2015 A Year in Review

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

best

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

With the good comes the bad!

worst

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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Shaandaar – A Review

Vikas Bahl directs Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt in the Big Fat Indian Destination wedding capers Shaandaar. This is Vikas Bahl, the director of Queen, My top pick for 2014 over Boyhood, Gone Girl and Nightcrawler. Shahid Kapoor who last lived up to his true potential as the Shakespearean hero Hamlet in Haider and Alia Bhatt silenced critics in the surprise hit Highway. Take these 3 and put them in an Indian wedding scenario and there are bound to be fireworks! Right? WRONG!

The curse of Karan Johar strikes again! What we end up is an ill-conceived, badly written, under directed and choppily edited mess that you shouldn’t even poke with a 100 ft. pole. Stay as far away from this as you possibly can.

You have Sushma Seth the matriarch of the family who are quietly going bankrupt who tries to strike a business deal with the Fundwani’s by marrying off their plump daughter Isha to the 8 and ½ pack wielding himbo Robin. There is this plot of the Kamlaji and his daughter in law Geetu who try to keep feeding Isha calorie heavy food to keep making her fat, they promise to gift the groom gold equalling the weight of Isha and then they complain and make snide remarks at her ballooning weight. It makes no sense at all. And for Sanah Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur’s daughter both in the movie and in real life to make a debut in such an uncharitable way is just unacceptable. She is charming and funny and has the marks of being a decent actor (much like mom Supriya Pathak) but she is subjected to such horrible body shaming and name calling that it is unforgivable. More so because there is no redemption for her and no I cannot count the climax as redemption because by then you don’t care about the movie or its characters.

There is an absurd amount of animation in this movie, a frog called Ashok, thought clouds that are full Technicolor dream sequences, Pankaj Kapur’s dreams which he hands to his insomniac daughter Alia which is something straight out of harry potter with a 2-d animation on a piece of paper. There is a set of twins more horrifying than twins from the Kubrick classic The Shinning. Nothing in movie makes any sense whatsoever.

Indian weddings are ripe for storytelling. You can tell it from the point of view of the Barjatias where it is a never ending sequence of rituals and celebrations and it has its own ironic charm where everything is blinged out and amped up and basically sequins on steroids or it goes the deeply dysfunctional Monsoon wedding way where the family dynamics come to the fore. Heck even in Queen the opening sequence was that of a bride being left hanging by her groom right after the mehandi. Anyone who mocks Indian weddings is an incompetent fool who doesn’t know how to tell a compelling story.  But Shaandaar seems the least interested in anything that resembles coherence. Nothing in the movie makes sense and it is a shame because Shahid and Alia are beautiful to look at and come packed with charm and wit and they try helplessly to make a go of things but it is impossible when there is no story to be told.

Shaandaar is also massively let down by Amit Trivedi and his music. there is no memorable song and it seems like there was no effort made. the Hungama Hogaya from Queen which was such an iconic remix, Trivedi tries again here by trying to remixx old songs but the effect is pointless. The cinematography is actually quite lush and beautiful especially the shots of the dawn breaking over the british moors but it is just massively let down by nothing to tie the visuals together. The animation andCGI work which is quite good seems to do nothing to further the story and is sticks out like another tacked on unnecessary piece much like the animated dog and parrot from Mein Prem ki Diwani hun. in reality it almost seems like they looked at Mein Prem ki Diwani hun ( an abomination of a movie) and decided we are going to take all the same elements and show them how to make a good movie . they even had Pankaj Kapur in the mix. but unfortunately for them the results are just as atrocious.

Karan Johar needs to understand that as a producer he cannot be allowed to stamp his brand of glam onto the storytellers like Kashyap (Bombay velvet) and Bahl (Shaandaar). Throw your money at them and let them tell the story they want to tell. No one can do NRI-centric escapist fantasies like he can and if he has an itching to direct then stop being lazy and direct a freaking movie and don’t try to steamroll otherwise decent storytellers. This is an absolute and utter waste of time.

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.