Fan – A Review

Maneesh Sharma directs Shah Rukh Khan in and as Fan. The story of Bollywood superstar Aryan Khanna and his doppelganger and obsessive fan Gaurav Chandna. What starts as a story of a middle class boy from Delhi’s Indra Nagar who devotes every living minute of his day to his idol Aryan Khanna quickly devolves into a cat and mouse chase through Mumbai, Dubrovnik, London and eventually Delhi. After a series of critical flops which made an absurd amount of money at the box office does SRK redeem himself? After all he is no stranger to playing double roles and he had carved out a niche for himself playing characters with grey shades in Baazigar, Darr and Anjam.

 

There is little to cheer about in this movie so let me get that out of the way first. The make-up and prosthetics on SRK when he plays Gaurav Chandna is exceptional. The use of visual effects to show the younger of the two characters works seamlessly, Gaurav Chandna is skinnier, with a smoother looking face and thinner nose and more pronounced teeth. The older, Aryan Khanna is SRK himself, beefier and with a face that has weathered over time.  In terms of acting this isn’t his best performance but it also isn’t his worst. So that is something to cheer about. When he is playing Gaurav Chandna he is at his best as he manages to strike a fine balance between the innocent obsession and a psychotic madness with the lines often blurring. When he is Aryan Khanna he phones it in, there is no nuance to his portrayal and as an audience I couldn’t connect with him. There is no vulnerability, no human frailty just the idea of him being a super hero instead of a movie star which takes away the believability element.

That is where the positives end. With a plot like this there is so much that could have been achieved but precious screen time is wasted in three elongated and entirely pointless chase sequences which yield nothing meaningful other than capturing the crumbling south Mumbai building, the picturesque Dubrovnik and the claustrophobic New Delhi.  Maneesh Sharma whose first film was the brilliant Band Baaja Barat and the second the underrated Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl has an organic way of directing and storytelling.  He was either too overwhelmed to be working with arguably the biggest superstar of Bollywood and he surrendered to the over indulgent nature of showcasing the superstar rather than the story or it was actually someone like Rohit Shetty who directed this one instead. The groundwork that was carefully laid in the first half is wrecked in the second half where two incidents destroy the public image of Aryan Khanna.  Clearly the superstar himself isn’t aware of just how much someone like him can get away with. Just cast a glance at the recent tabloid headlines and you have a wide variety of scandals to pick from, leaked pictures (either in the buff or doing lines of the wrong stuff), casting couch, or making controversial statements. It is a literal minefield out there and it would have lent more gravitas to the story and made you feel sorry as you witnessed a slow descent of Aryan Khanna.

The chase in Dubrovnik is un-believable and not in a good way. It is a straight lift from the opening sequence of Skyfall and even the music echoes those familiar Bond-esque notes. The Lawyer who accompanies Aryan Khanna to deal with immigration issues becomes a special services agent doing surveillance. In Mumbai no less than 8 police officers risk limb and life to try and capture a perp who isn’t a terrorist or murderer or even on a most wanted list. In London Gaurav takes a train for Dubrovnik from St Pancras and then St Pancras is shown to be Dubrovnik airport. It is gaping plot holes like this which question the sanity of the people behind this movie.  The climax is a long SRK monologue and a rehash of one of his more iconic movies’ final scene.

A plot with immense potential is rendered impotent by an overindulgent second half, average acting, uninspired dialogue and an overall terrible execution fails to make me a Fan. Shameless product placement for a car giant and even more absurd placement for an international remittance company who get their tag line mentioned not once, not twice but three times make this movie unbearable.  A movie that wants to be a study of the psychology of obsession but gets in its own way by trying to be a thriller is a movie best left alone.  Rewatch Swades or Chak De instead and reminisce what SRK was capable of.

 

 

The Intern – A Review

Nancy Meyers directs Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro in The Intern. De Niro plays a 70-year old widower who applies for an senior intern outreach program at a tech company and is hired when he sends in a heartfelt cover-video. Assigned to difficult-to-work-with founder of the company Jules Ostein we see how an old dog can teach the new dogs some new tricks.

De Niro’s career graph has been ridiculed with the choices he has been making off late and how he is scurrying away one of the most impressive resumes in the industry by signing up for trash movies. And from the sounds of it The Intern should have joined the long line of disappointing De Niro outings but it doesn’t, instead what we are treated to is a feel-good movie that I frankly haven’t seen the likes of since Meyer’s The Holiday and David Frankell’s  The Devil Wears Prada which incidentally Hathaway starred in as well. And if you know me a TDWP comparison is about as high a praise as one gets from me in terms of rewatchability

What lifts the movie up from the generic banalities that litter the rom-com landscape is Meyer’s nuanced writing and an almost intuitive direction. There are no big moments of epiphany or any similar histrionics. The story pushes a feminist agenda but without bashing your head in with a meat cleaver.  Anne Hathaway (contrary to bitchy bloggers) is immensely likable as the runaway success story of a founder of a e-commerce business who is struggling to keep the successful enterprise and her blissfully happy domestic life chugging along while she continues to take on everything on herself. She is both believable and relatable.

De Niro is the gentlemanly grandfather types who doesn’t act gross or all wise and condescending but rather is trying to fit into a cool Brooklyn startup without giving up his old habits. There are many wonderful moments in the movie and so many come to mind but my favourite has got to be the late night working when Jules comes over and offers Ben a slice of pizza and shows him how to get on Facebook and he in turn shares his story of his days of working for a telephone book company.

Meyers touches on Sexism & Ageism with a delicate flourish that actually make you sit up and take notice rather than those movies where the agenda is front and center and the story is merely a vehicle to push the said agenda forward. I cannot help but compare this to a recent Bollywood movie Ki and Ka where the gender norms are turned on its head and the Man is a stay at home husband and the wife a hotshot executive. that movie was so badly executed that it actually did more of disservice to the message it was trying to convey than do it any justice.  This is how it could have been handled. The only complaint I have with Meyer is her choice in the actor who plays Hathaway’s husband while Andrew Holms is wonderful when he is playing dad to little Paige ( cute as a button) he really lacks the acting chops when it comes to the more dramatic scenes. Also somehow he looks like an understudy next to Anne Hathaway who is akin to a Thespian .

Andrew Rannells who was over the top in The New Normal plays it cool this time around, Adam Devine (Andy from Modern Family ) is brilliant with his comedic timing but it is Rene Russo who gets the the meatier of the supporting roles as Ben’s love interest. She is having a fantastic renaissance of a career after her brilliant turn as a soulless TV reporter in Nightcrawler and now as the wonderful in house masseuse.

Watch this as De Niro delivers a wonderful performance that complements the charming turn by Anne Hathaway. I cannot wait for what Meyers does next. This was a refreshing break of a movie and something I am sure to come back to again, maybe not as much as TDWP.

Ki and Ka – A Review

R Balki directs Kareena Kapoor Khan and Arjun Kapoor in a gender-bender movie Ki & Ka aimed at breaking the stereotypes the society assigns to the male and female sexes especially when seen under the microscope of a martial setup.

 

We are introduced to Kabir played by Arjun Kapoor and Kia played by Kareena Kapoor Khan. After the meet-cute they start to get to know one another over cheap whiskey. Kia is ambitious and doesn’t want relationships and marriage to slow her career down. Kabir is chilled out and wants to be like his mother, a homemaker. He has no career aspirations.  Kia is a focused, ambitious career oriented girl who thinks that marriages are the death knell for women and their careers. They decide to get married out of convenience the story explores the strain of matrimony and daily life on their gender-swapped relationship. The premise couldn’t get more exciting, especially in today’s context where women are slowly chipping away at the glass ceilings and men are evolving from being cave dwellers.

But nearly every aspect of this movie is a nice idea taken to such an extreme that it becomes insufferable. Take Kabir’s fascination with trains for instance, Balki takes what is a wonderfully whimsical idiosyncrasy and dials it up to an 11. A tastefully kitschy apartment is turned into a train museum where food and drinks are served via toy trains, the wallpaper is a diagram of a steam engine and on and on and on. The idea that Kabir doesn’t want to be a part of the corporate rat race and is content to being a house husband is taken to the extreme where is hanging out with the other housewives from the building and hosting kitty parties and turning into a personal trainer to the kitty club to earn some money. Kia is no better. When she is not pointing at PowerPoint slides like one of those stock photos she is freaking out over a pregnancy scare by being horrible to Kabir, being insufferable when Kabir (unconvincingly and without preamble) feels jealous and neglected when Kia takes him along to a marketing conference in Dubai. What promised to be a refreshing look at modern day matrimony is essentially reverse-regressive where “the man” wears pretty blouses and “the woman” has a beard. From being progressively feminist where “Streeling Puling Same Thing” the movie veers into Femi-Nazi territory.

 

The dialogues are possibly some of the worst written and equally badly delivered from recent memory. The screenplay is choppy and the tête-à-tête between Kabir and Kia is so disjointed you as an audience cannot feel for either of the characters. Kareena looks radiant and is styled to perfection but her overreactions which were charming in Jab We Met are just plain clumsy here. She is unconvincing as the career obsessed Kia and comes off as someone going through the motions. She is good in parts where her interactions with Arjun Kapoor aren’t forced into the reverse stereotype. Arjun Kapoor is totally lacking in charm and wit and is forced into poorly conceptualised role that is at odds with his masculinity. He lacks a certain sense of self-assurity which is required to carry off a role which would be subjected to snide comments as it challenges the social norms. Instead all we get is pan-faced expression. His outburst at an off-hand comment Kareena makes about stay-at-home wives is as unconvincing as Kareena’s outburst at his allegations of her wanting to sleep with an executive from New York to further her career. The supporting characters are also poorly written. Swaroop Sampat and Rajit Kapoor from the golden age of Indian television series like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi and Byomkesh Bakshi respectively are given the most cringe inducing scenes. The first time we need Swaroop Sampat she hams it up and then advises her daughter Kia to consider pre-marital sex. Rajit Kapoor does one better when he tells his son if he should look down his boxers in case he has forgotten he is a man when his son Kabir tells him of his plans to get married to Kia and live as a house husband. I hate it when movies do product placement and Ki and Ka is a essentially a long and pointless vehicle to push as many products as they possibly can and when it all finishes they still manage to push Virgin trains through. This is just in poor taste.

 

This could have been a milestone movie for furthering the cause of gender equality had it been dealt with in a more nuanced fashion. Simply swapping stereotypes doesn’t break them. The same basic premise without the forced strife at one another’s growth, a little more compassion from both characters and the movie would have greatly benefited. The man content at not being a corporate rat finds success as a domestic-god, the woman a cut-throat corporate ladder climber who doesn’t taunt her husband for his lack of ambition. At the end two people in a marriage who thrive in the choices they made for themselves and who basked in each other’s company. Wouldn’t that be a story you’d want to watch? Well in the immortal words of John Lennon:

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Batman V Superman : Dawn of Justice – A Review

Zack Snyder directs Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot and Jesse Eisenberg in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice the DC-Warner tent pole which sets up the Justice League. I haven’t been shy of my dislike of Zack Snyder as a director and with the multitude of bad reviews I didn’t have great expectations going in.

 

We are given a quick flashback into Bruce Wayne’s past. And a quick second into the funeral of Bruce’s parents Snyder commits hara-kiri that will have fanboys frothing at the mouth. Bruce is swarmed by the bats as he falls into a hole in the ground and the bats seemingly lift him up and that is how he assumes the identity of Batman. Ben Afflect is the middle aged Batman based on Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and he is a weary, tired middle-aged Bat very different from the Batman played by Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Affleck is quickly thrust into the destruction of Metropolis as General Zod and Superman engage in a death match. All through the movie that is something off about the scale of things, Metropolis and Gotham towers over everything and dwarfs both Superman and Batman. Even the car Ben Affleck is driving through metropolis seems to be mis-proportioned – it seems too small compared to the surroundings. I don’t know if other viewers experienced this but it just made the “Heroes” look puny.

Superman is deified as a god after he saved Earth from General Zod and his alien army. When he is not saving children from burning building or stranded women from tops of flooded towns Superman spends his time rescuing his girlfriend Lois Lane, either while she is being held hostage in the African Desert or while she is pushed from atop LexCorp. The film’s villainous mastermind is played by Jesse Eisenberg. Reprising his Mark Zuckerberg performance Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor, an evil genius with enormous wealth at his disposal. His sociopathic behaviour verges on psychotic. He pits Batman against Superman but like General Zod in Man of Steel here too his motivation is unresolved and his hatred of both the superheroes seems misplaced. He also tries to convince the senate to give him permission to bring the Kryptonite found in the indian ocean into the US so that he can weaponize it. Snyder, Chris Terrio and David S Goyer seem to be juggling too many balls with the story telling and each of them more unresolved than the other. In anticipation of the forthcoming Justice League movie we are introduced to The Flash, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. The latter plays a bigger part in the movie than Lois Lane does.

There are many flaws in this movie and they primarily concern Snyder’s lack of ability as a director. He makes poor choices both story wise and visually. Story wise there is no coherent reason for Batman to so pissed with Superman. The Superman’s misplaced sense of justice when he accuses Batman of abuse of power is akin to a pot calling a kettle black. The DC warner universe setup the batman character nicely at the end of Nolan’s trilogy. There were a few canons set which seem to not matter to Snyder. The Nolan Batman specifically said “No Guns” but Snyder’s batman is more violent than the criminals he seems to be rounding up. Basing this on Miller’s dark knight where batman comes out of retirement more brutal and more unstable there seems to be no explanation given to the retirement part. Also Jeremy Irons as Alfred is a hard sell. He seems to be Alfred and Lucius Fox both rolled into one and I prefer the grandfatherly Michael Caine over Irons.  Visually Snyder focuses on the wrong points of interest. He is more keen on product placement than a coherent story telling. How else would you explain the Olay Shampoo bottle that gets a zoom in when Lois is taking a bath after being rescued from the African ambush? Eisenberg’s whiney lunatic approach to playing Lex Luthor is a poor decision from both the actor and the director. All his manipulations of events that bring Batman and Superman face to face seem a bit too farfetched. Also the final face off between Batman and Superman and Batman’s bulky suit seem to be a pretty odd choice. It makes an already bulky Affleck look even chunkier also we are never really in the clear if his suit is actually kryptonite infused or not. Also the conclusion of the Batman Vs Superman fight to finish had me snorting – like seriously that is why they stop fighting? Because both their moms are called Martha!

But then there are some bright spots in the movie too. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince is smoking hot. In the hands of a good director the Wonder Woman origin story should be interesting. Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman is perfection. The man maketh the suit look good. The knightmare scene while confusing and ultimately insignificant in the course of this movie shows promise of what the Justice League multiverse holds. Hans Zimmer’s music is great in spots and jarring and overbearing in others. He seems to not be able to find the fine balance that he did with Nolan.

Overall it is not as bad as people are making it out to be. Yes it is overlong and entirely unresolved in terms of its main villain’s motivation. Ben Affleck needs to work on his Batman persona but isn’t entirely horrible. Gal Gadot is exciting as Wonder Woman and I cannot wait to see Jason Momoa as Aquaman but I would have preferred TV’s Grant Gustin as Flash than Ezra Miller because as much as I like Miller as an actor I don’t want a moody broody millennial Barry Allen. But in my humble opinion Snyder is the wrong horse to bet on to take on Disney and Marvel’s Avenger Multiverse. Give Nolan all the money he wants and the creative freedom he needs and green light his Howard Hughes biopic and let him take on the Justice League. Snyder will keep getting in the way of the story and the franchise will suffer unless you want to place Olay Shampoo in the Aquaman origins story.

Kapoor and Sons – A Review

Shakun Batra directs Siddharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ratna Pathak Shah, Rajat Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor in the dysfunctional family drama Kapoor and Sons. Bollywood mainstream movies have mostly steered clear of the uglier side of the familial dynamics and immortalized the gigantic joint families with coordinated dance moves and weddings grander than Laxmi Mittal’s daughter’s, but with the first scene itself Kapoor and Sons sets itself apart. This is more August Osage County than a Barjatiya caper.

The Kapoors consist of Daddy Kapoor played by Rajat Kapoor who once a bank officer is now a failed business owner quickly running through his savings and investing in a mysterious Anu aunty. Mummy Kapoor is Ratna Pathak Shah who made a meal out of playing the high society matriarch Maya Sarabhai, here she plays a character that is a polar opposite as then long-suffering wife who is trapped in a loveless marriage which is taking its toll on her ambition. Granddad Kapoor is Rishi Kapoor who is the glue that holds the entire enterprise together. All seeing and all understanding he doesn’t meddle but passes his time being crude yet lovable. It is his heart attack that brings back the two sons Kapoor’s back home to Coonoor, Rahul the London based successful author and all around perfect child played by Fawad and part-time bartender and aspiring author Arjun from New Jersey. The brothers don’t see eye to eye and are merely cordial out of obligation. There are subtle hints dropped along the way that there is something more sinister than mere sibling rivalry that is the reason for the tension amongst the brothers. Alia Bhatt plays Tia Mallik in a role that most other leading ladies would shy away from because it is not meaty enough and is merely a supporting role but not Alia who continues her march towards greatness as being entirely believable and extremely relatable.

The first half of the movie didn’t blow me away, not because the story or the direction was lacking, both are fantastic there is enough subtlety to keep me interested but it is the screenplay and dialogue that doesn’t seem to coalesce as seamlessly as it does in the second half. The build-up just before interval where Mumma Kapoor confronts Papa Kapoor over his philandering at the 90th birthday celebration for Gramps is something you never ever see in Bollywood. The second half unravels fast and furious and it hits you from out of left field that you are left teetering at the intensity of one tragedy after the other that befalls the Kapoor clan and you are left bleary eyed like Rishi Kapoor who silently watches his “happy family picture” disintegrate before he can take the picture he so badly wanted to take and emblazon it with “Kapoor and Sons since 1921”.

The second half is chockfull of memorable scenes. One where Ratna Pathak Shah tries on Rajat Kapoor’s chappals and breaks down, another where she confronts his perfect child Rahul over his life of lies, another where Rahul confesses his truth to his brother Arjun who an aspiring author himself is left speechless and simply says he needs time process this. There is an endearing scene between Arjun and Tia when he drops her off after having spent a day at a graveyard where she can’t find the right words to describe how she feels and simply says “it just fits” when she is with him, and another where she opens up about her final conversation with her parents. This is a movie that will benefit from rewatch and you will be delighted at the masterfully layered storytelling, not something you usually associate with a Karan Johar production. Every dialogue has a subtext, a sub plot that will stay with you long after the end credits, for instance the one where an exasperated Rajat Kapoor complains to his son about how his mother is being unreasonable by comparing him to her brother in law who used to hit her sister and how Kapoor isn’t that bad, this is how most normal people reason their character flaws and it is a subtlety that makes this movie that much more special for me.

Of the actors Rajat Kapoor, Alia and Siddharth are competent; Rishi Kapoor is a Gem and truly shines despite all that impressive prosthetics and make-up. Fawad Khan is the real revelation here with his measured and sensitive portrayal where he has enough humor and cheek to balance the seriousness that comes with being the older child who is perceived to be perfect.He desperately tries to keep his family together despite everyone’s best effort to make it implode. Ratna Pathak Shah is a national treasure and she must be cherished. I hope she takes on more such roles and stakes her claim on the matriarchal estate in Bollywood.

Kapoor and Sons is masterfully directed, with a strong uncompromising script and a stellar ensemble cast that puts in a brilliant performance individually and as a group. This nuanced look at the grey areas of the domestic drama is a must watch.

Oscars 2016 Predictions

I couldn’t be less enthused about Oscars this year. What with an insipid bunch of nominees, the raging racism controversy and the fact that Chris Rock is hosting this year. Bring back Seth McFarland!!! But then the realisation that it is the 3rd anniversary of the blog hit me and a friend asking where my predictions were, I guess I will give this a shot with the hope that next year there are more daring movies and nominees feature a diverse group of performers, age and race notwithstanding. So here we go ladies and gentlemen get your Oscar Fever On!!

oscar2016

Best Actress in a supporting role:

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

 

This is a tough one to choose from. I loved the return of Rachel McAdams to meaningful cinema and what an understated and respectful performance she delivered in Spotlight. Rooney Mara was the only bright light for me in all the pretentiousness that enveloped Carol. But the clear battle is between Vikander and Winslet.

Who should win: Alicia Vikander, her portrayal as Gerda is stellar. Her vulnerability and poise as her husband undergoes a transformation is heart-breaking. But this is not a showy performance that Oscar seems to prefer and with the results of all the previous awards going against her, chances are she won’t win but then again Winslet is a previous winner.

Who will win: Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman is the perfect foil to Fassbender’s Steve Jobs. Winslet really makes this role her own by infusing an emotional anchor to story. Regardless of what people accuse Sorkin of I think he writes some of the best female characters around – CJ, Makenzie and Sloane and now Joanna Hoffman. I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if she wins.

 

Best Actor in a supporting role:

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

 

Bale, Hardy and Ruffalo deliver very strong performances two of which could easily have been leading had it not been an ensemble drama with equally strong performances from other actors. I loved Tom Hardy as the villainous John Fitzgerald and was cheering on Glass to finish off the despicable character that Fitzgerald was – that is how good Hardy is. But this is Bale’s to lose.

Who Should/Will Win: Christian Bale is brilliant as the eccentric genius who discovers the impending housing market crash and the subsequent meltdown of the global economy in The Big Short. Christian Bale is one of the best method actors working today and the range he displays in picking the roles and the physical and physiological transformation he undergoes to become the said character is second to none. It would be a crying shame if he doesn’t win this. And it goes to Sylvester Stallone as some sort of a consolation prize.

 

Best Animated Feature:

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

 

AKA the Pixar award. And with Inside Out, Pixar has equalled the heights of technical ingenuity coupled with a strong emotional core that it did with the likes of Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up!

Who should/will win: Inside Out

 

Best Cinematography:

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

 

It could be a Hat-trick for Emmanuel Lubezki this year with The Revenant following Gravity and Bridman. Lubezki is reaching Roger Deakins (who is also nominated for a record 13th time without a win) level of awesomeness when it comes to framing the most gorgeous shots that create the most immersive experience for an audience. Even if they simply put his name on the top of the playbill I would queue up to watch the movie first day first show regardless of the actor or director of the story and his work in The Revenant is better than Birdman and almost as good and in many aspects better than Gravity. But what John Seale has achieved in Mad Max Fury Road is simply superior to anything else in this category. His visuals match the madness of George Miller’s beat for beat and in fact sometimes the visuals are the ones that set the pace for this insane adrenaline fuelled caper. I get a head rush just thinking of the visuals in Mad Max and I will lose my voice swearing if they don’t give this to Seale who came out of retirement to shot this thing of beauty!

Who should win: John Seale

Who may Win: Deakins because he is always good and he is long overdue? Lubezki because he is good and a three-peat would be interesting trivia? Who knows! I want Seale to win.

 

Visual Effects:

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

Ex Machina was excellent as was The Martian in making us believe we were seeing a real-life AI and the Martian landscape. But this one has Mad Max written all over it. The most spectacular use of Visual effects which kept the Computer generated effects to minimum by having practical stunts.

Who should/will win: Mad Max Fury Road

 

Documentary Feature:

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

 

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch any of the documentary features this year. I wanted to watch Amy very badly because I loved Amy Winehouse. If I was picking based on what I wanted to watch then it would be Amy but based on the fact that Joshua Oppenheimer was nominated and didn’t win for The Act of Killing which was the companion piece to The look of Silence based on the killings in Indonesia in the 1950s and the current political mood in the western hemisphere towards Putin’s aggression, Winter on Fire could sneak in a surprise.

Who should win: Amy

Who will win: Winter on Fire

 

Foreign Language Film:

Embrace of the Serpent

Mustang

Son of Saul

Theeb

A War

 

A harrowing tale set in the holocaust concentration camp of Auschwitz telling the tale of a SonderKommando who believes that the body he was supposed to cremate is allegedly that of his son and tries everything in his power to get a proper Jewish burial for him which includes a prison riot and escape from Auschwitz seems impossible to beat. Son of Saul is my pick for the best Foreign Language Film

Who should/will win: Son of Saul

 

Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

This category continues to confuse me! When you already have a category for Best Original Score what exactly is the point of this. But taking from the analogy from last year where good sound ingredients comprise Sound Editing and the proper cooking method being Sound Mixing let’s look at this.

Who should win Sound Mixing/Editing: Mad Max : Fury Road

Who will win Sound Mixing/Editing: The Revenant

 

Original Score:

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

I would love for Jóhann Jóhannsson to win because he deserved to win last year for the Theory of Everything and the music for Sicario is stunning. But with stalwarts like John Williams and Ennio Morricone this one is up in the air.

Who should win: Sicario Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Who will win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens John Williams./Ennio Morricone The Hateful Eight

 

Original Song:

“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey

“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction

“Simple Song #3,” Youth

“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground

“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre

After the performances like Skyfall by Adele, Let it go by Idna Menzel and Glory by John Legend and Common from previous years I am pretty sure this is Lady Gaga’s to take home. Until I went over the nominations I wasn’t even aware that the video that Gaga released was part of a documentary. I hope Gaga has a stellar performance in an otherwise drab Oscar ceremony. Also given the circumstances around Cosby this song is Hollywood’s way of apologising.

Who should/will win: Lady Gaga “’Til It Happens To You”

 

Film Editing:

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

With the exception of Star Wars I have seen all 4 and loved each one with a varying degree with respect to its pacing and overall coherence of storytelling. I found The Revenant a bit too long and unnecessary in places other than to see Lubezki’s beautiful frames. Spotlight lacked a sense of urgency that a story like this needed. Mad Max and The Big Short were the most perfectly paced movies. I really cannot pick and winner between the two

Who should win: Mad Max Fury Road

Who will win: The Big Short

 

Original Screenplay:

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

 

This category was the butt of many #YoOscarsSoWhite jokes because the only movie representative of the African American culture that got nominated for anything was Straight Outta Compton for Best Original Screenplay and here too the people who were nominated were white folks. I am torn between Ex Machina and Inside Out but given that this is the Oscars I am pretty sure it is going to be Spotlight.

Who should win: Ex Machina/Inside Out

Who will win: Spotlight.

 

Adapted Screenplay:

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

 

I would love nothing more than for The Big Short to win every award it is nominated for. But The Martian was pretty special too and more than anything else it was the humorous source material which many told me it was impossible to adapt.

Who should win: The Martian

Who will win: The Big Short.

 

Director:

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

 

Now this is a seriously good group of nominations and it would have been only better had Ridley Scott been included for The Martian. I really really hope that Iñárritu doesn’t win for The Revenant which while a beautiful movie is poorly edited and is more akin to Babel than Birdman. A lot of pretentious cerebral imagery and not enough story. For me it is between George Miller and Adam McKay and I would be happy if either of them won

Who should win: Adam McKay

Who will win: George Miller

 

Actress in Leading role:

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

 

Cate Blanchett should not have been nominated for Carol. I love my some Queen Cate but Carol wasn’t a strong enough movie that needed to be nominated – not dismissing the importance of the story and era in which it is set but it is not a strong enough movie. Jennifer Lawrence is a fine actress but she seems to be nominated for everything she does no matter how bad the movie is. And I still hold her winning for Silver Linings Playbook over Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark thirty against her. Brie Larson has quietly been carving out a niche for herself with a stellar performance in Short Term 12 and with Room her performance supported superbly by little Jacob Tremblay is surprisingly uplifting in a story that is anything but that. I cannot imagine anyone being able to deny Larson this win.

Who should/will win: Brie Larson

 

Actor in Leading role:

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

 

Loved Eddie Redmayne and Matt Damon but they are not going to win this year. Michael Fassbender was spectacular as Steve jobs with a performance that cannot be bettered. There are going to be to future biopics on the Apple founder because Fassbender gave the defining performance that cannot be bettered. I have loved and championed Leonardo Dicaprio for a number of years and been upset when he didn’t win and with The Revenant he is almost assured the little golden man that has eluded him for so long. Does he deserve it? Definitely but I would rather that he have won for The Aviator, The Departed and Blood Diamond instead.

Who should/will win: Leonardo Dicaprio

 

Best Film

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

To me this is what the final shortlist of best movies looks like

The Big Short: A Satirical look at the inner mechanics of what happened with the 2008 sub-prime and banking crisis with an amazing turn by the very talented ensemble. This is a very important story not only because it tells us what happened but also because it is only a precursor of things to come because no real corrective actions were taken.

Mad Max: Fury Road: An intense, adrenaline fuelled adventure caper which masterfully married feudalism and freedom struggle without getting preachy. It has the best visuals with practical stunts which cannot be beat.

The Martian: A funny take on the sci-fi genre that makes it accessible to a larger audience. A nuanced performance by Matt Damon and one hell of a story of the triumph of the human spirit against insurmountable odds.

Spotlight: A reminder of what power and responsibility the 4th estate wields and how important it is for them to take on the system and stand up for the little guy. A sensitive portrayal of a story that could have been forgiven a certain amount of histrionics if it tried but it stays clear of it and the end result is a thought provoking movie that does not demonize a religion but questions the power it wields.

Who should win: The big short or Mad Max: Fury Road

Who will win: Spotlight

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture The Big Short/Mad Max : Fury Road Spotlight
Best Director Adam McKay George Miller
Best Actor Leonardo Dicaprio Leonardo Dicaprio
Best Actress Brie Larson Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale Christian Bale
Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander Kate Winslet
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Inside Out/Ex-Machina Spotlight
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay The Martian The Big Short
Best Animated Feature Film Inside Out Inside Out
Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Son of Saul
Best Documentary – Feature Amy Winter on fire
Best Documentary – Short Subject Body Team 12
Best Live Action Short Film Shok
Best Animated Short Film Sanjay’s Super Team
Best Original Score Sicario Star Wars/The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song Lady Gaga – ‘Til it happens to you Lady Gaga – ‘Til it happens to you
Best Sound Editing Mad Max : Fury Road The Revenant
Best Sound Mixing Mad Max : Fury Road The Revenant
Best Production Design Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Cinematography John Seale Mad Max: Fury Road Emmanuel Lubezki The Revenant/Roger Deakins Sicario
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Costume Design Cinderella Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Film Editing Mad Max : Fury Road The Big Short
Best Visual Effects Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road

So there you have it all my predictions for Oscars 2016. Leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my picks. Let me know your thoughts on Oscars in general and who you would have rather seen nominated. You can follow me on Twitter where I will be live-tweeting during the Oscar ceremony!

Neerja – A Review

Ram Madhvani directs Sonam Kapoor in Neerja, a story based on the life of PanAm airlines air hostess Neerja Bhanot who risked her own life to save those of her passengers on the Hijacked flight 73 in 1986. As much as Sonam Kapoor would like to think of herself as a massively bankable star she deludes herself that all her blockbusters have been in spite of her and not because of. To have her headline such an important story seemed too risky an endeavour.

 

We are introduced to Rajesh Khanna loving Neerja as she walks into a boring old building society party with kids and middle aged adults and immediately infuses life into the party. This, her mother played by Shabana Azmi, tells us is quintessentially Neerja; the life of the party; her parents’ pride and joy and loved by kids and adults alike. This version of Sonam is believable and likeable unlike previous roles she has essayed. The family cocoon that is created around Neerja is also very believable, the worrying mother, the playfully quarrelling sibling and an adoring father who still regrets having pushed her into an arranged marriage that ended up being abusive. Once on the flight her effervescent personality seems just as genuine, as she looks after unaccompanied minors and puts them at ease. The ill-fated PanAm flight 73 from Mumbai to Frankfurt makes a scheduled stop at Karachi and is hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, Neerja relays the message that the flight has been hijacked while still on the tarmac to the pilots who following protocol evacuate the cockpit leaving the terrorists grounded. What follows is how Neerja tries to do everything in her power to comfort her passengers in a terrifying situation and how she loses her life while trying to protect them.

It is an incredible story told in the most respectful of ways. There are no histrionics or hyperbolic heroism just small acts of courage which ultimately were responsible for the 359 lives that were eventually saved. This is almost unlike a Bollywood movie and in a stark contrast to Airlift. There were so many moments when in the hands of a lesser director Sonam Kapoor could have had an outburst at the terrorist or said something sassy just because that is what Bollywood creative license allows, but you see the terror in her eyes and she cries like any person thrust in such a situation would and she tries to refer to the terrorists as Sir and appeal to their kindness to allow her to serve her passengers food and water. By juxtaposing flashbacks to her abusive life with the scenes of absolute terror Ram Madhvani has achieved success twofold. Firstly he gives us context to what prompted Neerja to act with the bravado that she did and also by showing us that an abusive relationship is no less than terrorism. One thing that clearly stuck out to me was the first time that Sonam is attacked by the terrorists the nozzle of the gun bangs against her teeth and upper lip and there is an audible sound. Towards the end of the movie you can see on her upper lip a bruised patch – it is small details like this which shows the audience how committed the cast and crew were to try and honestly retell an incredible story.

Sonam Kapoor is a revelation as Neerja Bhanot. She is beautiful no doubt but she is able to carry a sense of frivolity and joyfulness with an absolute ease. While at the same time when faced with a harrowing situation she is suitably terrified yet she manages to find an inner strength to ensure her passengers’ safety. Shabana Azmi is the emotional core of the movie. Azmi is tasked with the most emotionally potent scenes in the movie and yet she delivers them with such finesse that even while her audience is sobbing she manages to smile through tear filled eyes. All credit to dialogue writer Sanyukta Shaikh Chawla that never once does any character deliver a cringe worthy line, even when replaying dialogues from the Rajesh Khanna classic Anand the dialogues land the emotional sucker punch they are intended to. This two women tour de force is ably supported by Yogendra Tikku who plays Neerja’s father, music director Shekhar Ravijani who plays Neerja’s boyfriend Jaideep and the good cop-bad cop terrorists who I unfortunately can’t find names for to give them the credit due.

This almost flawless movie is nearly ruined by the schizophrenic camera work at the beginning of the movie, long before the hijack even happens. It makes no sense and it is headache inducing but few minutes into the movie it seems cinematographer Mitesh Mulchandani finally masters the art of a steady shot and it is smooth sailing from there on. Story writer Saiwyn Qadras and Editor Monisha Baldawa deserve special mention for a perfectly paced script that does not miss a beat throughout and a near perfect cut which has no flab or fluff. There is no jingoism in the name of patriotism, there are no larger than life heroes, just a girl who was doing her job and she did it brilliantly.

I remember the IC814 hijack but only had  anecdotal knowledge of Neerja Bhanot’s story when it was mentioned on news during the Kandahar hijacking but thanks to Ram Madhvani, Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi this is a story I am unlikely to ever forget. What a beautiful and brave soul Neerja was and this story does her memory justice almost 30 years later. The girl who won the highest Indian Galantary award Ashok Chakra, the Tamgha-e-Insaniyat award for incredible human kindness by Pakistan, the flight safety foundation’s Heroism, Special Courage award by DoJ, USA. The Girl who didn’t live Long but Lived it Big. Salute.

 

Fitoor – A Review

Abhishek Kapoor directs Katrina Kaif, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Tabu in Fitoor, a story adapted by Supratik Sen from Charles Dickens’ The Great Expectations. Kapoor last adapted the Chetan Bhagat’s three mistakes of my life into the brilliant Kai Po Che and given what he milked out of a less than stellar source material the expectations would have been sky high given Dickens’ rich and fertile literary ground that Kapoor had to play with. Does Kapoor and team meet the great expectations or do they drift aimlessly into the abyss like an untethered kite? Read on to find out more.

Kapoor and Sen have stayed quiet true to the original, Aditya Roy Kapoor is Noor or Dickens’ Pip, Katrina is Firdaus, Estella in the original and Tabu is Hazrat Begum the eccentric Mrs. Haversham . Besides these three there are a lot of other characters from Dickens’ Novel that find themselves adapted into the Indian context in Fitoor.

When we first meet Noor and Firdaus we see a beautiful and ethereal Firdaus and an awestruck and an inadequate feeling Noor. Begum Hazrat sees the first inkling of puppy love in Noor’s eyes and seems to encourage it by asking him to come to the Mansion more often but then following the violence in the valley which kills Noor’s sister the Begum sends Firdaus away to London to study leaving Noor longing for her. Years later Noor a budding artist is given a scholarship from a mysterious benefactor who he assumes is the Begum herself.  Moving to Delhi Noor meets Firdaus and confesses his love which she rejects as she is set to be engaged to Bilal. This is the biggest departure from The Great Expectations because where in the novel we clearly see that Estella is cold and unloving, Firdaus is seemingly struggling to decide between Noor and Bilal. This is also where the story wobbles because it becomes about this love story more than the over-arching theme of growth of Pip/Noor.

Aditya Roy Kapoor who caused me incessant grief as the drunken mess in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani surprises with a restrained performance. He has intensity in his quiet demeanor that is perfect for this performance. Katrina Kaif as Firdaus is beautiful but fails to bring a sense of haughtiness that is essential for the character of Estella. Without the cool aloofness the climactic realization of love does not carry the same weight that it would have. Tabu as Begum Hazrat is exceptional. There is a sense of discomfort that you feel when you see her approach young Noor, there is a tragic beauty in her when you see her lie on her chaise smoking a hukka. Her demeanor and actions at the beginning of the story make sense when you are given the back story to her failed attempt at love. Hers is the best written character amongst the main three. Her penchant for wearing ostentatious jewelry only makes sense when you find out her back story.

It is rare that one would complain that a Bollywood movie needs to be longer. But that is exactly what was needed; at least another 30 minutes and the second half could have carried more weight than just stumbling to a satisfactory conclusion. As in the novel the guilt of Mrs. Haversham at manipulating Pip and Estella, the connections between Pip’s benefactor, Estella’s biological parents and Mrs. Haversham’s Fiancé who jilted her and how all of this ties back to Pip and the eventual reconciliation between Pip and Estella would have made for a more compelling second half than Kapoor and Sen manage with Fitoor. But it is not to be and we must judge Fitoor for what it is and in that it is a solid attempt at adapting a one of the most influential literary works which Kapoor manages to with a justifiable degree of success. The cinematography is gorgeous and the production value of the highest kind when it comes to Noor’s works of art. Buoyed by strong performances from Aditya Roy Kapoor and Tabu it is a very competent film that leaves you wanting more. While it lacks the intensity of Haider a Shakespearean adaptation also set in Kashmir Fitoor is not lacking in allegories. Maybe I read too much into the movie but I could definitely see an Indo-Pak-Kashmir metaphor happening and it is commendable that Indian directors are aiming for a subtext no matter if the end result is sub-par at least they are trying.

 

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.