Bombay Velvet – A Review

Anurag Kashyap directs Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar in Bombay Velvet, a film noir entailing the nascent days of creation of India’s financial capital. A much anticipated movie given the talent attached and the likes of Thelma Schoonmaker ( Scorsese’s preferred editor) Bombay Velvet has a lot of hype thanks to Kashyap and Johar’s media savvy and a lot hope to revive the floundering career of Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood’s best actor who has sort of fallen off the wagon.

Anushka Sharma plays Rosie Noronah a goa-born jazz singer who comes to Mumbai hoping to make a name for herself as a singer. Ranbir Kapoor plays Johnny Balraj a small-time crook who dreams of dying as a big-shot and moon-lights as a street fighter to sort out his anger issues. Karan Johar plays Kaizad Khambatta a mobster who wants a piece of the pie in the transformation of the 7 islands to the metropolitan city that Bombay would come to be. With these ambitions driving the lead characters this ought to have been a stylized and cathartic look at the DNA that embodies Mumbai even today. But poor character development and appallingly bad screenplay, movie ends up being more style than substance.

Kashyap seems to have been too busy in the lush production designs aimed at recreating the 60s period look than any attempt at compelling story telling. And even the period recreation seems to rely a little too heavily on the Hollywood version of the 20s and 30s prohibition era inspired movies that romanticised gangsters than a realistic representation of Bombay of the 60s. The movie is supposedly inspired by real-life events fictionalised for dramatic flair. Even the closing credits tell us of Rosie’s fate post the events of the movie and it seems to me that Kashyap, Vasan Bala and Gyan Prakash Thyani relied too heavily on the fading memory of a septuagenarian to ever be in any position to tell a coherent story. Story arcs take off and veer into nothingness. Take for instance Jimmy Mistry the editor of Glitz Newspaper a left-leaning mouthpiece aimed at exposing the corrupt nexus at the base of the Bombay redevelopment plan. He is a major player in the first half of the movie and in the second half – Nothing! Even the actions of its lead pair seem to be hare-brained, they are in love one moment, scheming the next and back in love immediately afterwards. Also Karan Johar who plays a supposedly closeted mobster spouts “tumne usme aisa kya dekha jo mujme nahi hai” out of nowhere and it all just starts feeling like an elaborate joke. The acting is atrocious and the dialogue delivery flat. Ranbir who usually is able to make every character relatable seems to be phoning it in with his crook with a heart of gold act. His character is poorly written and he does nothing spectacular to salvage it. Anushka Sharma continues her transformation into a human babushka doll resembling more and more like Kim Kardashian in appearance and talent. Karan Johar who make his acting debut (DDLJ notwithstanding) and it might join the list of shortest acting career ever. He might be a good director-producer but an actor he is certainly not.

Besides the main lead the supporting cast is poorly cast. For a role as significant as Jimmy Mistry’s the casting of Manish Chaudhary is baffling as he brings nothing to the character. Kay Kay Menon is wasted as detective/inspector. Mastermind’s Siddhartha Basu as Bombay Mayor Romil Mehta is the stereotypical corrupt politician and he does nothing to elevate his performance. Vivaan Shah as the chauffer Tony is just a pitiful waste of space that honestly serves no purpose. The only character who seems to have anything invested in this movie is Satyadeep Mishra who plays Johnny’s sidekick Chiman. He has a sense of gravitas and plays the devil’s advocate to Ranbir’s Johnny.

Amit Trivedi’s music outside of the movie induces nostalgia to the days of Geeta Bali and other such elusive chanteuses. But the background score often overwhelms the scenery and becomes an overbearing distraction. Niharika Khan’s costume work on Anushka’s stage outfits is staggering and it creates for some stunning shots. But at the same time the costume work overall is pretty inconsistent. Take for instance the police, the commissioner is in khaki, Kay Kay Menon in short sleeve shirts and a hat and sub-inspector in all whites. It is nuances like these that are missing which takes the audience out of the equation and you end up not caring about the going-ons on the screen. 

Prerna Saigal a first time film editor who collaborated with Thelma Schoonmaker seems to have failed in her duty as an editor as the film’s two and half hour runtime seems far too bloated for its own good. Perhaps it was the poor story and screenplay which did her in but even as an editor there was room to salvage this from becoming an unbearable monstrosity it ended up as. I very nearly walked out at interval because the first half was so life-draining. The first few scenes of the second half gave me hope but then nothing. Characters of no significance were introduced in important scenes and then disposed of just as unintelligently. Also clearly sensing the stagnancy and impotence of the story telling the director introduces a stand-up comic who cracks unfunny chewed up jokes in order to further the story telling in a last ditch effort. alas that effort also falls flat.

Overall Bombay velvet seems life a self-indulgent exercise in film making that fails on every account. Inconsistent writing, uninspired direction and insipid acting leave a lot to be desired. It has been a very long time that I was this bored in cinema. Venture at your own peril.

P.S.: Last year I saw a preview of  Tom Hardy’s Legend that comes out later this year – the version we saw was unfinished with effects yet to be finalised and editing. that was based on a realy life story of the twin gangsters who rules the London of the 60s and that unfinished movie was way more fun than the bore-fest that was Bombay velvet.

Mad Max : Fury Road – A Review

George miller directs Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road. Reinventing the series he first directed over 30 years ago with Mel Gibson as the titular Max Rokatansky, Miller turns up the adrenaline to maximum as Hardy and Theron battle for their lives and their belief in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Fury Road is less about Max and more about Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and her escape from the clutches of the evil Immortan Joe who lords over Citadel, a Cliffside community (for the lack of better words). Max who we are introduced to in the opening scene gives us the necessary backstory to those new to the series (like me) and you are led on a crazy chase across what appears to be a cross between the Saharan desert and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He is captured and brought to citadel where is used as a blood bank for the pale skinned war-boys, Immortan Joe’s army. Here we are introduced to Nicholas Hoult as Nux who is so wrapped up in the mythology as concocted by Immortan Joe that he believes that he is destined for paradise when he crosses the gates of Valhalla when he martyrs himself for Joe. Other notable mentions from the cast include Rosie Hutington Whiteley and Riley Keough whose introduction is quite memorable to say the least. I could elaborate on who they are and what part they play in the story but that would be giving away way too much. Suffice to say that they are the key to the whole story.

This movie is intensely insane – in a good way. For instance when Immortan Joe commandeers his army to go on a chase after Furiosa they do so armed with a marching band of sort! But since this is mad max this is no ordinary marching band – there are 4 tribal drummers and a masked hanging flame-throwing guitarist. The effect is simultaneously ridiculous and awesome. Most apocalyptic movies tend to drain the color out of the scenery to imply the inhospitable conditions but Miller and DoP John Seale turn each frame of the vast wasteland into a work of art. The high contrast high octane morning chase sequences are a burnished orange and the night sequences an eerie blue. The shots of Theron and Hardy in close up reveal not only the hardship that life in this hellish-earth entails but also reflects the inner light that burns bright in these two brave souls. Several wide-panning shots had me gasp involuntarily marveling at their stark beauty. Every frame is memorable and the visuals are second to none.

The production design and the design of the vehicles is a work of mad genius. The makeup and costume is one of the most impactful, especially the work that must have gone into making Hugh Keays-Byrne into Immortan Joe, the few times his visage is visible straight on it has such an impact that the feeling is a mix of awe and disgust. The practical effects that went into all the action sequences are mind blowing and can walk circles around any of the CGI Bayhem or any from the avenger’s multiverse.

While this is an out and out adrenaline fest this movie has an underlying structural narrative which takes on themes varying from cult-worship to feminism. This is a movie that gave me a buzz that I can last recall having felt in the opening sequences of TDKR and Gravity but both those buzzes faded out after the opening sequences were over, here the opening sequence as crazy as it is , is tame as compared to what comes later on. This may not be the movie for everyone but anyone willing to watch or unsure whether to see it or not make sure you rush to the biggest screen there is to soak in the madness. Consider me a convert! I cannot wait for what Max encounters next.

Piku – A Review

Shoojit Sircar directs Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan in Piku a bitter sweet road trip comedy that reflects on the dysfunctional family dynamics of the Indian families. Juhi Chaturvedi who penned the story and script for Sircar’s glorious Vicky Donor dons the pen once again and the results are just as glorious.

Far too often the films coming out of Bollywood tend to focus on the “humko-sabse-Pyaar-hai”( we love everyone) aspect of  Indian families with larger than life celebrations of everything including the house maid’s. I for the life of me cannot remember any movie trying to portray life with parents as anything other than either completely devotional or an arduous hell. Piku is different.

Amitabh plays Bhashkor Banerjee a Bengali retired widower living in Delhi with his dotting and ever-suffering daughter played by the radiant Deepika Padukone who plays the eponymous Piku. Bhashkor and Piku knock heads everyday over a myriad of his ailments, sometimes it is his imaginary Blood pressure and most times it is about his incessant reporting on the movements of his bowels or the lack there off. While Piku is successful and quite desirable it is her 70-year old child Bhashkor who keeps getting in her way of any serious romantic relationship. Vying for her attention are her business partner cum friend-with-benefit Syed and the owner of the taxi company whose drivers Piku traumatizes on a daily basis, Rana played by Irrfan.

When news comes from Kolkata that builders want to buy their ancestral home and tear it down to build an apartment building, they embark on a 1500 Km long road trip armed with half their house and Bhashkor’s port-a-potty. Rana is the first guy who does not run away at the thought of having to deal with the over-bearing Bhashkor and it gives Piku the courage to speak her mind as well.

The strength of the movie lies in Juhi Chaturvedi’s script. Every aspect of a familial life which seems so mundane is given a theatrical flair and yet comes off as being natural and believable. The supporting cast of Moushumi Chatterjee as Piku’s maternal aunt and Raghubir Yadav (of Mungerilal fame) as Dr. Srivashtava are fleshed out so brilliantly that it never feels contrived. They are given as much to do as Bhashkor or Piku and in some instance even more so. The first half is crackling with energy and it only slightly fizzles out in the second half. I wish they had turned the dial up on the histrionics a little bit more in the second half and the editing in the second half been a little crisper. But it is Sircar’s abilities to tackle the novae India’s bold-realities without too much of a song and dance. with Vicky Donor he tackled sperm donation, IVF and life-in relations and with Piku he takes on Friends with benefits without much of a preamble or hysteria for such nuances I forgive Sircar the slight slacking of pace in the second half.

Deepika acts with such confidence that it is no wonder that she is the ruling queen of Bollywood. With every movie she seems to be getting stronger and stronger, choosing a wide variety of roles that truly allow her to sink her teeth in. Amitabh is a true master of his craft as Bhashkor. He is senile and cynical at the same time witty and sharp. He lends a softness to his tough exterior when on his dead wife’s birthday while criticizing how she gave up her entire persona to serve him he is chided by Piku and her aunt he reveals he still loves her and that is why is wearing the kurta his wife gave him many years ago and then he starts with his barbs again. A well written character as befits a legend of his stature. Irrfan Khan has a small but a very important role and he is a consummate professional. His handling of his longing glances at Piku and the ability to admonish and beguile Bhashkor Da are equally fascinating.

Kamaljeet Negi who with Madras Cafe gave me a total recall of Full Metal Alchemist handles the camera just as deftly here. His work here is more akin to Vicky Donor where he romances the everyday Delhi and Kolkata. A Special mention to Veera Kumar who has done the costumes for the film, her styling of Deepika is so quintessentially Arty-Bengali-in-Delhi/Mumbai that it is perfect and adds another layer of realness to the ongoings.

If English Vinglish was the best homage to the Indian Mothers then Piku serves as a quirky take on Indian Fathers. From personal and anecdotal experience it does seem that the movement of the bowels is as great an obsession for the Indian fathers as was the movement of the stars for the ancient Aztec civilizations. Watch this movie for a fantastic and genuinely funny script and outstanding acting from all its leads. Watch it for Amitabh Bachchan whose transition from Angry Young Man of the 80s to the Angry Old Man of the 21st Century has been the greatest journey of any living actor.

Avengers Age of Ultron – A Review

Joss Whedon directs the second chapter of the Marvel superhero multiverse in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremey Renner, and Scarlett Johansson return along with new stars like Elisabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and James Spader.

Because I hated the first Avengers move my expectations going into this were abysmally low and that is perhaps why I came off more impressed than I expected. While there are still plenty of gaping plot holes but there is a lot more done in terms of a worthy villain, a plausible catastrophe-in-waiting and in terms of character development with respect to the hulk and especially black widow and Hawkeye.

The gang is busting up some shady looking eastern European mobster who seems to be using Loki’s sceptre in some form of weapons development. After a scene reminiscent of Nolan’s Inception where blurry blobs fight other blurry blobs we are introduced to the Maximoff twins Wanda and Pietro Aka Scarlett witch and Quicksilver. RDJ aka Tony Stark is shown a vision of what future looks like which set off a series of events which will lead to the downfall of the avengers and the possible annihilation of the human race.

Recovering the Sceptre Stark goes about trying to uncover its secrets and sets in motion the Ultron project – where robot proxies of iron man will do the dirty work instead of the avengers having to go in and fight the good battle themselves. I find this to be a very interesting point of view where the heroes are weary of the burden of having to be the saviours of humanity. But what transpires splits the avengers with every single one of them turning against Stark as he sets of a rise of the machines, every AI-enthusiasts worst nightmare ( did you know that Elon Musk aka real-life Tony Stark has paid 10 million to stop AI from turning against humanity?)

The rogue AI-bot is voiced by James Spader and I have no shame in admitting that I giggle like a little school girl every time Spader speaks. And especially when Ultron tilts its head when speaking “down” to the Avengers you know IT IS James Spader. Through curious turn of events the voice of Jarvis – Paul Bettany comes to life as Vision and this is where the plot made no sense.

Skip ahead a paragraph if you dont wish for the movie’s surprise to be spoilt

Spoiler Alert ->

why would Ultron a Machine with the ability to traverse the internet try to create an android using human cells infused with Vibranium? And why not spend the time it takes to create this vision and transfer Ultron’s consciousness into the Vision be spent on creating more clones of the AI-bots to fight in Ultron’s army? Why are the marvel super-villains so patently stupid? Also once the plan to create a meteor like big-bang which would wipe out the entire human race is unveiled – how exactly does Ultron think he will be able to spawn and spread? I am guessing the big-bang would destroy the internet as well?

<- Spoiler Alert

 

The problem with marvel franchise is that it takes comic-book stories which were written in 80s and continues to push forward with the outlandish theories which make no sense in today’s world. A director of Whedon’s talent must find ways of bringing this forward into the 21st century. They rely on self-deprecating humour to overcome the inherent ridiculousness of the source material.

With Age of Ultron however they try to make inroads into the other neglected aspects of the storytelling, fleshing out the back stories of Black Widow via flashback and visions of what she fears and introducing to the secret side of Hawkeye’s domestic bliss and his out-of-place ness with the avengers in general. Also the romance between Bruce and Natasha is a welcome relief to the general Bayhem of NYC and Sokovia blowing up.

All in all this movie defies the curse of the sequel and ends up being the better movie in the avengers multiverse with the introduction of many many interesting characters and more importantly character development of existing ones.

Watch it for decent action, almost plausible end-of-world scenario and marvel’s coming of age. finally they don’t spend half the movie going into everyone’s back-story and get on with the task of saving the world

 

Oscar 2015 Predictions

Scoff all you want at the irrelevance of the Oscars or any number of award ceremonies the fact remains that the Oscars are a big deal – studios spend millions of their hard earned money on “for your consideration” adverts in trade magazine in hopes that one of theirs will win the coveted golden man and they will get to use “academy award winner actor/director” in their playbill for all eternity. An “academy award winner/nominee” tag breeds instant credibility and lends weight to how interested a casual viewer would be in deciding on which movie to spend their money on.

Oscars often is an incredible platform for the culmination of a long career being honoured with a standing ovation or the start of a great one when an ingénue stumbles her way up the stairs to collect the gold piping the veterans to the finishing line. It is also one big party with plenty of pageantry and for all these reasons and more I for one always eagerly anticipate the Oscars each year even in the year that was less than spectacular movie-wise.

Last year I had an incredible 21/22 prediction of the Oscar race which would have made me a rich man if I was the betting sorts. But this year I am not so sure of putting my money because the list of nominees is a strange one and I have a feeling that a number of the deserving winners are going to be passed up I favour of those that are more closely aligned with the overall taste of the general academy members demographic  Old-White-Male.

Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”

Laura Dern in “Wild”

Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”

Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Who should/Will win: This one is a vice-like lock – it is Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. It takes an incredible amount of commitment to be associated to a project for 12 years with no real payoff in sight. Patricia Arquette as the mother in this family drama about growing up is incredible in her strength, her vulnerability and her normalness. She is every mother everywhere going through everyday struggles. It takes special talent to portray a real everyday woman on screen and she does it better than anyone else. Her not winning would be a real shame because dedicated as I am to worshiping Meryl Streep (and she was incredible in Into the Woods) I want Arquette to win over Streep.

Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall in “The Judge”

Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”

Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”

J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Who should/Will win: J.K. Simmons as the jazz teacher from hell in the incredibly taut Whiplash is a clear winner here. You will shudder at the thought of the atrocities he makes the young Milles Teller go through. The only possible upset could be in the form of Robert Duvall who the academy might want to pay their dues to before it is too late. But my money is on Simmons.

Animated Feature

“Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli

“The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold

“Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

This is a strange one – generally there is a strong Pixar presence and despite the presence of Big Hero 6 I find it hard to believe it could realistically win the award. I loved HTTYD the first one and that was robbed of an award that went to Toy Story 3 the second one while solid didn’t have the heart that the first one did. And when Pixar and DreamWorks cannot be picked a clear winner it is usually one of the foreign studios who sneaks a win. I would still like to see HTTYD2 win as a consolation for the first feature snub.

Cinematography

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman

“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope

“Unbroken” Roger Deakins

It is a crying shame that Hoyte Van Hoytema who manned the camera for Nolan’s Interstellar does not find a mention here. For all its faults Interstellar was visually the most incredible movie this year and he deserved not only a nomination but also a win for the incredible visuals.

Who should win: Robert Yeoman – for the incredible whimsy and energy he infused on screen to complement the story by Wes Anderson in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He has shot each of the Anderson movie with the exception of Fantastic Mr Fox and their partnership has been incredible.

Who Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman for those beautifully crafted shots that intertwined the different spaces back and front of the stage in the claustrophobic space of the theatre. Lubezki managed to fill the screen with dynamic visuals without ever crowding the space. And with the love that the academy seems to be having for Birdman I am pretty sure Lubezki will be going for Gold number 2 a year after he won for Gravity.

 

 

Visual Effects

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist

“Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould

“Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Who Should/Will Win: Interstellar – there shouldn’t even be any discussion about this. To take what is essentially a life’s work in theoretical physics based on the concepts of worm hole, time travel and singularity among other scientific concepts and to turn it into petabytes of data based on 4-whiteboard-long equations and to turn that into stunning visuals is an incredible achievement that cannot be ignored.

Documentary Feature

“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

“Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

“Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester

“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier

“Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Who Should/Will Win: I loved Finding Vivian Maier and found it to be incredibly moving but in CitizenFour we have something incredible – one man’s courageous/traitorous action to expose a nation’s overreach in the name of national security and the an incredible tale showing the importance of the fourth estate of democracy – that of Journalism. CitizenFour should in all likelihood but who knows if the bureaucracy can strong arm a notoriously spineless academy.

Foreign Language Film

“Ida” Poland

“Leviathan” Russia

“Tangerines” Estonia

“Timbuktu” Mauritania

“Wild Tales” Argentina

With many acts of anti-Semitism happening around the world and the fact that it also got nominated for best cinematography bodes really well for Ida – a story of a young nun about to take her vows who discovers a terrible family secret. But I have also heard fantastic things about Leviathan as well. But seeing as how America feels politically about Russia I am willing to bet that Ida from Poland will take home the gold.

 

 

Sound Editing

“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas

“Interstellar” Richard King

“Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Sound Mixing

“American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga

“Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten

“Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee

“Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Now up until this year these categories used to baffle me – what the hell is the difference – then upon doing some basic research I found an apt analogy sound editing is analogous to picking the right ingredients for the dish while sound mixing is the actual cooking bit. It is particularly important with most movies being released in multiple formats including IMAX where the immersive sound requirement need the cooking to be done at a different pressure. So with that being clarified what we are looking for is the movie that had the best sonic ingredients and the one that presented the best dish.

Sound Editing: Interstellar should but American Sniper most like will.

Sound Mixing: Whiplash should but Birdman most likely will.

 Original Score

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat

“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat

“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer

“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon

“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson

Of all the times that Zimmer should have won he wasn’t even nominated and to think that he got nominated for Interstellar is some sort of an internal academy joke. His background score for the inter-galactic adventure was the second worst thing about the movie only to be topped by Matthew McConaughey.

Who Should Win: Johann Johannsson for Theory of everything.

Who Will Win: Alexandre Desplat probably for The Imitation Game.

Original Song

“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”

Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson

“Glory” from “Selma”

Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn

“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”

Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”

Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond

“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”

Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

After Happy and Let it go from last year this year is an abysmal showing of songs that are not necessarily that memorable. Academy might want to pay homage to a fading music legend in the form Glen Campbell or probably recognize the civil rights drama Selma which has been shut out from so many other major categories.

Film Editing

“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach

“Boyhood” Sandra Adair

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling

“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg

“Whiplash” Tom Cross

I would be happy for either Whiplash or Boyhood to win this – one for a tautly edited movie that does not relent the pace until the very last minute and delivers one hell of story and the other for seamlessly editing 12 years’ worth of footage without the need for subtitling which year we are in. my money though is on Boyhood.

Adapted Screenplay

“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall

“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore

“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten

“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle

After being shut out the best director category it is only justified that Damien Chazelle should win for Whiplash. Or even Anthony McCarten for the brilliantly uplifting The Theory of Everything.  But I have a Feeling Graham Moore’s sub-par adaptation will take home the little shiny man.

Original Screenplay

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater

“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy

With the exception of Foxcatcher we have 4 exceptionally original and entertaining screenplays 2 of which are my absolute favourites. It would be a true crowning for Richard Linklater who has given us such modern masterpieces as The Before Trilogy and the most recent Boyhood. To take everyday existence and to elevate to the level of art is what cinematic excellence should be about. Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is also absolutely brilliant in its intensity and the honesty with which the characters are written. There is no redeeming quality to be found in Gilroy’s Lou Bloom and I would love an upset win for Nightcrawler but it is unlikely to happen. More likely that Iñárritu and his team will pip Linklater to the post.

Now the playbill-worthy awards

Director

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu

“Boyhood” Richard Linklater

“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson

“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum

I love Miller’s previous works but swap him out for Theory of Everything’s Marsh or Whiplash’s Chazelle and I would be a happier man. But life isn’t fair and Linklater will probably not win but Iñárritu will. Linklater’s achievement cannot find any parallels – for a director to invest 12 years of his life and to get the same commitment from his actors to tell a simple tale of a boy coming of age is courageous to say the least. In comparison Inarritu’s masterful telling of a struggle of an actor trying to silence the demons in his head and master his craft while not entirely original is still a glorious triumph. I would like Linklater to win for all the times that he wasn’t even nominated for his Before series but I wouldn’t be too upset if Iñárritu won. But I do miss Fincher not being nominated for Gone Girl.

Actor

Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”

Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”

Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”

Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

For me it is a two-horse race between the Academy favourite Michael Keaton who fits the bill of Old-White-Male perfectly but what Eddie Redmayne achieves in Theory of Everything is incredible. Portraying living legend Stephen Hawking Redmayne manages to infuse the humour that is trademark Hawking – he does not just act like hawking he becomes hawking , gait, humour and the shrinking body and everything.

Actress

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”

Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”

Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”

Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”

Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

In what is possibly the weakest assemblage of performances by a lead this category inspires very little confidence. Felicity Jones was brilliant as Hawking’s long-suffering wife but in a way her performance isn’t showy enough – it is subtle and it is perfect but Academy generally does not go for that sort of thing. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl was brilliant but I don’t think it is meaty enough for her to score a win. I think this one will go to Julianne Moore as she plays an academician going through Alzheimer’s. Moore is always brilliant in everything she does and here backed with an emotional story it is a sure fire lock for the best actress nod.

Best Picture

“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan,Producers

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers

“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers

“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers

“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers

“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers

“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

It is again a two horse race for me – both quality pictures just different in their scope. Inarritu’s birdman is the more Academy friendly of the two subjects as it deals with the world of blockbuster movies, actors, theatre and the pursuit of honing their craft and with a tight screenplay and cracking performances it is a worthy contender. Then there is the crowning achievement of Richard Linklater which is the critics and fan darling and the one everyone wants to win but who knows how the academy decides. There are reports that there are voices within the academy that fails to see art in what boyhood achieves as it is very realistic and very normal – the fact that it took 12 years to make and it flips the concept of epic and generational film on its head it art enough. It would be a very brave move from the academy and a validation of its relevance if Boyhood does indeed win. There is an outside chance that Harvey Weinstein sneaks in surprise with The Imitation Games which is not a bad movie by any regards but not worthy of a win. Come 22nd February and we will see.

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture Boyhood Birdman
Best Director Richard Linklater Alejandro Iñárritu
Best Actor Eddie Redmayne Michael Keaton
Best Actress Felicity Jones Julianne Moore
Best Supporting Actor J K Simmons J K Simmons
Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette Patricia Arquette
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler
Iñárritu – Birdman
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Damian Chazelle -Whiplash Graham Moore – The Imitation Game
Best Animated Feature Film How to train your dragon – 2 How to train your dragon – 2
Best Foreign Language Film Leviathan Ida
Best Documentary – Feature CitizenFour CitizenFour
Best Documentary – Short Subject Joanna Joanna
Best Live Action Short Film Parvaneh Parvaneh
Best Animated Short Film The Feast The Feast
Best Original Score Johann Johansson Johann Johansson
Best Original Song Glory – Selma Glory – Selma
Best Sound Editing Interstellar American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing Whiplash Birdman
Best Production Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Cinematography Hoyte Van Hoytema ( not nominated)
Robert Yeoman
Emanuel Lubezki
Best Makeup and Hairstyling The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Costume Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Film Editing Sandra Adair – Boyhood Sandra Adair – Boyhood
Best Visual Effects Interstellar Interstellar

Let me know what you think about my picks and if you agree or disagree and what are your predictions for Film industries big night! Bring on the Oscars 2015!!!

50 Shades of Grey – A Review

Sam Taylor Johnson directs Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in the on screen adaptation of E.L.James’ BDSM fantasy novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Dornan plays Christian Grey a 27 year old Billionaire and Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele a fresh college graduate and a hardware store employee.

 

E.L.James wrote this novel as a Fan Fiction inspired by Twilight and the story suffers the same banality that was the cornerstone of Stephenie Meyer’s work. The entire proceeding seems derivative and uninspired and reads more like a smattering of different stories one would have heard over the years and they are pieced together with no objective other than to titillate a few desperate housewives. There is no sense of romance, no sense of danger or even intrigue as the characters are written as flatly as possible. There are hints of dark humour as Anastasia “negotiates” the contract with Christian – the premise as absurd as it is would have been made immensely bearable and almost believable had Ana continued to mock and make fun of the specifics of the contract but instead the flickering flame of hope is soon doused by a multitude of lip-biting and toe-curling reactions from Ana.

I fail to understand what is the point of this – not just the movie but also the book. The Christian grey as presented here has no redeeming quality other than that he is rich and moderately good looking, in fiction land they are dim a dozen and better written. Also women – who comprise the large portion of James’ fandom- how can they associate with Anastasia Steele – I mean I am all for toe-curling action between the sheets but wouldn’t they find it objectionable to be portrayed as Steele is portrayed here? I can understand men wanting women to be as naïve and easy but I would find that women would find that demeaning and insulting.

I was told that the screenwriting is an improvement on the actual novel and that the many references to “her inner goddess doing the tango” which are missing from the screenplay are a welcome change I cannot even begin to imagine what the source would have been. Jamie Dornan who hit the headlines with his Calvin Klein Advert during the super bowl is honestly less impressive here as the hunky Christian Grey than his 30 sec Superbowl advert. His dialogue delivery is dry and he fails to infuse any element of mystery. Dakota Johnson as Anastasia shows promise but squanders it all with her lip-biting and heavy breathing and writhing. What Marcia Gay Harden is doing in this stinking pile of dung is beyond my understanding – an actress of her standing should have stayed as far away from this as possible. The insufferable Rita Ora makes her blink-and-miss debut as Grey’s France-returned sister who is about as believable as Ora’s current self-proclaimed diva status.

The one thing I was looking forward to was the music and Beyoncé’s vocals do make the visual imagery slightly more bearable. Outside of that there is really nothing to be gained from this cinematic outing. There is no thrill, no excitement, no romance and no intrigue. It is one mechanical over-simulated sex-scene after the other where Dornan is completely out of it and Johnson too into it. The chemistry is entirely lacking and there is no character development and the story goes nowhere. Even with the pile of garbage that was James’ original novel there was scope that this movie would be a parody of itself and by virtue of that be at least half-interesting, but that is not the case. And to the scores of women who packed the theatres over the valentine day weekend – please wake up – you deserve better – I am not even insinuating a Jane Austen type feminist caper but at least something that doesn’t insult your intelligence.

Foxcatcher – A Review

Bennett Miller directs Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in the psychological drama Foxcatcher. It is a story based on the life of mentally unstable heir to the Du Pont family fortune, John E. du Pont and his association with the Olympic wrestling heroes the Shultz brother.

Bennett Miller last took on the world of baseball in Moneyball and made a surprisingly entertaining movie from a story based on the dry world of player statistics and the mechanics of putting together a winning team. And with the Oscar winning Capote under his hat it was no surprise that my expectations were sky high from Foxcatcher, especially after the moody, creepy and intriguing trailers first hit the web. The end result unfortunately an indulgent and dull exercise at story telling.

If it took E Max Frye and Dan Futterman 8 years to put the script together it feels like the running time of the movie lasts just as long. I am all for moody methodical deconstruction of a character and the inherent drama involved. But with Foxcatcher the story telling is so staccato and the characters so two dimensional that it verges on being unbearable.

Steve Carell plays John E Du Pont the eccentric billionaire who offers Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz a sponsorship and a place to come and live at the Foxcatcher ranch as he trains for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark’s brother Dave is played by Mark Ruffalo who is the only character who makes sense in this travesty. The story seems to suggest sibling rivalry in the eyes of Mark as he feels he is always in Dave’s shadow while Dave loves his brother unconditionally. There have been suggestions of a homosexual undertone to Du Pont and how he felt about Mark but I failed to see any. Carell’s Du Pont is certainly creepy but there is no depth to it, the one scene that stands out for me though was when Du Pont puts on a show for his own mother by delivering a pep talk – that to me the essence of Du Pont’s eccentricities, he is still a boy trying to win the approval of his own mother. The spiralling out of control of Mark and his anger towards Du Pont when he invites Dave at Foxcatcher seems abrupt at best and unbelievable at worst. Sienna Miller plays Dave’s wife and is for most parts unrecognizable and an almost unnecessary character.

The movie is scored beautifully by Rob Simonsen with an almost atmospheric soundtrack that seems to be always present but entirely unobtrusive. And the wide shots of the Foxcatcher ranch in the different seasons by Greig Fraser are beautiful as well. There is huge potential in the story with all the underlyin tension between the brothers, the patron and the benefactor and the two men competing to play the father figure, but all of that potential is blown to bits by an uninspired screenplay and overlong quite moments when nothing happens and you fail to stifle a yawn of two. The reason why Moneyball was so good must have had something to do with Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zallian because here Miller is let down by the screenplay.

I saw this before the Oscar nominations were out and am posting the review after the fact. Seeing Bennett Miller nominated for best director seems unfair to me. Having seen and loved Nightcrawler and The theory of Everything I would happily swap him for Dan Gilroy or James Marsh in a heartbeat.

Into The Woods – A Review

Rob Marshall directs Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden and Anna Kendrick with a host of other stars in Into the Woods an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s hugely popular stage musical by the same name. The musical takes popular children’s tale of Cinderella, Rapunzel,Jack and the beanstalk, the little red riding hood and mashes them together to tell the story of the characters after the happily ever after.

James Corden and Emily Blunt play the baker and his wife who live next door to the witch Meryl Streep. The witch tells the baker and his wife that they cannot have kids because of a spell she cast on his father many years ago and that she would help them lift the spell if they help her make a potion before the blue moon. For the potion the baker and his wife must find 4 things from the different fairytale characters, cow as white as milk from Jack, a cape as red as blood from little red riding hood, hair as yellow as corn from Rapunzel and slipper of gold  from Cinderella.

The four main characters played by Blunt, Corden, Kendrick and Streep take up the most time on screen and are brilliant both individually and also together bouncing off witty, banter-y songs of each other. The opening number where the witch speaks of her garden was one of the highlights for me. Another song featuring 2 brothers, both princes, one to Cinderella and one to Rapunzel, both preening peacocks each trying to out-do the other is by far the most guffaw-inducing number of the movie. Chris Pine channels his inner Elvis and is at his charismatic best. Often I have found Pine to be too broody for my liking but here as the posturing prince charming he has perfect comic timing and the smolder to suit his princely ways.  Meryl Streep is the goddess at whose altar I pray, so it should come as no surprise that I love her in everything she does. But here as the witch she is mesmerizing both as the old ugly one and the young beautiful one as well. I saw an interview with Sondheim where he spoke of Streep being able to bring color to her singing and I wondered what he meant. But when you hear her sing “Stay With me” to Rapunzel you want to get up on your feet and give her a standing ovation as would be customary in a stage show. She is majestic and I wish she does more musicals. Kendrick sure has the pipes as does Blunt, but the standout for me once again is Daniel Huttlestone as jack who first shone bright on the screen as Gavroche in Les Miserables. He bounces around with boundless energy up and down the beanstalk trying to buy back the cow he sold to the baker.

Sondheim’s musical was much loved when it first appeared on stage some 30 years ago and admired for its witty sense of humor and intelligent songs. Bringing him onboard they have kept the essence of the original story alive and the humor carries through. However the first act is stronger than the second and it suffers a little bit due to overcrowding and trying to tie up loose ends with the stories. Having said that I wish a little more attention was paid to the beautiful Crishtine Baranski as Cinderella’s evil step mother and the story of Rapunzel and her mother the Witch been fleshed out a little more.  There is always a little more to the fairy tales than it meets the eyes and Sondheim writes that beautifully. The story of Little Red Riding Hood played by Lilla Crawford and the Wolf played by Johnny Depp ends up being a creepy story of a pedophile wolf who stalks Red. Depp chews up the scenery in the brief appearance and is brilliantly creepy as Mr Wolf. It is a story of the consequences of wishes. Each of the characters wishes for something but then when the wishes come true they are unable to come to term with the consequences of the events that unfold. They lie, steal, cheat and run from all they wished for. This is a story with many layers which are ripe for peeling away with multiple viewing. It is not a child’s version of the fairy tale but a more grown up one only if you looked closely. However having said that there is something in it for everyone, even the kids because as fairy tales themselves they are told beautifully.

This is a truly amazingly crafted movie with wonderful singing by all its stars. The production is lush and detailed and Coleen Atwood’s costume design very fairy tale worthy. This is a movie for all ages and worthy of being enjoyed in a theatre. I hope you are as lucky to have an excellent audience as I did who laughed at the right moments, clapped generously and sang along with the credits.  Take your family Into the Woods and enjoy a Musical done well.

On a side note this will be Meryl Streep’s 19th Oscar Nomination and very likely 4th Win. To those who roll their eyes at the mention of her name go watch Into the Woods and then tell me if anyone else could’ve been a better Witch, wild and erratic yet restrained and vulnerable. Take a bow Ms Streep.

The Theory of Everything – A Review

James Marsh directs Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. The movie is an adaptation of the book by Hawking’s first wife Jane Hawking and looks at the remarkable life of the noted theoretical physicist, his staggering achievements in the face of a debilitating disease. But make no mistake this isn’t a movie about science and the black holes and gravitational singularities but it is a love story, an intimate look at the nearly 30 years of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s marriage and the ups and downs that they go through.

James Marsh is known more for his exhilarating documentary Man on Wire and the equally fascinating documentary on a chimpanzee that was snatched from his mother and raised in a human society. But his control on the subject matter at hand here is adept and he infuses warmth and genuine human emotions in the relationship dynamics between the lead pair. From the very first frame to the very last this is a celebratory picture of the love that undoubtedly saved Stephen Hawking from would the doctors in 1963 predicted to be a heavily crushing defeat in the face of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The lead pair turns in phenomenal performances which carry the entire film. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking is full of wit, charm and charisma first as the lanky geeky Cambridge PHD student and then as the wheelchair bound yet iconic theoretical physicist. It is almost impossible to separate the Redmayne Hawking from the public persona of Hawking himself. He comes off as someone who is not bound by the limitations of his disease and someone who is a source of inspiration for millions around the world as a person who overcame an impossible hurdle and contributed so greatly to the world of science. Even behind the prosthetics and the Equalizer program to relay his voice via a computerized program Redmayne never ceases to amaze. He is as fiercely independent and alive from the inside that one would expect a man like Stephen Hawking to be. Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking couldn’t be any more perfect. She is the sweet and loving as the Cambridge student who catches the fancy of Hawking and strong willed and formidable as the partner who refuses to walk away when Stephen breaks the news to her of his illness. She underplays the dotting wife who is herself struggling to keep pushing through the difficulties in such a believable manner that you do feel for her even when you know it is Stephen who is going through much worse. Her vulnerability around Jonathan played by Charlie Cox and the restraint with which she manages to push back the feelings she has for Jonathan are beautifully portrayed. The dynamics between Stephen, Jane and Jonathan are very telling in two scenes in particular the first one where they meet for the first time at dinner and the second when Stephen goes to Jonathan to ask him to continue helping Jane. It is a sensitive subject matter dealt with dignity and gravitas.

Visually the movie is plush in sepia tones and it lends itself beautifully to the love story being told. The music by Johann Johannsson is a beautiful companion to the story. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten who adapted Jane Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity : My Life with Stephen Hawking” is rich with humorous undertones and the final scene where we see a flashback of the events of Stephen’s life in reverse order coming to an end at the first instance he laid eyes on Jane is a stroke of genius as it ties in with the theories of Hawking and how he believes that there should be one elegant equation which can tell us of the moment of the beginning of universe or the beginning of time itself.

To me this is beautiful movie which tells the story of a very real struggle and the thumping triumph that the love between two individuals enables them to overcome insurmountable odds. It features two of best performances of the year. Felicity jones is a revelation and Redmayne is an absolute joy to watch as Stephen Hawking. This is a small movie by a relatively small player in the politics of awards but if there is any justice it should be Redmayne who should walk away with the best actor award this year and not Cumberbatch or Keaton. Do not miss this movie.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – A Review

Alejandro Inarritu directs Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in Birdman or The unexpected virtue of ignorance set in the world of New York’s Broadway theatre and tells the story of a washed up actor in a Mise en abyme setting.

Riggan Thompson played by Michael Keaton is a once-famous actor known for his starring role as the Birdman-the superhero in 3 movies. Long gone are the days of box office successes and adoring masses and Riggan finds himself irrelevant and artistically unsatisfied and decides to adapt a well-known and much respected playwright’s show for Broadway which needs him to find a suitable actor to fill the playbill after the current actor is injured in an accident while on set which Riggan believes was caused by him. In walks Edward Norton’s Mike a much loved theatre darling with a raging ego and a surety in his craft which seems to threaten Riggan. What enfolds is the backstage and preview shenanigans as Riggan tries to put together a show which a part of him says will resurrect him in the world of performing arts while the other voice nags at the back of his head. The cast is supported by Naomi Watts who plays Mike’s wife/partner and Andrea Riseborough who plays Laura Riggan’s girlfriend and co-actor. Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter and Zack Galifianakis who plays Jake Riggan’s lawyer and backer of the show, these two play a very understated but crucial supporting role which keeps this story moving forwards.

I had a major challenge with Innaritu’s Babel and found it to be an incoherent mess with a background score that was at odds with the story telling. Here too Innaritu seems to be working at a schizophrenic pace and creates an atmosphere that is so claustrophobic that it almost becomes too much to bear but then as the story starts taking shape and things start becoming a little clearer you start to appreciate the atmosphere and the almost off-beat drum score which seems to be reflecting Riggan’s state of mind and it comes together in sync only towards the end when Riggan delivers the climax at the end of his opening night. Michael Keaton is brilliant as is Edward Norton, their back and forth and their uninhibited exhibitionist portrayal of the insecurities, the vanities and the delusions that make up an actor is what carries the film. The Birdman alter-ego sequences are a genuine suspension of belief as you question yourself what the hell is actually going on and Innaritu doesn’t dumb it down for the audience to make them realize that Riggan isn’t telekinetic but plain delusional.

There is however a problem of pacing as the initial preview pieces take way too long to establish the plot points that they need to and it takes forever for the story to pick up steam, and for a movie under 2 hours it is criminal. But this is easily overcome by the dark humor and the brilliant commentary on the state of the movies today. A number of important arguments are made in the due course of natural conversations between the characters, the most relevant ones are about the cultural genocide where everything is driven by the superhero franchises and the big weekend opening numbers and the conversation that Sam has with Riggan who seems to be holding onto a romantic’s notion of what it means to be culturally relevant and to scoff at social media without understanding the power it provides and the need for its existence. It is here that the movie really succeeds. Emanuel Lubeziski’s work behind the camera is frenetic and filled with the same anxious energy that Riggan seems to possess and it takes you in to the actor’s headspace and the way he utilizes every nook and cranny of the St. James theatre it just opens up the world that exists both front and back of the stage.

Watch this movie if you want to get an insight into what drives actors, the big stars and the burnt out ones alike. What it for an incredible and unrelenting 2nd and 3rd act where Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton all shine bright and luminous. Michael Keaton just moved to the top of my list of actors who should take home the gold on 22nd February.