Spotlight – A Review

Todd McCarthy directs Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci in Spotlight a story based on true events that led to the 2002 Boston Globe expose on systematic child abuse in church that caused a global uproar and eventually a decade later got Pope Francis to publicly apologize on behalf of the catholic church.

Spotlight is the special team of investigative journalists who work in isolation from the rest of the paper following up and priming a story before it is ready for an editorial publication. Here the team consists of Ruffalo’s Mike, McAdams’ Sasha and D’Arcy’s Matt who all report to Keaton’s Robbie. While working on a story on PD numbers they are asked by Live Schreiber’s Marty Baron the new editor of Boston Globe to follow up on a story that another reporter from Boston Globe wrote a small column on about a Boston priest who molested boys across 6 parishes over 20 years and a lawyer Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci claims he can prove that the Cardinal of the Boston Archdiocese knew about it and turned a blind eye.

From here on it opens a veritable Pandora’s Box as more victims and more abusive clergy come to the notice of the spotlight team. Through one of the victims they are put in contact with a former priest who used to work at a treatment facility where these abusive priests were sent when they were accused of such wrong doings. By his estimate he thinks that as many as 8% of all priests exhibit such abusive behavior and when cross referencing records of priests sent on sick leave of other similar euphemistic terms they uncover 87 priests who may have abused children while the Cardinal looked the other way.

For a story so important they couldn’t have chosen better actors. Ruffalo, D’Arcy and Keaton are great. Rachel McAdams makes a brilliant comeback and shows what she is capable of. Liev Schreiber underplays the editor role with a nuanced performance, there are no histrionics or loud outburst but a methodical dedication to the job at hand. The only complaint I have is with Ruffalo – while in most part earnest and believable the thing he does with his mouth when he talks in a manner that is supposed to seem like a Bostonian accent is weird. He sounds like that annoying person at the table who always speaks with his mouth full.

The editing and pacing of the movie is where this goes a bit haywire. There are no crescendos, no high points in the movie – it mostly maintains the same pace throughout and feels overlong. The story keeps shifting focus from the spotlight team writing the story, Tucci fighting the case, other auxiliary characters who appear to be shady but aren’t really bad eventually and this whole plot about Keaton pondering over why the Boston globe didn’t cover the news 20 years ago seems to allude to some complicity on the part of John Slattery which doesn’t go anywhere. There are many amazing support characters like Phil Saviano the leader of the victims organization, Patrick the junkie father of one who is garabedian’s client who agrees to be interviewed by Ruffalo, Billy Cudrup as the sleazy lawyer with a conscience Eric Macleish but they unfortunately are not the focus of the story and the procedural investigation is what takes up more of the story’s time and it is eventually what hurts the narrative.

Spotlight is a very important story that needed to be told. The acting is not bad and neither is the direction but there is something missing that makes me question whether this is really the best film of the year. Certainly one of the most important stories of our time and within a confused narrative and directionless acting there are little gems of insight like when the former priest who studied this phenomenon in abusive priests says that the vow of celibacy is one of the primary reasons for this behavior. Or when Matt played by D’Arcy goes and drops a stack of newspapers when the story breaks on the front porch of another abusive priest who lives in his neighborhood. Or how McAdam’s devout catholic grandmother asks for water half way into reading the story. Or when on the sunday when the story breaks and Robbie and Mike come to the newspaper office and there are no picketer or how the usual newspaper phone lines are not ringing but the Spotlight lines for the victims is ringing off-the-hook. It is moments like these that lift the story and make it worthwhile.

Airlift – A Review

Raja Menon Directs Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur in the Airlift – the story of the largest ever human evacuation which took place in 1990 when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces attacked and occupied Kuwait. There has been a lot of excitement in the Bollywood circles about this Saving Private Ryan times 111000 type action adventure movie based on real events and the trailer was slickly cut and promised to be a real chest thumping patriotic pride moment just before the republic day. Alas it is everything but that.

 

Meet Ranjit Katiyal a cut-throat business man played by Akshay Kumar who seems to be schooled in Joey Tribiani school of Smell-The-Fart-Acting.  He is a hotshot Kuwaiti businessman who does not identify as Indian anymore, smoozes with the Emirati of Kuwait undercutting his own partner for business contracts and belly dancing at parties. He is married to Nimrat Kaur who was given a one line directive – Be a Bitch no rhyme or reason just be a rich bitch you are not sure till about half way into the movie whether there is any love amongst the two and if not what is the cause of their apparent distance. At one point Akshay Kumar says “it is not us who are wrong but the circumstances” and you are treated to a sombre background score telling you that you need to feel the love.

One moment Ranjit is belly dancing the night away and the next moment he is woken up at 3 am by someone called Anand who I assume says something on the phone because Akshay Kumar holds the phone for a fair few moments. Then Ranjit is frenetically trying to call all his contacts and no one seems to be answering and bitchy wife is worried as to what possessed his husband at this ungodly hour and Akshay Kumar acts a scene straight out from ACP Pradyumann’s hand book “Why did Anand call me at 3 am” why indeed?

It so happens that Iraqi forces have attacked Kuwait and the complex geo-political Pandora’s box that is the middle east is boiled down to “Iraq is claiming Kuwait is not forgiving Iraqi Debt and it is stealing oil”.

Raja Menon makes a mockery of the story which had so much potential, instead he turns it into this heroic tale of one man’s crusade to save 170000 Indians. Even in doing that the Hero’s transformation is sudden and makes it seem implausible to say the least. Akshay Kumar turns in a wooden and incongruous performance. The liberties that Menon and his writing team take with the stories are too generous and make the Indian government and bureaucracy look inept and insensitive. Sure there may have been lapses but the evacuation mission was already underway using the military planes from Amman to India before the Indian embassy in Kuwait coordinated the evacuation of thousands of Indians in Kuwait as well. But it is not even the fictionalisation of the story which is such a big problem but the careless execution of the said fictional story which is unforgivable. Popcorn Patriotism is the easiest emotion there is to evoke when it comes to Bollywood cinema but Airlift fails even at that. The scene where the Indian Flag goes up at Amman airport also fails to evoke any sense of patriotism I had to try very hard to stifle a snigger at how corny the execution was.

The movie cannot seem to make its mind up about what tone it wants to maintain. For a story as serious as this it seems to rely too much on cheap laughs which are majorly delivered by Inaamulah Haq who plays Iraqi general Major Khalaf Bin Zayd who two years ago was on personal security detail to Ranjit when he visited Baghdad – he loves conversing in Hindi and seems to be channelling Asrani’s Angrezo ke Zamaane ke Jailor. Prakash Belawadi who plays George Kutty who seemingly typifies the annoying Indian uncle who loves to do nothing but play an armchair critic gets an unnecessarily long screen time. Every time he is on the screen you know something obnoxious is going to come out of his mouth, while others in the theatre seemed to find something funny I couldn’t wait for him to actually be blown up by the Iraqi army. Unfortunately he survives and gets to redeem himself by manner of a side hug when boarding the flight to India.

A poorly written script, a terrible screenplay and inept direction are the reasons what brings this movie down. The actors do nothing special to lift the movie to something that could be deemed acceptable. For all the potential that this movie held Airlift unfortunately suffers from mid-air turbulence, crashes and burns.

The Big Short – A Review

Adam McKay directs Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and a whole host of talent in the 2008 sub-prime crisis based The Big Short based on Michael Lewis’ book.  It is taking every ounce of strength in my body to not type the entire review in ALL CAPS.  Because honestly that is the reaction I had to this movie

Sure we all know the talking points of the 2008 sub-prime crisis and there have been a few very good documentaries made on the subject as well – take the Inside Job for instance. Brilliant, factual and effective. But pass the story through the evil comedic genius mind of Adam McKay and you get that Saturday Night Live flavor to The Inside Job. So you have Margot Robbie in bath-tub sipping champagne explaining what is sub-prime, Anthony Bordain explaining CDO by means of using the bad fish in a fish stew, and Selena Gomez playing blackjack explain what a Synthetic CDO is.  It might sound patronizing but it is not. It is the opposite – it is to counter balance just how stupid the whole system is by easily breaking it down to layman terms.

The whole story starts from the point of view of Dr. Michael Burry played by Christian Bale. Burry is a glass-eyed socially awkward genius fund manager who spots a pattern in the way the mortgages are being sold and uses his fund’s 1.3 billion dollars to bet against the Housing Markets. Jared Vennett a sleazy Wall Street stereotype played by Ryan Gosling who tries to go against the grain and pitches these non—existent instruments to potential fund managers.  Step in angry at the world Steve Carell who runs a fund under Morgan Stanley. Also while Vennett is trying to sell his Swaps and meeting potential funds, one in particular turns him away from lobby where he leaves his promotional material behind which fall into the hands of garage-band fund managers Charlie and Jamie who consult with ex-Wall-Streeter Ben Rickert who is so disillusioned with the whole system that he has taken to growing his own fruits and vegetables using his piss as the fertilizer.  So you see what a crazy story McKay has woven? And know what’s crazier? Most of it is true (well except the part about Charlie and Jamie just finding a discarded promotion brochure).  Acting wise Carell and Bale are exceptional, Bale makes you uncomfortable to look at him and Carell is not the funny man he is known to be in Apatow movies. But it is easy to like them and to see how brilliant their performances are. But Ryan Gosling is perfection. His Jared Vennett is so sleazy, so wall-streety so perfectly greedy that at one point as he caresses his 47 million dollar bonus cheque he says into the camera “I never said I was the good guy”. The story could not have a better narrator than him.

The movie is interspersed with music you wouldn’t associate with what has turned out to be a serious Oscar contender. It has Gnarles Barkley’s Crazy, Kelis’ Milkshake, Metallica’s Master of Puppet, and Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine amongst many other iconic tracks. They are woven so seamlessly into the narrative that it all just works.

There are so many high points in this movie but the final one which comes when Steve Carell’s Mark Baum goes BOOM while debating Bruce Miller and the auditorium just evacuates as the figurative bomb drops on the Bear Stearns stock prices that Miller is recommending to buy. It feels cathartic.

 

This is an absurdist comedy, a dark twisted take on what was arguably one of biggest events in financial history, possibly comparable to the great depression of the 1920s but what is even more absurd is that after the great depression America went back to the basics. It didn’t cut government spending, got reforms in place and focused on job creation and built the infrastructure that lifted them out of the great depression. But here after the 2008 no arrests were made, no regulations and instead government handed over billions more of tax payers’ money to “ailing banks and institutions” which had basically self-inflicted these wounds upon themselves and didn’t even use the bailout for the intended purposes but instead gave their Managers a Golden Parachute in which to jump of a burning building while there are still countless’ other trapped inside. The movie ends on an ominous note of how in 2015 banks have started reissuing “Bespoke Tranche Opportunity” which as Baum put it sounds a lot like Dog Shit dressed as Cat Shit.

EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU KNOW EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008 AND THE ENSUING AFTERMATH, EVEN IF YOU THINK ALL THESE MOVIES ARE DOOMSDAY PROPHECIES THAT NEVER EVER COME TRUE AND ARE BASICALLY BUZZKILLS YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE FOR IT IS A BRILLIANT PIECE OF CINEMA.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system, see this movie because Christian Bale is Brilliant.  He can do no wrong. He is one of the finest actors we have today. Steve Carell makes his transition from funny man to a serious actor with this movie; a move I was hoping would be achieved by the underwhelming Foxcatcher of last year.  Ryan Gosling as Oily and slimy as he appears to be he is a force of nature here.  Michael Lewis no holds barred book, Charles Randolph’s explosive screenplay and Adam McKay’s brilliant direction give the amazing actors a fertile ground to riff off of one another in what would be akin to a modern day Glengarry Glen Ross. BOOM!

 

The Revenant – A Review

Alejandro G Iñárritu directs Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy in the gruesome survival tale The Revenant based partly on Michael Punke’s novel by the same name. Set in the 1820s in Montana and South Dakota’s harsh winter wilderness it is the story of Dicaprio’s Hugh Glass as he leads an expedition of Fur trappers which is attacked by the Arikara tribe of Native Americans who are out to avenge a kidnapped tribeswoman.

 

Leonardo Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass an experienced hunter with knowledge of the terrain, Tom Hardy plays hot-headed hunter John Fitzgerald, Domhall Gleeson plays captain Andrew Henry and Will Poulter plays Bridger one of the two young boys on the expedition the other being Glass’s Native American son Hawk.

When the hunting party is attacked by Arikara tribesman they make a hasty retreat back to their boat with their fur pelts and escape downriver. This drives a wedge between Glass and Fitzgerald who both have different ideas on how to get to safety. The crew trust Glass especially since Captain Henry seems to trust Glass implicitly. Fitzgerald is a poisoned presence from the very beginning and his nagging and antagonising of Glass only increases after the crew abandon the boat and hide the fur pelts to travel light and come back with armed reinforcements. Fitzgerald however agrees to stay back with Bridger and Hawk to care for Glass after he is mauled by a Grizzly Bear. What follows after is a harrowing tale of how Fitzgerald’s greed compels him to kill Hawk, leave Glass for the dead and lie to Bridger about approaching Arikara tribe and beat a hasty retreat to the barrack outpost to collect the money promised to him by Captain Henry if they stayed and gave Glass a proper funeral. What follows is Glass’s incredible journey from being left for dead to returning to avenge his son’s death. Along the way he encounters obstacles that are impossible to even imagine and seeing how this is partly based on true events it just makes it even more astonishing.

Emanuel Lubezki is gunning for a hat-trick after winning in 2013 for Gravity and in 2014 for Birdman and this year with Revenant his claim couldn’t be stronger. Gravity had that 7 ½ minute opening shot where not a word was uttered and you were given the full extent of the vastness of the space, Birdman had that continuous shot winding down the different nooks and crannies of a New York theatre and The Revenant has this stunning opening sequence of Glass and company being attacked by Arikara tribesmen it is as beautiful as it is brutal and unlike Gravity and Birdman there is fast and furious action here which while adrenaline charged still does not feel fuzzy or rushed, you can almost hear the whoosh of an arrow shooting past you. Lubezki has lit the entire movie with ambient light sources like campfire and candles and using natural lighting and the effect is eerie and haunting. He has shot the unforgiving landscape in a beautiful way, the breaking of the dawn has the full spectrum of colours as your eyes traverse the screen from left to right.  Ryuichi Sakamoto who did the music for Iñárritu’s confounding Babel does the music for The Revenant along with Carsten Nicolai and they underscore Lubezki’s beautiful images with a poignant and restrained original score. At times angry and at times quiet and subtle. The only problem for me is the seemingly choppy editing at the outset where the movie stutters to a start but then the editing becomes more seamless as the story progresses. Iñárritu tries to reach for something more than what the story should be about. At its heart The Revenant is a western revenge epic but by tying in Native American elements Iñárritu tries to elevate the story and in some places he manages to by showing how the native inhabitants of North America were brutalised by British and French who tried to “civilise” them, but then at other places it just becomes a babbling mess with floating dead wives and a pyramid of cattle skulls.

Leonardo and his epic journey towards an Oscar win is perhaps the stuff of urban legends and with this one he has landed another nomination and with a relatively weak field Leo might take one home finally and it is not undeserved. With most of the movie without the ability to speak Leo’s eyes and face do most of the work. He is brilliant here but somehow not as engaging as Tom Hardy is as John Fitzgerald. There are no two ways about it Fitzgerald is a man you hate from the very beginning to the very bitter end but what Tom Hardy brings to this character is so nuanced and almost nauseating is his ability to be the worst person in every scene he is in. if Hardy doesn’t win for Best supporting actor then it will be a bigger crime than Dicaprio being denied another one (in my books Dicaprio should have won for both Blood Diamond and The Departed.)

This is a movie that requires a certain amount of patience to sit through all the harrowing experiences Glass goes through and that is primarily a fault of the editing but there are plenty of rewards to be reaped as Lubezki reaches Deakins’ level of greatness with being able to capture the American wilderness and Dicaprio and Hardy put in terrific performances. Best of the year? Probably not I would take the other Hardy pic of one man’s epic survival against all odds in Mad Max Fury Road but this is still an incredible and important cinematic experience.

 

Wazir – A Review

Bejoy Nambiar directs Farhan Akhtar, Amitabh Bachchan and Aditi Rao Haidari in chess inspired revenge thriller Wazir in a story written by Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

 

The story starts with an introduction into Farhan’s idyllic family life where he plays Daanish Ali a Delhi Cop, has a kathak dancer wife Ruhana played by the beautiful Aditi Rao Haidari and an adorable toothless daughter noorie. Disaster strikes when defying all logic he chases down a known terrorist with his daughter in the backseat as his wife is getting her ghunghroo repaired. And this is not the most absurd plot line in the movie.

Farhan amped up on sleeping pills goes on a rampage and kills the said terrorist while the Police are running a parallel operation trying to nab the terrorist alive to get information on the politician-terrorist nexus. Spiralling out of control Farhan tries to kill himself at his daughter’s grave and is stopped from doing that by Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh Bachchan teaches Farhan Chess and helps him get his life on track and enlists him in his fight to nail the perpetrators behind his daughter’s death.

There is John Abraham playing a Kashmir Cop and Neil Nitin Mukesh playing the eponymous Wazir and while these actors are not exactly brimming with talent, their limited talents are also wasted with a half-baked  plot lines.For what is a short movie it feels overlong and poorly paced. The editing or the lack thereof is really what sinks the ship. For what could have been an intelligent thriller is rendered boring and insipid with its watered down plot and dumbed down narrative. The problem with Bollywood is that it has never owned a Wren and Martin or never attended figures of speech class. While going for Metaphors it ends up doing Simile. While trying to make the narrative complex and interesting using Chess moves as metaphors for calculated moves Daanish must make to help nail the culprits Amitabh ends up speaking out loud everything just in case Farhan doesn’t get it. And the final climax which you can see coming from a mile away is made even more obvious when a Child is asked to lay out the plot in sobbing bursts of storytelling while Farhan holds a gun over the head of a fearsome terrorist. Coincidence is a mark of lazy storytelling and it is on glorious display here.

wazir3dec20

While watching a director’s round table with a popular film critic one director made a very important point of how the Indian movies are made with the interval in mind and how that breaks the flow of the story – while that director was speaking of it in defence of intervals and how it helps with long stories here it couldn’t be more unnecessary. For a movie with a total running length of 80 minutes the interval is entirely unnecessary and it manages to deflate whatever little energy the movie manages to build leading up to the said interval. And the other Achilles heel of Bollywood? Pointless songs! The whole movie can be broken down into 2 parts – the one part where nothing really happens in normal speed and with no background score and the other where nothing happens in slow motion with one monotonous song playing in the background regardless of the situation at hand. I almost gasped when at the end they had a song sung by Amitabh playing as the credits rolled and not the overused “Tu Mere Pass”

What could have been slick almost psychological thriller is watered down and made so bland I can’t believe how excited I was when the trailer first released months ago. Amitabh is good as is Farhan but the story is overly simplistic and the non-existent editing and over direction is what kills this story. Want a well written, competently directed and marvellously edited thriller? You’d be better served by rewatching Kahani instead and not waste your time with this tepid mess.

The Danish Girl – A Review

Tom Hooper directs Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, a story based on the pioneering life of Danish artist Einar Wegner who undergoes the first documented gender reassignment surgery to be transformed as Lili Elbe.

 

Hooper is known for his sensitive direction of unusual subject matter and for extracting awards-worthy performances from his leads. With King’s Speech he got Colin Firth the lead actor gold as the stammering stuttering King George VI as he tries to overcome his childhood disabilities and lead Britain to war against Nazi Germany. With Les Miserables he directed Anne Hathaway to a supporting actor nod as she cried singed her way to Fantine’s epic I dreamed a dream. And here he directs last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne as he grapples with what it is to be a transgendered person in the 1920s and 1930s. But the real star is Alicia Vikander who as Einar’s wife and fellow artist Gerda Wegner brings to life the Lili that Einar has since childhood tried to keep under wraps.

The first half of the movie where Einar and Gerda’s relationship is explored as husband and wife and his penchant for cross dressing and effeminate behaviour is slowly becoming more and more prominent seems a bit forced. Eddie Redmayne’s transformation from Einar to Lili seems conflict free and almost too sudden. But there is a beautiful moment when while spending time with Ben Wishaw’s Henrik Lili realises that Henrik is a homosexual who thinks he is spending time with Einar in a get up Lili leaves and a distinction is made between what it is to be a homosexual and what it is like to be a transgendered.

It is the second half where the things get a little more fluid and things seem to flow with a natural ease. Through Lili Gerda loses her husband but finds the fame she has been chasing as an artist. Her portraits of Lili sell and she wins new commissions and is the toast of Paris art-scene. There is a beautiful struggle as she tries to hold on to Einar while it is Lili that is more and more on display. As Einar tries doctors after doctors who all treat him for various mental disorders you see the struggle is real for a transgender person in the 1930s. Finally through their friend Ulla played by a ravishing Amber Heard they come across a German doctor Warnekros who performs the pioneering operation. This is where Eddie Redmayne transforms and delivers stunning performance as Lili works at a shop and tries to learn the mannerisms that make up a flirtatious girl.

The music by Alexandre Desplat is subtle as ever and underscores the silent struggles that both Einar/Lili and Gerda go through while Danny Cohen does spectacular work behind the camera to capture the stunning landscapes that Einar is known for painting and also the more personal portrait shots that are Gerda’s speciality. The scenes of the Fjords, the symmetrical shots of the Danish buildings the scenes at the wharf are all beautifully framed. The final scene of the scarf flying off at the cliff is made even more poignant because of the beautiful shot.

While not perfect in execution, primarily due to a choppy first half the lead pair turn in stunning performances and the delicate and sensitive handling of the transgender story is what lifts this from being a pure Oscar bait to being a believable and emphatic story. Do not miss The Danish Girl.

2015 A Year in Review

Lifein70mm primarily is my journey through that delightful medium that makes us all laugh, cry, smile and frown in joyous wonderment. The blog head mast reads my views, reviews and other noises in my head and when I set out to write I had hoped to do more than just movie reviews but alas it has only been a documentation of my travels through celluloid and nothing more. But in 2015 that changed slightly because more than movies actual travelling took up more and more of my time and there are many a half written travelogues that are gathering the digital dust on the folder marked blog stuff on my trusted desktop. Hopefully in 2016 I can put together a half decent blog post on the many wonderful travels that I have undertaken and the many more I shall embark on. So for now for 2015 here is my list of top 10 films and 5 films that disappointed me the most. I hope you would enjoy reading this post and let me know what your top films and biggest disappointments were for 2015.

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Bajirao Mastani: A Sanjay Leela Bhansali Movie is a big screen spectacle that deserves to be seen on the largest screen possible. If there is on director working in India today who makes movies that ought to compel you to part with you hard earned cash in theatre it is SLB. Everything is on an enormous scale, the grandest of sets, the most intricate of attire, the most spectacularly choreographed dance numbers and the most Epic of romances, SLB doesn’t do middle of the road mediocre. A movie that he wanted to make for 10 years finally comes to fruition at the hands of pair of actors who were unheard of 10 years ago and are now arguably the most versatile and talented of the current lot. This is the first of the Deepika Padukone Entry on my list and there is a reason why she makes an appearance 3 times – she is justifiably the queen of Bollywood today.

 

Bajrangi Bhaijan: aah yes another year and another Salman Khan Movie makes my top 10. I must not be a very discerning viewer if I find a Salman Khan movie worthy of the top 10. But kid you not – the Salman Khan renaissance is a reality. Last year with Kick and this year with Bajrangi Bhaijan Salman manages to make absurd palatable and completely enjoyable. Supported by the cutest child artist the industry has seen in ages this one is for the entire family and it is shot beautifully. Salman Khan is a lesson in the Importance of being Earnest and it works well in his favour.

 

Inside Out: Disney Pixar is known to make well-crafted animated movies that are a little to saccharine for my favour but are entertaining nonetheless. But with Inside Out they have taken a giant leap forward with the story telling. A narratively complex story about the inner workings of the human brain is boiled down to 5 primary emotions inside the heard of a little girl. Jam packed with vocal talents this one is not just for the kids, on the contrary this one is for those especially who are planning a kid, have a kid who they don’t seem to understand or ever were a kid so essentially everyone . This masterful storytelling transcends the age boundaries. Another sure fire winner in the best animated category for Pixar.

 

Into the woods: Meryl Streep doing a Steven Sondheim musical? Oh YES! And she is brilliant as are Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and James Cordon in this stunning musical that picks up after the fairy tales end. It is compelling in its story telling, stunning in set and costume design and delightful in its singing. If you need a single movie to convince you why the musical medium is receiving a much needed revival then this is it. Do not miss it.

 

Mad Max Fury Road: I came out of this movie with a crazy head rush. This adrenaline fuelled caper with the most arresting visuals I have ever laid my eyes on. What is even more amazing is that these visuals required very little CGI it was almost all practical effects. But it is not all about visuals, Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicolas Hoult put in impressive performances as well. But coming back to the visuals once more if there is one visual memory I will have of 2015 it will be that crazy guitarist hanging off the front of the attack truck! I am getting a head rush all over again!

 

Piku: Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan talking about constipated bowels for nearly 2 hours is not the first thought that comes to your mind when you think of compelling storytelling. But with deft direction by Soojit Sircar is what takes this dysfunctional family road trip with a port-a-potty chair such a charming tale of father-daughter bonding. Deepika once again is stunning in a role very unlike all her previous poised and poignant ones. Here she is very real, very angry and very organic. Amitabh is the embodiment of every Indian father and once again proves why he is a national treasure.

 

Steve Jobs: Aaron Sorkin is a divisive force. His critics call him a misogynist, repetitive and trying to be overly smart but devoted fans like me will find his Sorkinisms unique and enjoyable. He is a master of language and his characters seem to be infused with an electric energy that is rarely seen on screen. This is more his movie than it is Danny Boyle’s and Michael Fassbender is exceptional, and his German aloofness serves him well as Steve jobs and Kate Winslet is exceptional as well. This is my biopic of the year.

 

Tamasha: Another Deepika movie in the list – Deepika was undoubtedly the queen of 2015! And with Tamasha Ranbir captures some of the lost ground. This is one of Ranbir Kapoor’s finest performances. He embodies the struggles of the millennial that are constantly trying to balance what is your core value, your innermost desire and the societal pressure to achieve success in your job, your relationship. His schizophrenic portrayal and Deepika’s breakdown during Agar Tum Saath Ho are two of the rawest performances this year. And Imtiaz Ali does romance like no one does Romance.

 

The Martian: this is what I wanted Interstellar to be. Matt Damon is brilliant the humour is brilliant the supporting characters are brilliant. Riddley scot manages to make a space caper light and family friendly – the director of sci-fi milestone like Alien manages to make space accessible and less scary that it really is. I honestly think Matt Damon ought to be nominated for the Oscars this year.

 

The Theory of Everything: Before I saw Steve Jobs this was the biopic of the year for me. True that it released last year and won Eddie Redmayne a very well deserved Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking but this is a sweet love story that stuck with me all through the year primarily because of Felicity Jones’s strength in her portrayal. One of the most remarkable men gets a fitting tribute in this movie and this movie almost didn’t find a place on my list because I saw it so long ago but then nothing else came half as close to this so it sits here on my top 10.

 

With the good comes the bad!

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Bombay Velvet: Anurag Kashyap directing Ranbir Kapoor in a gangster caper that tells the story of the beginning of the Mumbai underworld and builders nexus should make for an interesting time at the cinemas right? Wrong. This is anything but that. Badly written, poorly edited and terribly acted this is a mess in every possible way.

 

50 Shades of Grey: I wouldn’t call 50 Shades a disappointment – I went in expecting it to be bad and it was bad. It’s just that it was one of the worse movies I have ever had the displeasure of watching. I want to say nothing more. Uggh!

 

Foxcatcher: the trailer promised a slow burning master piece from Bennett Miller whose last movie was Moneyball which was outstanding. Despite all the potential this movie was one of the biggest disappointments for me. The lasting memory I have of this movie is feeling like it was a few hours into the movie and I looked at my watch and it was just 15 minutes. A complete snooze fest that should have been more compelling.

 

Shaandaar: Shahid Kapur, Alia Bhatt and Vikas Bahl were 3 of my favourite things from 2014 with Haider, Highway and Queen. But Shaandaar is possibly the most pointless movies this year.

 

Spectre: A James Bond Movie is supposed to deliver one thing and one thing alone. Endless thrills and adventure. The movie opens perfectly with a stunning day of the dead celebration in Mexico but then it just goes haywire as Sam Mendes tries to infuse dysfunctional family dynamics into bond-verse. The only two things I hope for is that Sam Mendes is done with Bond and that Craig isn’t.

 

So there that was my 2015 in review – let me know what you top movies were what your biggest disappointments were and if there are any movies that I missed on this list of reviewing and what you would want to read from lifein70mm in 2016.

 

 

Bajirao Mastani – A Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in his long gestating magnum opus Bajirao Mastani based on the fabled romance of Bajirao Peshwa the great Maratha warrior and Mastani Bai the warrior princess of Bundelkhand. SLB is a master of star crossed lovers and breath-taking visuals that are second to none. It is no secret that SLB has likened Bajirao as a seminal tribute to the greatest Indian movie Mughl-e-Azam, a comparison that few would dare to want to draw to their own movies lest it fall short of the ShahJehan and Anarkali romance that shook the foundations of the Mughal dynasty.

 

Bajirao Mastani is stunning exercise in visual mastery that one has come to expect from SLB. While earlier Bhansali has relied primarily on enormous sets with ostentatious production values here he goes more for the panoramic shots of the horizon upon which many a battles erupt and end rather violently but the faint pinkish hue of the sky somehow applies a calming touch to the bloodshed. There is a shot where Bajirao mounts an attack on the Mughal king attacking Bundelkhand which has featured prominently in the trailers as well that shot is worthy of a LOTR comparison in terms of the fight choreography and the scene composition. There are many a visual cues that evoke a 300 or LOTR like vibe but not because they are replicated like in those Hollywood movies but more so because of the cleanness and the competence of the craft involved.

But war is not what Bhansali specialises in – Romance is where the auteur’s signature touch comes through. The main characters are introduced in such a casual fashion that it is clear that in Bhansali’s universe the story comes first and its stars later.

Speaking of its stars there are clear stand outs. Ranveer is fantastic once again as Bajirao Peshwa – the sword of the Maratha Empire that at once threatened to overthrow both the British and the Mughal invaders from India. Ranveer manages to strike a respectable restraint when portraying the poignant Maratha warrior and does not render him as a caricature but rather as someone worthy of the awe that surrounds him. Deepika as Mastani continues her winning streak with her ability to get to the essence of each of her characters and to pull each one off with an exquisite elegance. Madhubala she is not but the grace and poise with which she carries herself in royal courts is brilliantly juxtaposed by the fierce warrior that she is on the field. Deepika either has some magical powers or all the cinematographers she works with love her and are able to light her in ways that not even the most famed beauties have ever been shot as. There is a luminosity to her which seems to emanate from within her rather than from the outside. Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai, Bajirao’s first wife is also wonderfully restrained. She carries her proud self while still letting slip her vulnerability in moments when she confronts Bajirao after he marries Mastani. While Deepika’s gestures are more languid and lyrical befitting a Muslim princess, those of Priyanka are more energetic and exaggerated as one would expect the women of Maharashtra to embody. Their dance off in Pinga is SLB’s directional nuances at his best. Priyanka wears a silk blouse while Deepika wears a velvet one, Deepika holds her head high while Priyanka bobs hers enthusiastically, Deepika arches her back yet manages to look long and lean while Priyanka goes in for the more energetic hip action. Both similar yet strikingly different. This is why when people complain that Bhansali goes for mostly ostentatious sets they seem to miss the minute details that he puts in to etching out his characters. Milind Soman as Pant Pradhan to Peshwa and Tanvi Azmi as Peshwa’s mother are important characters in the story and the choice of the actors couldn’t be any better. Milind Soman is rather unrecognizable yet entirely impressive.

No Bhansali movie is complete without a smashing sound track with memorable songs and tunes that linger on in your head long after you have left the theatre. And Bajirao Mastani is no different. Deewani Mastani is without a doubt the most visually stunning song, Pinga evokes a Dola Re déjà vu and has a catchy hook. Albela Sajan seems to be a straight lift from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam but with the reworked music works well. The only sore spot is the Malhari song, that song has no place in the final cut of the movie it should have been left on the chopping floors.

Camera work by cinematographer Sudeep Chaterjee is beautiful. The scenes with Priyanka coming forth with the Aarti to welcome Bajirao, the slicing of the peacock feather and the dagger thrown at Chimmaji Appa are particularly captivating but it is the entire sequence in the Aaina mahal during Deewani Mastani and the triple jump and slash scene in the battle field are so good that they will become the hallmarks against which future cinematic references will be made.

The story and particularly the climax evokes strong Devdas vibes, The nods to Mughl-e-Azam are more than a few the Holi Song is Mohe Panghat pe, The jailing of Mastani is Utho hamara salam le lo. But despite these minor flaws this is a stunning piece of cinema and without a doubt the best I have seen this year coming out of Bollywood.

Watch this for Bhansali who for me is the best director working in Bollywood today who delivers with a consistency, a visionary who makes going to cinema worth it. Watch it for Ranveer who continues to defy expectations and delivers a performance that is equal parts abandon and equal parts restraint. Watch it for Priyanka who shines like a finely cut diamond in the hands of the master craftsman. And watch it for Deepika Padukone who continues to defy the law of averages and keeps getting better with each movie and is at present peer-less in Bollywood and the queen continues to reign supreme as the warrior princess.

Tamasha – A Review

Imtiaz Ali directs Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone in Tamasha, in a love story that promises to be unlike other love stories. Bold aspirations indeed, seeing how Imtiaz has directed Ranbir in the angst filled Rockstar, Ranbir has played the rebel with a cause, the one who goes against the grain, Also Deepika has played the counterbalance to Ranbir in a fair few times. But therein lies the magic. You take ingredients that have worked on some level or the other and you refine them over the course of time and what you get is a concoctions that has the sparks of magic flying through it.

 

To dissect Tamasha into its four acts is simple but look a little deeper and you can see what each of those acts represent. Human life is divided into 4 stages or Ashrams, Bramhacharaya Ashram, Grihasta Ashram, Vanprasta Ashram and Sanyasa Ashram. Each of the Ashrams represent a central pursuit or struggle.

Teja ka Sona is Ranbir living out his Bramhacharaya Ashram – we meet the young Ranbir who admittedly is rubbish at maths but loves spending his time listening to stories from an old man who sits under a tree in Shimla. We see him grow up and meet Deepika Padukone in Corsica where they decide to not exchange identities and instead live out their days together feigning different Bollywood stereotypes while slowly falling for each other. They agree that what happens in Corsica stays in Corsica. Here Imtiaz also takes us on a Richard Linklater style Before Sunrise journey where two strangers meet but where Ethan Hawke and Judy Delpy had the power of words here a lot more is said in the moments where not a word is spoken.

A few years pass and we enter Grihasta Ashram. In Ishq Wala Love we meet a domesticated Ranbir aka Ved. Deepika and Ved meet and go through the motions of falling in love but something is missing –And in one fell swoop Imtiaz skips Before Sunset and takes us straight into Before Midnight territory where the illusion of love comes crashing down.

Andar Ki Baat is Ranbir’s Vanprastha Ashram. As he slowly self-destructs first by displaying schizophrenic behaviour in business meetings and then an outright bipolar behaviour as he finally breaks the chains that are binding him.

With Don Returns Ranbir enters Sanyas Ashram with divine realisation upon him he finds his driving force and realises his true potential.

 

Imtiaz Ali is a master of parent child conflict and he has played on this from several angles starting with Jab We Met to Rockstar and now again with Tamasha. He treads a fine line of becoming too preachy and manages to strike a balance between the pent up angst that Ranbir feels as a child, as teenager and then as a young man and the reconciliation that finally happens when he finally opens up to his father. The opening sequence featuring a Tin-man Ranbir is a masterstroke. What may appear as jarring and out of place and narratively disjointed is reminiscent of the iconic Apple ad of 1984. There is a line towards the end of the movie which is dropped in very casually “the bipolar behaviour of the modern consumer” this is how you need to view the movie – the bipolar behaviour where you internalize your true desires and externalize what is socially expected and accepted. There is a constant struggle that every individual goes through and while it is heightened in case of some individuals like in the case of Ranbir here, I am sure everyone can find something to relate to.

Deepika Padukone just keeps getting better with every movie. Here she is brilliant in more of a supporting role to Ranbir, her rambling school girl moment when she runs into Ranbir the second time is so perfect that you feel her exhilaration and embarrassment at the same time. Ranbir Kapoor is perfectly cast as Ved, his restraint when he vents his frustration. His polite and proper Ved is just as meticulous then when he unravels and spirals out you see the dual personalities coming out and you see feel his struggle as the two Veds try to overpower one another. Seeing this side of Ranbir makes me yearn for him to an outright dark role he certainly has the chops for it. Like American Psycho or something on similar lines it would be Fan-freaking-tastic.

A R Rehman’s last collaboration with Ali was pure cinematic magic with Rockstar, here the songs are not that memorable nor easily hummable except perhaps Mattargashti and Heer is Sad but they are more lyrical and aid the progress of the story. S Ravi Varman’s work behind the camera isn’t as quirky and enticing as Barfi! But he brings a dark energy to when Ranbir is going through dark times, there is a lightness when he shoots the sequences in Corsica and then the scenes which are a parallel narrative with the Rickshaw driver who sees himself as a singer, the theatre scenes they have a Gasper Noe’s Enter the Void like psychedelic energy.

I really fail to see why this movie is getting mixed review or even negative ones. This for me rights the narrative wrongs of Rockstar where the female lead was poorly written. This is brilliantly acted and meticulously directed, in times of remakes and superstar vehicles where nothing other than the names on the playbill matter this is a movie that stands strong on its brave approach to storytelling.

Steve Jobs – A Review

 Danny Boyle directs Michael Fassbender in and as Steve Jobs.  Supported by an ensemble cast of Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlberg in a script by Aaron Sorkin this is the definitive Steve Jobs movie that we have been waiting for. By no means is this a flattering biopic at one of the 21st century’s most fascinating figures from the world of Technology. Equal parts genius and tyrant Jobs was an enigmatic figure who many credit to having revolutionalised the personal computing world.

Michael Fassbender is fast becoming the modern day Daniel Day Lewis with his chameleon like ability to transform into any character he is given.  The physical resemblance to Steve Jobs towards the later part of his life is uncanny.  Besides the physical similarities his mannerisms lend an uneasy energy to the scene, you are permanently waiting for him to lash out at something or someone. Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ work wife does an amazing job playing the emotional anchor of the movie. She plays the understanding yet exasperated partner to Jobs.  Winslet is assured a nomination as supporting actor and at this stage I am willing to bet that she takes home the gold. She is that good.   Jeff Daniels as John Scully the Pepsi Co CEO who joins Apple and is eventually responsible for the firing of Steve Jobs is understatedly brilliant. Seth Rogen as the lovable Steve Wozniak puts in a power packed performance as well.

But the real star of the movie is Script writer Aaron Sorkin. For anyone familiar with Sorkin’s work this movie is jam packed with Sorkinisms. To the uninitiated Sorkinisms is when a bunch of characters talk over one another in seemingly unrelated subjects yet everything seems to sound so profound. Yes many have disliked this very aspect of Sorkin’s writing but I couldn’t care less about them. I love it. It makes for an edge of seat drama where you hang on to every word being said lest you miss some pearls of wisdom. Sorkin has written this movie in 3 acts. The first one at the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 where we see Jobs ranting about how he was left off the cover of times magazine and how he fights the paternity law suit and how he does not want to acknowledge Apple 2 a machine he deems unworthy of his time and something that was a thing of the past. His relationship with Scully though has shades of a father-son dynamic where Jobs looks up to Scully.  Act 2 is after jobs has been fired from apple after the spectacular failure of the Macintosh and has set up his own company and is launching the aesthetically pleasing Cube. We see him closer to his daughter but his relationship with his wife is still strained. He still patronizes Woz while still there is that sense of friendship that goes back many years. The relationship with Scully though has changed and we see both their points of views about what happened when Scully pushed out Jobs from apple.  This is 1988.  Cut to the final act where Steve Jobs is launching the iMac. The same set of people around him, Joanna still trying to reign in Jobs, the reporter from GQ still wandering about t. Finally we see the tensions between Jobs and Woz come to a boil over Apple 2 again and this time Woz has the last word it is a scene that one would have never expected Rogen of Superbad to ever be able to deliver with a straight face. That scene is electric.Sorkin and Boyle infuse a lot of subtlety into the story telling that is usually missing from a biopic.  Trying to capture the eccentricities of Steve Jobs they masterfully weave the fact that he was vegan into the narrative when Jobs and Scully are meeting for the first time when Jobs wants Scully to come on board as CEO. The story behind the apple logo and how it may have been inspired Alan Turing is dealt with in such a matter of fact manner. And the final scene where Jobs is trying to connect with his daughter and promises her how he will put a thousand songs in her pocket someday so that she doesn’t have to carry around a brick shaped cassette player aka the genesis of the IPod. I am certain that this is a movie that will only get better with repeat viewing.

Daniel Pemberton’s understated soundtrack infuses each of the scenes with an electric energy. He deals mostly in silence and single strings but it has a profound effect on the overall viewing. There are no jarring orchestra pieces but subtle and complementary tones that never once seem to overpower the scenery. Alwin H Kuchler as the DOP brings the same sense of energy that he did to Hanna. It feels hurried and frenetic at the same time as it a chilling sense of calm. The opening shot is reminiscent of the Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Birdman where the camera follows jobs through the various corridors and rooms as Jobs meets with and talks to the different characters.I have read a few reviews where people are complaining how this movie does not live up to the image of Steve Jobs the Tech Messiah but rather paints a picture of a brilliant yet arrogant and a mostly flawed individual. I think that is the best way to portray a man who was exactly that. Unless of course it was Steve Jobs who was making a movie about himself then he would present that in a slick packaging with millions would be foaming at the mouth to get a piece of. This is exceptional film making and a story telling that is second to none.

Sorkin Fassbender take a bow, you have delivered one of the best biopics of all time. I cannot wait to go back and watch this again.