Queen – A Review

Vikas Bahl directs Kangana Ranaut in Queen a flipped on its head Euro-trip movie which puts the female lead in all the same positions that were exclusively male bastions. Happy women’s day indeed.

Queen starts off with an upbeat “London Thumakda” by Amit Trivedi shot to show a Delhi household in the middle of wedding preparations. Right from the get go you know that this is going to be a fun ride. Everything feels real, organic almost in the same way as band baaja barat did, but more so. This is not a YRF-Johar wedding household this is very Delhi and very real and very relatable.  What follows is the main premise of the movie and it would be a crime to leak it because it ends up being a very fun turn of events – well not so much for Rani.  Well that is until she decides to go on her honeymoon by herself to fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing Paris.

Kangana plays Rani the eponymous Queen who goes from being a naïve home-science girl from Rajauli, Delhi to being the globetrotting backpacking Chick in the due course of the movie. Kangana lives and breathes Rani so much so that it is impossible to imagine this role to be played by anyone else. She is restrained while still being uninhibited and in that one scene where she gets drunk and goes off on a rant – in my books it ranks right up there with Mr. Bachchan’ drunken rant about liver problems. Yep she is THAT good. Not for once you would believe her to be putting on an act – Bahl and Kangana have both put in a lot of thought in terms of the smallest idiosyncrasies that define the quintessential first time “abroad” travelling naïve Indian girl. Take the insistence on hanging onto her purse for dear life whether it is while getting mugged or while doing a faux-strip tease where she stuffs her sweater in the purse. This is Kangana at her absolute best and honestly I would argue that it ranks right up there with one of the best female performances of the year when the year concludes.

Kangana is supported by an assortment of characters who she crosses paths with on her Euro trip – there is Lisa Haydon who plays Vijaya Lakshmi the Indian-French-Spanish hybrid who eases Rani into the Parisian way of life. Then there are the Troika of hostel mates Oleksander – the Russian artist, Taka the Japanese tourist and Tim the French Musician who help Rani forge the unlikeliest of Bromance while in Amsterdam. Rajkumar Rao plays Vijay – Kangana’s fiancé and is quite effective yet again. He is an actor who has a knack of picking superb roles without giving a second thought to the length of the role and always comes off as earnest.

Bahl packs a solid punch in the first half where the laughs come easy and you fall in love with Rani. The second half is where a little more thought would have made this movie perfect. The sub-plot with Rukhsar the red-light district exotic dancer was almost entirely unnecessary. Also in final adventure that Bahl puts Rani on I feel he tries to be too ambitious and it chips away a little bit the honesty with which he has built the whole thing up. But it is a minor complaint when compared to the enormously entertaining and entirely believable journey that Bahl takes Rani on. Also I would like to believe the “Alice in Wonderland” Sweatshirt that Bahl put Rani in wasnt a mere co-incidence and that is the level of detail that makes this a movie worth revisiting so that you can pour over the details and soak in its richness.

Watch this movie for the fantastic Kangana Ranaut. Watch this as it takes Euro Road Trip, Drunken street antics, and platonic bromance from the tightly held grasps of the male leads of Bollywood and puts in the closely guarded purse of Rani from Rajauli Delhi!

 

Oscar 2014 Predictions!

Roll out the red carpet and put on your best ball gown the little golden man is rolling into the nokia center this Sunday night.Another year rolls by and the 86th annual academy awards are upon us. While there is more mindless franchise trash than the previous year, there are also several leaps made in terms of meaningful cinema with artistic and technical prowess on full display. A casual glance at the best movie category validates this assessment where we have a futuristic love story competing against a love story and a story of human triumph set against the dark days of black slavery, we have a story of personal greed and depravity set to square off against a space adventure which tests the limits of human resilience. And plus when there is Ellen DeGeneres hosting it is bound to be a party. Plus P!nk is going to perform her aerial acrobatics so you cannot miss this Oscars night (early Monday morning YAWN!!!) .

This year’s Oscar race is a little more curious than most years – there is a clear cinematic landmark in the shape of 12 years a slave but it is a movie that most people are finding hard to watch and there is a possibility that this might hurt the film’s chances at a major win. The best actresses race which is usually the most fiercely competitive field seems to have the most talented actresses this year too with Blanchet, Dench, Adams, Bullock and Streep competing and with such stellar performances it should be a more closely fought race – but it seems to not be the case and the one with the lobbying power of the Weinstein’s will win. The best actor’s race which is generally a lone horse race seems to be the one that is too close to call with a 3 way fight between DiCaprio ( long overdue), McConaughey( on a comeback) and Ejiofor ( the most demanding role of them all).
Each year I try and come up with a list of who I think should win and will win and in most cases it matches but in some it doesn’t. This year too I will take you through the categories and draw up my list of winners and on the morning of 3rd March you will either hear me fist-pumping and cheering as my favorites win or hear me hurl abuses or laugh out loud (if the undeserved ones trip on their way up to the podium – I am looking at you Lawrence)

Actress in a Supporting Role
Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County”
June Squibb in “Nebraska”

This is one of my favorite category as usually in an ensemble cast the supporting actor’s role can easily be swapped with that of the leading actor’s and that is what makes this a very prestigious award indeed.
Who Should Win : Roberts for August: Osage County – any actor who can say “Eat Fish B*tch” to Meryl and lives to tell the tale should win the award. But jokes aside, she delivers a phenomenal performance the likes of which were only seen from her in Erin Brokovich.
Who Will Win: This is a tough one – Nyong’o or Lawrence . I don’t think Lawrence should firstly because she walked away with the leading trophy last year and also because her role in American Hustle isn’t that substantial. Nyong’o certainly was the reason why we felt as bad as we did for Solomon. Tough call indeed but I would be happy if it was either Roberts or Nyong’o

Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Who Should/Will Win: Jared Leto if you physically transform yourself to a point where you are unrecognizable and you deliver a smashing performance you should start practicing your acceptance speech from the minute the production wraps up.

Animated Feature Film

“The Croods” Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco and Kristine Belson
“Despicable Me 2” Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin and Chris Meledandri
“Ernest & Celestine” Benjamin Renner and Didier Brunner
“Frozen” Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho
“The Wind Rises” Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki

This is one category that almost always baffles me with the inclusion of a French animated movie – do the laws of foreign language film not apply to this category? anywho!

Who Should/Will Win : Frozen it has everything that is the hallmark of a Disney classic – a princess, a dashing prince, talking inanimate object and a brilliant song “Let It Be”.

Cinematography

“The Grandmaster” Philippe Le Sourd
“Gravity” Emmanuel Lubezki
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Bruno Delbonnel
“Nebraska” Phedon Papamichael
“Prisoners” Roger A. Deakins

This is one aspect of filmmaking that more often than not finds a mention in my reviews because to be this is one of the most important components that makes or breaks the movie. The director’s vision is only as good as the DoP being able to translate it to the big screen. I loved Deakin’s work in prisoners and am so glad he found a nomination here but…

Who Should/Will Win : Emmanuel Lubezki the man who took us to space and tossed us around like a lone sock in a tumble dry washing machine! Gravity is a visual phenomenon and makes perfect use of every inch of the IMAX screen space.

Visual Effects

“Gravity” Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
“Iron Man 3” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
“The Lone Ranger” Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
“Star Trek Into Darkness” Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

Who Should/Will Win : Gravity to me the beauty of the visual effect is in it being so inseparable from the main visuals that it does not feel unnatural and jarring and that was achieved by the team behind Gravity who transformed a giant sink tank into the unending blackness of the space.

Documentary Feature

“The Act of Killing”Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
“Cutie and the Boxer” Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
“20 Feet from Stardom” Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

Another fantastic genre in movie making that turns in some of the most amazing films – the Act of Killing is a disturbing look into the psyche of the khmer rogue leaders who perpetrated some of the most heinous crimes against humanity. 20 feet from stardom is a fantastic feature about the background singers which had me experiences many bouts of goosebumps with some of the most amazing voices ever heard but hardly recognized.

Who Should Win : Act of Killing
Who Will Win : 20 Feet from Stardom

Foreign Language Film

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” Belgium
“The Great Beauty” Italy
“The Hunt” Denmark
“The Missing Picture” Cambodia
“Omar” Palestine

The category that many a times reflects the political affiliations of the members of the academy more than the technical merit of the winner .

Who Should Win : The Hunt
Who Will Win : The Great Beauty

Sound Editing

“All Is Lost” Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
“Captain Phillips” Oliver Tarney
“Gravity” Glenn Freemantle
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Brent Burge and Chris Ward
“Lone Survivor” Wylie Stateman

Sound Mixing

“Captain Phillips” Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
“Gravity” Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
“Lone Survivor” Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

The two categories that make the least amount of sense to me but still turned out to be the biggest shocker last year with tie. I think the sound editing and mixing is probably going to go to the one that sweeps the most technical awards and in that case Gravity seems like a natural choice

Who Should/Will Win : Gravity

Music (Original Score)

“The Book Thief” John Williams
“Gravity” Steven Price
“Her” William Butler and Owen Pallett
“Philomena” Alexandre Desplat
“Saving Mr. Banks” Thomas Newman

The category that has me wondering always why the academy hates Hans Zimmer – he either gets shut out of the nominations entirely or gets nominated and doesn’t win even though he deserves it. Here too he got shut out of 12 Years a Slave. However with the wonderful music by Arcade Fire I am hopeful that I will not be too disappointed.

Who Should Win : Her
Who Will Win: Gravity

Music (Original Song)

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams
“Let It Go” from “Frozen”
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Moon Song” from “Her”
Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze
“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson

Idna menzel performing at the Oscars – after Adele performed last year – it’s like my dreams are coming true! Her performance of Let It Go would have to win the gold! If only she can switch into the witches outfit with green makeup and do an encore of defying gravity – now that would be PERFECT!

Who Should/Will Win : Let It Go

Film Editing

“American Hustle” Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
“Captain Phillips” Christopher Rouse
“Dallas Buyers Club” John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
“12 Years a Slave” Joe Walker

This has got to be Gravity – a film so tightly cut that not one moment feels bloated or unnecessary

Who Should/Will Win: Gravity

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

“Before Midnight” Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“Captain Phillips” Screenplay by Billy Ray
“Philomena” Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
“12 Years a Slave” Screenplay by John Ridley
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Screenplay by Terence Winter

Who Should Win : Before Midnight show some love to the troika of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke who have worked for 18 years to come up with a trilogy that is essentially a personal journey in the lives of two amazingly written characters.
Who Will Win : 12 Years A Slave

Writing (Original Screenplay)

“American Hustle” Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
“Blue Jasmine” Written by Woody Allen
“Dallas Buyers Club” Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
“Her” Written by Spike Jonze
“Nebraska” Written by Bob Nelson

This has got to be Her – it cannot be anything else – a story so original yet so beautifully written that it feels almost commonplace , the future does not feel completely alien and love gets a whole new meaning.
Who Should/Will Win : Her

Now come the big guns!

Directing

“American Hustle” David O. Russell
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón
“Nebraska” Alexander Payne
“12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese

It is a crying shame that Russell and Payne find a place here and Jonze is shut out of a nomination. In a perfect world Russell and Payne would get replaced by Frears and Jonze or even a Linklater for his phenomenal third movie in the Before/After series.
Who Should Win : McQueen/Cuarón
Who Will Win : Cuaron

Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams in “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”
Judi Dench in “Philomena”
Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County”

A 5-time nominated actress, 2 previous winners, A Dame and a goddess with 18 nominations and 3 wins – this one heck of a category to choose from. With each of the actresses turning in a stellar performance it becomes a question of who wants it the most and who has the ability to campaign the most, And more importantly than not who has the weight of the Weinsteins behind her. If anyone has seen Meryl’s performance as Violet Weston and thinks she does not deserve to win this award then that person is delusional.

Who Should Win: Meryl Streep
Who Will Win: Cate Blanchet ( I love you Cate but watch out for the steps girl)

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale in “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Replace Dern with Robert Redford for “All is lost” and even though I love Bale but replace him with Joaquin Phoenix for “Her” we would have the most perfect leading man’s nominee club in a long long time. But be that as it may of the 5 nominated here it is a 2 horse race between McConaughey and Ejiofor with the possibility of DiCaprio pulling an upset ( seems unlikely )

Who Should Win : Chiwetel Ejiofor – Physical transformation may be hard but getting into the psyche of Solomon Northup would’ve been harder.
Who Will Win: I am going to stick my neck out on this one and say that Ejiofor takes home the gold.

Best Picture

“American Hustle” Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
“Captain Phillips” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers
“Dallas Buyers Club” Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers
“Her” Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers
“Nebraska” Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers
“Philomena” Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
“12 Years a Slave” Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

My top 5
12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
The Wolf of Wall Street

There is an interesting article out in the blogosphere about how many academy members are unable to bring themselves to see 12 Years a Slave because of the unrelenting nature of McQueen’s portrayal of slavery and how this might ruin its chances of winning the best picture and how Gravity might take it home instead. While I loved Gravity I do not think it is worthy of a best picture win, it is a landmark for cinema no doubt but I find it hard to believe that it can take home the big prize but then its got Clooney so stranger things have happened.

Who Should Win : 12 Years A Slave
Who Will Win: like with Ejiofor I have faith that 12 Years A Slave will win the big prize and McQueen will be vindicated for Hunger and Shame.

So there you have it! My predictions for the 86th annual academy awards

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
Best Director McQueen/Cuaron Cuaron
Best Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor Chiwetel Ejiofor
Best Actress Meryl Streep Cate Blanchet
Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto Jared Leto
Best Supporting Actress Julia Roberts Lupita Nyong’o
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Spike Jonze Spike Jonze
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Before Midnight -Delpy/Linklater/Hawke 12 Years a Slave – Joe Walker
Best Animated Feature Film Frozen Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film The Hunt The Great Beauty
Best Documentary – Feature Act Of Killing 20 Feet from Stardom
Best Documentary – Short Subject (havent seen any and the will win is based on buzz) The Lady in Number 6
Best Live Action Short Film (havent seen any and the will win is based on buzz) Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything).
Best Animated Short Film Get A Horse Mr Hublot
Best Original Score Arcade Fire – Her Steven Price Gravity
Best Original Song Let it Go – Frozen Let it Go – Frozen
Best Sound Editing Gravity Gravity
Best Sound Mixing Gravity Gravity
Best Production Design The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby
Best Cinematography Emannuel Lubezki – Gravity Emannuel Lubezki – Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Dallas Buyers Club Dallas Buyers Club
Best Costume Design The Great Gatsby 12 Years a Slave
Best Film Editing Gravity Gravity
Best Visual Effects Gravity Gravity

I will be for the first time attempting to live tweet the event so come follow me on twitter and join in on the madness! Don’t forget to let me know what you think in the comments below!

Highway – A Review

Imtiaz Ali directs Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda in Highway.  The movie is about a rich privileged daughter of an industrialist Veera played by Alia who gets caught up in a petrol pump robbery and becomes and a hostage as the escaping goons kidnap her and flee as her hapless fiancé looks on and does the “told-you-so” dance!

Having loved Imtiaz’s Jab We Met, missed Love AajKal and having been extremely disappointed by the highly anticipated Rockstar my apprehensions were pretty high with this Stockholm syndrome movie with the relatively unproven Alia Bhatt. All the trademark Imtiaz hallmarks are there – the !ncredible India advert-worthy scenery, A R Rehman music, a perky pretty female lead with a propensity to continually communicate in monologues. While Imtiaz missed the mark with Rockstar, with Highway he delivers what is in my books as close to the bar he set with Jab We Met. Highway has heart and it wears it on its sleeve.

Alia Bhatt who debuted with Student of the year last year was easily stereotyped as the porcelain princess with the entitled star-kid tag. With Highway she smashes that stereotype and comes into her own with a performance that will be making the serious filmmakers of Bollywood sit up and take notice. In scenes that would come off as tacky and highjinks she infuses genuine charm and warmth, her crazy monologues with her going back and forth questioning her sanity come off as endearing and delightful. Even in the high drama scenes she does not miss a beat and with the directing choices that Imtiaz makes with the absence of a background score and focusing solely on Bhatt she delivers what could possibly be the career defining role of her life. Watch out Parineeti there is a new star on the rise here. Randeep Hooda is almost lost in the rugged scenery as he allows for Veera’s insanity to continue unabashed and just is content with looking grim with the demons of his hard life constantly at battles with the genuinely nice-guy-at-heart sentiments.

A R Rehman’s music is unobtrusive and almost unnecessary as for almost the entirety of the movie silence and the howling winds of the Himalayas provide the only symphony required. Anil Mehta experiments a little bit with hand-held camera and the results are not flattering and then he goes back to what he does best – capturing the beautiful vistas of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. Make no mistake this is another love-letter to the beauty of India written by the hands of Imtiaz Ali. Ali also tackles two very sensitive subjects which are intrinsic to what drives the central characters and what demons lurk in the dark recesses of their psyche – kudos to him for executing these with the sensitivity that these subjects deserve.

With a simple story told beautifully this is a must-watch movie. Alia Bhatt blossoms into a full-fledged actress with her full spectrum of emotions on display. Watch it for the climax where in the last 10-15 minutes Alia Bhatt delivers what is possibly one of the best pieces of dramatic acting I have seen from an actress this green. It is spine tingling, the prospect of the potential this lissome lass has and will deliver in her future endeavors. Watch this movie because Imtiaz is forgiven of the sins he committed with Rockstar and I can finally anticipate what comes out of his stables next.

Just a side note – with Rockstar I remember walking into a theatre full to the brim on a Friday morning, but with highway the enthusiasm is clearly lacking with more than half the theatre remaining empty – I wish people would give this little gem of a movie a chance and encourage film makers to take the road less travelled .

Her – A Review

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for HerSpike Jonze directs Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and a disembodied Scarlett Johansson in the near-futuristic love story Her.

Her is the story of a talented and sensitive Theodore played by Joaquin Phoenix set in the near futuristic LA where he works for a company that specializes in delivering hand written letters. Theodore is very talented at what he does, writing personalized letters from couples to each other on their 50th anniversary to a boyfriend on a business trip who send in a request for their girlfriend to let her know he misses her. The intimacy with which Theodore writes each letter leaves the audience with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside and as Chris Pratt (the receptionist) says in one scene “you are part woman, I would be so happy to receive a letter like this from a girl but written by a sensitive dude like you” you cannot help but smile because that is exactly what you are thinking.

A man as sensitive and as talented as him would have no trouble maintaining a loving relationship with his wife – but Theo is separated from his wife and is still reluctant to sign the divorce papers as he “likes being married”. On his daily commute he comes across an advert for a new virtual reality artificial intelligence Operating System which can provide companionship to its users. Theo gives it a try and from the first moment Samantha says “Hi” the love story kicks off.

Samantha is voiced by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson who does an exceptional job bringing to life a character that is basically a computer generated voice simulation.  The affectations in her voice, the laughter, the doubts in her voice when she is unsure of certain things, the softness and the cooing of her voice when she is talking intimately with Theo make you believe that there has got to be a person on the other side and that it cannot just be a computer and a piece of software.  As Samantha “grows” you keep suspecting even more and this dichotomy is essential to the conflict that you feel as you are happy for Theo as he has found a loving relationship but still cannot wrap your head around the fact that it is not another person.

Spike Jonze has done an incredible job with the story and the direction, with so many plausible options of how to take each moment in the story forward the director makes the most unusual of choices which still feel the most natural in the course of the love story. The setting of the LA in future is such that it is infinitely believable because there only a few telling signs of technological advance, the clothing is almost normal if slightly retro (I remember a term Retro-Futuristic that came from a designer once describing how she was influenced by blade runner) the houses look normal the modes of commute look slightly advanced. But there are still tell-tale signs that we are in the future with the pieces of technology, the computers, the wearable computer devices, the virtual reality games  and also most of all by the subtle hints that a service like written letters is available to people for a price. There are many brilliant instances of storytelling where Jonze lets Samantha grow as a person where she at one point mentions “you have made me discover my ability to want” this is what is essential to the human nature – the ability to want, to want to get better, to want to know more, to want to love and be loved. Samantha is a living breathing incarnation with her own needs and wants and desires and this leads a to few awkward conflicts between Theo and Samantha which are beautifully handled as well, however the masterstroke of storytelling for me was when Theo and Samantha take a vacation and Samantha has a surprise for Theo – that scene is goose-bump inducing and brought a tear to my eye with the sheer joy that Joaquin feels and how in love they really are. The climax is gut wrenching for the exact same reason – Jonze takes an almost unimaginable chance with the story and the effect is both believable and heart-breaking. I don’t remember feeling this melancholic about a movie since Michel Gondry’s brilliant but equally heart breaking “Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind”. With the individually nuanced characters Jonze has written this is a movie that will keep getting more intimate with repeat viewings.

The music by Arcade Fire is stunning and in my opinion one of the best sound tracks this year – it is distinctive and also the way it is used, the piano pieces to describe what it feels like to be Theo and Samantha on the beach, the music that plays when Theo takes Samantha out on an adventure, the Oscar nominated “Moon song” Theo and Sam compose together – it is pure joy.  Hoyte Van Hoytema’s Cinematography is the perfect companion to Jonze’s sensitive story telling – Hoytema uses sunlight in ways that is so beautiful and the effect so personal that it is like looking back on the memories of someone like how you would remember a sun-kissed afternoon spent with your lover. I was in love with Hoytema’s work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with how much of a moody atmosphere he created with his camera work and here too he creates a moody melancholic atmosphere that is in complete contrast to Tinker but just as effective and as essential to the story being told.

See this movie about an unusual love story told in the most unusual yet almost conventional way, see it for Joaquin Phoenix who pissed me off with his mockumentary but turns in one of most sensitive portrayals I have ever seen, see if for Scarlett Johansson who while not visible on screen creates an entirely realistic and perfect version of herself that is just as desirable as the star’s physical appearance itself. See it for Spike Jonze’s beautifully written, perfectly cast and superbly acted directorial triumph of a movie. This is bound to be in my top 3 at the end of the year – it is that good and it will only get better with repeat viewing.

One last note – there is some sort of a controversy brewing following a newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis who called the movie a “Sad Male Fetish Fantasy” – please trust me that is as far from the truth as possible – this description couldn’t be more wrong – infact in the one sequence where Samantha brings in a sex surrogate it is Theo who feel uncomfortable. As did I. it is not about a disembodied female voice doing his bidding it is a loving thriving relationship between Theo and Samantha.

 

Hasee Toh Phasee – A review

First timer ad-film maker Vinil Matthew directs the yashraj-blue eyed girl Parineeti Chopra and the Dharma Production’s blue eyed boy wonder Siddharth Malhotra in the quirky RomCom Hasee Toh Phasee.

The film is a story based on Meeta and Nikhil who find it difficult to fit in to their respective families and happen to cross paths when Meeta is running away from her sister’s wedding which Nikhil is attending. This chance encounter is the conventional meet-cute that any decent romantic comedy is incomplete without.  Nikhil happens to fall in love at the same wedding with Meeta’s other sister Karishma who he courts for another 7 years through EMI-like monthly breakups yet he stays faithful to the whims and fancies of the wannabe TV star. Meeta reappears as the wedding preparations of Karishma and Nikhil are kicking off and she kicks off a storm in her wake as she mysteriously converses in Chinese with someone on the phone and over video chat, curiously and thankfully the subtitles are left out during the Chinese conversations which add to the mystery that surrounds Meeta. Also a masterful touch is the undiagnosed condition which Meeta obviously suffers from or the fact that she could easily be termed a highly functional autistic person or someone with Asperger’s syndrome but it is left for the audience to diagnose looking at her quirks. What unfolds is a pretty harmless and mostly hilarious fare with a well etched supporting cast with a former policeman father, a grandmother with a twin, an Indian Idol-aspiring cousin from Kanpur, a boastful Guajarati uncle and a Gujarati uncle who has nothing to talk about but wants to make small talk.

The Karan Johar touches are evident with the shot of the empty trains, a foot-over bridge and the early dawn shot overlooking the city below – these are the same visuals that made Johar’s segment on Bombay talkies so memorable. Also the Punjabi wedding song is reminiscent of the Radha song from Student of the Year. The fact is that Johar specializes in making harmless, glitzy, feel-good movies that are a welcome inclusion to the Indian movie scene. Vinil Matthew’s distinctive style may take a while to develop but he does well to remind the audience of the Johar trademarks.

Parineeti is wonderful in this role which could easily have become a slapstick and an over the top portrayal of a mental illness. She treads a fine balance and manages to generate the most guffaws from the audience. She reminds me of the plump Punjabi Dimpy Chaddha that I fell in love with from Ladies Vs Ricky Behl from the minute she said LOL. Siddharth Malhotra looks smashing in every frame and it is no wonder why girls everywhere are going crazy over him – he is like the perfect mix of the shahid Kapoor chocolate boy looks with the physique of a Hrithik Roshan and the boy can act decently as well.  He isn’t given too much of a challenge with the script here but he does well to come off as earnest and honest. Adah Sharma as Karishma the sister Malhotra is going to get married to did not impress me too much. She was mostly there for the glam quotient with her 2 sizes too small saree blouses and the Post-makeover Jassi (Mona Singh) look.

The music by Vishal and Shekhar isn’t as good as Johar’s last and Malhotra’s first- Student of the year with only two songs with any recall-value “Drama Queen” and “Punjabi Wedding Song”. The cinematography by Sanu John Varughese is fresh and in keeping with the Johar Memo of keeping the lighting soft and the colors pastel-ly.

The side plot involving the mysterious reason why Meeta ran off and why she came back and who she is conversing with in Chinese is also fairly intelligent and not a complete throw away.

Watch this movie because Parineeti and Malhotra share a fantastic chemistry and the humor is effortless for most part. Watch it because it is inoffensive light hearted entertainment that is mostly missing from all the slapstick comedies out there. Watch it for Chopra and Malhotra chemistry.

August: Osage County – A Review

John Wells directs a director’s dream cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margot Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Julianne Nicholson in a script adapted by Tracey Letts based on his original material written as a play for the stage in August: Osage County.

The story unfolds as Beverley Weston played by Sam Shepard hires a house keeper to take care of his sick wife Violet Weston played by the magnificent Meryl Streep. Bev goes missing and then is found dead. This brings his and Violet’s three daughters together to come and support their mother in grief and attend the funeral.

Meryl Streep gets a nomination every time she descends on the silver screen and there are enough detractors out there who feel she is over rated or over-loved if there is such a thing. To them I say watch this movie and then come talk to me. She is in a form which very few actresses can ever hope to reach. This is the peak of her performance. As the cancer stricken, pill popping, dementia ridden Violet Weston, she is vicious with her insults and barbs and acidic comments on all those gathered at the lunch table. She is  rude and callous one moment and in need of our sympathies at the very next as you can see the years of hard living, a tough childhood a far-from-ideal marriage and the betrayal she feels at the hands of her daughters who have all moved away. Take it from an ardent Streep lover – this is Meryl at her absolute best. Having seen blue jasmine starring Cate Blanchett (who I love as well) is the betting favorite to take home the trophy but if there is any justice in the world then the battle of the psychotic breakdown should land in the favor of Meryl Streep.

A strong supporting cast carries the movie along onto a different level altogether once the pace has been sent by Streep. Roberts with her return to the screen with a meaty role really digs her heels in as the eldest daughter of the Weston household with a rebellious teenager for daughter a husband with whom she is going through a separation, a dead father and a mother who is quickly losing her wits about herself Roberts take upon herself to steady the ship. The lunch table brawl between Roberts and Streep is the stuff of cinematic legends it is raw, high adrenaline and heartbreaking at the same time. Margot Martindale as Violet’s sister with a deep secret is smashing in her turn as Mattie Fae. Martindale and Cooper’s outburst over their son is brilliant as well. This is a movie packed with so many moments that it is impossible to pick your favorite my top three would have to be the lunch time brawl, the midnight spade-attack and the lets all break things.

The screenplay is so cleverly written that it surprises you at every turn of the story. The story of the plains is anything but a plain story, it is a multi-layered multi-faceted tale of a dysfunctional family the likes of which have not been seen on the screen. It is a fantastically intertwined tale of such hopeless despair that there would seem like there is no way out yet the story lifts itself with such light moments as the one where the three girls share in their mother’s childhood story of her crush which while still ends up being heartbreaking gives you hope that the family will still pull it together and somehow survive. But bear in mind this is not one of your happy endings stories this is a fast unraveling of a messy family drama with top notch performances which leave you in awe of entire ensemble cast who put on a stellar show.

There is a minor misstep in direction which has generated a fairly interesting conversation on the internet. It is rumored that Roberts wanted to get the lead nom over Streep so she arm-twisted the Weinsteins who in turn put pressure on Wells to add a final scene focusing on Roberts instead of cutting to credit after Violet breaks down in the arms of her house keeper. And to be honest it would have been a more satisfying end if the movie ended as originally intended by the screen writer Tracy Letts with Violet broken down and leaving the audience to grapple with the questions of what will happen. And whether the daughters will return or whether Violet will survive on her own or will she not. Focusing on Roberts is a faulty move and could have been avoided.

The cinematography by Adriano Goldman beautifully captures the darkened out Weston household and in those long tracking shots of the Oklahoma plains does magic to capture the stark and unremarkable landscape to evoke a sense of helplessness that envelopes the central characters of the narrative. Stark yet beautiful.  The score by Gustavo Santaolalla is subtle and does not invade the dramatic space to tell us when to feel what – it is a competent partner to the most potent of storytelling and only really makes its presence felt in one moment when nothing is spoken and family is driving back from the doctors. The Kings of Leon song which plays at the credit scene “Last Mile Home” should have earned the rock band a nomination for original song but it curiously didn’t.

Watch this movie because this is Meryl Streep at her absolute best. This should be reason enough for anyone to want to watch the movie but it is not the only reason the movie provides. If you are not swayed yet watch it because it boasts a supporting cast the strengths of which are rarely on display. Watch it because it is a fantastically written and a brilliantly directed film. Did I mention already WATCH IT FOR MERYL STREEP!

Blue Jasmine – A Review

Woody Allen directs Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine a story of a rich socialite wife whose life quickly unravels after her husband is arrested by the feds for financial frauds and then kills himself.

Woody Allen for me is a dichotomy for me – he is one of the most prolific directors with over 70 movies in his 49 years of film making who writes apparently the most amazing women-centric roles that the who’s who of Hollywood vie for desperately.  While accepting the Cecil b demile award for woody Diane Keaton waxed eloquent about how great woody is and even the amazing Cate Blanchett apparently waited for the call from woody. Despite all of this I cannot stand his movies. I found midnight in Paris to be an atrocious self-indulgent mess of a movie. I have never been able to enjoy a woody Allen movie and it is not because I do not enjoy neurotic, wordy, witty screenplay – I enjoy that kind the most. Take Aaron Sorkin, Scorsese or even Tarantino for that matter I enjoy all their wordy banter immensely but Allen’s not so much.

Much like most of his other movies here too the screenplay seems to want to be a lot more than it really is. With the alternating timeline story telling Allen tries to give us a sneak peek into the like of Jasmine French then and now with a wealthy socialite wife who has fallen on hard times and is Xanax popping jazz referencing ticking time bomb of a psychiatric nutjob.  The movie is shot beautifully with a soft goldenish hue to every scene and it is only enhanced when the camera zooms in on the visage of Blanchett who is unraveling before our very eyes as she alternately pops vodka and pills.

Off the cast Blanchett is Fantastic as she is known to be and here in the challenging role of alternating between a vapid New York socialite and a down on her luck widow who loses everything and moves in with her sister in San Francisco. Blanchett really digs her heels in this role and it is one of her best performances. No one quite does a breakdown like Blanchett does and it takes me back to the days of the amazing “Notes on a scandal” where she facing a very public breakdown orchestrated by the equally brilliant Dame Judi Dench. Here too she is ably supported by Sally Hawkins who specializes in these sorts of roles where she plays the women without much but still making the most of her life. Alec Baldwin in a brief role as Jasmine’s husband leaves a lasting impression.

The problem I have with Allen’s stories is that they are simple tales that need to be told simply but he tends to drag out the stories a tad too long and with an unsatisfying end. However that being said Blue Jasmine is probably my favorite Woody Allen movie that I have seen and most of it is due to the beautiful and talented Miss Blanchett.  Also the background score with the jazz notes is a little more satisfying this time around than most of the other times that I have heard the familiar strands being played in Allen’s movies.  “Blue Moon was the song that was playing when Hal swept me off my feet…. “I love it every time Blanchett says that line with such conviction that you believe her neurosis.

Watch it for what is possibly the Oscar winning role for Cate Blanchett and what it because even with his faults Allen is still one of the most prolific director who if for nothing else is a gift to MAN-kind for continually casting beautiful women in starring roles with stories that are written around them.

 

The Wolf of Wall Street – A Review

Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall street a story about the penny stock broker from New York who was dubbed the moniker that lends itself to the title of the file by the Forbes magazine after he got rich quick and was a subject of the FBI investigation.
The movie while winning rave reviews for Di Caprio’s brave performance of Jordan Belfort it is also generating a lot of discussion about and dividing the critics on either side of the debate whether Scorsese glorifies the debauchery and the excess and the life that Belfort led. While the argument does merit a discussion but anyone who looks at Di Caprio’s depiction of Belfort and thinks to himself I want a life like that is wrong in the head from the get go.


The story kicks off with a midget-throwing competition in the offices of Jordan Belfort and it cuts back to his origins where we are introduced to Hannah played by McConaughey who takes Jordan under his wings and shares the secrets of how to make money on the Wall Street and introduces the then greenhorn Belfort to the world of cocaine and circle jerks.
What follows from there on is the rags to riches story that seems pretty incredible and therein lies the attraction to the aspirational attributes of Belfort’s life. A penthouse suite at the trump towers, a huge yacht with its own helicopter, a white Ferrari like that from Miami Vice and the other pleasures that riches bring. Belfort is not shy to flaunt his excesses either and that is where it crosses the line over to the morally corrupt, vapid, believing his own bullshit territory.

Belfort delivers many a motivational speeches to his army of stock brokers and you see the madness to make more money than he can spend in his eyes and DiCaprio is brilliant when delivering those speeches, making you really question his sanity but while still admiring his ability to inspire those around him.


DiCaprio is assisted by Jonah Hill who plays Donnie Azoff a guy who walks up to Belfort in a diner and says show me your paycheck and I will quit my job and come work for you. It goes from there to drug addled insanity after insanity which gets Belfort tied up on an airplane to rendering him nearly dead after he over doses and wrecks his car while driving back home. His blonde trophy wife is played by Margot Robbie who is just as vapid if not more but still manages to evoke some sympathies because Belfort manages to be a bigger Ass. Kyle Chandler plays the FBI agent out to get Belfort and I wish he had been given more material to sink his teeth into.

Therein lies the problem with the movie – the pacing is a bit off – there are scenes that don’t feel honest –like the conversation Jordan has with his father after a blow out over the expenses. It feels forced and just something that the script writer Terrence Winter put in because it was there in the book written by Jordan Belfort. Some scenes feel over long and not entirely necessary – like the board meeting that Jordan is having with his friends over the choice of midgets – it goes on and on and on and serves no real purpose – we have by then already established they are all horrible human beings. There are also scenes that you wish had more time given to them like the one where Denim the FBI agent played by Chandler goes to meet Jordan on his boat.

Also another problem with the script is the lack of any explanation of what exactly was Jordan Belfort accused of. Peddling penny stock is hardly a crime, insider trading is a crime and the shenanigans that Belfort pulls on the Steve Madden deal are worthy of a SEC investigation but where he gets all the cash from is not clear. There is no explanation provided for the cash that Belfort has lying around and that he wishes to put away in the Swiss bank.

When Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio collaborate it is cinematic gold – The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island. The Wolf of Wall Street is not in the same league though. While Scorsese tries to stay as close to the story as possible the fact that Belfort is such a despicable human being who rapes and slaps his own wife is not a character you can connect with on any real level. Despite this the movie is immensely entertaining. The one reason why a lot of people are so divided over the movie could be because Belfort does not get justifiably punished for all his crimes and ends up with a resort like jail sentence and a post-jail career in motivational speaking.

This is not a perfect movie in any regards technically or story telling wise but it is finds its wings when Leonardo DiCaprio is in his element, that one scene where he is caught in a dilemma about whether or not to accept the FBI deal is a brilliant piece of acting . Watch it for Martin Scorsese tries something different yet again and does not seem to be bound any particular genre. Watch it because Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the – if not THE best actors working today.

2013 – A Review

Pop that bubbly and kiss 2013 good bye and bring out those notepads to make the resolutions for 2014! I am not the sorts to make resolution and even unlikely to keep one all through the year. But 2013 must be an exception to that rule and what I am hoping is a turning point for me. Back in jan 2013 I made a resolution to write about every movie I saw and as a result I started my blog. Since its inception the blog has generated 4600+ hits and given me many a joy as a result.

There were many highlights like when Ashok Banker posted my review of his 8-part Ramayana series on his facebook page! That was the push I needed to convince myself that I was onto something good. But even before that the blog’s very first post was a fresh and refreshing movie which has continued to be the benchmark against which all other movies I saw this year were compared to – Kai Po Che.

In a year of 100 crore plus blockbusters which required as many aspirins to overcome the headaches they caused there were little indie gems ( can’t believe I am using the word Indie in the indian cinematic context!) which made the year a lot more bearable.

Summarized below are my top 10 picks , my bottom 5 and the 3 biggest disappointments. This is not the whole catalogue of movies released in 2013 – just the ones I made an effort to go watch, there are still Oscar heavy hitters like 12 years a slave, August Osage County , The Wolf of Wall Street  which I am yet to watch and review.

Top 10 : (in alphabetical order) top 10

Bombay Talkies : a first of sorts where 4 mainstream big-name directors came together to present 4 short stories which celebrated the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Each story holding its own and neither director trying to one-up the other  but rather trying to tell an earnest story. Incidentally this is also one my most shared reviews and some people commented that they didn’t immediately see the connect I made between the four stories but did definitely agree afterwards.

Fukrey : A serious rib-tickler thanks to the antics of Choocha and Bholi Punjaban. And featuring the song of the year “Ambarsariya” this one was the most surprising as we went in expecting very little and came out clutching our sides which hurt from laughing out loud. A comedy that did not depend on physical gags and potty humor – my pick for the best comedy of the year!

Gravity : the opening 12-minute sequence is an experience that cannot be compared to any that we have had in theaters ever. A trip to space that we had only imagined so far but was brought life in glorious IMAX by the visionary Alonso Cuarón. Sandra Bullock should trade in her Oscar for best actress for blind side and ask for a new one for this one.  The magic of cinema as it was meant to be.

Go Goa Gone : A zombie movie made in india? You have got to be kidding me! And no Ramsay-fication of the same? Get out of here! This was a close second to the comedy of the year pick. Again went in with very little expectation came out with goosebumps from the gross zombies and a hurting jaw from all the laughing.

Kai Po Che :  I hate Chetan Bhagat and his brand of Indian-English Lit. but to take his story “3 mistakes of my life” and to make it into a sensitive, humorous and realistic tale of friendship, politics and redemption is not mean task.  This introduced us to 3 promising actors and redeemed a director after his overrated RockOn debut.  My personal favorite of the year, and a movie that will only get better with time.

Madras Café : this almost made it to the most disappointing because of the over simplification and the lack of cloak and daggers that I wanted from a smartly crafted and a beautifully shot political thriller. But I cannot take away from the fact that sujoy ghosh made a smart movie with believable performances from 2 of the worst actors.

Prisoners  : comparisons to Zodiac and Se7en are always going to bode well for any movie in my book and this dark and violent thriller about a man on rampage after his little girl goes missing is something that still gives me the chills when I recall the look of abject hatred on Hugh Jackman’s beautiful face. My pick for the best ensemble acting of the year, Jackman, Melissa leo, Paulo dano, viola davis, maria bello all bloody brilliant and I don’t hate Jake Gyllenhall anymore!

RamLeela :  This one is a controversial pick I know. Many people have written off Sanjay Leela Bhansali as a director more consumed with erecting humungous set pieces and working in monochromatic mode than concentrating on the story and character development. I disagree, and strongly at that. RamLeela , a Shakespearean adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Gujarat between warring clans of Rajadi and Saneda and a opulent multi-hued visual spectacle is the best Bhansali has done in years. This is devdas and HDDCS good. Most definitely the best soundtrack of the year with every single song a win in my book. Give it a watch without preconceived notions against Bhansali and you will be happier for it.

Rush :  Nothing – the answer to the question what can Ron Howard not do? To a person who detests Formula one this was definitely one of the best sporting movies ever made. The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured beautifully without playing the sympathy card for either of the protagonists. Daneil Bruhl turning in one of the best supporting acting all year. Beautifully shot, exquisitely scored – this was a highlight of the year without a doubt.

Ship Of Theseus :  The redemption of Bollywood in its 100 years of existence which has been marred by either blatantly plagiarized Hollywood fluff or story-less superstar billed histrionic orgy. Ship of theseus took a Grecian paradox ( had people googling what the hell a paradox is ) and turned it into poignant moving cinema which proved to the masses that you don’t need a small country’s GDP-equivalent budget or big-name stars to make a beautiful and technically adept movie. You need a brilliant director, a strong script and absolute dedication to your craft. Karan Johar rightly said – this movie makes every other filmmaker feel inferior. This should have been India’s entry to the Oscars’ foreign language category.

 

Bottom 5 ( In alphabetical order)

bottom 5

B.A. Pass : what promised to be a sensual Noir film ended up being a one-note repetitive mess which went no were and failed because the director was more consumed by trying to make a stylized movie which tried to touch upon every cliché possible rather than to make a simple story told in layers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag : the trailer set the pulse racing with a buffed up Farhan Akhtar running with a tyre tied to his waist against the stark ladhak landscapes. What was promised as a sporting bio-pic ended up being a boring meaningless mess. I had  such high hopes and I was left clutching at straws trying to find any redeeming factors about this movie.

 Chashme Baddoor : how can you take a Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval classic and butcher it so that it bears no resemblance to the original movie from which it was adapted from.  Chashme Baddoor is how.  

Dhoom : 3 : I knew this was going to be bad – but so bad that I had to take notes for my review! Every single thing about this movie was an absolute stinking turd. The only saving grace? The world now is in on the secret I knew for years! Aamir Khan is a conman who in guise of perfectionism is a hack who has only gotten lucky with a few good films and is essentially a worthless actor.

Satyagraha : Amitabh is good the rest is bad and Prakash Jha is  quickly become a tiresome director to sit through and when the new channels rehash the same political conundrum the nation is going through better than a national award winning director there is something definitely wrong with the movie.

Biggest Disappointments:

disappointment

 Lunchbox :  the end product failed to live up to all the hype surrounding the release of the movie and the hue and cry that followed afterwards when this movie was not selected as India’s official entry to the oscars. sure it is a cute little story but it did not live up to the potential that it held and ultimately the biggest disappointment for me for the year.

Man Of Steel : Snyder sullied the name of Nolan by making this mess of a movie. The perfect choice for superman Henry Cavill was not given enough to do in the movie which was more Snyder & Goyer  and less Nolan (chris and jonathan both) . a BIG disappointment all around.

 Nautanki Saala! :  the rising star of the last year Aayushman Khurana fails to entertain and the movie overall is just a giant mess. Less than catchy tunes and a story that had the potential but fails to deliver is the reason why this movie makes it to my list of big disappointments.

 

So there you have it – I wish I had seen more movies this year than I did and that is a resolution I am certain to make for 2014 and as a result more reviews to write and read. I will try to add more variety than just movie reviews and there is an exciting prospect under development which when accomplished I will be very very very happy to share with all!  Here is wishing all you readers of my blog a very happy new year and good luck with those resolutions! Make a resolution because it feels great at the end of the year when you sit down to look at what you have accomplished!