2014 A year in review

Aren’t you bored of the multitude of all the insipid “It’s been a great year thanks for being a part of it” video montages on Facebook already? Was 2014 really that great a year? Is it really worth looking back with nostalgia? For me, personally, it was a defining year – from getting married to moving to a different country but movie-wise it was one of the most lackluster years in history of the blog lifein70mm). When a Christopher Nolan movie doesn’t automatically make its way to the top of my year end list, then it is telling of what sort of a year it has been! But looking back does have its benefits – it can surprise even the most jaded of individuals of that glimmer of happiness that released early on in the year and still sits in a special place in your heart glowing with tiny but incessant warmth. Thanks for staying with lifein70mm and thanks for letting me know that you like my reviews more than some of the most celebrated critics who write for the leading newspapers. It makes me want to see more, and write more and that is all I can ask of you!

Top 10(ish) of 2014 (in alphabetical order)

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Boyhood: Richard Linklater defies the boundaries of imagination. Just think about the commitment it would be required to shoot each year over 12 years to document the life of a boy and to tell the simplest of stories of growing up, the dysfunctional American family, and the bonds that tie us together. A movie so unique, that it can only be classified as the space that exists between a coming-of-age tale and a documentary. I have loved Linklater Before series and it is two of my favorite writing, I was really looking forward to reviewing Boyhood and even after watching it twice I am unable to pen down my thoughts on it. To say I loved it would be a gross understatement.

Finding Vivian Maier: I love documentaries and the ones that are done well are most often better than fictional stories because you don’t need to imagine that it can happen but marvel that these things did indeed happen. A writer stumbles upon a cache of old photographs from a lot that he bought on a whim at an auction, the photographs are of such high quality and tell such a vivid story of the life in the 60s that the writer is pulled into the intrigue of the artist who took these photographs and he documents his search in this documentary. One of the most beautiful and poignant documentaries I have ever seen and images that will stay with you a lot longer than the duration of the film. Vivian Maier’s rise to posthumous fame is incredible. She even gets a mention in the opening credit of this year’s best comedy on television Selfie alongside Freda Kahlo and her self-portrait.

Gone Girl: Nobody does dirty sick and twisted quite like David Fincher. To take what was essentially airport fiction and to turn it into a catharsis of a marriage is laudable feat. This movie features the best use of voiceover I have ever had the pleasure of watching and when done in the breathy voice of the enchanting Rosamund Pike it takes creepy to a whole new level. An enormously enjoyable and infinitely rewatchable movie with one of the best soundtrack this year.

Haider: Vishal Bharadwaj, Shahid Kapur and Shakespeare’s Hamlet are a potent combination. Setting the movie in Kashmir should have been a staggering achievement in storytelling, but by wavering on taking a stand, Bharadwaj ends up with a technically beautiful and intensely acted movie which stumbles a little with its plot. This could have easily ended up as a disappointment for me had it not been for Shahid Kapur and Tabu. I accord this movie half a spot on the top 10 to be shared with a movie down the list.

Kick: I know there will be many of you who will be shaking your head in dismay at the inclusion of this movie in this list. But this was the only 100 Cr movies this year that had any modicum of entertainment value. It takes the histrionics of Salman to make nonsensical an art form. With the gorgeous Jacqueline Fernandez by his side the king khan takes us on an adrenaline rush that was unmatched this year.

Mardaani : I dislike Rani Mukherjee with a passion that is only matched by my dislike of Aamir Khan but in Pradeep Sirkar’s able hands Rani turns in what is one of the best performances of her life. A skillfully crafter thriller with a very unusual and non-stereotypical antagonist, a movie with a message which it delivers masterfully without hammering it on your head; this was the perfect example of a movie which India needs. If ever there was a need for sequels then this is a movie that richly deserves it.

Nightcrawler: The Renaissance of Jake Gyllenhaal continues unabated. After last year’s top-10 lister Prisoners Gyllenhaal returns in this dark comedy about a man with a drive to succeed and an absolute lack of moral inhibitions. Taking the world of 24-hr breaking news cycle and making a social commentary on what drives the people who blur the lines of journalistic ethics to feed the public greed for sensationalized news or perhaps even the paparazzi fueled celeb-obsessed culture of ours.

Pride: A quiet and unassuming British movie about the coming together of two opposing factions of the society to achieve a common goal. With the playbill stacked with the who’s who of the British cinema this is a complete treat to watch. Sensitively handling the subject of labor strike and the rise of the gay rights movement and the eventual pride parade, this movie has many high points and many standout stars. This reminded me of the underappreciated The Boat that Rocked/Pirate Radio or maybe that was just because Bill Nighy was in both and I love Bill Nighy!

Queen: I know at the outset I said the list was in alphabetical order just so that I don’t have to rank all the movies. But if I were to rank them I am more than certain that Queen would be my 2014 topper. I have not seen a more honest attempt at story telling than this story of a simple girl from Rajauri who gets dumped just before her wedding day and decides to go on her honeymoon by herself, on a  journey of discovery and revelations which up to this point were the tightly held domain of male dominated road-trip movies. Kangana Ranaut is spectacular as Rani – the eponymous Queen and with Amit Trivedi’s brilliant music this movie is an instant classic. I cannot wait for what Vikas Bahl has to offer next and I hope he continue to be this honest about his story telling, because the results are fantastic.

The Imitation Game: as mentioned earlier it was hard to choose between Haider and this one as both movies had their merits (stand out performances by the leads) and its pitfalls. But when a story this important is being told, it almost doesn’t matter if there are a few minor glitches. Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing is incredible and does well to show the vulnerable side of his (and Turing’s) genius. In that final scene towards the end after undergoing chemical castration, Cumberbatch’s performance breaks my heart and you feel for Turing who suffered such indignation at the hands of the society he gave so much to.

X-Men : Days of Future Past:  Of all the multi-super hero universes out there ( the avengers, the justice league and the X-men) the X-men feel the most organic, they don’t feel like a money grab where you throw a wide variety of superheroes together in an all-you-can-eat style buffet. With the foundation that was laid with a very strong X-men First Class the return of Bryan Singer at the helm righted the wrong of X-men: The Last Stand by essentially rewriting the timeline and setting it up for future adventures. Having perhaps the best assemblage of young Hollywood talent in form of McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult I have tremendous faith that the Superhero franchise is far from dead. Bring on the apocalypse I cannot wait!

The Bottom 3 (In alphabetical order)

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Bang Bang: to take two of the most beautiful human beings ever created and to turn them into absolutely unwatchable crap is the claim to fame for Bang Bang. An official adaptation of Knight and Day, this vapid movie should have never been made. Its stupidity was a new low for Bollywood.

Singham Returns: I stayed away from Singham despite people claiming how it was a good-masala-movie with very good acting. But being married to a Kareena-aficionado has its pitfalls. After a surprisingly good Kick my faith in the ability of 100cr movie to be bearable was renewed. But it was dealt a deathly blow with this loud brash and crass attempt at storytelling.  Rohit Shetty is the Michael Bay of Bollywood and I am staying as far away from his exploding cars as possible.

The Amazing Spider-man 2: I loved Marc Webb’s directorial debut 500 days of summer and I loved the Andrew Garfield as the amazing Spiderman. If you bring these two together and throw in Emma Stone I am bound to be excited. But alas that excitement was misplaced and I no longer look forward to any more spidey adventures.

The biggest Disappointment of 2014 was hands down Interstellar. It is not that Interstellar was a particularly bad movie; it’s just that I have come to expect a certain level of intelligence from Nolan and the choice of Matthew McConaughey thoroughly baffled me. While the science in the movie was fascinating and accessible at the same time, the stoner drawl of McConaughey and Hans Zimmer’s obnoxious soundtrack were entirely off-putting.  Hopefully, this is only law of averages and Nolan can get back to doing what he does best this will just be something he will look back and laugh while scratching his head thinking what the hell was I smoking when I offered this role to McCoughMyName.

There you have it! 2014 all wrapped up with a bow on top. Here’s to 2015 and a wonderful year at the movies. Do write to me and let me know what you think of my assessment of the year 2014 at the movies, if you agree or disagree or have a suggestion for me to watch. I will be back very early on in 2015 with a review of a much-anticipated Birdman and many more exciting movies to come. Happy New Year!

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Exodus: Gods and Kings – A Review

Ridley Scott directs Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in Exodus: Gods and Kings the biblical story of Moses and the king of Egypt Ramses, bookending a year which began with another Biblical adaptation by Aronofsky’s Noah. A Ridley Scott period piece evokes great expectation after the majestic Gladiator and here too Scott manages to present a beautifully shot and exquisitely designed period piece that is unmatched in its size and scale but it is the story and the editing where this movie gets crucified.

The story opens with Ramses and Moses, cousins who are told of a prophecy by the high priestess played by Indira Verma that on the battlefield a champion will survive and lead the people while the other will perish. When the said battle ensues –without preamble Edgerton’s Ramses is facing certain death until Bale’s Moses saves him. This makes an already jealous Ramses even more resentful of Moses while Pharaoh Seti continues to clearly favor Moses over his own son.  This is the basis of the story, the underlying motivations which drives these characters, Moses while Egyptian still continues to display a sense of moral certitude towards the slaves while Ramses believes himself to be descendant of god and acts as a tyrannical overlord who pays no heed to the suffering of the slaves. This should have been played up even more because then the audience would have been invested in the outcomes of the lives of these two individuals. But like a bored storyteller Scott relies on the knowledge of the audience and lazily keeps pushing forward to the eventual conclusion. The time lapses are also abrupt and feel rushed.

But the movie does have very strong points that prevent it from becoming an absolute bore. The scale of production is enormous, the royal city of Memphis, the slave town of Pithom are of an unimaginable proportion. The costume designs are exquisite. And while Sigourney Weaver’s talents are entirely wasted as an actress here, she is given beautiful headdresses. Christian Bale as Moses is wonderful as is Isaac Andrews who plays Malak the boy who relates the wishes of god Moses by the burning bush. There is a sense of impending calamity every time Malak and Moses converse and it is credit to the little guy to be able to convey that while talking down to Batman!

The cinematograph by Dariusz Wolski is spectacular and one scene in particular during the exodus had be gasp out loud at the stark beauty of the landscape – I thought to myself this must be Deakins – and that comparison is praise enough. The fight sequences and the panoramic shots of Memphis, Pithom, and the red sea are all brilliantly shot and looked beautiful and clear in 2D. The music by Alberto Iglesias is quite and complementary for the most part but at certain points he gets injected with a bit of Zimmer and it goes overboard but it does well to underscore the action sequences.

Scott has made it known publically that he wanted to make a movie on a biblical story based on plausible scientific explanations. He tries to espouse those theories to justify the plagues of Egypt and it gets repetitive. Had he spent less time with the multiple plagues of Egypt and more time developing the characters of Moses and Ramses and focusing more energy on the undercurrent of jealousy it would have been a better story. There is however a 4 hour final cut of the movie which hopefully does this and I for one will be watching that because even with its flaws this is a movie that isn’t shy from taking a stand and making commentary, the scene at the end of the exodus between Moses and Joshua speak of the conflict in the middle-east at present. This is a sandal and sword movie done intelligently and that is reason enough to want to watch it.

PK – A Review (contains spoilers)

Rajkumar Hirani directs Aamir Khan and Anushka Sharma in P.K. a curious tale of an alien who lands on earth from a planet far far away to do research on the human inhabitants just as we endeavor to send missions to mars and take on interstellar travels to figure out who if anyone is out there. P.K. does not have such high sci-fi ambitions. In true Rajkumar Hirani fashion all that this movie aspires to do is to shine a mirror on the woes that have befallen the Indian society like the questionable ethics of the medical education and practice in Munnabhai MBBS and the land mafia in Lage Raho Munnabhai. With P.K. Hirani mounts an assault on the god men of India.  Not entirely original but wholly enjoyable.

The story focuses on Aamir Khan and his encounter with a TV journalist Jaggu played by Anushka Sharma. Tired of doing absurd stories on suicidal dogs Jaggu is intrigued by Aamir who is distributing pamphlets on the Delhi metro.  Trusting her journalistic instincts she chases the story to understand who this strange man is and what his motivations are.  While in a jail cell PK narrates his story to Jaggu who takes him to be mentally unstable, until he proves himself by reading her thoughts. Jaggu believes PK when he says that something of great importance is with a famous god-man Tapasviji, played by Saurabh Shukla in a surprisingly restrained role for what is essentially a caricature on the infamous Nirmal baba. This same Tapasviji was the reason for the rift between Jaggu and her father and also the reason for the attack on her news channel’s head when he questioned his tactics. She and her boss (played by Boman Irani) use PK as bait to goad Tapasviji to try and expose him.

Aamir Khan the self-proclaimed perfectionist of Bollywood created quite a stir with his naked appearance on the posters of the movie with his modesty barely protected by an ancient looking transistor radio. Thankfully that there isn’t much reliance on shock value in the movie outside of the opening sequence which is shot with a sense of humor not usually associated with Bollywood movies. It is almost a Kyle XY moment and done tastefully.  I’ve long suspected Aamir’s acting to be the emperor’s new clothes and here too he does nothing special. He isn’t as particularly bad as he was with Dhoom 3 with his pained expressions but his protruding eyes and a permanently arched eyebrow here beg explanation. His strange Bhojpuri accent and an even stranger sartorial sense are justified while he narrates his story to Jaggu but nothing is said about his eyes and they are a distraction. Anushka Sharma carries forward her brash news anchor shtick from Jab Tak hai Jaan but is less annoying given that Aamir does most of the heavy lifting here.  This movie relies far less on its lead actors and their individual talents and is carried above mediocrity by its witty writing and an easily identifiable screenplay by Hirani and Ajitab Joshi.

For a movie that is trying to tackle such a huge problem as organized religion it relies too heavily on gaffes and clichés. While in Delhi looking for the lost belongings Aamir seems to take on a pilgrimage to every corner of India over the course of one song and it makes no sense.  The frequent cuts to songs also are a little disingenuous and break the flow of the story. The supporting cast is poorly chosen and underwritten with the exception of Sanjay Dutt who in a brief appearance as Bhairon Singh is brilliant. The movie walks a fine line on the safe side of becoming too preachy when espousing the same popular arguments of “why waste milk on stone idols when hundreds are hungry” and “if god has a master plan then why buy a book of mantras for Rs.10 to have a male child instead of a female child” and adds a new Malala-inspired “Itna chota nahin ho sakta hamara khuda, ki use hamare school jaane pe aitraaz ho”. My biggest gripe with the movie was the heavy reliance on the voice-over, it is lazy, uninspiring and worse of all patronizing by assuming your audience needs directions to follow the story. Where it succeeds unanimously is the juxtaposing of rituals of the Hindu, Christian and Muslim religion both in terms of the prayer offering and the choice of colors the women wear to indicate their marital status.

This is a perfectly enjoyable movie with inoffensive acting by its lead pair. An entirely satisfying climax which I saw coming from the time Anushka was waiting in the marriage registrar’s office – but it has the potential to surprise people nevertheless. This movie does not take a real stand against the god-men and their ilk like OMG did but it gets the message across. However what I fear is that it might get lost in the humor that this movie wishes to peddle at a higher premium. Stay away from hyperboles this is neither Hirani’s or Aamir’s best work till date nor is it the best movie of 2014 – take it for what it is and enjoy the movie.