Rangoon – A Review

Image result for rangoon movieVishal Bhardwaj directs Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan in Second World War based Rangoon. Bhardwaj and Kap00r teaming is always exciting and Bhardwaj extracted perhaps Saif Ali Khan’s best performance in Shakespeare’s Othello adaptation, Omkara. But it is Kangana Ranaut who is the one woman tour de force who carries the movie on her lissom shoulders.

 

Kangana plays a Bombay based action heroine Miss Julia, the star of Rusi Billimoria’s production house. Saif Ali Khan plays the Howard Hughes inspired Rusi Billimoria. Similar to the starlets of the west who perform for the soldiers fighting at the front, Miss Julia is whisked off to the Rangoon border to boost the morale of the soldiers at the request of the hindi-shayari spewing Major General Harding. Sergeant Nawab Mallik is entrusted with Miss Julia’s safety on the journey to Rangoon. Shahid Kapur plays the sergeant who in the stunning opening sequence was captured by the Japanese forces and held as a POW.

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What follows from there on is a weak story line which is compensated to a fair extent by Kangana’s brilliant acting, fantastic camera work and surreal virgin landscapes. There are parts where the CGI work shows, but in the rest of the scenes it is seamless. The songs are hummable and the performances on the songs elevate it several notches. In particular Bloody Hell, Tippa and Mere Piya Gaye England are fantastically crafted. Overall the production value and the attention to detail is commendable.

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Kangana is fantastic! She mixes a femme fatale like beauty with a vulnerability that demonstrates the full range of her repertoire. It is her innocent child like demeanour that makes her dancing in front of the Japanese soldiers for dear life believable and endearing. Every frame she is in, she fills it up with light and life. Her interaction with the japanese soldier they are holding as captive is one of the absolute highlights of the movie, remniscent of her interaction with Taka in Queen. Shahid Kapur is restrained and able in the supporting role to Kangana. Saif Ali Khan’s performance grows on you as you realise the kind of control he wields on Kangana and how subtly he plays it. Richard McCabe who plays Major General Harding hams it up to the nines and begins to grate on you after a while.

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While Vishal Bhardwaj does a fine job of recreating a bygone era and extracting the best from his actors, eventually it is the script that lags and slows up proceedings. The editing does the movie no favours either and as the end result the movie suffers. The INA sub-plot and the eventual climax seem more like an afterthought than the driving force.

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Go for the visuals and for Kangana’s mesmerizing turn as Miss Julia. When the history of Bollywood is written, Kangana will be touted in the same vein as Madhuri Dixits and Madhubalas, not only gorgeous but immensely talented and capable of carrying an entire movie on their own.  Mildly entertaining overall this one is a must watch only for Kangana and the beautiful landscapes.

 

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.

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!

Queen – A Review

Vikas Bahl directs Kangana Ranaut in Queen a flipped on its head Euro-trip movie which puts the female lead in all the same positions that were exclusively male bastions. Happy women’s day indeed.

Queen starts off with an upbeat “London Thumakda” by Amit Trivedi shot to show a Delhi household in the middle of wedding preparations. Right from the get go you know that this is going to be a fun ride. Everything feels real, organic almost in the same way as band baaja barat did, but more so. This is not a YRF-Johar wedding household this is very Delhi and very real and very relatable.  What follows is the main premise of the movie and it would be a crime to leak it because it ends up being a very fun turn of events – well not so much for Rani.  Well that is until she decides to go on her honeymoon by herself to fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing Paris.

Kangana plays Rani the eponymous Queen who goes from being a naïve home-science girl from Rajauli, Delhi to being the globetrotting backpacking Chick in the due course of the movie. Kangana lives and breathes Rani so much so that it is impossible to imagine this role to be played by anyone else. She is restrained while still being uninhibited and in that one scene where she gets drunk and goes off on a rant – in my books it ranks right up there with Mr. Bachchan’ drunken rant about liver problems. Yep she is THAT good. Not for once you would believe her to be putting on an act – Bahl and Kangana have both put in a lot of thought in terms of the smallest idiosyncrasies that define the quintessential first time “abroad” travelling naïve Indian girl. Take the insistence on hanging onto her purse for dear life whether it is while getting mugged or while doing a faux-strip tease where she stuffs her sweater in the purse. This is Kangana at her absolute best and honestly I would argue that it ranks right up there with one of the best female performances of the year when the year concludes.

Kangana is supported by an assortment of characters who she crosses paths with on her Euro trip – there is Lisa Haydon who plays Vijaya Lakshmi the Indian-French-Spanish hybrid who eases Rani into the Parisian way of life. Then there are the Troika of hostel mates Oleksander – the Russian artist, Taka the Japanese tourist and Tim the French Musician who help Rani forge the unlikeliest of Bromance while in Amsterdam. Rajkumar Rao plays Vijay – Kangana’s fiancé and is quite effective yet again. He is an actor who has a knack of picking superb roles without giving a second thought to the length of the role and always comes off as earnest.

Bahl packs a solid punch in the first half where the laughs come easy and you fall in love with Rani. The second half is where a little more thought would have made this movie perfect. The sub-plot with Rukhsar the red-light district exotic dancer was almost entirely unnecessary. Also in final adventure that Bahl puts Rani on I feel he tries to be too ambitious and it chips away a little bit the honesty with which he has built the whole thing up. But it is a minor complaint when compared to the enormously entertaining and entirely believable journey that Bahl takes Rani on. Also I would like to believe the “Alice in Wonderland” Sweatshirt that Bahl put Rani in wasnt a mere co-incidence and that is the level of detail that makes this a movie worth revisiting so that you can pour over the details and soak in its richness.

Watch this movie for the fantastic Kangana Ranaut. Watch this as it takes Euro Road Trip, Drunken street antics, and platonic bromance from the tightly held grasps of the male leads of Bollywood and puts in the closely guarded purse of Rani from Rajauli Delhi!