M.S. Dhoni – an untold Story : A Review

Image result for ms dhoni the untold story posterNeeraj Pandey directs Sushant Singh Rajput and Anupam Kher in M.S.Dhoni the biopic on India’s most successful cricket captain. A man of few words, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has lived an incredible life, it is the classic underdog story where the underdog is an outright over achiever only limited by his circumstances.

 

Neeraj Pandey directed one of the finest movies to have come out in the last decade A Wednesday. Ever since he has been one of the most anticipated film makers, Special 26 while adored by many was a disappointment for me as were his other collaborations as a producer. I was left shocked when the credits rolled that this was directed by Neeraj Pandey. Where A Wednesday was a fast scoring high adrenaline T-20 match between India and Pakistan this was a laborious 5 day test match on a flat pitch.

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The story starts with Dhoni’s childhood a football goalkeeper Dhoni reluctantly agrees to keep wickets for the school team. There is a charming moment when a precocious Dhoni responds to his teacher stating very firmly that his reluctance to play cricket has nothing to do with the fear of the hard ball. There seem to be hints of his reluctance towards the game and his father’s job as the pump operator for the local cricket ground, but it is left unexplored. It moves to a teenaged Dhoni played by a poorly CGI-ed Sushant Singh Rajput made to look unnaturally young. Through the many ups and downs we journey with Dhoni to when he is selected to play for the east zone team but cannot make it for the flight on time and misses out on his big break. The movie seems keener on ticking off the milestone moments on Dhoni’s journey to the India team than focusing on a coherent story. And when it comes to milestones it misses out on the defining ones like when he is selected to lead the T-20 team, when he takes on the ODI captainship, his vice-captainship before that.

 

Sushant Singh Rajput does a fine job portraying the very essence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Mahi to his millions of adoring fans. Mahi is a man of few words and his actions speak for him, Rajput does that job brilliantly, underplaying the character with subtle nods to Mahi’s mannerisms. Disha Patni as Dhoni’s doomed lover Priyanka is spectacular in a brief time she spends on screen. I just wish the director hadn’t over done the whole “we have enough time right?” bit. Once was enough to allude to the upcoming tragic end. The introduction to Kiara Advani as Sakshi is about as cute as it gets. Anupam Kher transforms before our eyes without the need for CGI. The actor who plays Mahi’s mother and Rajesh Sharma who plays Dhoni’s coach Deval Sahay deserve special mention for the realism they brought to the roles they played.

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For a story as spectacular as Dhoni’s journey, this biopic seems like a disservice. Abysmal camera work where you get dizzy every time the camera zooms in or pans out too quickly. I also seriously question the editorial choices that were made. One look at the imdb page and you see names like Ram Charan and Fawad Khan being credited for playing Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli respectively and they are nowhere to be seen in the movie at the same time an insane amount of time is spent in tenis tournaments, the Railways cricket audition and tennis ball tournament. Also as a director Neeraj Pandey missed a massive opportunity to use real footage of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, rather than try and digitally try and fit Sushant Singh Rajput into those frames. Look at Narcos, or biopics like Frost Vs Nixon and you can see the gravitas the actual footages lend to the overall story.

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The final scene however does bring back happy memories! That six to clinch the 2011 world cup the eruption of the wankhede stadium that was echoed across India by its billion strong cricket lovers and the architect of it all – Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I just wish the film was half as unconventional as its subject matter then maybe it could have done justice to this fantastic character of game who changed the face of the gentleman’s game.

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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!!

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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!

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.

 

Jazbaa – A Review

Sanjay Gupta directs Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Irrfan Khan and Shabana Azmi in Jazbaa. Jazbaa in Urdu is supposed to mean Passion or rage and that is what Aishwarya feels as her only daughter is kidnapped and as ransom she is asked to defend a rapist and murderer. This being Ms Rai’s come back vehicle the expectations were sky high but a ham-fisted approach at direction is what lets this movie down.

Sanjay Gupta continues his blatant plagiarism with Jazbaa being “inspired” by Seven days a Korean film. Gupta dresses up every possible light source in an unnatural Green and Yellow hue to imbue mood but he goes overboard it just becomes laughable. The story isn’t uninteresting in the right hands it could have been a half-decent revenge/thriller flick but with Gupta manning the reins the multiple plot points seem to appear at minor distractions and do not lead to any conclusion. Take for instance the fact that Irrfan who plays Yohan the most decorated Mumbai cop fighting corruption charges is allowed to roam free even in the court of law while he is evading arrest, then suddenly towards the end he ends up running a dhaaba. Niyaz’s wife who shows up to testify has a side plot of an insurance windfall which is raised as an important point but then left unanswered and unexplored.

Sanjay Gupta also favours style over substance to an absurd effect. Yohan runs around being a top Mumbai cop wearing leather jackets. I am from Mumbai and trust me – NO ONE wears leather jackets EVER unless you want to feel like you are permanently in a sauna. The scene where Irrfan breaks Aishwarya’s car’s glass made everyone in the theatre laugh out loud as it made no sense. Also Niyaz’s strangely affected accent and propensity to speak in English more than Hinglish seemed to belie his character traits. Shabana Azmi who finds Aishwarya’s to have broken and entered into her dead daughter’s house and going through her laptop reacts in the most bizarre of the ways by not reacting at all! Almost all of Shabana’s time on screen is spent in a Xanax induced stupor and she lacks any “Jazbaa” at all. Also the over the top melodramatic dialogues that Irrfan spews forth seem unwarranted and almost dated.

Acting-wise Aishwarya veers between hysterical at the loss of her daughter and tough as nails defence lawyer. She isn’t entirely without merit but for a comeback a lot more was expected and she fails to deliver. Irrfan is quickly being stereotyped into these roles and for someone of his clout (Hollywood and all) and talent the waste is criminal. Shabana Azmi usually a firebrand is too mellowed down here and lack any real fire in her performance. I mean she was Santokben Jadeja for crying out loud.

A little more focus from Sanjay Gupta and this movie could have been as good as Zinda was even though it was also an entirely unoriginal remake of OldBoy. Also Sanjay Gupta wants us to believe that this is a movie that addresses the violence against women by spewing stats at us during the credits which seem like a last minute thought to placate the number of women who will be offended by the way the said rape is recreated thrice and the creature responsible for it seems to suffer no regrets or remorse and the total and complete lack of shock/disgust that one would expect Aishwarya’s character to exhibit.

I will hold out one final hope for Aishwarya to reunite with Sanjay Leela Bhansali and that will be a comeback that she deserves.

The Martian – A Review

Ridley Scott direct Matt Damon and an impressive ensemble of supporting cast of Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wigg, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Mackenzie Davis, Sebastian Stan in The Martian.

Based on the book by Andy Weir, screen writer Drew Goddard manages to keep the humor and sarcasm from the book and translates that to screen without making it sound cheesy or making light of the actual science involved. From story and screenplay point of view The Martian strikes a perfect balance of keeping the science real and still ensuring that casual moviegoers are not overwhelmed and ultimately disinterested. Comparisons calling this Apollo 13 meets Castaway aren’t far off the mark.

The story sees Mark Watney and his band of Astronauts exploring the inhospitable martian terrain when a storm looms ahead and the team is forced to return to the safety of the MAV and leave as the strength of storm was underestimated. Watney gets stranded and is assumed dead as the crew unwillingly decide to leave him behind and return to Hermes to embark on the journey back home. Turns out Watney isn’t dead but is left to his own devices as he tries to survive on the planet where nothing survives. Watney tries his hand at farming, foraging for the pathfinder and setting up a communication link back to earth using primitive techniques. Damon is perfectly cast as Watney as his dry humor and wry smile carry the entire movie on his shoulders. I could go on discussing the several hilarious scenarios he is faced with but it is best experienced first-hand on the big screen.

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The support cast is jam packed with talented names but there are so many that they are almost callously handled. Jeff Daniels as the director of NASA phones it in, there is no undercurrent of passion that we saw him demonstrate in The Newsroom. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor also seems badly written, Sean Bean as the guy who heads the mission to mars is also underwritten and his talents of dying in every movie he stars in are also criminally wasted. Donald Glover is stereotypical Nasa nerd. Benedict Wong and Kristen Wigg do a fine enough job but could have done so much more in trying to infuse more humor than they do. The only one from the support cast who left a lasting impression was Mackenzie Davis who is the first one to report that Mark Watney might actually still be alive on Mars. Jessica Chastain as the 80s disco music obsessed but cool and detached commander is also perfectly cast.

Supporting cast weakness aside, where The Martian triumphs is in its casting of Damon and his portrayal of the eternally optimistic Mark Watney who promises to “science the shit out of this” as he does everything possible to survive – I wish there was Eye of the Tiger playing in one of the scenes it would have been perfect but Hot Stuff and Fonz from Happy Days more than makes up for it. Technically the movie isn’t anything ground breaking in terms of the space-y visuals but it is adequate and does the job.

The movie shines for its light hearted and tongue in cheek look at the sci-fi which more often than not takes on a far too serious a tone and nothing against it but this one works just as well. And Matt Damon is brilliant. He reminds me of Soderberg’s underrated The Informant and that is a very very good thing. And the 80s music is a guilty pleasure so give me more disco any day of the week and I will be a happy bunny!

Inside Out – A Reivew

Pete Docter directs the vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling and Lewis Black as Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger in Inside Out. The newest animated feature from Pixar takes us inside the mind of 12 year old Riley who moves from Minnesota to San Francisco.

It is baffling how a studio like Disney can, on one hand create bland mess like the marvel multi-universe of superhero movies and then created animated features like Up, Wall-e and Ratatouille with so much heart and innovation. Inside Out sounds a bit outlandish and like an idea that will not translate as well on screen as it does on paper. Can you imagine the difficulty of writing the screenplay where you are constantly cutting back and forth between the actions of riley and the emotions at play inside her head? It could have easily ended up being a voice-over mess with every action and the intention behind it spelled out. But what story writing duo Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen and the Screenplay team of Meg Lefauve, Josh Cooley and Docter himself come up with is perfection.

We are introduced to Joy as the first emotion when Riley is born and opens her eyes for the first time. And the how over the years other emotions start shaping up. Each moment in her life forms a memory which through jetson-like mechanics of suction tubes is transferred to long-term memory bank. There are major events in her life which form core memories. The core memories create personality islands which define who Riley is. The move from Minnesota to San Francisco throws things in the headquarters off for a spin and Joy who so far has been the primary emotion fuelling Riley is baffled at why Sadness is quickly becoming the dominant emotion. As Joy and Sadness try to work their way back from the long term memory bank we meet Bing Bong Riley’s imaginary friend, visit imagination-land, abstract thought generator, Dream land production, there is train of thoughts and also the memory dump where old memories go to fade and die.

The world inside the head of a 12 year old is  not the only place we visit, there is a sequence where we get a glimpse inside the heads of Mum and Dad and its hilarious. Anger is by far the most hilarious of the lot. Also towards the end we get an Inside Out view into the minds of a teenage boy, a dog, a cat, an emo/goth cool girl and the teacher.

The beauty with which the story deals with the complexities of mixed emotions, growing up, how along with Riley the dominant emotion Joy also grows up and realises the importance of sadness and do I detect a sense of growing partnership called melancholy in the offering? With Puberty and teen-age kicking I am guessing Fear, Anger and Disgust will form a partnership as well. This is what I loved the most about the movie it makes you think of where the story will go once the credits roll. Not necessarily a sequel but just something to think about when you walk out the theatre with a grin on your face.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan – A Review

Kabir Khan directs Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan in this year’s Eid release Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Critics often scoff at a Salman movie claiming their own irrelevance at a “bhai” movie due to his huge fan-following who will make a beeline for the cinema frothing at the mouth regardless of the absurdity of the plot and Salman’s Bhagwaan Dada inspired Dance moves.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is the story of Hum Saath Saath Hai’s strait-laced Prem meets Maine Pyaar Kiya’s hard-working-to-impress-the-girl’s-father Prem going on a Gaddar-like mission to reunite a mute 6-year old Pakistani girl with her parents. India Pakistan stories with a Kashmir angle are more often than not laced with political commentary that tends to end up being preachy and sermonizing about the need for peace and how we are the same people made to take opposing stances due to vested political interest. While it tends to tug at the heartstrings a little bit with some of the familiar tropes, Bajrangi Bhaijaan mostly steers clear of the Aman-ki-aasha stereotypes.

Salman khan is having a sort of renaissance where he acknowledges that he isn’t the most talented actor but still manages to infuse a sense of earnestness to his performance. He was phenomenally entertaining in Kick and here too he commits fully to his hunuman-bhakt, stoutly Hindu good for nothing but still a heart of gold do-gooder. Salman is good at being Salman and he makes no effort to put on a Haryanvi accent and I am thankful for that. He keeps the face-pulling to a minimum and his entry with the selfie song is whistle-worthy. Kareena Kapoor Khan is blissfully underused. And in the time she spends on screen she is not unbearable. Nawazuddin Siddiqui stars in a small but crucial role in the second half as Chand Nawab a small time freelancing reporter who is chasing a breaking story which will earn him some credibility with the news channels. But the real hero of the movie is Harshaali Malhotra the young girl who plays Shaahida/Munni. There is no doubt she is one of the cutest kids to ever grace the Bollywood stage, but she manages to lighten the mood and make Salman’s quirks seem charming instead of childish. The little girl has a screen presence that dwarfs even that of Bhai’s and that is no mean feat.

The cinematography by Aseem Mishra is spectacular. He manages to capture the beauty of Kashmir for what it is always thought to have been. This is not the harsh landscape of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider but reminiscent of RK’s Heena. In fact the open scene of Shaahida playing on the slopes of her village reminded me of Zeba Bakhtiyar’s introduction to the tunes of “Mein hoon khushrang heena…” Julius Packiam’s background score especially during the chase sequences is worthy of the Hollywood scores, but it does tend to overpower in certain scenes and a slight restraint would have worked wonders. Of the songs Selfie Le le is a guilty pleasure and a worth entry song to The Bhai of Bollywood but the one song that stayed with me is the Adnan Sami Qawwalli, Bhar do Jholi meri. Story writer Vijayendra Prasad is having quite a purple patch with both Baahubali and Bajrangi Bhaijaan having a successfully run at the box office. The story works well mostly with no gaping plot holes. A tighter edit in the second half would have made the movie land more of a punch. It does seem to drag on for a bit with the scenes with Om Puri and entirely unnecessary flab that could have and should have been cut.

Put your prejudice aside and go enjoy a well-crafted, and decently acted movie that manages to entertain like only Salman Khan knows how to. Here’s looking forward to next Eid for Sultan!

Bombay Velvet – A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Max : Fury Road – A Review

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

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

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

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

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

Piku – A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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