharshi is a tale that forces one to introspect and rethink their priorities in life, apart from of course; acknowledging the fact of how important the farming community is to any country. It is not the first film to do so nor will it be the last film either. But the way Vamshi goes about it is intriguing, not even trying to hide the fact that the protagonist Rishi only does anything for his own gratification, not to be the empathetic saviour. So much so that even when he tries to do more, it's supremely easy for people around him to believe the worst of him.

Mahesh Babu delivers a stupendous performance as Rishi, slipping in as easily into the role of a college student as he does into a man who wants to fight till he gets what he wants. Allari Naresh shines as Ravi, a man who goes from being one with the herd to someone who realises where his strengths lie. While Pooja Hegde delivers an honest performance as Pooja, someone who's always sceptical of Rishi, her character only seems to be there to tick off the girlfriend-box. This story could've easily done without her presence, maybe even bringing down the long run-time minus the two duets she features in. Apart from the leads, the film features a stellar cast who deliver good performances, featuring names like Jayasudha, Rajeev Kanakala, Kamal Kamaraju, Rao Ramesh, Anish Kuruvilla, Jagapathi Babu, Vennela Kishore and even Mohan Bhagath, aka Geddam from C/o Kancharapalem who shines in the single scene he has. While Jagapathi Babu's character Vivek Mittal gets enough screen-time, his character fails to rise beyond the usual greedy corporate honcho trope. Kamal Kamaraju and Anish Kuruvilla's characters' friction with Rishi too seems forced, just like the love track. DSP's BGM, apart from KU Mohanan's cinematography do justice to the film. Maharshi is a simple story weighed down by unnecessary, commercial elements. But do go watch this one if you're a Mahesh Babu fan, you will enjoy it if the claps and screams in the theatre this reviewer went to are anything to go by. Watch it not just for Mahesh Babu and Allari Naresh's performances but also for the story, if you don't mind all the bells and whistles it comes with. It might not be entertaining all through, thanks to the draggy bits, but its heart is in the right place.

Hellboy
(2019)

Hellboy Review
When an ancient sorceress wants to take down the world, our only hope is a warrior demon from the depths of hell itself. Hellboy (David Harbour) is raised by his adoptive father Professor Broom (Ian McShane) to work alongside humans in the Bureau for Paranormal Research (BRPD) - an organisation that protects people from otherworldly forces who threaten the planet. Hellboy's supernatural abilities are put to the test when the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) is raised from the undead, in a bid to take revenge on humans who tried to destroy her ages ago. Neil Marshall's reboot of Guillermo Del Toro's two films based on this comic-book universe aims to set itself apart with a distinctly gory, and expletive-laden tone. Marshall understands how to stage large scale action set pieces, and there are a couple of sequences that are disturbing, yet hilarious. But there's little else of note.

Milla Jovovich as the villain is bad, and not in a cheesy yet enjoyable manner. She struggles to convey the required sense of menace; her dialogue delivery fluctuates between wooden and comical. It also doesn't help that the Blood Queen is a weak antagonist who holds a lot of promise but doesn't quite bring it eventually. Meanwhile, David Harbour is perfectly cast as the lead character. Hellboy is mighty while being snappy with oodles of wit, and Harbour nails down his devilishly fun persona. Ian McShane also attempts to add some pathos to the distorted father-son relationship Professor Broom shares with Hellboy.

Sadly, as soon as you begin to appreciate these sub-plots, the next action sequence is thrown at us. The tonality is wildly uneven which isn't helped as outrageous characters enter the narrative with little context, and often exit quickly as well. If Marshall's mere intent was to shock you with excessive gore and expletives, then he manages to do that. It isn't quite enough, especially if you leave the theatre confused about what just happened, due to a ludicrous plot. Despite McShane and Harbour's best efforts, this exhaustive 'end-of-the-world' story is unable to raise as much hell as it should.

Aladdin
(2019)

ALADDIN REVIEW
A notorious 'street rat' Aladdin, feels a deep sense of connection with the Princess of the kingdom he resides in, but upon reaching her palace, he realises that winning her over is going to be tougher than he had imagined. A local thief Aladdin (Mena Massoud), from the kingdom of Agrabah, falls in love with its princess - Jasmine (Naomi Scott) - and decides to persuade her, but the evil Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) and chief advisor to the Sultan (Navid Negahban) put forward this condition - Aladdin must bring him the magical lamp and its Genie (Will Smith) that grants three wishes. The story of Aladdin and the Genie is known to one and all and this live-action adaptation of Disney's animated classic by the same name, which has originally immortalised this legendary tale, is no exception to that phenomenon. The fresh pairing of Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott works and is a welcome surprise as the duo share an amazing chemistry on screen and pretty much hold on to the likeability factors of their respective characters till the very end. Will Smith, the Genie, is a straight up natural as far as tickling our funny bones is concerned but again, it would be criminal to compare him to Robbin Williams's 1992 act in the original movie as the standards set by the late actor-comedian are pretty high. Jafar - the vengeful villain - is so bad in the movie that he's actually good, and brownie points to director Guy Ritchie for fully exploring and bringing to light the twisted psyche of this greed-filled character, which ultimately makes you wonder - who's the sinner and who has been sinned against. However, the downside of the whole direction process is that it is somewhat mixed and some of the song-dance sequences look & feel forced and could have been avoided. Despite its grandeur and larger-than-life cinematography-animation, at two hours and eight minutes - the film starts to feel bit of a drag. The momentum, at which the film moves, is yet another problem that cannot be overlooked - all the characters are given ample time and attention to grow and develop, while the ending is wrapped up in a tearing hurry. Kids born in the 90s, who have watched the cartoon version of this story, will find 'Aladdin' a bit too hard to get accustomed to in the beginning, but otherwise, the film - sans its minor hiccups - is congenial and establishes the 'feel-good' factor from frame one and maintains it till the curtains are drawn.

Rangeela Raja
(2019)

Rangeela Raja Reviews
Two brothers, hailing from a royal family in Jodhpur, are completely different from one another. While the elder brother Raja Vijendra Pratap (Govinda) leads a life of deception and engages in adultery, the younger brother Ajay Pratap (also played by Govinda) becomes a sanyasi and believes in leading a righteous life. Loud, obnoxious and a womaniser Raja, who has no qualms about cheating on his demure, docile and much younger wife Shivranjani (Digangana Suryavanshi), starts to feel the heat of his own actions when his younger brother takes matters in his hands and chalks out an elaborate plan to straighten him out. The film is all things 90's - a larger-than-life Govinda on screen, melodramatic dialogues, flashy costumes and over-the-top acting by the entire cast. 'Rangeela Raja' offers nothing new, neither in terms of story-telling, nor in terms of its lousy execution. This family drama/comedy is a figment of director Sikander Bharti and writer Khalid Azmi's over-stretched imagination. The only silver lining here is that the film serves as a reminder of the once adored, colourful on-screen persona of Govinda. The film also features Shakti Kapoor, as driver Padampet, and it's a nostalgic nod to the two actors' iconic comedy pairing from the 90's. Both the actresses in the movie - Digangana Suryavanshi as Shivranjani and Mishika Chourasia as Natasha - have hammed throughout and that doesn't help the prospects of this clichéd story. Perhaps in a different era and with a tighter script, 'Rangeela Raja' would have been able to entertain the single screen audience. But, in the current scenario, this tale of a philandering prince feels a little too jaded.

Kalank
(2019)

KALANK REVIEW
A complex love story set during India's Partition era, where the young Roop (Alia Bhatt) is torn between respect for husband Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur) and her newfound love for Zafar (Varun Dhawan). While their back stories and heart-breaking love saga unfolds, the history of India takes an epic turn, from where there is no coming back As the name suggests, 'Kalank' is a story that questions the high morals of society, especially when it comes to love and family ties. At the heart of the story, the film focuses on how eternal love goes beyond the norms and rules of society, the trappings of religion, and all other physical and man-made boundaries. At a dramatic moment in the film, Aditya Roy Kapur's Dev remarks that if someone's wife is in love with another man, then what is the point of the marriage at all. In that aspect, writer and director Abhishek Varman's film makes a strong point.

The story is based in a town called Husnabad, near Lahore, a few years before the Partition of India and Pakistan. It's a town populated by blacksmiths and a majority of them are Muslims. Husnabad's most affluent family is the Chaudhrys - Dev and his father Balraj (Sanjay Dutt), who also run a liberal newspaper called The Daily News. Dev's life takes a sudden turn when under strange circumstances he gets married to Roop. But the complexities in the story are just about to begin. Without revealing too much, during a visit to Bahaar Begum's chamber (where Roop is honing her music skills) Roop meets Zafar, the local blacksmith and after several meetings they develop strong feelings for each other. The story seems like it offers something new, but the complex relationships and ill-fated romances are often predictable. What's fresh about 'Kalank' is the treatment. This period drama is mounted on a lavish scale and whether it's the sets or the costumes, everything about the film brings the grandeur alive.

While it does make a strong case for the universal nature of love, the film's screenplay at times, becomes a little too indulgent and keeps oscillating between the deft nuances as well as theatrical drama. And yet, there are sublime moments like the uneasy relationship between newly-weds Roop and Dev, the tender exchanges between Satya and Dev and the romantic scenes (topped with intense dialogues) between Roop and Zaffar. The other high points of the film are the problematic equation between father and son, Dev and Balraj as well as the fragile teacher-student dynamic between Bahaar Begum and Roop. What we wish is that the narrative lingered more with such intimate moments that would make us feel more for the characters. The biggest highlight of the film is the star-studded cast and thankfully, the performances measure up to the epic ensemble. Alia Bhatt leads the way in a role that showcases vulnerability and strength in equal measure. Varun Dhawan, flaunting his superbly toned, greased body looks great for the part and he shows immense intensity that his conflicted character demands. Another stand-out performance comes from Aditya Roy Kapur, who excels in the stoic silences and reserved nature of his character. Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Sanjay Dutt and Sonakshi Sinha chip in with moments of pitch-perfect drama, too. Kunal Kemmu as Zafar's friend Abdul, brings in tension and thrills in his grey-shaded role. The joint efforts of the cast add the proverbial punch to the experience of 'Kalank'.

An epic love saga based during the 1940s has so much scope for visual detailing and finesse. While 'Kalank' scales up the production in every aspect, at times, the world that it recreates looks a little too plush and away from reality. The film features arresting frames full of grand visuals captured by cinematographer Binod Pradhan, and the music by Pritam has stand out songs like 'Ghar More Pardesiya' and the 'Kalank' title track. At 2 hours and 48 minutes, with a tighter edit the story could have wrapped up much sooner though. 'Kalank' is a true labour of love that tells you a story laced with beautiful moments that will tug at your heartstrings.

Paharganj
(2019)

Paharganj Review
Spanish girl Laura comes all the way to Paharganj looking for the love of her life, Robert. Gautam attempts to regain his lost enigma while dealing with his brother's death, an unexpected political murder of Tomar takes place and a raging gang war between Munna and Sonu BC ensues. Are they all connected? In search of her boyfriend, Laura Costa (Lorena Franco) comes to Paharganj and wonders why people come there in the first place? Gautam Menon (Brijesh Jayarajan) is a basketball coach, who desperately wants his team to win against Jitendar Tomar's (Karan Soni). Munna (Salman Khan), who is a local goon, wants to be the king of Paharganj through illegal means like selling of drugs. Despite being so different from each other and leading separate lives, the stories of all these characters are somehow connected.

'Paharganj' manages to showcase the world of drug cartels and the overall situation of the area in question, but the story has been dragged beyond a reasonable extent, especially the part where they go about searching for Robert; tedious and should have been trimmed down. Performances are painfully bland, and the script, too, is clichéd and fails to make the desired impact, let alone leaving a long lasting impression on its audience. Except for the title track, even this social drama's music couldn't prove to be its saving grace - average to the core. All in all, the story explores everything from politics and their goons to the world of drug mafia and murders. However, it turns out to be one of those films that has a lot to say but ends up focusing on just one aspect of the plot line, which in this case, happens to be Laura's quest to find Robert. And that's not an enthralling expedition for people to embark on, especially on a weekend.

De De Pyaar De
(2019)

De De Pyaar De Review
An affluent middle-aged man living in London falls in love with a girl half his age. All hell breaks loose when he tries to seek approval from his separated wife and estranged family back in India. "This is not an age gap, it's a generation gap," warns Ashish Mehra's (Ajay Devgn) shrink (Javed Jaffrey), when he learns about his client cum friend's affair with a 20-something hottie Ayesha (Rakul Preet Singh). But it's not a one-sided love story that has a man dating his beti ki umar ki ladki. It's a full-fledged love affair that has all the trappings of a meet cute romance and more. What starts as harmless flirting between two starkly different personalities, leads them to discover that they can be more than just a habit for each other. This is pretty much what the first half of 'De De Pyaar De' (DDPD) is all about.

Ajay Devgn is in top form (physically and otherwise) playing his age and having the last laugh, even as he lets the audience laugh at him for being repeatedly called Buddha and 'Uncle' in the film. He takes it in his stride, knowing well that even at 50, he can give the 20-year-olds, a run for their money. Little wonder then that, his chemistry with a young and vivacious Rakul Preet Singh doesn't feel out of place. She compliments Devgn's suave charisma with confidence and glamour. Like in every film, Tabu excels in this one too, with her understated performance and measured expressions. She is not only the voice of reason in the film, but also grace and beauty personified. Even her comic timing is spot on.

It's a shame that writers Luv Ranjan and Tarun Jain don't fully exploit her comic potential. Neither do they deep dive into revealing details of what could possibly be the deal breaker for Ashish to leave Manju.

For most part, DDPD remains light and fluffy with awkward situations and conflicts in the second half. However, the narrative wobbles each time director Akiv Ali tries to strike a balance between modern thinking and age-old moralistic values. While some major conflicts resolve very conveniently (almost unbelievably), there are characters like that of Jimmy Shergill, who purely add to the noise and confusion. A clear opportunity to generate some memorable laugh out loud moments with the talented actor is lost in the process. The rest of the cast is also reduced to being caricatures you cannot take too seriously. The songs are weak, but the background score is consistently strong to lift many of the scenes.

The film maturely handles a few touchy topics like divorce, live-ins and age-inappropriate romance, without getting too overbearing. Thankfully, director Akiv Ali wraps it up with a slightly unpredictable climax minus the melodrama. Overall, DDPD is a fun ride that reinstates the fact that when it comes to love, age is just a number.

Student of the Year 2
(2019)

STUDENT OF THE YEAR 2 REVIEW
A small town boy Rohan Sehgal (Tiger Shroff), madly in love with his childhood sweetheart Mridula (Tara Sutaria), follows her to city's top college. But this new term brings friends, foes and cut-throat competition along with heartbreak. Will he bounce back and beat the odds to become the Student of the Year? Pretty young things in designer wear, dapper dudes with rippling muscles, scorching hot-wheels and a colourful campus buzzing with all sorts of extra-curricular activities - Welcome to the class of 2019 at Dehradun's most upscale college Saint Teresa. It's a place where all things are pretty and glossed over. Film's leading man (Tiger Shroff) fits right into the scheme of things when he secures an admission with a sports quota. He comes from a lesser privileged college, where students don't have the luxury of fancy cars and fashionable clothes. But his many talents start becoming a cause of concern for the current poster boy of Saint Teresa, Manav Mehra (Aditya Seal). Add to that, Manav's sister Shreya (Ananya), the college brat, who thinks of herself as no less than a princess, is all set to take on Rohan and embarrass him at every given opportunity. This sets the stage for a testosterone led confrontation of one-upmanship that involves love, ladies and competitiveness. Much of the story revolves around the four main characters, who fall in and out of love without much ado. There's no heartbreak too deep that can shatter them, or a punch so strong that it can break them. The narrative stays sweet, simple and along predictable lines.

Tiger Shroff pretty much carries the film on his well-toned shoulders, and his sweet boy charm works for the part. His strengths are showcased with skill and attention - whether he is dancing like a dream, running on the tracks (the camera accentuating his muscles and sinew in close-ups), playing kabaddi or flipping in the air and landing with a blow.

While film's leading ladies Tara and Ananya are glammed up to the T and flaunt the best designer wear that money can buy, their roles aren't tailored to perfection. Especially, Tara's character doesn't seem well-etched out. While her screen presence is impressive, her performance is average. Thankfully, for Ananya, her character gets a definite curve and a convincing backstory that works in her favour. Her performance gradually grows on you, especially in some of her meet cute scenes with Tiger. Ditto, for the film's anti-hero Aditya Seal. He pulls off his part well, looking every bit the classy, rich spoilt brat.

While there was far more scope for comedy, some of the best laugh-out-loud moments come from Tiger's gang of friends. Among them, Harsh Beniwal leaves a lasting impression with his wisecracks and comic timing.

Director Punit Malhotra ensures that a lot of drama and action remain out of the classroom, with focus on sports, dance and romance, not that the new age campus kids will complain. However, the chemistry between Tiger and the two debutantes doesn't quite warm your heart. And while it comes seven years after SOTY, the writing doesn't seem to have come of age. Music is quite average, unlike the previous SOTY, which had songs like Radha and the Disco song that could probably feature on your playlist, even today. The edit could have been crisper. With the story at hand, the film could have had a shorter runtime. While the first half is spent in setting the tone of the film, second half gets a tad more exciting when the drama and action unfold. The film does make you nostalgic about Mansoor Khan's 1992 hit Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, of course, this one is a modern-day snazzier version. Overall, SOTY 2 doesn't have that Ishq wala love, but there is ample dosti, high school drama and cool stuff to keep you going. It's always fun rooting for the underdog and you'll find yourself doing that here, too. There's not much to fuss over, but for the young campus generation, it's a fun and breezy watch. With enough lessons in styling and fashion (out of syllabus, of course).

Petta
(2019)

Petta Movie Review
A hostel warden becomes the target of a dreaded politician and his gangster son, but little do they realise that it is they who should fear him. The last few years have been unkind to a Rajini fan. After Endhiran, at the turn of the decade, the Superstar did Kochadaiiyaan, a motion capture animation film; Lingaa was a commercial film that turned formula into a parody; and of course, Pa Ranjith's Kabali and Kaala, which brought back the actor in him, couldn't decide if they wanted to be a Superstar film or a director's film. Even 2.0 didn't feel like a Rajini film. True, Rajinikanth is a fabulous actor in a certain kind of role, like the ones he played in Mullum Malarum or Aarilirunthu Arupathu Varai, but come on, let's be honest, they are not what made him THE Superstar. It was the films like Murattu Kaalai, Moondru Mugam, Dharmathin Thalaivan, Annamalai, Baashha, and Padayappa... where he was an entertainer first that put in a league of his own.

Karthik Subbaraj, a self-confessed, die-hard fan, understands this. And that is why Petta works. The basic plot is a reinvention of the Superstar's biggest hit - Baashha. But Karthik Subbaraj introduces minor variations into this template and keeps the film from turning predictable. Petta succeeds where Lingaa failed - it sticks to the formula, but it also makes it feel fresh. Kaali (Rajinikanth) joins a college as a hostel warden and sets things in order in his own playful way, playing Cupid to a young couple (Megha Akash and Sanath), romancing the girl's mother (Simran) and putting the rowdy boys, headed by Michael (Bobby Simha) in their place. But there is more to him than meets the eye. And soon, Kaali has to take on Singhar Singh (Nawazuddin Siddique), a right-wing politician, and his violent son, Jithu (Vijay Sethupathi) in Uttar Pradesh.

Petta is more a Rajini film and less of a Karthik Subbaraj film. What the director brings in are mainly his technical proficiency - there is the unmistakable visual flair, and this is certainly the best looking Rajini film since Thalapathy (Tirru is the cinematographer) - his entire company of actors, and fanboy zeal. And he gives Rajini fans their Thalaivar in the way they have been dying to see him, celebrating the Rajinisms. At times, this gives a feeling of the director checking off the wish list of fans - asking the Superstar to perform some comedy, kick butt in the action scenes, utter punch dialogues, and most importantly, showcase his style... Even the casting of Simran and Trisha, two actresses who missed doing a film with Rajinikanth, feels this way. Though both have very little to do in terms of plot, the scenes between Rajini and Simran are delightful.

This approach does make the film feel like a greatest hits compilation of Rajinikanth, but this is not a complaint. In fact, this is its biggest plus. The references to Rajini's previous films are whistle-worthy (like the one where he opens a gate, much like he did in his very first shot of his career, or when he utters, "Ulle po") or at least bring a smile (when he playfully scares Munishkanth, saying, "Paambu paambu" or even the sight of Chinni Jayanth). Even the characters are a throwback... If Sasikumar's Malik is a throwback to the Muslim friend in Baashha, a student, whom Kaali has to protect, is called Anwar, the name of the friend in Baashha!

The film does have its issues, though, which are mostly narrative. For one, it is overlong. The plot takes a while to get going, and after a point, the college scenes become an overkill, mainly because most of the characters are secondary characters. Anirudh's songs, while peppy, aren't really necessary, though Ilamai Thirumbudhe is a lovely throwback to the Rajini of yore.

The antagonists, too, do not feel threatening, even though they are played by phenomenal actors. Nawazuddin's Singhar is no Mark Antony, and remains in the background. Meanwhile, Vijay Sethupathi's Jithu seems to exist mainly for the mandatory Karthik Subbaraj twist...

But, the film gives us the Thalaivar we all love - in loads. And Rajinikanth has fun playing the role, and shows us why he is the Superstar. Right from his opening punchline, "Naan veezhven endru ninaithaayo", Petta is filled with lines that make it clear for everyone that the Superstar is still - the only one, as he remarked in the recent 2.0 . And by the time he utters his final dialogue, "Indha aattam podhuma kozhandhai", we realise that the film has also turned into a heartfelt conversation of sorts between fans and their Thalaivar.

American Hustle
(2013)

American Hustle Review
1978. Seasoned confidence tricksters Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) cut a deal with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) to dob in other offenders in return for clemency. However, Irving's loose-cannon wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) threatens to derail the plan. This opens with a caption that claims its story is "mostly true", which has in the annals of crime cinema historically covered a spectrum of veracity and mendacity ranging from In Cold Blood to Fargo, but tries to position American Hustle as more significant than the average twisty con-inside-a-con crime movie. Like Pain & Gain, it's as much a portrait of the excesses of its era as it is criminal reportage, with an unusual emphasis on 1970s hairstyles as symptoms of the Carter years. The opening shows Christian Bale, demonstrating his Machinist super-power of altering his body at will by sporting an impressive paunch, applying the toupee, glue, spray and hair-sculpting moves necessary to create his disco comb-over. Later, the film gives equal time to the tiny and huge curlers Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams' characters require for their respective 'dos. However, American Hustle is a showcase rather than a truly great movie. The intricate, attenuated plot threatens to address corruption in America but any point keeps getting lost in its own trickery. Unrepentant con men, crooked politicians and (even) murderous Mafia bosses are more honest and admirable here than the FBI sting operatives out to take them down. The message might be to leave institutionalised crime well enough alone - Rosenfeld seems to express the script's message when he says that "after Vietnam and Watergate", the country doesn't need another disillusioning political scandal. Besides, the film keeps showing us that con men are fun - they have enviable dress sense, live large in a way the movies are hardwired to admire more than plodding decency, and aren't notably more deceitful and money-grubbing than the forces of law and order, just better at pulling the rug out from under the marks and waltzing away with a smile. On a scene-by-scene basis, it's undoubtedly a dazzling film, albeit with many lifts from the Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson playbooks. Casino and Boogie Nights are explicitly evoked, and one flashback might literally be a GoodFellas outtake. The camera prowls through '70s luxury hotels and suburban homes, wincing at the thick carpets and the eye-abusing curtains, pausing to relish the kitschy tableware or clunky furniture. It makes persuasive use of a double album's worth of 1970s chart hits, with major dramatic moments sold by selections from Elton John's back catalogue. Meanwhile, Lawrence cements her current can-do-no-wrong status in an extraordinary scene, just after her character has set a fiendish revenge scheme in motion, as she sings along to Live And Let Die while aggressively cleaning her house in yellow kitchen gloves and gloating over the deadly pickle she's just landed her faithless husband in. Cooper is stuck with the least rewarding role, but keeps finding brilliant little bits of business to hold the attention: watch him do spot impersonations of his overly cautious (but smart) boss during a premature victory celebration. Bale, in velvet jacket, and Adams, in dresses so low-cut that double-sided Sellotape must be involved to preserve decency, play conners who are always on - Adams' Sydney poses as British aristocracy with a Diana Rigg accent for most of the film - but gradually show their real personalities and become appalled by what they've got into, though the film becomes less convincing when its brittly amoral double-dealers start showing a rudimentary conscience.

We Die Young
(2019)

We Die Young Review
If you watch "We Die Young"-the new coming-of-age/gangster drama hybrid-it'll probably be because Jean-Claude Van Damme is the film's headlining star. Sadly, Van Damme, the rare '80s action star who has (in recent years) given some thought to how he can age gracefully on-screen, is not in "We Die Young" a lot. Granted, a bigger role might not have improved Van Damme's enjoyably twitchy performance as the mute, Oxycontin-addicted ex-marine Daniel. But Daniel is the most compelling part of "We Die Young," a familiar story about reluctant teenage gang member Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) and his seemingly impossible quest to break away from Mara Salvatrucha (aka: MS-13), a gang of Central American criminals who, in real life, have been associated with drug-running and child prostitution. Lucas' story is also sometimes believable thanks to a strong performance by David Castañeda, who plays the brutal MS-13 gang leader Rincon. But Castañeda and Van Damme's scene-stealing performances don't significantly improve writer/director Lior Geller's frequent reliance on racial stereotypes and gangster movie cliches. You can tell that Geller doesn't really care about his characters beyond a point just by watching his movie's sensationalistic opening scene: Lucas (14 years old) gives viewers an unsettling tour of his corner of Washington D.C., one that concludes with Rincon quoting Shakespeare's Shylock-a very selective reading of his famous "If you prick us, do we not bleed" speech-right before he encourages his minions to beat a random debtor to a bloody pulp. Lucas casually mentions (through voiceover narration) that his neighborhood is just a 20-minute bike ride away from the White House, an otherwise unrelated factoid that gives "We Die Young" a superficial kind of political relevance. After this introductory scene, "We Die Young" is a mostly by-the-numbers crime melodrama in the vein of "A Bronx Tale" or "American Me." Lucas juggles several responsibilities, all of which inevitably come to a head at the wedding of Gabriela (Robyn Cara), Rincon's handicapped sister. First: Lucas delivers pain-killers to Daniel, who broods silently in his auto body shop whenever he's not flirting with under-developed love interest Anna (Joana Metrass) or flashing back to his traumatizing tour of Afghanistan. Then: Lucas tries to stop his impressionable 10 year-old brother from joining MS-13. Finally: Lucas goes on a special/dangerous mission for Rincon, who wants to make a deal with an (apparently) more dangerous El Salvadorian drug cartel-even though Rincon's chapter of MS-13 is under FBI surveillance. This leaves Van Damme in the unusual position of playing a tragic supporting role. That's not necessarily a bad thing since Van Damme has often tried, with mixed results, to prove that he's more than just an admirably limber set of gams (Most mugging: "Enemies Closer"; Best body language: "The Bouncer"). As Daniel, Van Damme initially stumbles around like he's doing a weird riff on Boris Karloff's version of Frankenstein's monster, complete with exaggerated grimaces and scowls. But in a couple of scenes, Van Damme simply reacts to his fellow cast members, like when Daniel, overseen by Lucas, patches up Miguel after a grisly confrontation with some characteristically bloodthirsty gang members. In this moment, Van Damme doesn't do much: really, he's just listening and frowning. But that's more than enough to be suggestive, a consummate quality that Van Damme has often tried to cultivate, but has rarely been able to sustain. Unfortunately, Geller doesn't encourage Van Damme or any of his fellow cast members to be suggestive for long. Geller over-emphasizes the stereotypically violent nature of macho MS-13 members like Rincon's hothead second-in-command Jester (Charlie MacGechan) using blurry and/or shaky hand-held camerawork. MacGechan's face is consequently filmed with jerky camera movements that draw attention to the gun in his hand or his body's restless motion. Even close-ups of Castañeda's face (which is covered in tattoos) seem to emphasize his character's most garish qualities. Which is a real shame, since Castañeda shows great promise. Many of his tic-y mannerisms bring to mind tough guy kings like Al Pacino and Edward James Olmos, especially the way Castañeda tents his fingers, pauses dramatically, or leers without blinking. But Castañeda is good enough that I believed Rincon-and not the actor-had subconsciously internalized a couple decades-worth of his favorite gangster poses. I sometimes wondered what "We Die Young" might have been like if Geller focused on his latent juxtaposition of Rincon and Daniel. Both characters want to simultaneously protect and escape their communities, but neither Rincon nor Daniel knows how to do right by their loved ones, especially Lucas. Rodriguez delivers a fine enough performance, but Geller never seems sure what to do with his main character. So for the most part, "We Die Young" follows a poorly defined audience surrogate, one who does what he's told without ever really standing apart from his guardians. Van Damme may be famous enough that he can afford to continue noodling around with different roles and performance styles. But his fellow cast members deserve a lot better than "We Die Young."

Peter Rabbit
(2018)

Peter Rabbit Review
When nasty neighbour Mr McGregor (Sam Neill) dies, Peter Rabbit (James Corden) thinks his worries are over. Then a new McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits the house and Peter has a whole new enemy to contend with. You could write a complicated thesis about the morality of Beatrix Potter's most famous story. Peter Rabbit is a story without a hero. On the one side you have Peter, who believes he is entitled to steal whatever vegetables he likes from the garden nearest his warren. On the other you have Mr. McGregor, the owner of said garden, who believes that if a rabbit strays into his garden then it is his right to kill and eat them. He has already digested Peter's father. Who you side with probably says a lot about you, or your respect for gardening. The reason Will Gluck's take on the story doesn't quite work, although it has many charming moments, is Peter. Or more specifically, the voice of Peter. Because Peter is rather an entitled brat, who does atrocious things and expects to be liked because he's an adorable little bunny (in fairness, the cuteness of his widdle face goes a long way), he needs the voice of someone innately loveable and scampish. Someone, perhaps, like Taron Egerton, Tom Holland or Will Poulter, with a bit of mischief in their voice, but also boyishness and a hint of insecurity. Instead he's voiced by James Corden, who is a fine actor but he's nearly 40 and his persona is one of supreme confidence, even cockiness. It's a very odd casting choice and makes Peter sound too mature and old enough to know better. It's unappealing. He looks, it must be said, splendid. The animation of all the animals is faultless and pleasingly fluffy. The human side of things has been reworked significantly from Potter's book, mostly to modernise it, and mostly successfully. The old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill), with his rabbit-cooking ways, exits pretty quickly, and ever so slightly too bleakly. He's replaced by a much younger Mr. McGregor, his great-nephew (Gleeson). The actor manages the tricky balance of making McGregor, a London boy who doesn't know one end of a rake from another, an angry foil for Peter and a reasonably likeable man understandably driven to distraction by the annoying rabbit. Rose Byrne punches up the role of next-door neighbour who is fond of both boys. Gluck's choice to make Peter Rabbit winkingly postmodern, with a voice-over poking fun at the clichés of "this sort of story", often works against him. Paddington, which the film seems keen to emulate, managed a tone that was self-effacing but sincere. This is often too quick to prick anything that seems even a little sentimental. It's based on a wholesome storybook with not even a dash of cynicism. It shouldn't have been afraid to embrace that. It comes off a bit cool, but in the unemotional sense rather than the one it's aiming for.

Rampage
(2018)

Rampage Review
A shady technology company develops a process that turns innocent animals into giant killer monsters. Unfortunately, their serum infects the wrong animals, including the gorilla pal of zoologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), putting the entire world at risk. In Hollywood, if you have a really dumb idea for a movie and a lot of money to make it, you call The Rock. That's not intended as an insult; the guy is just the industry's greatest salesman. Two hundred and 60 pounds of oiled muscles and oil-free charisma, he can sell you things you thought you actively did not want: a Jumanji reboot, sequels to G.I. Joe and Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, films featuring Kevin Hart, Baywat... Okay, everyone has their limits. Rampage is a quintessential Johnson project. Based on a video game with no story or characters to speak of, from a time before many of his fans were born, it sounds like a dreadful basis for a movie. And it sort of is, but it's also sort of a lot of fun. The original Rampage came out in 1986, when games were simple (you moved from side to side either punching things or shooting them or gorging on white dots and ghosts) and repetitive. And we were glad of it. In Rampage, players controlled one of three giant monsters - a wolf, a lizard, or a gorilla - and tried to destroy cities before the military could shoot them down and turn them back into the humans they apparently once were. Sacrilegiously messing with the canon, the Rampage movie does not feature humans becoming monsters. Instead, while trying to find a cure for cancer by "gene editing", scientists have (not-so) accidentally created a serum that turns normal animals into angry, enormous monsters. To avoid the prying eyes of the government and others who might notice titanic hamsters devouring Downtown, these scientists have been carrying out their experiments in space. But things go awry, the space station blows up, and several canisters of monster juice are sent hurtling to Earth. Two land in the wilderness and another crashes into a San Diego zoo, where Davis Okoye (Johnson) works with gorillas. His favourite, an albino called George, is affected by the serum and grows colossal and violent. To pick apart the plot would be a waste of time, because it's purely functional. There's no subtlety or art to it, nor should there be. This is a movie about gorillas punching buildings. You don't want character work getting in the way of that. It's fine when the villains (brother and sister megalomaniacs Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy) say they need to turn their office building's radio aerial into a giant-monster-homing beacon so had their tech guys "modify it last night". Because who cares how they did it? Equally, who's concerned that Naomie Harris' miscellaneously science-y character hacks a multi-billion dollar tech company using a thermostat she found in the fridge, because it's "all connected to the same grid"? Logic is only going to slow things down. Those buildings won't punch themselves. When it comes to the building-punching portion of the show, there could have been more of it. This very silly movie could actually have afforded to be a lot sillier. Brad Peyton, director of that other loony Rock joint San Andreas, doesn't keep his tongue always fully in his cheek and he sometimes seems to be shooting, misguidedly, for cool. Johnson is mostly playing his gags with an eyebrow waggle, but not all of the film has his broad confidence. Those villains could be camper, the action sequences could use some more visual gags to enjoy the absurdity of the conceit, and is it greedy to wish the massive gorilla, wolf and lizard were even bigger? Warner Bros. may already have Godzilla and King Kong up its very roomy sleeve, and was perhaps concerned about stepping on those extremely big toes, but when it comes to city-toppling beasts, there's always room for more. Rampage is big dumb fun, but not as big, dumb and fun as it could have been.

Venom
(2018)

Venom Review
TV investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is working on an exposé of scientist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who is using San Francisco's homeless as guinea pigs to bond humans with aliens. Sneaking into Drake's lab, Eddie's body merges with symbiote Venom who gives him super-strength, a deep inner voice and a huge appetite. Movies haven't been kind to Venom. Third-wheeling behind Sandman and the New Goblin in Spider-Man 3, and with a background nod in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane's unfriendly neighbourhood symbiote now stars in his own film that mostly botches its attempts to bring the anti-hero to life. Lacking the we-know-how-to-do this confidence of Disney's MCU, Ruben Fleischer's film never finds a strong footing, mixing drab stretches of plot, efficient but flat action, mishandled comedy, a few fun elements and squandering one of the most exciting casts of the year. The first act is ham-fisted, charmless and dull. There is a protracted set-up where Eddie (Hardy) loses his TV reporting gig, his lawyer girlfriend Annie (Michelle Williams) and his life by going off-message when interviewing scientist Carlton Drake (Ahmed). The latter is pushing forward with dangerous experiments combining humans with symbiotes, icky shape-shifting blobs that enter the body by osmosis. At the same time, there is another symbiote on its way, body-hopping from a paramedic to an elderly Malaysian woman to a little girl on its journey to the States. The storytelling here is blunt, but what's even more surprising is the lack of chemistry between Hardy and Williams, two of the most charismatic actors on the planet. Hardy's performance in particular is fidgety, muted and curiously unengaging; Williams also toils away in a nothing-y fiancée-moving-on role. Completing the troika, Venom also has another collector's item - a bland Riz Ahmed turn as an Elon Musk-y visionary saddled with dreadful dialogue ("Find my Symbiote NOW"). On paper, Fleischer is a good fit for the material. His best work, Zombieland, found a sweet spot of laughs, gore and energy, a good checklist for any Venom movie. Yet he cannot find the correct timbre here. The action, from Brock/Venom brutally seeing off Drake's goons in Eddie's apartment or a bike-car-drone chase, to Venom taking down a SWAT-like team in a smoke-filled foyer, has little verve or spirit and just ends up being deadening. The comedy doesn't land either. Eddie embarrassing himself in front of Annie in a posh restaurant by scoffing lobster and jumping into fish tanks feels too timid to be funny. There is a sense, both through elements of Hardy's physical performance and some of Venom's facial expressions, that Venom echoes The Mask. It wants to be all portentous and Marvel-y (Ludwig Göransson's bombastic score, the end credits malarkey), but channelling Stanley Ipkiss might have been a helluva lot more entertaining. Venom is neither triumph nor train-wreck. It's a mediocre origin story, a superhero host that sadly fails to bond with its comedy parasite. Which is a shame, as there is enough here to to suggest it could have been a blast.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls
(2018)

The House With A Clock In Its Walls Review
In 1955, young orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) arrives in the town of New Zebedee, Michigan, where he's entering into the care of his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). Not that it exactly counts as 'care': Jonathan is a warlock who owns an enchanted house which contains a hidden clock that's counting down to doomsday. And it's up to him, Lewis and their witchy neighbour Florence (Cate Blanchett) to save the world. After a directorial career of serving up torture porn and queasy thrillers, Eli Roth switches to something palatable for the pre-teen crowd, complete with magic, monsters and macabre puppets. Which, combined with the rotund presence of Jack Black and the fact it's based on a kids' novel (by John Bellairs), suggests The House With A Clock In Its Walls might be little more than a Goosebumps doppelgänger. While the similarities are hard to deny, Roth's take on child-friendly creep-outs has a different texture. Concerning an orphaned boy (Vaccaro) entering a strange world of both wonder and violent threat, it is an Amblin property both literally and in spirit (the flying-bike logo for Spielberg's beloved production house notably appears in its original '80s form). Where Goosebumps assaulted us with digitally conjured creatures, The House... is built on solidly practical foundations, delivering its visual joys through an appealingly baroque production design and couching its narrative in remarkable set-builds rather than greenscreen backdrops. Aside from a few obligatory CG creatures (sticky puke-spewing pumpkin heads, a winged-lion leaf-beast), it benefits from an appealing tangibility too often absent from 21st century family adventures. Unsurprisingly with Roth behind the megaphone, the chills and jump-scares are rigorously orchestrated, with the final act conjuring some disturbing, 12A-pushing visions that will likely freak out younger viewers. But while Vaccaro impresses as the playground-outcast who discovers a knack for the occult, Black nestles once more into his hyper, boomy, eyebrow-waggling routine, and the ambitious attempt to form a bantering double act with Cate Blanchett - playing an elegant witch who's lost her magic mojo - doesn't quite come off. For all the gags flying around, and all the friendly insults batted between Blanchett and Black, the script lacks the sparkle and polish of many of the classic Amblins it so enthusiastically emulates. It could do with less scatology, and a little more exploration of its intriguing post-war trauma theme. Even so, it remains a welcome addition to the family-horror subgenre, if only for Roth's determination to visually kick it old-school.

Bullet
(2014)

Bullet Review
Frank Bullet (Trejo) embarks on a Commando-style vengeance mission when his grandson is snatched by a drug lord's (Banks) cronies. Cage-fighting cop Frank Bullet (Danny Trejo) is out for blood when drug lord Carlito Kane (Jonathan Banks) kidnaps his grandson. Hobbled by lazy plotting and dodgy dialogue, the meagre thrill comes from seeing Trejo square off against fellow Breaking Bad alumnus Banks (aka Mike Ehrmantraut).

Ride Along
(2014)

Ride Along Review
Ben Barber (Hart), a high-energy security guard, tags along with his prospective brother-in-law James Payton (Ice Cube) for a 24-hour patrol around Atlanta. Hoping to prove himself worthy of Payton's sister (Sumpter), he over-reaches when crime comes to call... Pairing Ice Cube's gruff persona with Kevin Hart's motor mouth must have seemed like a great idea on paper. Yet while the film has been a big hit in the States, box-office success is not always an indicator of a memorable or classic comedy, and the mismatched-buddy-cop antics on display here rarely rise above the chuckle level despite the charisma factor. Even that isn't enough to carry a film that slogs through a script structure so musty you wonder if it wasn't discovered in an Egyptian tomb. Kevin Hart is a star in the making, but this particular vehicle needed better wheels. The Pesci-in-Lethal-Weapon premise is spun out into a feature-length jamboree of minor laughs and clunkiness.

Getaway
(2013)

Getaway Review
After his wife is taken hostage in a brutal kidnapping, former NASCAR driver Brent Magna (Hawke) is forced into driving around Sofia, Bulgaria in a stolen car by a heard-but-not-seen evil mastermind. His task gets tougher when he is joined by the Kid (Gomez), a tech whiz whose car Magna has stolen. After starring in one of the best films of 2013 (Before Midnight), Ethan Hawke ends the year in one of the worst. He plays Brent Magna (honestly), an ex NASCAR driver who gets coerced into bombing around Bulgaria for a mysterious villain who is holding Magna's wife hostage. Getaway should be a fun B movie but it has no sense of its own ridiculous. Throw in Selena Gomez as a computer genius, uninventive car chases, a LOUD bombastic soundtrack, a ludicrous master plan and one good shot racing through Sofia and the result is moronic, relentless and dull. While the seemingly endless car chase has many literal gear changes, Getaway as a film is a monotone experience. Ninety four minutes rarely feel this long.

Last Vegas
(2013)

Last Vegas Review
Four school friends reunite for a stag party in Vegas, where groom Billy (Douglas) immediately falls for a lounge singer (Steenburgen). Frail but feisty Archie (Freeman) hits the jackpot and gets VIP treatment, along with Billy, widower Paddy (De Niro) and their married friend Sam (Kline). It's The Hangover for OAPs! Well, kind of. While it's easy to compare two comedies about friends bickering, bonding and getting into unfortunate scrapes in casinos, the age difference is key. And age is what Last Vegas' humour is all about. Whether making gags about aching limbs or marvelling at the world of the young and nubile, this script from writer Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love) is blatant in its efforts to relate to a broad spectrum of older men. There's one bereaved, one ill, one in a stale marriage and one chasing younger skirt... hang on, make that four. Together with director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), Fogelman is here to take the grey pound crowd on a vicarious onscreen whirl around Vegas - doctors be damned! The opening scenes are reasonably amusing, setting up the characters and giving the actors a bit of space. While Archie (Morgan Freeman) roundly mocks rich pal Billy's (Michael Douglas) younger fiancée, he's not going to turn down a trip to Vegas and pretends to be at a church weekend to give concerned relatives the slip. Meanwhile grumpy Paddy (Robert De Niro) won't answer calls and Sam (Kevin Kline) is bored with retirement ("It's 4:15pm in Naples, Florida, and I'm at a dinner party," he sighs). But once the story kicks in, Last Vegas is as creaky as its' heroes joints: it's predictable and fitfully patronising to both old and young. Unsurprisingly, this film's winning hand is its cast. While a fake-tanned Douglas seems weary from his Behind The Candelabra turn, Mary Steenburgen lights up every scene she's in, even if the romantic storyline is uninvolving. De Niro puts in a relatively restrained performance as sensitive Paddy, and Freeman is quick with a friendly insult. It's Kline that runs the comedy show, though, and you suspect his funniest lines are ad-libbed. His character also has the best backstory: wife Miriam (Joanna Gleason) has given him a "free pass", hoping it'll bring him back with a smile on his face. As for arming him with Viagra and having him judge a bikini beauty pageant? Well, nothing is subtle in Vegas...

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