The Imitation Game – A Review

Morten Tyldum directs Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in the Alan Turing Biopic The Imitation Game. Turing was a man of immense genius, one whom Winston Churchill credited with the “single greatest contribution to ending the second world war”. Turing along with other cryptologists at britain’s Bletchley Park broke the German Enigma machine’s code effectively ending the war by laying bare the german communication to the allied troops. Tyldum has based the movie on a script by Graham Moore who adapted the book by Adrew Hodges.

The movie opens in 1952 with Turing in prison for questioning on the suspicions of being a soviet spy.  Cumberbatch’s voice over asks us to pay attention and asks us the question “am I a national hero, a criminal or a spy”. As it turns out Turing wasn’t a spy and the events that led to his arrest had very little to do with espionage but more to do with his homosexuality which in the 50s was still a punishable offence in Britain. The movie keeps flitting between the periods of 1952 when Turing was arrested, the war time 1939-1942 and the formative years of Turning at a boys school where he was bullied and harassed for being different.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, Kiera Knightley plays Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode plays John Hughes and Mark Strong plays Menzies.  I am as big a fan of Sherlock star Benedict as the next Cumberbitch (fans of Cumberbatch are known as cumberbitches) but to me he is the worst and the most obvious choice to play the irascible genius as he has played the same character in Sherlock and as Kahn in Star Trek. The performance does nothing unexpected or exciting. There are moments where Cumberbatch shines but they are far too few to warrant a Oscar win or even a nom as most punters are betting. Kiera Knightley as the only woman cryptographer has a role that is underdeveloped. She is chosen to join the team at Hut8 but her parents refuse and then Turing manages to deceitfully get them to agree and she is off to Bletchley but up until the point where they are engaged never once is Joan seen in Hut8 and instead seems to be whiling her time away with the other women at Bletchley intercepting the encoded messages. It is a befuddling tangent of storytelling at best.  Goode plays the cool, suave yet genius John Hughes in a performance that is reminiscent of his Ozymandias from Watchmen. The problem with these castings is that they are lazy and almost a stereotype of the kind of roles these otherwise brilliant actors are known to play. I would much rather have Goode or even Ben Wishaw play Turing but they aren’t big enough names to attract top billing unfortunately.

Graham and Tyldum do well to go into the most significant aspects of the story of Turing’s life, the arrival at Bletchley, the approval for building Christopher by going over the commanding officer and directly to Churchill, the eventual breakthrough, the debriefing, the arrest of Turing for public indecency, the chemical castration. But these events become mere checkpoints that the director and the cast tick off while hurtling towards the conclusion. There is no finesse when it comes to any of the above mentioned plot points, for instance the approval for Christopher is not only Turing’s effort but that of the entire team at Hut8 and the arrest and the interrogation that follows, which forms the opening scene of the movie is ended abruptly and Nock who is handling the investigation is handed a newspaper confirm that Turing is sentenced for Indecency a charge that he, Nock was fighting against. Also as with most biopics the closing scenes which list out what happened with the characters after the events in the movie this one does so as well. But rather than the half-hearted attempt of bullet-pointing how Turing was given a royal pardon if they had only ended it with the statement Gordon Brown made which was best summed up as “ we are sorry, you deserved much better”.

Gordon Brown’s ending remarks on the apology are how I felt about the movie myself. This is no doubt a honest and fine attempt at telling the life of perhaps the most influential figure in modern history. His pioneering work set the pace for the advent of computing in the right sense, his work at Bletchley saved 14million lives, his entire contribution was shrouded in secrecy and he was mistreated by the society because of his“different-ness” , it was his “different-ness” that saved the very society. But because of the towering nature of his contributions and the fantastic life that he lived which could serve as an inspiration to so many his story deserved to be told in a better fashion than a run of the mill biopic which is nothing but a Oscar-bait being distributed by the Weinstein brothers. Don’t miss this movie because even if mis-cast Benedict Cumberbatch is a treat to the eyes and ears both and Alan Turing’s story is the one that must be told over and over again till someone gets it right. And after you have seen the movie go read up on the life of this genius who changed the world for the better and still got nothing in return from it.

Finding Vivian Maier – A Review

Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary about an undiscovered artist which unfolds how a forensic case would. We start off with a young man John Maloof buying a box of film negatives at an auction to help with the history book he is writing and hopes that the negatives will have some images of Chicago from the earlier years that he can use. Once he looks at the negatives he realizes it is not what he needs and puts the box away. That should have been it, but the strength of the images keeps haunting Maloof and he starts thinking about who this person was. The name Vivian Maier – a google search reveals nothing (and now there are 4.7 million results) he starts to scan the images and posts them on Flickr – the social network for photography enthusiasts. The response he gets is astounding and he starts piecing the life of this artist together.

A few days after posting the images on Flickr Maloof does another google search and an obituary note for Vivian Maier turns up. She died a few days ago. Getting in touch with poster of the obituary note leads Maloof to a self-storage that holds the personal belongings of Miss Maier. Maloof then starts unearthing other fragments of  the life of this undiscovered artist who for the most part of her life worked as a nanny. There are thousands upon thousands of film negatives with images of such startling quality that it is immediately clear that this was more than just a passing hobby of a nanny.

With interviews from families she was a nanny, a governess, a housekeeper Maloof puts the pieces of the puzzle together. There are audio tapes and even video recordings that Vivian took to essentially document the world she saw through her eyes and the shutter of the rolleiflex. This tells a story of a woman who had a humor about her and the way she captured the world around her with each frame cleverly juxtaposing the extremities of the human existence in the most humorous setting and also not shying away from political commentary.  A number of her striking images are used in this movie but you get a sense of the documentary only scratching the surface of her genius. The picture of the black kid polishing the boots of a white kid is such a strong image that could be looked at in so many contexts that it begs the question of how much more treasure does her entire collection hold.

The humorous woman we are introduced to via the pictures suddenly becomes something entirely different with her previous wards describing her behavior as odd and eccentric, guarded and paranoid, with an odd fixation on the crime stories in the newspapers. It just starts becoming clearer that despite the fact that she obviously knew how talented she was she didn’t feel connected to the world around her to want to share her point of view.  There are tales of how she traveled the world and documented images she took overseas but also of the odd behavior where despite being born in New York she put on a fake French accent and wore manly and ill-fitted clothes. She took self-portraits so there was a definite vanity in her but the face was always in a quizzical and detached expression.  There are two interviews in particular that make you feel for Vivian, one where while she was still a nanny and the family wanted to be foster parents to another child Vivian asks them to take care of her instead and another towards the later part of her life when she runs into an old employer and Vivian begs her to sit with her and spend some time but she can’t as she has to get to the beach. But then there are some interviews which make you question if she was in fact ever a right choice to be a nanny to kids. One generic observation I have looking at all the people who were interviewed in the film is that at least the kids who Vivian looked after seem to all have a certain quality about them that makes them slightly odd, almost a little bitter with a tendency to laugh at the oddest things. I could be reading too much into it but I felt a little uncomfortable listening to these people who would appear to have some discomfort in a social situation.  Also Maloof seems a little suspect to me – about how he rails on against the art establishment for not hosting a Vivian Maier show (MOMA and Tate modern for instance). I really see no point in bringing it up in this documentary which is essentially to bring the brilliance of this nanny cum street photographer who might just be one of the most influential photographers.

But the movie is not about these people – it is about the people Vivian captures through her lens and the story she is trying to tell of the people and the situations she sees around herself. And what a fascinating conversation that is. I wish the movie ended with a collage/montage of more of her images and that a few of her self-portraits.  This is among the best documentaries I have seen because it introduces a subject matter that would otherwise remain unexplored and Vivian Maier is one of the most intriguing characters I have come across – it has been a few days since I saw the movie and her persona and the images he captured still are playing over and over in my head and that laugh she had when she was speaking about the weird phone calls she received after posting an ad in the newspaper for work. Vivian Maier was an enigma and I cannot wait to see more of her pictures.

vm

Interstellar – A Spoiler free Review

A Christopher Nolan movie is an event movie – it deserves tonnes of press and an even greater amount of hype and excitement as Nolan rarely disappoints. The man who single handedly revived the super-hero genre, the one who dabbled in magic and memory loss and dared peer inside our dreams is revered among cinephiles and for good reason. And when this man sets off on an inter-galactic voyage you simply strap in and join him for the ride on the biggest screen possible. To say I am a Nolan devotee would be a gross understatement. I have devoured every tidbit of information that came out while Nolan worked away on his space sojourn and Interstellar was the number 1 most anticipated movie for me for this year. I was back in 2010 when I was waiting with bated breath for Inception to unfold and for it to silence all Nolan critics and it did in spectacular fashion. Would Interstellar be able to continue Nolan’s winning streak or will the law of averages finally catch up with this auteur. Read on to find out more – there are no spoilers in this review

The story starts in the near future where science is all but forgotten, the school teach students that the Moon landing was a hoax perpetrated to bankrupt the Soviet Union and trained astronauts are left to plough the field for crop. This is the caretaker generation, struggling through dust clouds and crop blights to survive while staring extinction in the face. Through curiously encoded messages Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey and Murph played by Mackenzie Foy end up at NORAD a clandestine NASA mission run by the Nolan-regular Michael Caine playing Professor Brand. He asks Cooper – the best pilot they ever had- to join the mission along with his daughter Amelia played by Anne Hathaway, Romily played by David Gyassi and Doyle played by Wes Bentley. The mission is to follow 3 of the 12 previous astronauts who left our galaxy to travel through a mysterious wormhole to look for other planets which could be used to sustain human life.  No more story-wise, lest I risk the spoiling of the surprises that are in-store.

Nolan is a master of visuals. His association with Wally Pfisher was what elevated his movies to the next level. With Hoyte Van Hoytema donning the cinematographer’s hat I had a feeling we won’t be let down because he filmed the wonderful Her last year and made the future very accessible and believable. The visuals Van Hoytema creates of the inter-galactic voyage are stunning in their grandeur but as one wired article evidences they are also based on a very real scientific equations which Kip Thorne the theoretical physicist from Caltech collaborated on with the team behind interstellar. The wormhole, the blackhole, and the Endurance spacecraft passing alongside Saturn are all stunning in their detail and scale. Where the visuals however are let down are with the background score. Hans Zimmer who has provided very complementary scores for previous Nolan movies plays it too heavy handedly this time around. The loud klaxon based soundtrack takes away from the scene and makes it almost unbearable. A Clint Mansel or Alexandre Desplat score would have served Nolan better giving it the Kubrickian feel of using the classical compositions. With the thunderous riffs and booming drums of Zimmer the crescendos come quick and fast but there is no payoff visually or story wise .

Nolan had me scratching my head when he announced that Matthew McConaughey would be the lead actor in Interstellar and my worst fears have come to fruition. Every time Cooper opens his mouth to speak out comes the stoner cowboy drawl that will dull anyone to sleep. Half the time his words are illegible and the other half just unbearable. He is unbelievable as someone who understands and can hold a conversation about quantum physics and he puts in no efforts to the contrary either.  Anne Hathaway is still stuck being Fantine from Les Miserables and cannot seem to turn the tears out. If we had a whiny bio-physicist and a stoned out southerner to rely on to save the fate of humanity our chances look grim. Thats where the grown up Murph, Jessica Chastain comes in – she is the only one that manages to come across as someone with a sane mind but her interaction with her brother played by Casey Affleck make little sense. But my biggest grief is with David Gyassi who plays fellow astronaut Romily who waits on board Endurance when Coop, Amelia and Doyle go to the planet of the Tsunami waves. He ages 22 years when they get back on the spacecraft and I for one instance thought he was just hamming it to tease Coop and Amelia on the passage of time but he wasn’t and he had really aged and he acts really weird too, walks with a slouch and sounds defeated. The whole effect is jarring and not entirely believable.

For a movie that is nearly 3 hours long there are key scenes which feel rushed and unresolved. The initiation of Cooper into the Save-the-humanity program, the travel to the different planets to find the data, the climax which holds the key to the human survival seem hurried and rough. If more time was spent on these, more technical aspects of what is essentially a sci-fi adventure it would have felt like the Nolan movie I have come to expect. Instead we spend an inordinately long time setting up the doomsday scenario in the first half with the dustbowl and the father daughter bond that will be Cooper’s driving force. Also once onboard the time spent whining about personal issues is almost juvenile and for Nolan standards unpardonable. Instead of Cooper and Amelia talking I would much prefer a lively chat between TRAS and CASE the two robots who are nods to HAL9000 from 2001 : A Space Odyssey.

There is little doubt that this movie is not all that it could have been. A majority of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Matthew McConaughey who I hope Nolan never collaborates with ever again. But this is still a Nolan movie it is big on Ideas and huge on visual impact. For a director who dares to take such huge risks and break away from the formulaic big-budget franchise movies it deserves a watch. It won’t redefine the sci-fi genre in the way that 2001 did. But like Inception it is an idea that needs to be explored and discussed and it makes the most complicated science easily accessible and it makes you think. And I want Nolan to break the bank on this one so he can get back to the long-gestating Howard Hughes biopic.

Nightcrawler- A Review

Dan Gilroy directs Jake Gyllenhaal in the creepy crime drama Nightcrawler based on the life of a desperate and unemployed man who uses his resourcefulness to bring breaking news stories to crime obsessed news networks.

The story begins with Lou Bloom played by the brilliantly creepy Jake Gyllenhaal is stopped mid-heist while he is trying to make away with the wire-fence, using his strangely engaging way of talking (think Aaron Sorkin style dialogue but delivered by someone on valium in slow dulcet tones) he comes near and then overpowers the security guard and makes away with his watch.  When trying to make a sale to a building construction manager he tries to sweet talk him into a job but when he is called a thief he just smiles and walks away. This is Lou Bloom a perfectly nice guy but you get the sense that something isn’t quite right with him.

A chance encounter with a freelance videographer sets Lou on a path which drives the rest of the movie. When trying to make the sale of his first video of a gruesome gun shooting he meets Nina played ably by Rene Russo. Nina is the ratings hungry morally corrupt news producer of what Lou calls as the Vampire shift of the lowest ranking LA news channel.  But Nina soon realizes that Lou could be the ratings golden goose she has been looking for.jake gyllenhaal rene russo nightcrawler

At under 2 hours the movie is crisply written and directed. It takes us on a journey as we learn more about Lou and his ambitions and get increasingly creeped out by the silly grin permanently plastered on his face. During the course of the movie we see Lou talking like an audiobook on management, a self-help book, A Hallmark Card (Friends are the gift we give ourselves) and a performance management cheat sheet that every manager will be familiar with.

Lou is assisted in his twisted venture by Rick played by Riz Ahmed, a homeless guy who answers an Ad by Lou and ends up being his police-code-decrypter and GPS-navigator as Lou races through downtown LA to get to the scene of the crime. Rick plays a moral compass of sorts to Lou but is easily distracted by the prospect of making more money.

As Lou gets better at his job, you start seeing that this strange push-over of a man is no pushover infact. The scene at the Mexican restaurant while laugh-inducing is also particularly creepy as you start seeing what a dangerous man he really is.

Robert Elswit does a most fantastic job of cinematography as the director of photography. He shoots the breakneck pace at which Lou drives with a steady and unwavering precision. The masterful use of the Sodium filled yellow street lights to give the entire landscape a ghoulish glow and flashing red and blue of the police cars to reflect the dancing madness in the eyes of Lou is masterful indeed. In the hands of a lesser director, cinematographer combo  this could have ended up being a hand-held camera shot, nausea inducing chase-fest. But by taking us along for the ride Elswit puts us squarely in the middle of the action and the results are exceptional. At one point I was holding both hands on my head as Lou drives along a police car chase.  The music by James Newton Howard is subtle and understated and does the job perfectly of capturing the still of the night punctured by the crime scenes, those who perpetrated the crimes and those who work tirelessly to enforce the law.

Nightcrawler is an easy entertaining thriller with excellent acting and stunning visuals. But it is also a character study into what drives the people who blur the lines of journalistic ethics to feed the public greed for sensationalized news or perhaps even the paparazzi fueled celeb-obsessed culture of ours. This is a sensational movie for all the above mentioned reasons, which makes no compromises in its characters, its story or its execution.  Do not miss this one because with a relatively weak best actor field this one could be Jake Gyllenhaal’s ticket to the big ball.

Haider – A Review

 Vishal Bharadwaj directs Shahid Kapoor and Tabu in Haider an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This is Bharadwaj’s third attempt at adapting the noted English playwright’s material after Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). Bharadwaj has a knack for contemporizing Victorian stories in the Indian context and doing so very effectively. With Maqbool he set the story in the Mumbai underworld and with Omkara he exploited the criminal-political nexus of the heartland by setting the story in Uttar Pradesh. With Haider he takes the troubled prince’s story and sets it in the strife ridden state of Kashmir and the words that begin Hamlet “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark” couldn’t ring truer.

Kay Kay Menon plays Khurrum (Claudius) who marries Ghazala (Gertrude) played by Tabu after the “disappearance” of Haider’s (Hamlet) Father Dr. Hilal (king Hamlet). Shraddha Kapoor plays Arshee (Ophelia and also Horatio as Hamlet’s friend). Irrfan Khan plays Roohdar (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) delivering a message from his father about the deceit of Khurrum.

The story mostly plays around the themes of Hamlet and tries to be as faithful an adaption as possible under the constraints of the geo-political hotpot of Kashmir. Any movie based on Kashmir is sure to be divisive as you cannot take a neutral stance over the militant insurgency and the mistrust the people of Kashmir feel towards the militarization of what is essentially heaven on earth. Bharadwaj tries to tackle the AFSPA issue and that is where the movie stumbles. Bharadwaj tries to rely on AFSPA as a plot device allowing Khurrum to get his brother captured by the military and eventually killed. By trying to rely too much on AFSPA and to almost demonizing it is where the movie’s narrative pace fails. It becomes cumbersome and does not yield the results Bharadwaj might have wanted it to, however kudos to him and script writer Bashrat Peer for trying.

Shraddha Kapoor is a revelation as Arshee and playing Kashmiri comes naturally to her. Kay Kay Menon who has phenomenal talents to play the bad guy fails to excite me with this outing. He plays Khurrum with a degree of menace that is so on the nose that it becomes parody of the Claudius as intended by Shakespeare. The prayer scene where he is supposed to appear contrite ends up being even more contrived. Irrfan Khan is slowly become more unbearable with every outing and seems to have lost the earthiness that made him great in Paan Singh Tomar. There is nothing worse than an actor who thinks he knows he is better than everyone else and that is the vibe I am getting from Khan ever since his Hollywood foray. His Roohdar is unconvincing and for reasons best known to Bharadwaj or the editing team the whole plot with militancy is rendered under developed. Tabu does what she does best. She lights up the screen every time she is on it. Her physical presence is so commanding on screen that everything else shrinks in comparison. Her earnest Ghazala is another addition to an already overly impressive resume. She crafts her character so beautifully that every time she calls out to Haider as “Jana” it makes you think of your own mother (albeit less deceitful). Everything except Shahid Kapoor shrinks in Tabu’s presence. Shahid Kapoor delivers what is arguably the best performance of his career. This is the Shahid that we all know and love and was lost somewhere in the 100 cr race. The first time I ever took notice of Shahid was also in a Bharadwaj caper – Kaminey (also the first ever review I wrote so the partnership is special for a personal reason). His Haider is restrained and insane at the same time. The vulnerability and intensity in his eyes as he searches for his father and then avows to avenge his death is electric.  My favorite Shahid moment is during the song Jhelum when he exchanges photos with a woman looking for her missing son, it gave me chills and made me tear up for him.

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Bharadwaj, as legend has it learnt to be a music composer during college days to woo Rekha Bharadwaj. Here he provides the background score for Haider and it couldn’t have been done any better. His reliance on single instruments, be it the cello, the violin or even the stray strings of Sitar to underscore the uneasy silence that enfolds the valley is fantastic. There are places where the music rises with the rise in tension but then at the climax the strings fade from the concerto and the emotions alone drive home the point and this is the restraint that only a very self-assured story teller is capable of. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is beautiful as it captures the beauty of the Kashmir valley in all its snowy glory. The only misstep is the inclusion of unnecessary songs; the only songs that deserve any place in the screenplay are the Jhelum re Jhelum and the acapella song by Shraddha Kapoor as she mourns the loss of her father. The song with Haider and Arshee frolicking in the snow and the gravedigger’s song are jarringly out of place and seem to be paying mere lip service to Hamlet. The song bismil bulbul is the strongest argument in favor of giving a personal flavor to an adaptation, the famous play in a play from hamlet is adapted to a dance performance commemorating the marriage of Ghazala and Khurrum and is written, sung and shot so beautifully that it defies comparisons.

Hamlet and other work of art are always open to interpretations and I believe that Bharadwaj has also tried to add a layer a subtext to his adaptation that leaves the audience to interpret the story based on their own prejudices. How I see it is as an allegory to the contentious Kashmir issue. If one were to supplant Hilal (Haider’s father) as King Hari Singh Bahadur and Ghazala as Kashmir itself then based on your point of view you could argue for either Haider as India or Pakistan and khurrum as the other . I know I could be way off but to me it is essentially why this movie is more than just a mere adaptation and the reason why Vishal Bharadwaj is regarded as one of India’s best and most original directors.

Haider in many ways seems incomplete or entirely too slow and meandering and by the end it seems to have gone nowhere, but that is the nature of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which unfolds as a tragedy with many time lapses and moments of insanity and introspection. Haider is a beautiful made film which unfortunately isn’t without a few flaws, but these flaws are easily overlooked when Tabu and Shahid Kapoor set the screen on fire with their brilliant acting.

Gone Girl – A Review

David Fincher – the dark master of modern cinema directs Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, a story about a beautiful and talented wife who goes missing on the day of her fifth anniversary.  David Fincher has one of the most impressive filmography in Hollywood today and among those are stand outs like the Oscar darlings,  The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and also there are dark messed up masterpieces such as Zodiac and Se7en. File Gone Girl under the Dark messed up masterpieces because what Fincher has achieved in this film based on a screenplay written by the novelist Gillian Flynn, adapted from her own original novel is nothing short of mind-bending madness.

Gone Girl

The story kicks off with a forlorn looking Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne driving into a bar he co-owns with his sister to crib over the disintegration of his marriage when he gets a phone call from a neighbor about his cat straying outside the home. Nick drives back home to what appears to be a crime scene with his wife Amy Dunne played by the enchanting Rosamund Pike nowhere to be found.  What unfolds is a meticulous crime drama that very few are adept at dealing with as Fincher does. With the same restraint he showed with Zodiac, Fincher creates an atmosphere of eerie silence and awkward moments that has you drawn in from the minute Affleck picks up that cat and brings it home.  I wish I could discuss more of the plot of the movie but that would be a massive disservice to those who are yet to see the movie. Suffice to say you will not be prepared for this if you are only going in on Fincher’s credentials and just the trailers. Speaking of trailers, Fincher is not only the master of crafting a beautiful film he is also the master of suspense and the art of smoke and daggers. The trailers only serve to enhance the experience of the movie and the sense of unease that unfolds over the course of its entire length.

Rosamund Pike as the fragile and scared wife and more is brilliant and unnerving, Ben Affleck as the loving husband is just as convincing as he grinning awkwardly in front of his missing wife’s poster. I have always regarded Affleck as a better director than actor but with Gone Girl he proves he is one fine actor as well. Tyler Perry who claims never to have heard of David Fincher is also cast perfectly as Tanner Bolt – the patron saint of the wife killers. Carrie Coon as Affleck’s twin Margo and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s obsessive ex-boyfriend Dessie Collins are also brilliant in their roles. Special mention to Kim Dickens who as the southern Detective Rhonda Boney with sass provides the movie’s lighter moments.

Trent Raznor and Atticus Rose once again score Fincher’s Gone Girl after their successful collaboration on the social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There is something special about this partnership as Raznor and Rose are somehow able to create an atmospheric sound track that perfectly complements Fincher’s quiet and meticulous story telling.  There are no booming sounds or soaring sonatas but just the subtlest of undertones of sound to draw you in even more as Fincher’s characters slowly mumble their way through the story. The experience is all encompassing.

This is a movie that will stay with you for long after you have left the cinema hall, it will still play on your mind even after you feel you have unburdened it by dropping several hundred F-bombs while marveling at what a twisted genius Fincher really is. There will be awkward laughs that will escape you but at the same time it will make you question yourself. This is a movie that will not let you be comfortable – neither while you are watching it nor after the end credits roll. From the opening scene to the scene that closes the movie with the same dialogue the journey that you will be on will be one that you are unlikely to experience again this year or for several years to come. Fincher has the unique ability to mess with his audiences’ minds and get under their skin, he draws you in and toys with your emotions and as if some cliché of a Stockholm syndrome you do not want him to stop doing it to you. This is a master class in how to do a thriller right.

Bang Bang – A Review

Siddharth Anand directs Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif in Bang Bang the official remake of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz starrer Knight and Day. Bang Bang also serves as a reminder that two phenomenally beautiful people in stunning locations do not an interesting movie make.

Siddharth Anand director of such cinematic gems as Ta Ra Rum Pum and Salam Namaste proves yet again that he is the master of the art of insipidity. The movie jerk starts with a scene straight out of Karma where Dr Michael Dang is captured and put in a jail cell and a righteous police inspector comes in and lands a tight one on the left cheek. I almost expected Danny Denzogpa to mouth “is thappad ki goonj ki goonj…”

Katrina (who must really have killed off her stylist’s cat for her to hate her so much) plays Harleen Sahani a Bank receptionist who has the ability to take and transfer calls on a retro phone, who sits and types while staring at a screensaver of Santorini and who either talks to herself or to a grandmother who has no sense of personal space. She gets swept away by international criminal Rajveer played by the brand ambassador for Mustard Oil Hrithik Roshan.

Harleen and Rajveer are under attack from goons of Danny and Javed Jaffery and the agents of ISS officers Pawan Malhotra and Vikram Gokhale. Where do I even begin with ISS – they are supposed to be India’s CIA/MI6 and they can’t even issue legitimate looking badges. And Sujoy Ghosh, who scripted Kahaani – in my opinion India’s best thriller, makes the most obvious of blunders. The whole plot and premise of the extradition treaty is willy nilly forgotten and everyone just goes about shooting everyone while Katrina sleeps.

Of the actors there is really no saving grace for any of them. Katrina who usually carries off the ditzy blonde roles off with élan is unbearable and thanks to her stylist is almost unbearable to look at as well except in a few shots in meherbaan. Hrithik with his charm offensive criminal with a heart of gold isn’t half bad but is saddled with a script that has him playing more kanaiya than krrish. Pawan Malhotra tries to pull a Nawazuddin Siddiqui and end s up looking more like ACP pradyuman.  Deepti Naval proves that the bills won’t pay themselves and that even legends like her have to play the grieving mother. Danny Denzogpa and Javed Jaffery play the bad guys from what appears to be a bad parody of every bad guy ever depicted in Bollywood.

Plotholes aside it would have at least been bearable if there was enough adrenaline pumping action to keep one entertained. There is so much talking going on and most of it courtesy Katrina Kaif and her confusion at being caught up in all this mess that I did pray that Hrithik has more of those tranquilizer shots to sedate her. And whatever little action there is is ruined by the overpowering music which can only be described as the illegitimate child of Hans Zimmer’s score for the dark knight and Martin Garrix electronic dance music. Vishal and Shekhar who are able to turn in at least one memorable track per outing seem to struggle massively with an entirely forgettable soundtrack.  The camera work is also shoddy with the action sequences being shot in a way that you don’t see any real action being captured and some of the tracking shots actually lacking in focus which results in hazy pan shots. The big reveal? its actually quite obvious 20 minutes into the movie and you need to be as dimwitted as Harleen to have to sit through the entire movie to be amazed by it. It is trademark Sujoy Ghosh if you know what I mean.

As if it weren’t enough that we are stuck with uninspired writing, directing and acting that we are given the wonderful gift of blatant product placement. I counted 10 – Johnson Tiles, Hokey Pokey, Samsung, Philips, Pizza Hut, Ray Ban, The Q Shop, Volvo, Mountain Dew & Macroman.

The intensity of Bang Bang’s stupidity is only matched by the vigorousness of its insipidity. Stay as far away from this movie as possible and watch any old Tom Cruise movie instead if action is what you crave and don’t mind a bit of plot thrown in for good measure.

Pride – A Review

Matthew Warchus directs Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott, Dominic Cooper amongst others in Pride. With a playbill that is packed to the rafters with character actors from various british TV shows the fact that this movie was going to be brilliantly acted was a given. But in this based on real events story about the coming together of the Gay Rights movement and the Union strike,  Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford have created a beautifully crafted drama with a healthy dose of humor.

The story starts with the charismatic Mark played by Ben Schnetzer drumming up support amongst his gay friends to start collecting funds for the striking miners. While arguments can be made in favor or against the legitimacy of the strike the movie chooses to present the issues from the point of view of the miners alone. After collecting the money and trying to get any mining union to accept their support the LGBT group happens to reach out to a welsh mining community who through misunderstanding over the phone agree to send a representative to meet with the LGSM ( Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) in London.  And what follows hence is a heart-warming tale of two victimized fractions of the society coming together and learning to accept one another albeit grudgingly.

For 2/4th of the movie the screenplay is tight and the story progresses along briskly with the entire ensemble chipping in with memorable performances. The Acapella singing of the song in the union hall in Dulais, Wales is particularly stirring. Of the acting chops Andrew Scott impressed me the most. After his chilling turn as Moriarty on TV’s Sherlock here he plays out his role as Gethin with such vulnerability that it is fascinating to bear witness to his range as an actor. Imelda Staunton is also brilliant but then that statement is redundant as she almost always is. Jessica Gunning as Sian James plays the firebrand to perfection as she goes from being the shy volunteer to essentially the firepower behind the coalition of the Miners and the LGSM groups.  Another standout is Paddy Considine as the Mining union’s spokesperson Dai. From the first speech he delivers at the Gay club where he is just barely getting to grips with public speaking to the final speech he delivers at the Pits and Perverts concert at the electric ballroom in Camden shows the journey his character has gone through.

It is in the 3/4th of the movie where it loses steam and the pace begins to drag as the director chooses to bring various other stories to fruition, that of a closet gay being outed by his sister, Gethin being attacked. What rankles the most is the change in attitude of Mark and it throws the audience off for a loop. It takes considerable effort but the director manages to provide for a satisfactory climax. I also am disappointed in the director’s handling of the AIDS crisis and how insensitively it is used to further a plot point.

What is most amazing is the journey of discovery that the characters go on as the two groups cross path. The village granny is all inquisitive about the lesbian-lifestyle with their vegetarian/vegan diets, the hot headed miner is the first one to soften up to the LGSM and wants to take dance lessons so that he is better able to woo the barmaid, the pub-crawl through the London gay scene is also delightful as Imelda Staunton ends up giggling like a naughty school girl when she comes upon “treasures” in the LGSM’s accommodations. Also acting as a counterpoint is the hesitation that the two groups feel while supporting the other’s struggle. While Dai is welcomed when he makes the first speech Mark is faced by hostile silence at the union hall. The dissenters in both the groups throw a wrench in the machinery due to their on ill-conceived prejudices.

Milk this isn’t but it is a fantastic telling of the struggle for equality both of the miners and that of the LGBT community and the eventual coming together in show of solidarity despite the odds being stacked against them.  Do not miss Pride for it manages to strike that fine balance of humor and the humanity of the drama that unfolds.

Finding Fanny – A Review

Homi Adajania directs Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur in the the dark comedy Finding Fanny. In a clear departure from his last outing as director where Homi directed Deepika in cocktail, he goes back to territory he first explored with his directorial debut Being Cyrus.

Finding Fanny is the story of Ferdie played immaculately by Naseeruddin who is the oldest choir boy and post-master of a small goan village. Ferdie discovers a letter he wrote to the love of his life Stephanie, the eponymous Fanny, was never delivered to her.   Lamenting a unrequited love Ferdie confides in his best friend Angie played by the lissome Deepika Padukone. Together with her larger than life mother-in-law Rosie played by the ever-enchanting Dimple Kapadia, childhood friend Savio played by the brooding Arjun Kapoor and the lecherous Don Pedro an artist of international acclaim played to perfection by Pankaj Kapur, Angie and Ferdie set out to find Fanny.

This road trip takes us along the beautiful and scenic vistas of Goa reminding us once again that Goa is not only about beaches and booze. Other than Ferdie who is searching for the love of his life, every character is on a personal quest of sorts and they each manage to find it in a strange sort of way.

Don Pedro and his Ruben-esque love for the voluptuous Rosie is definitely the most guffaw inducing with his hammed-up, lecherous antics. There were two scenes which had me baffled and wondering if the director needed more time to resolve the outbursts. The first one involved Pedro finally finishing his portrait of Madame Rosaline and thus dubbing her vapid and empty – I think it should have been more about her insecurities and the lies she had bundled up to maintain appearances. The second was Rosie berating Savio about how he should have died instead of her own son Gabo, it seemed to be too abrupt with no real preamble or conclusion.

Deepika Padukone seems to be going from strength to strength with each movie and for her own good I hope she manages to strike a balance between box office blockbusters like Chennai Express and pseudo-indie movie like Finding Fanny because they help her grow as an actress. Here she lights up every scene she is in just by the slightest of knowing smiles as she adoringly indulges the lovable Fredie. There is an inner strength and conviction in her own craft that is clearly visible in her poise and composure throughout the movie. For me Deepika Padukone has well and truly arrived as the Queen Bee of Bollywood. Arjun Kapoor is surprisingly good as the brooding and pouty Savio and gets the job done. With Deepika around, Kapoor ends up being a supporting actor than a lead.  The trifecta of veterans Shah, Kapadia and Kapur are what lifts the movie from being a comedy of errors to a dark and brilliant comedy. Their craft is so nuanced that it leaves me baffled that they are not doing more movies.

Anil Mehta’s work behind the camera is brilliant as he takes on a journey through the leafy bylanes of rural goa and frames the perfect sunsets beautifully. The production on the movie is also top notch with kitschy and retro props that help transport the audience to rustic goa where the time literally stands still as no one is in a rush to do anything, Susegad as they say.

Finding Fanny feels more like a taut short story than an elaborate movie but is thoroughly entertaining. Deepika Padukone is reason enough to shell out your hard earned cash to catch this on the big screen. Dimple Kapadia, Pankaj Kapur and Naseerudding Shah are added bonus. Watch this movie because brave movies like these need the audience love and support to encourage directors like Homi Adajania to keep on this path and not steer off-course to cocktail land.

Chef – A Review

Jon Favreau directs himself in a script written by him in and as Chef. That might sound off-putting but please let that not be the reason why you do refrain from checking out this little gem of a movie that is one of the best and most innocuous feel-good movie I have come across in a long time.

With a playbill that is stacked with the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Robert downey Jr., John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johanson (no pun intended!) the movie is the story of a once-celebrated chef Carl Casper whose food inspired people one among who is a would be food critic Ramsey Michel. After 10 years in the industry Carl and Ramsey cross paths again and the result is far from palatable. What ensues is the main plot of the movie and it would be stupid of me to lay it out here in the review.

Jon F, John L and Amjay Anthony who plays Carl’s son Percy go on a road trip of sorts which acts as a journey of discovery of sorts. Carl finds his mojo back cooking the food he loves and finds in Martin a trusted sidekick and a friend for life. But more importantly, during the course of this journey he finds a way to connect to his kid, a way to pass on his passion for food onto the little apprentice who ends up being the main hero of the story as it were.

The movie does justice to the food it sets out to serve by highlighting the local specialties like the Miami’s little Havana’s Cuban Sandwiches, New Orleans’ Beignet and Austin Texas’ barbequed  Brisket. But the movie does not limit itself to the food, the self-discovery and the coming closer of a father and son, it goes on to make a point about social media. The new beast that can make instant celebrities out of regular food-eaters, movie-goers, compulsive-shoppers by allowing them their “blogging” space but also make instant fools out of people who in a moment of madness lose control and their actions are forever on the internet to taunt them and to trivialize any other achievement they may have had outside of that moment. But through Percy we see the power of social media which also allows the same fallen hero to rise up again.

Ultimately this is a movie that is not burdened by the compulsions of giving the myriad of stars their space on the reel; it is not burdened by clichés of which there are aplenty. It is a movie about a father and son taking a road trip eating their way through America and filling our hearts with a warm and gooey feeling that is not dissimilar to eating a chocolate lava cake.  This is an unmissable movie especially if you have a food dream like I do.  Take a bow Jon Favreau or a Michelin star if you must!