Reviews

Non reviews from non-critics!

Ep 9- Kal Ho Naa Ho- Khandaan Podcast

Welcome to Episode 9 of the Khandaan Podcast, where we turn our eagle eyes toward Kal Ho Na Ho (2003), starring Shah Rukh Khan at the height of his stardom. Commonly believed to be a remake of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s weepie Anand (1971), starring Rajesh Khanna at the height of his stardom, KHNH is a souped-up melodrama best remembered nostalgically than rewatched in the present according to podcast consensus.

This week we are joined by guest host and writer/journalist Anisha Jhaveri as Sujoy continues to chase success as influencer to the sundar, susheel, and thodi special. Asim, Amrita and Anisha initially approached KHNH with eagerness, especially since it beat out Tere Naam, an excruciating Salman Khan remake of an excruciating South Indian film, but their joy soon turned to ashes as they were forced to confront that their nostalgia was misplaced and this movie was basically a sporadically funny, racist, homophobic mess with extremely unfortunate costume design.

We recommend you read Molly Ringwald’s excellent essay on dealing with problematic faves in retrospect after listening to this episode.

Episode 9 also includes a short discussion of the short-lived Salman Khan sentencing saga and Asim’s inability to properly understand the visual appeal of SRK walking around aimlessly while dressed in white linen.

Note: The Khandaan podcast is an interactive experience! Please click below to vote for the next movie you think we should feature.

Our awesome theme song was created by mash up king Dj Shai Guy!

Follow him on Bombay Funkadelic Facebook page or twitter so you can attend his unforgettable Bollywood parties all around the UK as well as his awesome mash up mixes that are regularly featured on BBC Asia.

Ep 5- Chori Chori Chupke Chupke Review and Padmaavat Discussion

Episode 5 of the Khandaan Podcast finds co-hosts Asim, Sujoy, and Amrita discussing the first film voted to screen by their audience – 2001’s Salman Khan-starrer, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (CCCC).

First, however, we make a short foray into current cinema with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s extremely controversial Padmaavat, starring Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, and Ranveer Singh. We discuss the fan politics surrounding the film as well as the merits of the film itself. (Please excuse the sound of the occasional firework in between – Amrita’s neighbors were very excited about India becoming a republic.)

Going back to our Khandaan business, however, 2001 was a significant year for Hindi cinema. It saw the release of Farhan Akhtar’s debut directorial Dil Chahta Hai, featuring Aamir Khan, a seminal road trip movie that is often credited with changing the very language of modern Bollywood by employing an everyday conversational style. Karan Johar, whose multi-starrer behemoth Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (K3G), featuring Shahrukh Khan, released to massive box office success later that year, has famously said that he knew his movie was outdated the moment DCH released.

This was also the year Aamir guided Lagaan to the Oscars, India’s first nomination in the Best Foreign Film category in decades, laying the foundation for his reputation as the great savior of good Hindi cinema. A nearly four-hour period drama about weather conditions, taxes, and cricket, Lagaan was a sensation when it released but isn’t much referenced today within the modern Hindi cinematic ethos unlike DCH and K3G, which each left an enduring impact on desi pop culture for very different reasons.

Shahrukh also had two other releases that year – Asoka, the directorial debut of ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan, was a gorgeous-looking period drama about the eponymous emperor that tanked at the box office before becoming appointment TV in its serialized form; and the washout One 2 ka 4, a rare movie that features SRK as a cop.

The fact that CCCC, a subpar family drama about a rich couple who hire a hooker to carry their baby, was able to win the vote against such a stellar field of choices is a testament to Salman’s star power – and we discuss the issues that arise when a celebrity wields such power. Made at the height of Salman’s personal problems, which would shortly include a murder charge, CCCC was also a troubled production, allegedly made with mafia money.

Belying the nostalgia of several friends of this podcast, CCCC is also deeply problematic, dealing with supposedly progressive ideas in the most regressive way possible. Rani Mukherjee is horrendously dressed and is the catalyst for the main plot of the film, which is bizarre and offensive. Preity Zinta is effervescent and charming – and completely wasted as a hooker with a heart of gold and a fertile uterus. The supporting cast includes an OTT Amrish Puri as a (male) baby-obsessed grandfather, Farida Jalal as a (male) baby-obsessed mother-in-law, Dalip Tahil as a dad who just wants to get his son out of the country for some reason, Johnny Lever as Random Family-Adjacent Dude who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong, and Prem Chopra as a doctor willing to break every single professional ethic for the sake of friendship. Salman appears medicated.

We did not enjoy this movie but please do listen and laugh at our pain.

Note: The Khandaan podcast is an interactive experience! Please click below to vote for the next movie you think we should feature.

Podcast notes:

We refer to Sal Salam‘s excellent essay on BollyBrit which you can find here

Our awesome theme song was created by mash up king Dj Shai Guy!

Follow him on Bombay Funkadelic Facebook page or twitter so you can attend his unforgettable Bollywood parties all around the UK as well as his awesome mash up mixes that are regularly featured on BBC Asia.

You can listen/stream/download the episode below.

Or you can subscribe to our iTunes page and never miss a show

We would love it if you can rate or write us a small review on iTunes! Just click here.

 

Ep 232 Blade Runner 2049 Review

Denis Villeneuve has made enough better than decent films for Upod to give him his own episode, but what better opportunity than Blade Runner 2049 to get the ball rolling?!

Much has been made of the original and its many iterations and influence, so with 2017’s extension, we weigh in on:

Ryan Gosling and his acting
Harrison Ford’s presence
Oh my God this movie looks immense!
What’s with the run time?
What’s happening when critics can’t get enough of this movie but it’s lagging at the box office?!

You can find Shah Shahid‘s Blade Runner review on his blog by going here.

If you want to hear Asim talk more Bollywood, you can check out the Judwaa 2 Review on Bollywood is for Lovers by going here.

You can listen/stream/download the episode below.

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Ep 231 My Pure Land Review

British-Pakistani director Sarmad Masud’s t MY PURE LAND is this week’s Upodcast Review and it was also announced as Britain’s selection for submission to the Academy Award® in the category of Foreign Language Film .

Based on true events, My Pure Land has been described as a Pakistani western, to break it down for our lovely listener we are joined by Omar Ahmed (@Bressonian) who is a film teacher, PHD Researcher and currently curating the film festival Not Just Bollywood in Manchester

With quite a lot going on with the film, Upod will break down for you:
The photography / cinematography
The patriarchal society & corruption
Some fine performances
Hopes for the debut director
Its narrative structure & how the story plays out

We talk about the previous short movie 2 Dosas in the show which you can find here.

You can listen/stream/download the episode below.

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We would love it if you can rate or write us a small review on iTunes! Just click here.

 

Dennis Skinner: nature of the beast // A portrait of one of the UK’s most respected (and feared) MPs

Poster Portrait_Dennis Skinner Nature of the BeastAt a time when trust in politicians, in pretty much all countries is eroding to the point it may never return in a meaningful sense, it is refreshing to say the least, to be made aware of how politicians can and still serve the public good. What a fascinating life Dennis Skinner has led. And we are shown this life, through library footage of and interviews with not just the man himself, but his younger brothers (there are 5 in total) and those who’ve had the chance to meet him as constituents.

Unashamedly socialist, the “Beast of Bolsover” was raised in a political household – politics morning, noon and night – and in a typically working class environ; outside toilet, no hot running water, barely two pennies to rub together. Such was the extent of the poverty when growing up, he knew by age 4 or 5 that Santa didn’t exist; and not because he was told, but because he knew there wasn’t any money to buy the presents for Father Christmas to deliver.

The first part of the film is pretty much run of the mill, but really hits its stride in the last hour, where we leave his childhood behind and get to learn about his rise through politics to being elected MP for Bolsover. A fierce reputation gained at local council level, Denis Skinner then made the inevitable move to Westminster, representing the Labour Party in the constituency of Bolsover, where’s he’s been incumbent since 1971. Notable in a long list of achievements, his defeat of a ruinous Housing Bill, using the parliamentary tricks of the trade and confounding those who sought to push the bill through.

However what I took most away from this was more his steadfast belief in the good that socialism can bring to a postmodern, post-industrial world and doggedly sticking to his guns. One look at either series of House of Cards tells us that one’s own ideals are easily and readily compromised in the political sphere – neatly summed-up with the word of “patronage”. Consequently, he never took a ministerial position in a Labour government, despite being offered, and preferred to serve his constituents.  As much as I love his refusal to back down and his frankly hilarious “trolling” of the Queen, it’s his pride in representing the working class that will remain with me most.

I think, in conclusion, that there are two ways we can appreciate such a man and such a documentary. We can despair at how someone’s motivations, persona and ideals in fact don’t earn them the higher profile roles and in fact, only serve to reduce their public profile, in the case of TV appearances. Or, we can admire someone’s stand and gumption, their fighting a cause they believe in and being incorruptible in this pursuit.

Nature of the Beast is released September 8th and the trailer is below – do check it out!

https://www.dennisskinnerfilm.co.uk

The Vault: a missing John Carpenter

14004_JACKPOT_QUAD_AW.inddWhat a great little (under 90 minutes) movie this is! Is it one of these movies that will herald the rebirth of the long lost & last seen in the 90s, genre movie? I’m not so sure, but it fits the category indeed.

The loose story is a bank job gone wrong, set against the backstory of another bank job, from the same bank, also gone-wrong 30 odd years prior. Support comes from James Branco and Clifton Collins Jr, with the main goings-on and tension between Taryn Manning and Francesca Eastwood. So, without spoilers, what can you expect? Plenty of tension, scares, chills down the spine and a more thoughtful approach to the genre. Things aren’t as simple as a simple horror-heist movie – there are mysterious goings-on and clues along the way, if you can spot them. In hindsight once the reveal has been played-out, I realised what I’d missed and I’d love to watch The Vault again knowing what I now know. I think I’d like it even more.

Things I really liked about this movie are numerous – from its run-time (listeners will be familiar with my rants against 2.5 hour “epics” from the likes of Marvel Studios) through to James Franco’s shy bank manager, keen to get the bank robbers into the basement where the safe containing the most money is and the really creepy ghost-like ghouls with bags over their faces. I also love the fact that despite the short run-time, the audience still gets a good ending, right to the very bitter end and that you’re not asked to be frightened with obvious jump-scares that in time, wear off. It’s a well thought-out and put together movie offering something a bit more thoughtful than a lot of the wider horror genre offers.

If I were being harsh I’d say they could have upped the gore a bit, but there’s enough to go round come the end of an hour and a half, that’s for sure. Will it please die-hard horror fans? Possibly not, but nor will it please out and out heist movie fans either. It is however a great mash of the two genres and pretty original in that regard. Perhaps more than anything, The Vault reminded me of a movie that John Carpenter didn’t make in his hey-day. Praise indeed and worth 4/5.

 

Bridge: review

The debut feature from Amit Ranjan Biswas, Bridge, draws together a lot of big questions, into a relatively small setting.

Bridge

In summary, a simple story; two strangers, both at the end of their tether, encounter each other on a bridge while attempting to commit suicide.  We have no idea why and this is slowly revealed as the film unfolds.  Little by little, like layers of an onion being peeled back, we understand more about the two main characters, played by Soumitra Chatterjee and Sandhya Mridul.  Bridge is a very still film, shot in a very patient and tranquil way, with a lovely eye to photography.  And this establishes the platform for things such as: love, loss, mental illness, and more importantly, hope, love, happiness.  Forgetting his own suicide attempt, Soumitra’s widower, prevents a young woman from taking her own life and, upon taking her home with him, discovers there is far more to her story than simply wanting to kill herself.  Clearly traumatised, to the point she cannot walk properly, communicate or even eat, Soumitra repots the incident at the bridge to authorities, who show a very establishment reaction – log the incident, take names, locations, add it to the catalogue they’re already investigating and then send the woman to a hostel.

The reality of mental illness is such that there is no procedure that will magically make the problem go away – and this is reflected in Soumitra’s character, who it transpires is battling his own demons and depression, following the death of his wife and the loss of his daughter.  As we discover more about both of the stories, it’s the little things that make the big impacts – be that the starting to eat again, going to have a shave and a haircut, or simply changing the clothes worn.  Whilst not at all a difficult or depressing film to watch, I did fear for Mridul’s character when the clumsy attempts by the authorities nearly send her back over the edge again, undoing all of the hard work and perseverance of Soumitra and his staff.  I am sure this is all too common in cases of mental illness but thankfully in his instance we see common sense, love and patience rule the day.  However at this point we finally understand the true horror of her past and it is quite sobering indeed.

A lovely sense of serenity came over me at the end of Bridge and it was not at all saccharine, fitting in perfectly with the tone the film had already established.  There are a few minor things i had an issue with – the story of his daughter I never quite understood, for example – but throughout there are lovely touches such as the flute player, or the shots of birds in the city.  I think a western production would have zeroed in one one or two of the biggest themes and tried to explain them somehow, with a conclusion of sorts, but this is the joy of watching foreign films and seeing a different take on a universal theme.  Quite possibly not the film you think it is or could be, I recommend this for anyone looking to Asian cinema and wanting something outside the traditional Bollywood offering.

Ep 225: Okja Review Upodcast

This week’s episode the gang is talking about the new Netflix exclusive by Bong Joon Ho: Okja.  Notable for many reasons, we talk about:

Being vegetarian (or not)
Factory farming
Is a movie a movie if it doesn’t play in theaters?
Authority figures being figures of fun
The Cannes Palme d’Or
Bong Joon Ho’s other movies

And of course, give our thoughts overall on Okja, including Okja the uber-pig herself and the brilliant ensemble cast.

Okja is available on Netflix globally from today.

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Newton Review LIFF 2017

In director Amit Masurkar’s second feature, we land into the ever so old tussle between idealism and reality. Set in the backdrop of the world’s largest democratic election in India, with an extremely volatile political air, we see our protagonist Newton Kumar (Rajkummar Rao) trying to make sense of the senselessness, find peace in the chaos, resisting the oppression, and eventually submitting to it. Or did he? I don’t remember having met a person like Newton, the idealist who believes in doing things by the book, no matter what the circumstances be. In fact, Newton is an abberation in the times we live in. Newton is honest, to the point of being proud about it and showing it off, as his senior states.

Masurkar’s second feature couldn’t have been more different to his urban comedy debut (Sulemaani Keeda) about struggling filmmakers in the land of Bollywood. With Newton, Masurkar doesn’t limit his narrative to telling the obvious right from the obvious wrong. We see the world of Newton in the span of the very few days leading to election day. And then as he experiences through the people he meets – the army officer (Pankaj Tripathi), the tribal subordinate female chief (Anjali Patil), his associate clerk (Raghubir Yadav) and juniors, the junior Army officer, his own parents, and the burnt world of the tribals. Newton is embodied by Rao in a performance that doesn’t have dramatic lines to express, but you can smell the frustration of the straitjacketed administration that handicaps what would seem like his obvious dutiful behaviour.

There is a particular scene in Newton which beautifully captures the theme of Newton to me. When Newton is lessoned about the harsh reality of how insignificant an election is to the daily lives of the tribals in the village by his junior clerk, an aspiring writer who has submitted to the routine of a cozy government job, he asks Malko – are you also as Niraashavaadi (pessimistic) as them? She simply replies – No, I am Aadivaasi (tribal). Newton maybe idealistic and wants to carry out his duty, but he is also ignorant of the bigger picture. His willingness to go through any means to achieve his duty goal is short sighted. There is hardly anyone of the 76 tribal people eligible to vote who has a clue of the elections – the candidates representing them, or what they promise to be on their agenda. People are busy making ends meet, worrying about basic necessities of life. And when they are not doing that, they are worried about their homes not being burned down by either the army, or the Naxals. Where does the round idea of democracy fit in this irregularly shaped hole?

As Newton fast descends into a more insane and far fetched tale, we do not lose the sense of realism however. And it is Rajkummar Rao’s grounded performance that makes it so. Now here is a movie that is not simply about an obnoxious idealist that you might not completely agree or identify with. It is also a tale of the far from perfect world we live in – a world fragmented by political interests and corruption, where Newton is not an ideal employee, but almost an absurd lunatic. He is one who needs to be kept silenced and consoled by trophies of punctuation awards. The movie however is not mean spirited about any of its characters. Masurkar narrates the film in a tone balanced between drama and suspense, often juggling it with absolute ease, and there are some humorous moments as well. But the laughs often come at the cost of how harsh the truth is.

@9e3k

Director: Amit Masurkar
Starring: Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathy, Anjali Patil
Run time: 106 mins | Recommended Certificate: 12A
Language: Hindi with English Subtitles | Year: 2017 | Country: India

An award-winner at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2017, this delightful black comedy stars one of India’s top young character actors, Rajkummar Rao, as Newton, an everyday clerk who is selected for election duty in the conflict-ridden Indian state of Chhattisgarh. As local police and Maoists harass the locals and the voting process spirals out of control, the morally driven Newton becomes a reluctant hero in his zest to save the day.
24 JUNE | 18.10 | BFI SOUTHBANK
25 JUNE | 17.00 | CINEWORLD WEMBLEY

Check out more of Sujoy‘s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

For more about the London Indian Film Festival head over to their website or twitter feed!

Let us know what you thought of the review in the comment section below and do continue to check out Upodcast for more coverage of the LIFF!

EP 223: Baahubali 2 The Conclusion Review

This week we review Baahubali 2 The Conclusion also known as the most successful Indian movie every to be released. And for this mammoth task we have brought in the most knowledgeable and best online voices to dissect this breaker of records.

On ep 223 we are joined by Sujoy (aka @9e3k), Amrita Rajan (@amritaIQ) and Josh Hurtado (@HatefulJosh) and we discuss the following topics:

  • Confessions of a Hindi film watcher
  • A taste of things to come post- Baahubali
  • Is Baabubali a commercial blockbuster or a vindication for South Indian movie makers and audiences against the Hindi domination?
  • Does Baahubali sound the end of the Khan era?
  • Who owns the succes of a movie?
  • We discuss the music, performances and the most insane scenes in the movie…

Check out our interview with director SS Rajamouli by going here.

You can listen/stream/download the episode below.

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Marvel’s Iron Fist Review Upodcast

On this week’s episode we review the first 6 episodes of Marvel’s Iron Fist, the final Marvel Netflix series before The Defenders kick in to gear.

We’re joined by our friend and comic book connoisseur Akin Aworan to breakdown the story of this billionaire turned martial artist (or is the other way around)

We try to keep it spoiler free for the most part and give a pretty clear spoiler warning before we go into details.

We talk about:

  • Our ranking of Marvel Netflix shows and how Iron Fist fits within them
  • Is the critical reception of the show justified?
  • What works?
  • What really doesn’t!
  • Spoiler section
  • We form the Rosario Dawson appreciation society
  • What we hope for the final 7 episodes of the show

Marvel’s Iron Fist is now available on Netflix globally.


You can listen/stream/download the episode below.

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Ep 220 John Wick Chapter 2 Review Upodcast

Legendary hitman John Wick is forced back out of retirement by a former associate plotting to seize control of a shadowy international assassins guild. Bound by a blood oath to help him, John travels to Rome where he squares off against some of the world’s deadliest killers.

John Wick hits the theaters and Upodcast is ready to break the movie down. This week we are joined by Paresh from The Currysmugglers (check out their latest Chill episode out NOW).

We talk about:

  • Our expectations after the first John Wick
  • How John Wick stand up in the pantheon of action movies
  • What our favorite action set pieces were
  • Where we hope the franchise will go now.

You can listen/download/stream the episode below.

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Ep 216: Spectral Upodcast Review

We recorded this episode during the holidays but never got a chance to post it, so with this UPOD brings you a belated festive cheer!  Returning with a Santa’s sack of new TV to consider Ahmed talks about Hulu Original Shut Eye, Shooter on Netflix and the pilot of the McGyver reboot.( As usual Martin and Asim are generally ignorant about these shows).

Bringing this back to cinema Martin talks about John Carpenter and also the upcoming season of Martin Scorcese films at London’s BFI. (for more information about the Martin Scorcese season head over to the BFI website)

The main event however belongs to a Netflix original: Spectral, which we discuss at length and alsodebate the merits of providing original content via the “new” disruptive players in the marketplace.

Spectral is available on Netflix globally, and here’s the trailer if you have missed out:


Happy 2017!

You can listen/download/stream the episode below.

 

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Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Review Upodcast

After many troubles Ae Dil Hai Mushkil finally released this weekend and we’re joined by Anisha Jhaveri (@Jhavanis) writer for Indiewire, to talk about Karan Johar’s new movie starring the all star cast of Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Fawad Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

We talk about:

  • Our expectations walking into a Karan Johar movie
  • Some alternative theories on how to view the ADHM
  • Deal with some of the major criticism the movies has faced
  • Is Ranbir Kapoor’s shtick getting old?
  • Is Anushka Sharma a new version of Geet from Jab We Met?
  • The wardrobe of ADHM: sneakers and red pocket liners on a pea coat
  • Was Aishwarya’s role over sold in the promos?
  • Aishwarya and Anushka straight out a magazine cover
  • Cameo’s of ADHM

Anisha’s review of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil can be found on Indiewire or you can follow her on twitter.

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Doctor Strange Review Upodcast

This week we review Marvel’s Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams and Tilda Swinton directed by Scott Derickson.

From IMDB: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

Is the movie able to bring our hosts out of their superhero fatigue? Does Doctor Strange try something different to the origin story template?

You can listen/download/stream the episode and find out below:

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Queen Of Katwe Review Upodcast

This episode of Upodcast we discuss Mira Nair’s uplifting Disney produced story Queen of Katwe, starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi who came from the streets of rural Uganda to becoming an international chess champion.

We’re joined by our friend Akin Aworan to talk about how Mira Nair avoids the usual trappings of ” based on real life stories” how it compares to movies like Slumdog Millionaire and Million Dollar Arm, how awesome Lupita Nyong’o is and our usual tangents (a very lengthy Deadpool one).

Queen of Katwe is currently have a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes but only released in limited release.

You can check out more of Akin’s work on his website.

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Tu Mera Sunday LFF Review

Milind Dhaimade’s Tu Hai Mera Sunday is a charming little surprise of a movie. This story of five amiable friends in Mumbai trying to navigate a little football time for themselves isn’t really attempting to re-invent the wheel – and this allows the film to relax long enough to breathe some life into the characters that inhabit it, such as the rather mysterious figure of the old man suffering from dementia (Shiv Subramaniam, perfect) who becomes the catalyst for most of the events that drive the narrative.

None of these people are strangers to those familiar with the classic Hindi film “Bombay milieu” – there’s Jayesh (Jay Upadhyay, funny), the well-to-do Gujarati who wants to get away from his noisy, religious family that bores him well-nigh to madness; “Bawa” (Nakul Bhalla, affecting), the Parsi who is surrounded by the slowly crumbling ruins of his cultural past as he tries to comprehend his present; Domi (Vishal Malhotra, competent as ever), the Catholic mummy’s boy who could have been a musical success; Arjun (Barun Sobti, charming), the upper class, clean cut, “hero” type whom everybody loves but acknowledges is a slacker. However, this is a movie whose camera chooses to linger just that extra moment to capture the fly in one’s favorite sweetshop, so the last friend is Rashid (Avinash Tiwary, stellar), who wonders whether any of the girls who’re happy to go home with him at the end of a date would be equally happy to accept a proposal of marriage from a Muslim.

Tu Hai Mera Sunday is a movie that carries its liberality lightly and therefore feels more relatable and true in a way that the holier-than-thou lectures unleashed by hypocritical mainstream Bollywood stars are not. When one of the friends argues that the girl he likes is “not like the girls” Rashid takes home with him, he very matter-of-factly points out that there is nothing wrong with the girls he dates either. At another point, a man confesses that he chickened out of confessing his feelings because he wasn’t sure if he could provide the girl he loves with all the luxuries she wants out of life – only to have her retort that she is well able to get those material luxuries for herself and is simply looking for someone who cares for her (Shahana Goswami, total package as always). In fact, for a movie that’s all about five boys in need of a playground, this is a movie that embraces its women – from the happily married upper class woman obsessed with the perfection of her child to the middle class deserted wife striving to raise her deaf boys to the best of her ability to the woman navigating an inter-religious relationship.

Billed as a movie about creating space for oneself in the great urban sprawl that is Mumbai, Tu Hai Mera Sunday is equally a movie about living one’s life in a city where it is easier to live a routine. Dhaimade is a talent to watch.

Tu Hai Mera Sunday (You Are My Sunday) had it’s World Premiere at the  60th BFI London Film Festival, as part of the festival’s Love Gala on 15th- -16th October.

Review by Amrita Rajan. You can find more of her work on her blog or follow her on twitter!

Queen of Katwe LFF Review

Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe tells a traditional tale of the underdog who triumphs against insurmountable odds over the space of three acts but tells it so well and in such fresh context that it must be a hard heart indeed that can withstand its charm.

The true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga, a revelation), a young girl born in Katwe, the slum area of Kampala, Uganda, Queen of Katwe is based on the eponymous biography authored by ESPN writer Tim Crothers. Over the course of her journey, Phiona must battle illiteracy, gender bias, the grind and uncaring cycle of institutionalized poverty, self-doubt, class snobbery, and Mother Nature herself in order to realize her dream of becoming a chess master and lifting her family into prosperity. She does so further burdened by the urgency of her knowledge of her mother’s many sacrifices, the precarious state of her family’s existence, the bleakness of her future in the slum, and the rising expectations that Katwe (and, indeed, all of Uganda) itself begins to repose in her, their unlikely knight.

Supported by a cast of amazing child actors, who are each a delight as they embody the lives of real children who once struggled to understand the unfamiliar, elite world into which chess had thrust them, Queen of Katwe manages to steer clear of the many clichés that could have pulled it under. Nair’s eye doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of Katwe – be it the economic struggle for survival or the appalling living conditions – but it never descends into exoticization or poverty porn. The people in this movie confront their poverty in multiple ways in every frame but they are so well etched that they are not defined by their poverty. They fight and love and worry and struggle in a celebration of their humanity.

In fact, what struck me the most about these people is how good they are. Not in a saintly fashion but in an everyday way. The daughter who runs away from home and unashamedly becomes a prostitute to her mother’s scorn, comes to help her family in their time of need; the coach (David Oyellowo, what a charmer!) who accepts the death of his ambitions because he cannot abandon “his” children has a wife who would not allow him to choose financial safety over his heart’s calling; the illiterate mother (Lupita N’yongo, astonishing) who scraps her way through life will sacrifice her dearest possessions in order for her child to be able to read; the small son with a grievous wound will uncomplainingly face unimaginable pain because he understands this is the best his mother can do.

“A challenge is not a curse,” it says on the back of the beat-up minivan that takes the children to their chess tournaments, and it is that spirit that these people try to embody.

Queen of Katwe opens in the UK on the 21st October 2016.

Review by Amrita Rajan. You can find more of her work on her blog or follow her on twitter!

Mirzya Review Upodcast

Our best episodes are the ones where we see things completely differently. Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s adaptation of the Mirza Sahiban folktale is one such movie. Mirzya stars Harshvardhan Kapoor, Saiyami Kher (Check out our interview with her by clicking here), Art Malik and Om Puri and hits theaters today after it’s European premier at the London Film Festival.

We’re joined by the talented and always charming Shai Hussain to break down how this adaptation translates to the big screen, how both debutante actors perform  and if the overall world created is matches the legends of the folk tale.

Mirzya hits theaters this weekend and is having it’s European Premier at the London Film Festival.

You can listen/download/stream our episode below.

Or subscribe to iTunes and never miss a show!

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story Review

The big question going into Neeraj Pandey’s M.S. Dhoni: An Untold Story was – why? Why does it exist? Given the sheer number of articles, think pieces and news reports that come out annually on the Indian cricket captain, who found his feet just as India became a nation addicted to social media shenanigans and hysterical yellow journalism, what exactly had its creators found that compelled them to make this movie?

The movie opened on a hopeful note for this reviewer as Pandey brought in several threads from Dhoni’s life – not all of them untold, but perhaps not previously narrated in a cohesive whole. There was the tension of being an Indian child with unconventional tastes (he’d rather play football than cricket!); the burden of meeting parental expectations, particularly that of the strict but loving, hardworking, lower-middle class father who carries the unspecified weight of the world on his shoulders; that now-famous rewriting of conventional wisdom that allowed Indian cricket to shift focus to the untapped talent languishing in “B-tier towns”; the tragicomedy of dealing with Indian bureaucracy; falling in love at inconvenient times and dealing with loss; the politicking that comes with power and position, etc. Every item on a checklist had been ticked off.

In fact, there were so many possible narrative threads set up in the first half of the movie, it was quite a puzzle how they would all come together in the second. And the sad answer was that all this rich texture simply existed to bring our attention to different parts of Dhoni’s flawless character. He is benevolent to the bureaucrats who nearly destroyed his career! He remembers his old friends even though he has learned better grooming and improved his English! He even has a friend whose possible alcoholism only exists to underline the fact that Dhoni himself would never touch terrible, soul-destroying things like beer because his body is a temple dedicated to sport. The much-touted story of the woman he loved and lost fades into a larger theme of his being a man beholden to second chances from life.

Part of the problem lies in the performance turned in by Sushant Singh Rajput in the eponymous role. Singh is a fine actor whom we have seen perform to better advantage elsewhere – here, he plays Dhoni as next to catatonic when trying to portray him as a reserved man with a rich interior life and terrifying focus. Most of the blame, however, rests on the shoulders of Pandey as the man who wrote and directed this movie, for trying to shoehorn a living, breathing man into a template more familiar to him.

For M.S. Dhoni: An Untold Story ends up telling you a lot more about the man who made it than the man it seeks to portray. Pandey is clearly a man who wants to write thrillers that incorporate the tiny details of everyday life in the less shiny bits of India. The problem with this movie, however, is that it is a thriller in search of a thrill. It can’t be found in the first half of the movie where Dhoni casually bats his way to the top until a mincing/swaggering Yuvraj Singh introduces a bit of tension by outclassing not just him but his entire team of rustics while armed with a pair of headphones. The movie keeps telling the viewer that this is an unconventionally cerebral man who has felt the pain of struggle and loss, but from the very first frame where an intensely focused Dhoni walks out to the gladiator’s ring that Indians like to call a cricket field, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that this man is going to excel. His friends believe so strongly in him, they don’t think twice about bugging acquaintances to sponsor him; amazing opportunities continuously come his way without his ever having applied for them; when he’s stuck at a dead-end job, his boss encourages him to play truant and concentrate on his game. How is one supposed to feel sorry for this guy?

As for the emotional loss of his girlfriend, by trying to check that off the list, all Pandey manages to do is to turn her death into a teachable moment for Dhoni, shadowing his relationship with his future wife Sakshi. Both women exist without much context or personality, unlike the rest of Pandey’s dependable troupe of character actors who show up in this film to enact various roles such as cricket commentators and early mentors without making the kind of impact they did in earlier Pandey movies.

Finally, however, one does receive an answer as to why this movie was made – so that Indians may celebrate their 2011 World Cup once again. If you’re in the mood for a hagiography of India’s arguably most successful cricket captain, this movie is definitely for you. If you are looking for a competently made movie from a director whose movies have dependably entertained you in the past, like yours truly, you may walk out disappointed.

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story is in theaters now!

Review by Amrita Rajan. You can find more of her work on her blog or follow her on twitter!

Rahat Ali Khan at the O2 Concert Review

Dressed in a golden embroidered jacket, sitting center stage on a bar stool and accompanied by a simple back up band, the heir of Pakistan’s qawwali legacy, Rahat Ali Khan performed before a sold out crowd at the London O2 arena for a special concert marking the celebration of Pakistan’s independence. The entire day was filled with cultural events, food buskers and Bollywood dance lessons just outside the concert venue where a diverse crowd of South Asian fans (and quit a few celebrities) enthusiastically took to their seats.

The concert commenced with what Rahat dubbed his “Love Songs”. But in the tradition of qawwali the “Love” can’t be distinguished between the love for a person or the love for God. There were many instances during the almost 3-hour concert, where devotion and emotion were indistinguishable for the performer as well as for the audience.From the first notes onward, the concert was an unending high consisting of goose bumps, musical elation, uncontrollable smiles and utter joy.The O2 - Rahat-145

Between the sets, Rahat had a surprisingly jovial back and forth with his audience, his respect for them and his art shining through every eloquently worded syllable, illustrating the fact that the singer’s poetic nature is not confined to his songs but also how he treats the people around him.

Although his recent popularity is partly due to his numerous Hindi movie soundtrack collaborations, his unmistakable talent and skill honed through decades of training is always accompanied by the clarity of Rahat’s voice and the Sufi tradition that power his songs.

The crowd erupts in roars as soon as they recognize the initial notes of hits like “Aas Paas hai Khuda” (Anjaani Anjaana) or the mere mention of Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit, on who the song as “O Re Piya” (Aaja Nachle) was picturized. Both songs transcending the forgettable movies that they were in, becoming crowd favorites (as well as a personal favorites) and making us realize that whichever country we hail from, we share an on going obsession with Madhuri Dixit.

Closing the love block with the word “I have too many love songs” and the ever present smile, the musical maestro immediately kicks off his “Punjabi section” of the concert, or as Rahat told the crowd, the language in which you can call anyone, anything and they won’t mind it.

After a few more crowd pleasers like “Samjhawan” (Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhanya), Surili Ankhyon Wale (Veer), we head into the qawalli portion of the concert, which was essentially the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan tribute section, Rahat’s mentor and legendary uncle.

During the intermission  all the performers even changed in more traditional qawalli gear like purple kurta’s and elegant sherwaani’s taking their place in the classic formation behind tabla’s and harmoniums.

The Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs have decades old connect with the audience and it is the closest the London Arena got to the rapture and hypnotism of a true qawalli performance in the streets of Lahore or Delhi.

The lazy argument critics always make about Rahat is that he can’t be compared to Nusrat’s talent. (Try it out, go to any Indian restaurant, and start a conversation about Rahat Ali Khan when a song comes on the radio and you will hear “Nusrat wali bhaat nahi hai usme“)

To Rahat’s own admission, he understood early in his career and made the conscious decision to not only focus on classical qawalli but foray into more popular tunes, usually adapted and re-performed for the larger audience whereas his uncle had the popularity hoisted upon him, and he never really felt comfortable in this new modern medium of “music videos”. It is a decision to be applauded as it shows reverence for what has been but a determination to reach people through today’s medium.

But it is also in these songs that the comparison between the Rahat Ali Khan being in the shadow of his uncle becomes clear.  If you have heard the original recordings of Nusrat you realize how incomparable his talent and command of qawalli truly was. And although Rahat comes close, like listening to a great cover band, there is a silent agreement between audience and performer that this is the closest we are able to get to the original, and for most of us, that is already better than any other musical performance we have attended in our life times.

After the qawalli high, we return to some more Bollywood songs of recent years and somewhere, suddenly they seem much simpler and almost child like to the previous compositions. The energy drops a little but the audience is very happy to see their personal favorites ticked of the list and performed live.

Rahat’s commitment and sincerity never fails though, as he croons his personal favorite “Ae Khuda” from Rocky Handsome, a song I have gone back and revisited after the concert and have truly started appreciating for how it stands out compared to more the paint by number hits like Bodyguard’s “Teri Meri” or “Tere Mast Mast do Nain” from Dabangg.

The concert closes with Jiya Dhalak, his big introduction to the Bollywood audience and Mast Qalander, his uncle’s greatest hit.

Rahat Ali Khan sang for us with only a small intermission for 3 hours straight with power, sincerity, keeping in mind what the audience asked from him but giving them much more than they needed. He gave them the memory of an unforgettable experience with a true musical master of the likes that appears only once in a lifetime.

SHEKHAR KAPUR: A LIFE WITH ELIZABETH LIFF 2016 at the BFI

Although Shekhar Kapur was at the BFI Southbank to talk about making Elizabeth (surely this would have sat better at the London Film Festival than the London Indian Film Festival? #justsaying), I was not so secretly hoping that he would talk about Mr India, one of my all-time favourite films; pleasingly, he did. In fact, I could have listened to a whole talk on the film, such is my devotion to it and the gems he gave did not disappoint – that there was no bound script for the film, many insiders tried to dissuade him from making the film and explained to presenter Nick James (editor of Sight + Sound) how Sridevi’s Seema was based upon Lois Lane from Superman.

He also spoke of how producers felt Sridevi could not be presented as “sexy” (which was immediately disproved by a 10 second clip of that iconic song) or how Amrish Puri stated that he would never escape the shadow of being Mogambo. The most interesting insight was Shekhar talking about metaphorically narrating the film to his 14 year old self and basing his narrative on those reactions – which perhaps explains why it resonated with so many young children (including myself) at the time of release.

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The other film that was discussed at length was Bandit Queen which Shekhar called his most instinctive film to date. With no commercial pressure or investors to satisfy, he was able to make his interpretation of the events that led to Phoolan Devi’s incarceration. Surmising the essence as the film of being about gender inequality, he also spoke how he wanted to show “the difference between nakedness and nudity” when filming the graphic sexual violence depicted on screen that survived being cut by the ever snip happy censor board of India.

Then it was time to talk all things Elizabeth. After Bandit Queen brought Shekhar to Cannes, the initial offer of a “frock film” did not appeal. Confessing to Working Title producer Tim Bevan that he was bored of British period dramas, he stipulated he wanted to make the Trainspotting equivalent of a period piece – and to his surprise, Tim agreed. Interestingly, Shekhar also insisted on casting the then relatively unknown Australia actress Cate Blanchett despite every top British actress vying for the role and after threatening to leave the project, he was able to get his way. Drawing parallels between Elizabeth I and Indira Gandhi, he also revealed that Elizabeth was actually a trilogy and was waiting for Cate to age before making the third and final instalment, teasing the theme: “if you think you are divine, how do you face your own mortality?”

Finally, the floor was opened for questions which ranged from what it was like to work with Amrish Puri (a great deal of fun -Mogambo was based on a Shakespearian villain and Amrish was directed to perform as if he were scaring 12 year old children from a rural village) to whether Paani (Water) was still going to be made (it is – has not been shelved but Yashraj Films are no longer producing due to creative differences) to using women editors so that he can redress the gender balance in his cinema and ensure a male viewpoint does not dominate.

Wrapping up the talk, Shekhar elaborated on how films allow one to discover oneself in ways an individual is previously unaware of and the struggle of how to make something relevant to the self is where his source of creativity and inspiration lies. With a candid demeanour and lots of wisdom, Shekhar Kapur not only made for a fascinating speaker but also one of the highlights of LIFF 2016.

Bhushan Kumar is a film obsessed amateur fashionista who lives in London.You can read more from him at www.bogeyno2.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter: @bogeyno2

For more about the London Indian Film Festival head over to their website or twitter feed!

Let us know what you thought of the review in the comment section below and do continue to check out Upodcast for more coverage of the LIFF!

For The Love of a Man Review LIFF 2016

The devotion some fans have towards their favourite superstars can be witnessed on a daily basis on many a Twitter thread but as this insightful film shows, the dedication some Rajnikanth fans have for him not only dictates the course of their lives but also has the potential to influence the world’s largest democracy, commanding a loyalty and devotion that an average public figure can only dream of.

Divided into three chapters with an introduction and epilogue, we see three different perspectives – one of a businessman/aspiring politician, a lookalike (who cheekily confesses he is actually a Kamal Hassan fan) and a family man who thinks nothing of mortgaging his wife’s jewellery to pay for a fan event whilst his wife struggles to make ends meet and care for her family. All are united by Rajnikanth who plays a central part in their lives; whilst the superfans seek to emulate and do what they think their idol would want them to do, the lookalike finds Rajnikanth may hold the key to his own dreams being realised.

The authorial voice is objective throughout, ensuring it never judges and tries to present a balanced viewpoint; explaining how Rajnikanth reinvented the hero for Tamil cinema from aristocratic model citizens to the working class man who had empathy and charisma, the creation of the superstar stemmed from a political movement that wanted to move people away from religion as their primary source of inspiration and in the process created a behemoth.

At the same time, Rajnikanth fans form an impressive community that look out for one another and pay back to society; organising food for underprivileged children, raising money and installing water tanks in villages as well as regularly convening to think up marketing for upcoming Rajnikanth films and ensuring the films always make their money back, showing a philanthropic side to the world.

For The Love Of A Man reminded me a lot of Being Salman Khan, a documentary which looks at Salman fans who are similarly obsessed with their idol. Both are sympathetic and try hard to show how these fandoms are an outlet for groups of men who feel this is a platform to express their masculinity on and truly is a fascinating world that is not what it appears to be on first glance. Moving and compelling in turn, For The Love Of A Man is worth a watch, whether you are a fan of Rajnikanth or not.


Bhushan Kumar is a film obsessed amateur fashionista who lives in London.

You can read more from him at www.bogeyno2.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter: @bogeyno2

For more about the London Indian Film Festival head over to their website or twitter feed!

Let us know what you thought of the review in the comment section below and do continue to check out Upodcast for more coverage of the LIFF!

Song of Lahore Review LIFF 2016

Before we even start talking about Song of Lahore, do yourself a favour. Go and watch the following video.

This was the video that started it all. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken’s Song of Lahore is a documentary that chronicles the surprising journey of an ensemble of classically trained Pakistani musicians – from the troubled streets of Lahore, to the their moving performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York. It is moving, touching, and even educational as we the audience join the musicians of Sachal Studios as they embark on their quest for excellence.

For the first 20 odd minutes, I admittedly found myself struggling to find a focus in the material. Too many individuals were introduced into the narrative, without any context to explain to me why I should care about them. But before I could even begin to prematurely dismiss any story, I was hooked in by the sincerity in their music. It is by means of these different individual tales coming together cohesively in a flourishing moving music piece that the “Song of Lahore” blossoms into its own melody. Like the jazz music the documentary is centered on, Song of Lahore is about the unwavering spirit of these Lahore musicians coming together against all odds of oppression, religious fascism, and even tyranny that almost killed their existence.

Lahore has been one of the cultural landmarks of Pakistan, housing great musicians, artists, writers, poets and painters for thousands of years, until the late 70’s when Pakistan’s political atmosphere drastically shifted to become one of an Islamic republic. Since then, most art, particularly music, has been considered sinful. As a result, Pakistan’s once rich culture of art has diminished, as artists struggle to even make ends meet, and have resorted to doing other jobs. And yet, as Song of Lahore reminds us, the art hasn’t completely died – it has simply changed from being people’s careers to becoming a passionate hobby among those who are still trying hard to pass on their knowledge to the new generation, and even attracting new audiences by fusing traditional sounds with modern ones. Sachal Studios decides to drum up attention by posting a Youtube video playing Dave Brubeck’s Take Five with Pakistani instrumentation. The clip goes viral, and gives them the chance to perform in New York alongside Wynton Marsalis. Thus, the Sachal Jazz Ensemble is born.

Originally content to remain obscure bearers of the Pakistani musical heritage, this opportunity brings the Sachal Jazz Ensemble to gain worldwide attention and truly hit its stride. It is Sachal’s chance to finally find the recognition they’ve missed out on, and also shows how a love of music transcends any barrier. It is heart-warming to see these men who are clearly past their prime, with their withered faces and grey hair, and still smiling wide with a passion so infectiously inspiring. And at the same time it is heartbreaking to think of how they have been deprived of what could have been. Born into a family of musical geniuses, and in a broken nation that looks down upon art, it has not just deprived these musicians from their future; it has deprived their nation of endless possibilities and the world of music greats. As neighbouring India almost takes cultural freedom for granted and takes pride in its geniuses – be it Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, or even A.R. Rahman, Pakistan has only lost this opportunity to nurture its talented sons and daughters. As the Sachal gang walk down Times Square and enjoys street performers, one of them comments – “They are poor musicians, just like us”. It hit me hard.

And then we see them singing “Country Roads, Take Me Home” with New York’s infamous Naked Cowboy. And it instantly brought a smile on my face, and surprised me how musical unity can come through in the most unpredictable of places.

The final performance at the Lincoln Center acts as the culmination of all their struggles and their pure and unadulterated love for music. Even with all the tension of rehearsals and adapting a new genre of music, the performance is sensationally tremendous, impactful, and echoes with applause. But I found it a little too short, as I was left wanting for more (I was quite relieved to find out that some of the performances are available online on Youtube). The performance provokes tears of both pride and relief. I was left dazzled by these courageous seniors, and the melody stuck in my head. I felt spiritually refreshed and joyous, and with eyes full of tears. The optimism is consistent in Song of Lahore‘s overall tone and interest in perseverance. I cannot recommend this enough.

Song of Lahore will stir you to the core.

A Song of Lahore is part a double bill by South Asia’s only double Oscar winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Based in Karachi, her documentaries capture key social issues and great moments of contemporary Pakistani culture.

18 JULY | 18:30 | PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL

Check out more of Sujoy‘s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

For more about the London Indian Film Festival head over to their website or twitter feed!

Let us know what you thought of the review in the comment section below and do continue to check out Upodcast for more coverage of the LIFF!

Cinemawala Review LIFF 2016

It does sound ironic that the film industry across the world has chosen digital media over film as its preferred future, even though it’s named after it. Much has been already said about this deviation, and only a select few filmmakers in the world continue their struggle to keep the torch burning. Digital media makes it easier for films to be released in more screens simultaneously, with a cleaner print and an almost flawless archiving process. It also has single-handedly spelt the doom for the art of film projection and the traditional single screen cinema which takes pride in that “larger than life” quality of the big screen. It is the struggle of letting go of this attachment to the glorious past that Kaushik Ganguly’s Cinemawala tries to explore. It brilliantly juxtaposes this struggle with the strained relationship between a father and his son. The parallel drawn between the two – the older generation set in their own ways and strict moral code, and the successor who just wants validation and success by all means, is brought to life by some brilliant performances.

 

The father of the Das family – Pranabendu Das, played exceptionally well by veteran Bengali actor Paran Banerjee, runs his family fish whole seller business with his only son Prokash (Parambrata Chatterjee, Kahaani). He also owns a failed single screen cinema, Kamalini, named after his separated wife. His cinema has seen better days, and along with his old confidante Hari, he dwells in the glorious days of the past – the days of Uttam Kumar, the days of CINEMA as it was meant to be. Prokash on the other hand, is the opportunist son, who reluctantly helps his father with the family business, but is more keen on making a quick buck by selling pirated DVDs. While Das senior’s life revolves around movies of the past, he realises that his son has a similar obsession, albeit an illegal way to be a “Cinema wala”.


There is a certain quality of ache and loneliness in Ganguly’s framing of the character of Pranabendu. And Paran Bandopadhyay just slips into this character effortlessly. His eyes and droopy face portray a defeated old man, who is struggling to give up what he holds so dear. His embarrassment from his own blood is painful to watch, and his love for cinema is inspiring. Parambrata plays the greedy son Prokash quite well, and at times can be quite slimy. Prokash’s wife played by Sohini Sarkar supports the two leads seamlessly. And there is even some comic relief. But my favourite character, surprisingly is Hori – played by Arun Guhathakurta. His loyal demeanour towards Pranab from the start reel makes one feel very attached to him. I won’t go into spoilers – but there is a scene where Pranab has sell of his big projection machines. Hori is cleaning it before the new owners come to pick it up, and he asks Pranab if he can spend some time with it alone. He has been in that projection room since he was 23, and to me it felt like Hori considered these machines to be his daughters, and now it’s time for their ‘bidaai’. It is a heartbreaking scene and I am sure there won’t be a single dry eye at the cinema when you watch it.

 

With the cinema industry finding newer ways to distribute movies, battling piracy and illegal downloads, and single screens becoming a thing of the past, what choice does the older generation have than to let go. The swan song of the single screens has not yet been sung, but people continue to be besotted by the swanky new multiplexes. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. CinemaWala, in a not so subtle way, tries to pose this age old problem of accepting or resisting change. Go watch it, and give this piece of cinema a big hug. Cheers to the Golden Jubilee years!

Starring : Paran Bandopadhyay, Parambrata Chatterjee, Sohini Sarkar & Others
Presented by : Shrikant Mohta & Mahendra Soni.
Produced by : Shree Venkatesh Films
D.O.P : Soumik Halder
Art Direction: Dhananjoy Mondal.
Music & Background Score : Indraadip Dasgupta.
Edit : Subhajit Singha
Story, Screenplay & Direction : Kaushik Ganguly.

CinemaWala, directed by Kaushik Ganguly is playing at the London Indian Film Festival this weekend.

16 JULY | 18:00 | ICA

17 JULY | 18:00 | CINEWORLD WEMBLEY

Check out more of Sujoy‘s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

For more about the London Indian Film Festival head over to their website or twitter feed!

Let us know what you thought of the review in the comment section below and do continue to check out Upodcast for more coverage of the LIFF!

Sultan Review: Bhaicot, Feminism and Muslim Superheroes Upodcast

For this week’s major Bollywood release Sultan, directed by Ali Abbas Zafar and starring Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma, we are joined by Sujoy (@9e3k)  and Anisha (@jhavanis) to  break down a myriad of topics:

We gingerly discuss the topic of “Bhaicot”
The stand out supporting characters
Diversity and inclusion in Bollywood
We discuss Pradeep Menon’s article about Anushka’s feminism which you can find here
Ali Abbas Zafar and the stable of YRF directors
Sultan’s soundtrack
Spoiler section
What are hopes are for Dangal

You can listen/stream/download the episode below.

Or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and never miss a show.

 

Te3n Review Upodcast

The team of Sujoy Ghosh (this time as producer) , Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vidya Balan (switching roles as lead vs guest appearance)  that brought us one of the best Indian movies, Kahaani, of the last few years comes together again for Te3n.

The movie is set in Kolkatta and is a the remake of the Korean thriller Montage, but this time added with an amazing central performance by the living legend that is Amitabh Bachchan and directed by Rubhu Dasgupta.

Josh Hurtado from TwitchFilm joins us to break down if Te3n delivers on it’s promise, where it ranks in terms of recent Indian trillers as well as child abduction movies like Talaash and Ugly.

We keep the review spoiler free until the midway point, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, we warn you in advance where to stop listening.

Do also check out our interview with the talented and wonderful Vidya Balan by clicking here.

Or some of our other interviews by going to the interviews tab.

You can listen/stream/download the episode below.

Or subscribe to our iTunes feed and never miss a show

 

The Nice Guys Review Upodcast

Releasing this week in the UK, The Nice Guys stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a retro 70’s buddy action comedy like they used to make when Shai Hussain, our guest of this week, and I used to be a young men. Does Shane Black capture some of the magic of movies like Another 48 hours and Lethal Weapon?  Will the movie be able to find an audience squeezed between superhero franchises?

All that and more (like the guys that would make Shai question his sexuality) in this week’s episode of Upodcast.

Here’s the trailer and synopsis:

“The Nice Guys” takes place in 1970s Los Angeles, when down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Gosling) and hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe) must work together to solve the case of a missing girl and the seemingly unrelated death of a porn star. During their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest circles of power.”

In UK Cinemas June 3, 2016

You can find more of Shai’s awesome work on http://www.shaihussain.com/

You can listen/download/stream the episode below.

Or subscribe to iTunes and never miss a show!

 

Captain America Civil War Review Upodcast

The third installment in Marvel’s Captain America franchise, Civil War, pits our superheroes against each other. Will our host be on different teams when reviewing this movie?

We keep it spoiler free until our spoiler warning towards the end of the show. We also talk about the new Dr. Strange trailer and make some comparisions with Batman V Superman Dawn Of Justice which seems to have dealt with some similar topics.

Captain America: Civil War hits UK theaters tomorrow, Friday April 29!

Listen/Download/Stream the episode below.

Or subscribe to our iTunes feed and never miss a show!

Review: Airlift’s screenplay never takes off!

In one of the only emotional scenes of this movie, a very old Punjabi grandfather character (played wonderfully by the veteran Indian TV actor Arun Bali) speaks of the horrors of getting uprooted from what you once considered home, and being forced to leave everything behind. This scene is crucial in establishing why a certain Mr. Kohli (Kumud Mishra), a paper-pusher in the External Affairs Ministry Office, turns into one of the key figures in enabling the success of an impossible rescue mission. It is sad then, that Airlift, a movie based on true events of world’s largest civil evacuation could not evoke any further emotional hooks for me as a movie audience to remain invested or engaged. And yes, it even has a mini segment where we see the tricolour being hoisted and K.K. singing Vande Mataram. And even then, I did not participate in that moment of triumph. THAT is the biggest failure of the movie.

I am not for a single bit, attempting to undermine the real heroism of the true heroes who were involved in this rescue mission of 170,000+ Indians from war-torn Kuwait. I am in fact saying that a story as incredible as this deserves a much better movie than what it got in Airlift. It is a classic case of an ambitious director meeting an “out-of-their-league” story and getting overwhelmed by it. Writer-Director Raja Krishna Menon along with his team of writers have put up a screenplay which can be the equivalent of a college play on opening rehearsal day, with a very rough first draft of a scribble on a tissue paper acting as a script.

Airlift_Poster - INTERNATIONAL

 

The narrative tries to introduce several characters into the plot – from the ever so grouchy George Kutty (Prakash Belawadi – Madras Cafe, Talvar), the unnecessary Mr. Poonawala, and the somewhat simmering and confusing love story of Ibrahim (Purab Kohli – Rock On). But none of them ever have a sub plot as such. There is no distinct payback that we as audience get from these plot threads. The trunk of the story tree is the man who is front and centre in the poster – Akshay Kumar as Ranjit Katiyal. He is the Ship Captain who is reluctantly put in charge of the fate of 170,000+ Indians. And Akshay handles it as best as he can. But the screenplay again fails him.

In one of the scenes, Akshay’s wife played by Nimrat Kaur convinces him to go to the docks – because he is a negotiator. And there is hardly anything following that scene which highlights this very characteristic of Mr. Katiyal. On the other hand, there is a scene where Akshay goes gung-ho and attacks a bunch of check-point gunned security guards, and even manages to threaten them. It seemed like Katiyal was playing Akshay for that moment, and not the other way around. We are told of Rajiv Katiyal being a businessman through and through. But in the face of such hardships, there is hardly any conversation in the movie that is scripted as one that demanded special skills. The Iraqi General played by Inaamulhaq (Filmistan), is layered in poor and generic Middle Eastern accent, and is a character written as a caricature. And hence, there is no sense of threat or perhaps, we have all seen this done way better in many other movies and TV shows.

The female lead in the movie, Nimrat Kaur seemed like one of the stereotypical naggy Indian housewife for most of the movie. She’s pretty glammed up for a woman stuck in war-torn Kuwait. But I assume, the writers felt compelled to give her something more than just that. And by virtue of that, she gets one scene which showcases glimpses of the actor we liked so much in The Lunch Box.

But my biggest complaint from this movie, is that being titled Airlift, the movie spends a total of only 2 minutes speedily narrating about the mega-operation taken up by Air India who managed to “airlift” the 170,000+ Indians from Jordan. Perhaps, that wasn’t as exciting on paper as Akshay punching dudes in sandy desert. And let’s not even get started on that cringe-worthy remix of Khaled’s Didi .

This one is not even for a lazy matinee.

 

Airlift is directed by Raja Krishna Menon and stars Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur (Homeland, The Lunchbox).

The film releases internationally on on the 22nd of January in the UK.

You can find more of Sujoy’s work on BollyPop or OneKnightStands or Follow him on twitter on @9e3K.

 

 

 

In the heart of the sea: review

Coming to get you

Coming to get you

Revealing the true story and inspiration behind Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the new film from Ron Howard recounts the tale of the Essex, a whaling ship from New England. Based on a book by Nathaniel Philbrick, (in the heart of the sea: the tragedy of the whaleship Essex) the real-life maritime disaster is brought to life with a brilliant cast and a genuine attention to historical detail about life at sea on a whaler. I think it’s fair to say that there’s a cinematic elephant in the December room and that most other films will be in its shade. So what are you going to get from In The heart of the sea?

This is or ought to be, primarily about the dynamic between experienced first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and the privileged but ingenue captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Not much time is devoted to this which is a shame, however the depiction of life and conditions on board ship and the action shots – as much as can be deceived that way – more than compensate for this.

Once the tragedy to come becomes apparent, our attention is shifted towards the horrors of being lost at sea and tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual stresses the remaining crew are subjected to. Linking the pieces at sea, are scenes between Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) and Tom Nickserson (Brendan Gleeson). This provides the link between the book Moby Dick and the actual gruesome events: Nickerson is 30 years older, having survived the ordeal at sea, but has become an alcoholic in his efforts to cope with the utter trauma he has been put through: recounting (reluctantly) the events to Melville, is a catharsis and long overdue.

Ultimately strongest when the camera captures the bursts of action and when close to the sea, In the heart of the sea provides a great antidote to the previously mentioned sci-fi elephant in the room and although not Ron Howard’s best movie, has more than enough to keep viewers’ interest and moves forward with sufficient pace that I was never bored.

Spectre Review Upodcast

Bond is back business with the hotly anticipated SPECTRE, the latest in a long line of blockbusters in 2015.  Upodcasting casts its critical eye over the ghostly goings on of Daniel Craig, acting outside the control of British Secret Service for the first time since Timmy Dalton’s License to Kill way back when in 1989.

Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig reunite for the 4th instalment of the recent canon but have set themselves such a tough task to follow given the awesomeness of Skyfall.  Roles are recast and characters grow, but are we necessarily looking backwards or forwards in James Bond time-zone?  The various nods to Bonds gone-by lend a different feel to SPECTRE but do not detract from what is a fantastic film.  Naturally, at Upod, we don’t really agree on anything, so there is at least one dissenting voice in this podcast.

So, Daniel, if this really is your last outing as Britain’s most famous spy (that is terrible for undercover work of course), we salute you.  Bond has come a long way since Casino Royale (the noughties one) and in a short space of time and for that we thank you.  Perhaps the next most pressing question should indeed be, if it’s not be Daniel Craig next time, then who?

If you want to listen back to our entire Bond Retrospective, you can click here

You can listen/ stream/download the Spectre Review below

Or subscrbe to our feed in iTuned and never miss a show!

 

Narcos and Irrational Man Upodcast Review

This episode we talk about the new Woody Allen movie, an Irrational Man and the  Netflix Original Series, Narcos.

Of course, Woody isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Asim has a strange relationship with the director (OK, it’s not THAT strange) – preferring the films that don’t win critical approval to those that do.  Case in point:  Blue Jasmine = yes from Martin but no from Asim, Magic in the Moonlight = yes from Asim, but no from Martin.  We will set the record straight however

Narcos on the other hand, is an entirely different beast.  Drawing on the life and times of perhaps the world’s most infamous drug dealer – Pablo Escobar – of all time (he was so good, dealer just doesn’t do him justice) Narcos gives a pretty unsensationalist depiction of the rise and ultimately fall of the modern drug lord archetype.  Great use of library footage, mixed with original script and solid performances all round really gives the three of us something to talk about.

You can download/stream the episode below.

Or subscribe to iTunes and never miss a show!

 

On a completely seperate note:  check out our friend’s at Wandererz and their awesome Frenchtravel blog!

 

Haraamkhor (The Wretched) Review LIFF 2015

Haraamkhor is exactly the kind of film one hopes to see at a film festival – a film that pushes the envelope, has been made with care and attention and has lots of soul. Keeping a packed audience engaged throughout, the cosmos built by Haraamkhor instantly felt very real and three dimensional.

The story focuses on a love affair between a married teacher Shyam (Siddiqui) and his student Sandhya (Tripathi) as viewed by two of her mischevious male classmates Mintu and Kamal. Kamal is also madly in love with Sandhya and seeks Mintu’s advice on how to woo her. As the story takes an inevitable turn, the fall-out from it has varying consequences for all the characters.

Sharma guides the story with a steady hand so that the focus of the story remains on the relationship between the teacher and the student. What makes this seemingly familiar story so unique is the absence of any judgement so that the audience can make their own minds up – we see for ourselves how Shyam manipulates Sandhya as well as his wife and how his world falls apart when those around him don’t subscribe to his patriarchal thinking. I also loved the way in which the script manages to empathise with the anatagonists as well as the protagonist – we feel for Sandhya who is abandoned by her mother and is clearly in need of companionship but then we also find we cannot entirely hate Shyam (who on paper is incredibly unlikeable) and I also liked how the viewer mirrors Sandhya’s journey and learn to trust Sandhya’s future step mother (who turns out to be her saviour and friend she has needed all along).

It should be no surprise that Siddiqui turns in a stellar performance as Shyam – to play a paedophile sympathetically really demonstrates his strength as an actor and the way he can summon emotions almost at will and heighten or downplay any scene is simply amazing. Shweta Tripathi is excellent as Sandhya, giving her a vulnerability and innocence that immediately endears the viewer and makes one root for her throughout. The chemistry between Siddiqui and Tripathi is electric and really does elevate the script further. I absolutely loved Mohd Samad and Irfan Khan (not that one!) as Mintu and Kamal – both are refreshingly natural and play their roles with panache and gumption that entertains the audience but also gives the film some much needed balance from the darker moments of Haraamkhor (of which there are many). I also loved Shyam’s wife and Sandhya’s step mother who underplay their roles with skill and compassion.

Haraamkhor was without doubt my favourite film at the London Indian Film Festival 2015 – it is a film that manages to encapsulate a vast canvas without losing any of its quality or vision. I loved how it kept my attention throughout and I also have to praise the cinematography which really comes into its own in key scenes. Like all good independent Indian cinema, Haraam Khor has a universality to it so that it can be watched the world over and resonate across the board but also have local meaning too. I really hope this film gets a worldwide release as it will be loved not only by lovers of World Cinema but fans of great cinema too. Recommended.

Haraam Khor (The Wretched)

Directed by: Shlok Sharma

Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Shweta Tripathi, Mohd Samad, Irfan Khan

 

Bhushan Kumar is a Hindi film and fashion obsessed being living and working in London.

Follow Bhushan on Twitter: @bogeyno2

Blog: http://bogeyno2.wordpress.com/

Nirbashito Review LIFF 2015

Debutante director and lead actress Churni Ganguly’s semi-biographical take on controversial writer Taslima Nasrin is absolutely soul stirring. In Nirbashito (Banished), even though the protagonist has no name, and is always referred to as Lady, or Madam, the resemblance to Nasrin is unmistakable. The story circles around this controversial figure – a female writer who has caused a stir amongst the powers to be with her literary works that question the patriarchal society that is deeply rooted in religion. As a result, she has been deported from her residence in Kolkata, to the cold and dreary interiors of Sweden. Her exile away from home, and her struggle against the loneliness that comes to haunt her is what Nirbashito is all about.

On paper, that does sound like a very uncomfortable and miserable watch. But Churni Ganguly’s portrayal of “the Lady” turns it into an unforgettable and personal journey that makes for compelling drama. She conveys the complex layers of this real person effortlessly. The dark circles under her smokey eyes show the lethargy in her – the sort that you perhaps get after a strenuous long flight. In this case, she is tired of being dragged from port to port, of having no home to call her own, and with no clear sign of where it all ends. And the constant irritation of not being able to speak with someone in one’s own language or eat the food that one likes in a foreign land – her banishment punishes her every day in a new way. And yet, against all odds, she continues to channel her struggle and turn it into the most lyrical prose. Ganguly’s portrayal is absolutely note perfect.

And on the other side of the spectrum, are the ones who are handling “The Lady”s cat – Baaghini. Saswata Chatterjee (Kahaani, Bhooter Bhabishyat) plays the compassionate friend who is looking after the cat, and is also juggling his own daily drama – a pregnant wife who feels deprived, and the circus of bureaucracy. This parallel story line provides the much needed comedic relief in this otherwise bleak tale. Supported excellently by the ensemble cast that includes Kaushik Ganguly (Churni Ganguly’s husband in real life), Raima Sen, and Martin Wallstorm (Mr. Robot), Nirbashito received the National Award for the Best Bengali Film, and much deservingly so.

Nirbashito’s empty wide shots of nothingness conveys the deafening silence of loneliness, and leaves you feeling the pain that one goes through when freedom of choice, and speech are snatched away from you. Amongst all the human drama, it highlights one of the most burning topics of today. The Lady says to her friend, “It is a fight between the pen and the sword. And the sword always wins”. Truer words were never spoken.

Check out more of Sujoy’s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

Follow Sujoy on Twitter: @9e3k

Nirbashito still has a screening on the 22nd of July at the London Indian Film Festival.

Head over to http://londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/programme.htm for more info and tickets.

 

Review The Master: Shyam Benegal LIFF 2015

Most fans of popular Hindi cinema will be familiar with films like Zubeidaa (2001) and Welcome To Saajanpur (2008) but as The Master: Shyam Benegal shows, Bengal has a formidable body of work before mainstream success; films that won many National Awards, defied convention and were very much ahead of their time – so much so, that today’s cinema will be forever indebted to Benegal’s contribution.

Unfortunately then, The Master has quite a jarring rhythm to it so that the viewer never really gets settled in and feels quite clumsy at times. I also found my attention wandering at one point and at one point, was not sure why we had certain contributors on screen who didn’t offer anything different from what Benegal has already told us. Although the affection Mohammed has for Benegal and his films comes across quite well, I do wish the editing had been more stringent and there was a greater organisation to the material rather than a brisk chronological stroll through Benegal’s filmography.

Thankfully, the subject matter here is fascinating and just about overshadows the flaws- Benegal is a very likeable person who comes across really well as a passionate creative who has conviction in his vision and one gets the sense that his pursuit in making his films really was instrumental in forming independent Indian cinema as we know it today. I felt all of his films could easily fill documentaries of their own, not only because they are rooted in various social causes but also the amazing roster of talent such as Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseerudin Shah that his films boast.

Out of all the contributors interviewed for The Master, I thought Shabana Azmi’s anecdotes were quite candid and offered a real insight into what it is like to work with Benegal whilst Manoj Bajpayee’s recounting of how Karisma Kapoor asked him not to kiss her on the lips in Zubeidaa is an awkward encounter, especially when Karisma manages to avoid elaborating on the subject. As Neena Gupta points out, most actresses are quite possessive of Benegal after working with him and it is not hard to see why – his films truly offer actresses a wonderful showcase for their talents.

If you have never heard of Shyam Benegal or are unfamiliar with his early work, The Master offers a a guide of sorts of which ones to watch (I had seen Ankur (1974) prior to this and cannot wait to watch Mandi, Nishant and Bhumika as well as a rewatch of Zubeidaa). Hopefully this won’t be the only documentary made on Benegal but it certainly is a starting point to learn more about one of India’s most prolific independent filmmakers.

Directed by: Khalid Mohammed

Narrated by: Naseerudin Shah

The Master: Shyam Benegal played at the London Indian Film Festival.

For more information about the festival and it’s programme, head over to: http://londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/programme.htm

Bhushan Kumar is a Hindi film and fashion obsessed being living and working in London.

Follow Bhushan on Twitter: @bogeyno2

Blog: http://bogeyno2.wordpress.com/

 

 

Ant Man Review

AntMan oh AntMan! Upodcasting has been looking forward to this one for so long now that the sense of anticlimax was a real and present danger.  It proved to be unfounded in the final analysis but the possible overexposure through trailer had me a bit rattled.
But first a bit of background. AntMan is seemingly an odd choice given the range of characters within the Marvel Charcater Universe (MCU) and a typical reaction from friends has been: AntMan, why? Can’t they pick a better superhero? Or even, AntMan, who’s he? The latter certainly being my reaction upon learning it would be the latest addition.  AntMan has also had a colourful and somewhat long lead in with initial director and writer Edgar Wright denying all involvement for ages only to come clean and then write what has been described as the best superhero script ever (Joss Whedon) before finally he and cowriter Joe Cornish fell foul of presumably internal politics and studio machinations. We can only ponder.
So what remains? Peyton Reed with a strong history of RomComs behind him wasn’t an obvious choice as replacement director, but nonetheless has delivered on the promise shown by the Brits. Is this due to the somewhat standardised look of Marvel films these days? Quite possibly – and maybe whomever could have stood in would benefit from this.  Minor quibbles over the director aside, the casting is inspired: Michael Douglas a perfect Hank Pim and showing some real thirst for a left field role given his prior – it just seems to fit, rolling an air of a once successful superhero, scientist and businessman all into one. Corey Stoll (House of Cards) likewise is a great baddie, although I would have preferred to know more about what has made him so obsessed and ever so slightly deranged.
This raises another point regarding Marvel at the moment, namely their seeming insistence on the non-aware audience members simply accepting, without explanation a few key things.  In this instance, the Pim particle, in others, the Infinity Stones or Vibranium. Are they genuinely important or should we just let them wash over us, McGuffin style, in the expectation that there will be some kind of explanation or that the story will outweigh the “whaaaat is this?”.
Back to the strong suits though and up there with some of the best casting ever, is Paul Rudd as the eponymous hero. Taking all the humour, charm and pathos from and number of roles he is on top, top form here. Indiana Jones can only ever be played by Harrison Ford and likewise AntMan MUST now only ever be played by Paul Rudd. End of.
What he is able to do is take a pretty weak superhero (what? You’re an ant?!) and make it rock. Whilst the movie does take a while to warm up, once it hits its stride it becomes unstoppable. It is certainly on the lighter side of the MCU but this is something I welcome wholeheartedly. The trick they’ve pulled off here is to reverse the trend to the big – big explosions, big CGI, big super heroes and turn it on its head. Small truly is beautiful and it’s a delight after Age of Ultron or even Mad Max for example, to see how powerful in the figurative and literal sense, the impact of tiny beings can be.
For those who aren’t into the comics or struggle to keep pace with the wider MCU AntMan is perfect – light along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy but also pretty much standalone as you do not need to know about Hydra, or Thanos or numerous other properties. In fact those other properties are more or less mocked: Hank Pim’s disdain for “Iron Man” and his broken relationship with Howard Stark.
Whilst not my absolute favourite of the Marvels so far, this is however a superb addition and once you have this origins story under your belt, you will be wanting more. At Upod we have surprisingly declared this unanimously our 4th favourite Marvel but we do differ on the order of the first three. Put it this way, I will recommend my parents watch this, but I’d not have said the same about any others apart from perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy.
Watch it, get stuck in, enjoy the tiny little ride for all its powerful punches and try to tell me you don’t want more. A cracking way to kickoff the summer season of blockbusters…a thrilling antiblockbuster bar none.
Ant Man is currently in UK theaters.

Umrika Review: Opening Night LIFF 2015

The yearly London Indian Film Festival started with the usual festivities and since we don’t take half measures here at Upodcast. We decided to give you 2 different perspectives by our good buddies Bhushan Kumar (@bogeyno2) and Sujoy Singa (@9e3k) on how the screening of Umrika went down.

Umrika

Bhushan:

Directed by: Prashant Nair

Starring:, Suraj Sharma, Tony Revolori, Smita Tambe, Adil Hussain, Pramod Pathak, Rajesh Tailang, Amit Sial, Sauraseni Maitra, Prateik Babbar.

In the Q+A following the screening of Umrika at the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF), director Prashant Nair explained how he wanted Umrika to reflect the character of rural India – as Nair rightly pointed out, when it comes to depicting village life on the silver screen, poverty and hardship are often the facets we see presented in Indian cinema by both mainstream and independent films. So Umrika is definitely unique in consciously trying to explore a rather sombre tale with a touch of lightness and humour.

Set in the 80’s, Ramakant (Sharma) idolises his older brother Udai (Babbar) who has left the village and is living in America (or ‘Umrica’ as it is often pronounced in the sub-continent). At first, Udai does not make contact with his family and the village but when he does start sending letters, Rama is fascinated by the ‘exotic’ American culture that his brother is living in. But as time goes on, it emerges that the postman of the village has been forging the letters to pacify Udai and Rama’s anxious mother. As Rama takes over the letter writing duty, he decides to track down his brother and find out the truth for his own peace of mind.

Umrika touches on so many issues at the same time that it could easily collapse under the weight of its own ambition but Nair multitasks with efficiency, managing the different strands of the story with care and clarity. Whether it is a timeless issue (sibling rivalry) or topical (immigration), Umrika is a film about both these things and a lot more all at once. The emotional core of the film is Udai and Rama’s mother who may not have much screen time but looms large in every frame, driving the story forward and representing a strange paradigm – even though she cannot bear to live without Udai, she seems content to send him miles away to a foreign land by himself and live vicariously through his letters, not realising the effect her behaviour has on Rama.

Performance wise, Sharma shines as Rama, depicting the character’s journey of self-discovery with a confidence and poise that carries the film well. Hussein is suitably menacing as the smuggler whilst Pathak and Tailang play their supporting roles of the father and postman respectively with conviction. The two biggest surprises for me were Revolori, an American actor who plays Rama’s best friend Lalu – whether it was his body language or expressions or dialogue delivery, I had no idea it was an American was playing a rural Indian village boy. The other standout is Tambe as the mother who effortlessly manages to show a gamut of emotions from grief to joy and whose actions and expressions remain in the mind long after the film ends.

Umrika is exactly the kind of film a festival like LIFF should be championing and deserves a thump on the back for bringing such great cinema to the world stage. Thematically, Umrika reminded me of another film festival hit done good, The Lunchbox which also had universal themes and forged an instant and intelligent connection to its audience. Having said that, Umrika marks out Nair as a director to look out for and the film is certainly worth watching a few times to enjoy all the nuances and quirks weaved into the story. Highly recommended.

 

Sujoy:

Director Prashant Nair’s “Umrika” seems to borrow from the many Bollywood movies of the 80’s – of lost brothers, of rural family values, of naive ambitions, the stark darkness of city life, and the yearning for loved ones. Rama (Suraj Sharma) is a young man who lives under the shadow of the elder son of the family, Udai (Prateik Babbar). Udai has gone off to Umrika for work, in search of a more prosperous life. It is Udai’s letters that tell the tale of a land so exotic and mystical. After a period, when the letters stop coming, Rama’s mother becomes depressed, and distances herself from her family. The letters pick up again, but when Rama discovers the secret behind these letters, he has to leave his family behind to unravel the mystery behind the American dream. Revealing anything more than this basic description would mean to delve into spoiler territory. But in my humble opinion, Umrika is not about the build up, or the culmination of its protagonist. It is perhaps about the many journeys that its array of characters take.
It does seem like a very conscious choice on the part of the director to choose name-dropping familiar historical names and events and references to songs and sights of that era. And it did help in making one believe in the world that surrounds these characters.  From Amitabh Bachchan’s infamous accident on the sets of Coolie to national events such as the  Emergency, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assasination, and even the Challenger space shuttle crash, Umrika weaves these historic events seamlessly into the story, hinting at the era and its eccentricities. These were simpler times, and also times when the only image of America are ones that are coloured in shades of brightness and prosperity.
It is however interesting to see how American culture and lifestyle, which is so much taken for granted, is presented from the eyes of a complete outsider – a young villager from India, who has only read about it from newspaper cuttings. What irks me a little however, is that how our protagonist Rama, in an era of no Google or Wikipedia, and with limited education, has been able to dig out so much information about America – from food, to festivals, to even the Cold War.
The cinematography by Petra Koner is absolutely on the money. The bright hues of Jitvapur’s scorching summer have been presented in stark contrast to the decayed blue indoors of the city. Because in the city, the Sun of hope never seems to rise. There’s despair in every move, with everyone filled with greed and deceit. Koner’s camera narrates a tale of its own.
The acting talent here is in top form – Be it Suraj Sharma, who gets to show off his acting chops a bit more after Life of Pi, and does not disappoint at all. He does look like MTV VJ Rannvijay Singh, which made me wonder what if Rannvijay would have played Udai’s role, instead of the mostly forgettable Prateik Babbar. Rama’s friend Lalu, played by Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel) is an unconventional casting choice. And yet, it works. Even though the dubbing can seem a bit jarring at times, Revolori’s relentless loyalty to his chidhood mate is reminiscent of the many onscreen Bollywood bromances.
And like most loved Bollywood movies, this one also has a Maa. And thank God for that. Because, it is the Maa who provides the emotional hook to the story. Smita Tambe has one of the most expressive eyes that you will see onscreen all year (perhaps, second to Ramya Krishnan in Baahubali). Her love for her son, anguish, and sorrow makes up for all the pacing flaws and almost left me gasping for a breath.
With Umrika, Nair attempts to bring in a lot of elements and promises under one roof – the horror tales of illegal immigration, the struggle of life in the rat race of the city, and yet, a beacon of hope that shines bright to keep things moving on. Umrika shines.
Rating: 3 Hot dogs out of 5.

 

Bhushan Kumar is a Hindi film and fashion obsessed being living and working in London.

Follow Bhushan on Twitter: @bogeyno2

Blog: http://bogeyno2.wordpress.com/

Check out more of Sujoy’s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

Follow Sujoy on Twitter: @9e3k

The Overnight: review

MV5BMTQ0MjQ3MTY3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjg2MjQ5NTE@._V1_SX214_AL_This is the latest film by director Patrick Brice and executive produced by Jay and Mark Duplass and Adam Scott.  Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) have recently moved to LA with their son RJ.  Looking to make new friends, they bump into Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) at the local playground, who invites them over for dinner with his wife Charlotte (Judith Godreche).  The overnight of the film’s title is then what ensues.

There is a lot of comedy in this film!  Kicking-off with an early morning bedroom scene the laughs keep coming consistently, only slowing down near the middle when things get a bit more serious and dark for a short while.  The jokes and humour in The Overnight help join up some adult themes and in a good way.  Making light of marital crises that can befall couples and what they will do to try and find a way out, the L.A. / California lifestyle and Europeans with relaxed liberal values are all targets for fun among many others.

Aside from the out and out humour in the film, what else is there on offer?  Well, both male and female insecurities are addressed – boobs, penises, pride and envy – and this, after a bit of round the houses (almost literally) culminates in quite possibly one of the most awkward 4-somes / more-somes you’re likely to see.  It is always good to see Jason Schwartzman in anything and I think he steals the show here, in addition to Taylor Schilling who is perfect as the slightly reserved / prudish wife not knowing what to do when things get a bit steamy.

The Overnight is really lead by Kurt and Alex with both Emily and Charlotte as willing and unwilling accomplices.  Certainly the men’s problems are most prominent, although this is not to say that the women don’t make any contributions as they most certainly do, especially Charlotte and her boobs.  There were times during the film I thought it would fall into the obvious, but I’m happy to report my attempts to second-guess things failed.  It is also a very short film by contemporary norms, hitting a very trim 79 minutes, something I think really works to its advantage.  Given the story takes place over around 8 hours or so in real life, the story is moved along at a great pace and this keeps things tight.

Genuinely one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long long time, The Overnight is in cinemas this Friday, June 26th.   Check out the trailer below!

San Andreas: review

Don't worry, he's on his way

Don’t worry, he’s on his way

San Andreas is the new film starring Dwayne Johnson and imagines what would happen if the biggest earthquake ever recorded struck in California, devastating Los Angeles, before travelling along the San Andreas faultline to wreak destruction on San Francisco.  It is one of many disaster movies that we’ve all watched over the years, so it’s quite a crowded space that San Andreas is joining.  So how does this movie stack-up and what can you expect?  Playing Ray, a helicopter pilot and search and rescue worker, Dwayne Johnson has to make his way from LA to San Francisco with his estranged wife (played by Carla Gugino) in order to rescue their daughter Blake.

I’ll kick things off by saying how much I liked this movie!  With there being a lot of choice in the disaster-film niche, it’s important that there is something to grab the viewer and for it to become more than just two hours of CGI.  Personally, I need more than action set-pieces; I need to get behind the lead characters and for their story to be what keeps my interest.  Happily in San Andreas, this is delivered.  In fact the film almost operates three distinct stories: Paul Giamatti as the seismologist who discovers the true nature of the quakes, Blake and her own journey to find a safe place for Ray to save her and finally, her parents’ journey to find their daughter.  these are interwoven quite nicely indeed and in Dwayne Johnson, there is someone that we hang on to as the film progresses.  There is also an appearance by Iaon Gruffudd as the step-father to Blake, but as amusing as it is, we can count this role as that of the pantomime villain.

After the opening which I thought was a weak spot in the movie, things really get going with a scene at the Hoover dam – which doesn’t last long!  It is amazing to see the Hoover dam busting and breaking and this sets the scene for greater things to come.  As Los Angeles is levelled there are some genuinely tense moments with Ray rescuing Emma from the top of a collapsing building.  We then switch between Blake and Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) as the action slows down for a breather.  But this in no way slows the feel of movie which marches forward at a great pace, never letting the viewer get bored at all.  In particular and as much as I like Paul Giamatti in anything, it is good that his character is pretty much sidelined.  Not because he’s terrible but because his character isn’t meant to be the hero and possesses no qualifications to be the man who saves the day.  This is a frequent problem in movies of this kind – like asking a teacher to grab a gun, shoot some terrorists and rescue the hostages – and San Andreas is much the better for not doing this.

That is not to say there aren’t things I don’t like: some lines are clunky and some events are almost too crazy or not quite that believable.  I am also not sure what the point of a blink and you miss it cameo appearance from Kylie Minogue is, but hey-ho, always good to Charlene Ramsey from Neighbours in something other than a music video.  That said, if you place your faith in the story and characters, then you will be rewarded with a great movie.  It’s very easy to make these things over-long so a running time of 114 minutes feels like a breeze and adds to the pacy feel.  There are some jaw-dropping scenes of destruction and they’re all highly watchable with a tremendous perspective given to the viewer; nothing complicated and you can always understand what is happening and for why.  Sit back, eat the popcorn, guzzle the soda and enjoy a great movie which doesn’t seek to do anything other than entertain.  Highly watchable but on the proviso that you may not want to see another building collapse on-screen for quite a while!

San Andreas opens in cinemas today and you can get a taste of the awesome from the trailer below.

 

 

Broken Horses: review

MV5BMTEyODkzODExMzReQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDU0NjM2NzQx._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_In cinemas today, Broken Horses is Vinod Chopra‘s debut Hollywood feature and makes him the first Indian filmmaker to write, produce and direct a Hollywood film  Set in the shadows of the US-Mexico border gang wars, Broken Horses is an epic thriller about the bonds of brotherhood, the laws of loyalty, and the futility of violence.

Having left town as a child after the death of his father, young music prodigy, Jacob “Jakey” Heckum (Anton Yelchin), returns to his desolate hometown after years only to discover that Buddy (Chris Marquette), the child-like elder brother he left behind, now works for a notorious drug gang. The gang’s ruthless boss Julius Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio) has twisted Buddy’s simple mind and manipulated him into a killer…a surrogate son who blindly does as he is told.  Jacob is unable to convince Buddy to leave his new fraternity. Drowned in guilt for having abandoned him, Jacob realises the only way to save Buddy is from the inside out.

After a somewhat brutal opening that caught me by surprise, the movie quickly settles down into the present day and we see really how different the brothers lives have become.  With this established, the rest of Broken Horses is really about the local gangster and how, despite how he has manipulated Buddy, he is in fact scared of him, knowing he is weaker without him onside and that he cannot allow him to leave the gang.  The three main characters are really well played and it is always a pleasure to see Vincent D’Onofrio in anything.  It could have been very tempting and easy to get all of them chewing-up the scenery and bringing far too much to the film so I enjoyed the restraint.  The only thing I’d pick at here is using a Spanish actress (Maria Valverde, playing Jakey’s finance) with an obviously Spanish accent, to play an Italian.

Broken HorsesAs the story unfolds, we get to see some familiar Western tropes such as the matches, the desolate churches in the middle of the desert and some stunning vistas.  It really is a beautifully shot movie and looks and feels like a mix of the kind of emotional stories I’ve watched from Indian cinema and a modern-day Western.  Presciently, it also incorporates the unfortunate situation Mexico finds itself in at the moment regarding corruption, drug and gang violence.  At a modest 100 minutes, strangely for me, I felt I could have done with more movie.  Not that I was confused or couldn’t follow the plot, but a bit more about Julius Hench wouldn’t have gone amiss – elaborating on his fear of fire, his dead family and his relationship with a corrupt Mexican arms dealer all would have added to an already sterling film.

As someone who doesn’t know much at all about films coming out of India, I was so glad to see my first Vinod Chopra movie.  And it has made me really want to see his first and Oscar nominated film (made for $400 apparently) and of course his most recent blockbuster, PK.  Broken Horses is a beautiful film that is visually superb.  Equally, it will be something that boyfriend and girlfriend can enjoy together…it’s got some violence, but not blood-spatter and not with a huge body-count.  Definitely recommended and by the looks of things, better than anything else that’s showing my local cinema this weekend.

Enjoy the trailer below, or better still, don’t watch the trailer…I think it’s better seen without knowing the trailer…

 

 

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Review

“How did we end up here? This place smells of balls.” says the disembodied voice of Birdman; the alter-ego of Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ‘Birdman or (The Virtue of Ignorance)’. What’s Riggan doing whilst his inner demon and career-shading superhero delivers this opening line? Why, he’s meditating in the middle of his shabby, run down dressing room – hovering some four feet off the floor.
And so begins Riggan’s unhinged story; a man made super famous by his superhero role 25 years ago, now trying to resurrect his career by directing, producing and starring in a broadway play. The role was not written for Keaton, but the similarities are obvious.
Inarritu takes a single camera, cleverly making the whole thing look like its shot in one take – although obviously not, and practically shoves it in the faces of Riggan, and his nerve-wracking entourage including manager (Zach Galifianakis – a man on the edge of financial ruin), daughter (Emma Stone – just out of rehab) and cast (Ed Norton playing what I imagine is a cartoon version of Ed Norton and a twitchy Naomi Watts) as they all sink under the weight of their own self doubts and self importance at what feels like break-neck speed. No sooner have we dealt with one conflicting philosophical theory about art, acting, truth, or relationships then we are thrown into another – all set to a backdrop of clever set-ups like a play within a play which is actually a film although it feels like a play – see what I’m getting at?
The characters make fun of themselves, of each other, of roles they have actually played and eventually of things you as an audience member have watched and all of this should be too much and too clever for its own good were it not for just how wonderfully silly, bonkers and downright funny it is. You get the feeling that at any moment – and very much aided by the scatty drum score that accompanies every scene, that the whole thing will just end abruptly and derail, but it doesn’t, it very much goes the distance. This is because it’s brilliantly directed and every performance is outstanding; most notable of all being Keaton’s.
I’ve missed Michael Keaton. As a child of the 80s, I had two movie uncles; Bill. Murray and Michael Keaton. And whilst Bill Murray is your prickish, laid back movie uncle, gatecrashing your house party to serve tequila, Michael Keaton is the relative most likely to arrive at said party by driving a car through the wall with a goofy smile on his face – just me?
And although he hasn’t been completely missing from our screens for the past twenty years, he’s definitely been less prolific and apart from his TLC-loving captain spot in ‘The Other Guys’, has steered clear of the kind of insane-character stuff that gave him his fame in the 80s. But Keaton is best with the straight jacket off. Even as ‘Batman’ up against Nicholson’s scene-chewing Joker, with little to do in the way of impact except for wearing the costume, he nearly steals the show with his “Come on, let’s get nuts!” line. That’s because he means it!
Here, Keaton gets to pull out every trick he has and some we haven’t seen before as he lurches from one pre-show disaster to another. Comedy like this has missed his talents, and so have I.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is in UK theaters from today.
Paul Mcghie is an Award-Winning Screenwriter, Director, London Lift-Off Film Festival Judge and git. You can check out his feature project here. His work is on Vimeo or you can follow him on twitter @DirPaulMcGhie

Main Quad_AW_[28085] Birdman_5col

Black Sea: review

blacksea

Black everything

Warning, review contains mild spoilers

Black Sea, is the latest from director Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland). It features Jude Law (Sleuth, Dom Hemmingway) as    submarine captain Robinson, on the hunt for a submarine, lost somewhere in the Black sea and rumoured to be laden with gold.  There is a wide cast and it also features Michael Smiley (Luther, A Field in England). Firstly, if it’s got Michael Smiley, I’m always  interested and secondly, if it’s got Jude Law, I’m sometimes interested. This film therefore has good odds on it being excellent, given the director’s previous films.

We see Robinson being made redundant by a marine salvage company whom he’ served loyally for years. With a meagre payout, we can see his guilt about not raising his son, who lives with his mum and a wealthy step-father. Presented with the chance to lift gold from a lost Nazi submarine, from a decidedly shady operation, the crew gets assembled: half British, half Russian.

Once the mission is underway, tension mounts very quickly and before long the Aussie (previously described as a liability) has gone rogue, killing a Russian. One by one, the crew is whittled down – murdered, or killed by the sheer danger of what they’re doing.

This is one helluva tense movie! Most other submarine-based films don’t come close to this. I’ll put this down to a story that doesn’t quite go the way the trailer might lead you to believe and perhaps more importantly, a genuinely realistic re-creation of a knackered, Soviet-era submarine, complete with rusty machinery and filthy living conditions.

As the lure of the gold gradually overtakes the minds of the crew onboard, human rationale disappears, along with a few bodies and inevitably the ability to actually sail the submarine. By the time we reach the end, Robinson reminded me very much of Harry Caul, in The Converation: forlorn and hoist by his own petard.

A super-tense thriller that doesn’t disappoint; if you like your films to be realistic, dirty and grimy then this is for you. I’m not sure the girlfriend would enjoy this one, so you have been warned 😉

 

Haider Review: Hamlet in Kashmir

Let’s get rid of the obvious to begin with. If you are here to know if you should consider watching Haider, releasing in cinemas on the 2nd October 2014, then here’s my comment. Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider might possibly be his best work yet, and is a must watch, not just for cinema enthusiasts or Bard-purists. It is also an essential watch for anyone who appreciates art, in any form – be it visual, aural, and I am sure if smell-sense tech was advanced enough, Bhardwaj would have made that available as well. He does come very close.

Haider, based on Shakespeare’s longest and most-adapted play Hamlet, is possibly the most tragic tale out of the Bard’s body of work. Romeo lost Juliet and vice-versa, Othello lost his wife, but poor Hamlet – that poor fellow lost his entire family, his loved one, and even his would-be in-laws. This potent tale of the Prince of Denmark set in the late 16th century finds a seamless transition into the 1995 world of Kashmir – a land amidst militancy and martial rule, torn between power heads exercising control. This Kashmir does not look familiar to Shammi Kapoor, or colourful Shikaras, or one where Kishore and Lata would sing – Kitni Khubsoorat Ye Tasveer Hai. Kashmir here has the gloom of loss, of half-widows and their dried tears, of frozen waters, dead cold snow, of curfews keeping life indoors, and of angry fires burning – literally and metaphorically.

Hamlet, here called Haider (Shahid Kapoor), has been summoned by the “disappearance” of his father, Dr. Hilal Meer, a respected Doctor of the community who on humanitarian grounds, operates on the leader of a militant group in his own house. The opening scene shows an elaborate miltary operation that ends up in the destruction of the Meer’s family home. Haider’s return to Kashmir is greeted by his burnt down house, and he then finds his mother Ghazala (Tabu), laughing at his uncle Khurram’s silly dance and song routine. Haider, still deep in mourning, is disgusted and torn between grief for his father, anger for his uncle, and longing for his mother.

Thus begins Haider’s quest to find his father, unravel the mystery behind the disappearance, and also answer the many questions that face him. It being a Shakespeare tale, there is enough scope of theatricality, but there is also the risk of alienating audiences by setting up a story that is politically relevant, and yet having the characters to be out-of-place by making them speak lyrical monologues. Bhardwaj strikes the perfect balance between the two. Haider was brought up in a “shaayraana” household, where both the father and mother sing Urdu ghazals and recite poetry. The many paralles between the source play and this adaptation are clearly present. And yet, Bharadwaj’s Haider is a beast of its own that comes alive not just in its deviations from the source, but also in the striking eyes of its stellar cast. And what a cast it has.

The leads – Shahid Kapoor is brilliant. There is no other way to put it. You can see how thirsty he has been for roles such as this. And perhaps, only Bhardwaj can tap his talent. Until now, Kaminey remains the peak of his acting career. Haider is undoubtedly a few planes above that in terms of performance. Through the span of the movie, Haider’s sorrow, misery, anger, frustration and rage of vengeance all come alive in the eyes of Shahid Kapoor. It is hard to believe that the same guy was seen prancing with Sonakshi Sinha on Gandi Baat. More of this please.

Kay Kay Menon’s Khurram is the Claudius of the tale. And no one knows how to play a slime-ball or an “aasteen ka saap” better than this polished actor. Menon’s perfect thick-Kashmiri accent and his treachery are just textbook performances. And it looks textbook, because the dude knows what needs to be done with what is arguably the meatiest role in the tale. And Menon runs with it, even at times convincing me to feel sympathetic for his sins.

I’ll save the best for the last – Tabu as Ghazala, mother Meer or Mauji of Haider, proves again why she is often referred to as the best talent we have in the Indian film industry. Her sensuousness defies her age, her tears cry out to you, and her sorrow aches your heart. Her last act brought me memories of seeing her in Gulzar’s Maachis, a similar story of a woman caught in desperate circumstances, striving to reconcile with life and finding release in the unspeakable.

The supporting acts – Familiar TV actos Narendra Jha as Dr.Hilal Meer, and Lalit Parimoo are both striking, even in their short appearances. Shraddha Kapoor’s portrayal of Ophelia is note-perfect. In her Arshia, we see the the love that Haider longs for. Veteran actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s two lines are enough to echo in your head throughout the movie. And then there is Bhardwaj alumnus Irrfan. His appearance just before the interval is possibly the “show-stealing” entry scene that even lead heroes would envy and die for. Coupled with a electric bass guitar riff, a burnt eye, an evil walk, and a name called Roohdaar, Irrfan scorches the screen, even when Kashmir is drowned in snow. Not to forget, the comic relief provided by the two Salmans who cannot resist dropping a nod to “Salman of the 90’s” is pure chuckle-nectar. It sort of reminded me of Key and Peele’s appearance in the Fargo TV Series.10385367_10152668413883278_1398774271011645796_n

Speaking of snow and Kashmir, this review is not complete without singing praise of the DOP – Pankaj Kumar, who has painted this tale with a gloomy blue hue. Teamed with the action choreography scenes in snow, there is something poetic about seeing violence being unleashed on a white snow floor with crimson red blood splattered all over. Kumar sweeps through the Kashmir landscape, unveiling the chill in the wind, the warmth over a cup of Kahwah, and even capturing authentic visuals through his un-touristy lens.

Bhardwaj has also composed the music for the movie, and it is gorgeously woven into the narrative. As previously mentioned, the electric bass riff that announces Roohdar’s entry spreads its wings as the gravedigger’s song – and I believe that it will continue to haunt me and the audience long after the end credits have rolled. Then there is Sukhwinder’s Bismil – the musical play within Hamlet that has a life in itself. Perfectly choreographed, and some amazing rhymes written by the one and only Gulzar. It leaves me awestruck, and in some sort of a dilemma, whether I love Bhardwaj the director more than Bhardwaj the composer, or vice versa. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose.

Haider is an accomplishment. It is perhaps the most ambitious and lavish piece of work that has emerged from Indian cinema. Lavish not in terms of production value, or how many crores were spent on a certain costume. I mean lavish in terms of power packed performances commanding your attention. I mean lavish in terms of giving your gut a kick with every single frame that wraps a gamut of emotions. Bow down Mister! Bow down to the might of powerful cinema. Ab toh Aaao… Jaan Meri…

5 #Chutzpahs Out of 5

Haider plays in UK theaters from today.

Sujoy is a bonafide Bollywood fanatic, and loves good food, cinema, and sleep, in that order.

Follow him on twitter: @9e3k

Blog: http://OneKnightStands.Net

Tumblr: http://Bollypop.in

Magic In The Moonlight Review

Wei Ling Soo, (real name Stanley Crawford) renowned magician and exposer of fake mediums and scam artists, is summoned to the south of France by an old school friend and fellow magician to reveal and expose Sophie Baker who is conning a wealthy American family.

An eccentric misanthrope who believes firmly in science and not spirituality, Colin Firth’s resolve is tested when he encounters a talented medium, played by Emma Stone. If there is a trick being played, will he find out and if not, how will that affect his own beliefs and existence?

There’s never any trepidation when it comes to a new Woody Allen and always a pleasure to see what he’ll give you next. Sure, some work better than others, but as I said to my friend, I’m pretty sure the scores for his films range _DSF0273.RAFbetween 62% and 89% so it’s all pretty decent.

There is much to like about this film, including British actors and the lead Colin Firth, playing a role that reminded me of myself. However, the main acting action is between Firth and Emma Stone. It is also a pleasure to watch a film that is not laced with cut after cut and so allows the viewer to enjoy the scenes, setting and photography.

The south of France is made to look lovely, without being the outright focus (see Midnight in Paris for a love letter to a location). It’s a wonderful journey that our magician goes on. The stuffy, cynical, sceptical expert is full of pithy put-downs and is firm in his beliefs that there is no meta-physical, there is no spiritual side. But once Sophie has him convinced otherwise his outlook changes permanently – opening-up to the beauty of the natural world and Sophie’s own beauty. In many ways this is familiar story – e.g. Along Came Polly – with a pretty woman making the man see the error of his unromantic, awkward ways and open his eyes to something new.

I had a lot of time for Colin Firth and it felt at times it was almost only his movie, as there was very little from the supporting cast. But what of Emma Stone and her lovely red hair? Her appearance was a surprise I’ll be honest, but a good one I have to say! I thought she was well cast in the role of the clairvoyant and love interest; a bright, romantic and keen foil to Colin Firth’s miserable Englishman.

Overall I like this film, nowhere near as much as I like Blue Jasmine, but I do really like it. And that’s despite knowing how all of the trickery was being done for most of the movie. Sit back, take some time away from exploding robots and enjoy a romantic journey through the south of France.

Magic in the Moonlight is currently in UK theaters.

Here is the trailer:


@martincawley

Finding Fanny Upodcast Review

This Episode of Upodcast we are joined by the always wonderful Anisha Jhaveri in our search for Fanny. Before we get into our review of Homi Adijani’s follow of Cocktail starring the lumiscent Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur, Dimple Kapadia and Nasseeruddin Shah, we veer of topic as we always do.

We give our thoughts briefly about Deepika’s cleavage-gate with Times Of India, Asim goes on a rant about being disappointed by highly praised “Hindies” and Anisha talks about how watching Kick almost broke her as a human being.

You can catch more of Anisha’s work at:

http://jhavanis.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.popxo.com/author/anishajhaveri/

http://www.india.com/author/anishaj/

Or check out her previous appearances on Upodcast where we reviewed Gulaab Gang and Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (links below)

You can download/stream our episode below.

Or subscribe to our feed in iTunes:

 

 

Hemalkasa Review Liff 2014

In true tradition, the closing night of the 5th London Indian Film Festival featured one of the biggest and highly anticipated movie premieres of the festival – Samruddhi Porey’s biopic Hemalkasa. Based on the life of renowned social worker and Magsaysay award winner Dr. Prakash Baba Amte, the highlight of this feature was not just its subject matter, but also its top notch star cast – Nana Patekar and Sonali Kulkarni in the title roles of Prakash and Mandakini Amte. And there’s veteran actor Mohan Agashe as well, portraying the role of Prakash’s father, Baba Amte. With such big names, and a big story to tell, one would expect nothing less than a spectacular closing to the festival. Unfortunately, all of that expectation comes crumbling down pretty soon, right after the movie begins.

It was quite unfortunate, that the screening began with a short – Director Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Kush selected by the Satyajit Ray foundation as this year’s Best Short Feature). I say unfortunate, because as soon as that short concluded, and the opening titles of Hemalkasa rolled onscreen, I could tell that it wasn’t going to be at par with any of the movies I had seen in the festival, including the short that preceded it. Blame it on the extremely disturbing choice of font styling for the titles (which made me think if the director had got her young nephew to do it, who had just learnt about WordArt on PowerPoint). Or perhaps it was the unnecessary addition of laughably awful CG explosions. But wait, there is more.

The intro scene of Nana Patekar features him doing a sheersasan, with his upper half submerged. The director chooses this scene to be the best moment to let us know that Prakash Amte is perhaps a cross between Singham and Doctor Dolittle. So, just next to Patekar, there is a tiger washing himself. I love tigers. Onscreen ones to be precise (read my review of Ulidavaru Kandante). But this tiger, my friends, is the worst CG copy-pasted tiger to have ever existed. Patekar rises from underwater and walks out like a Bond girl. And accompanying him, is CG-Tiger. And in that moment, I knew that Hemalkasa is not going to be a movie that I’d like. And this was just the first 10 minutes of the movie.

In the course of its unbearable 117 minutes, Porey depicts the tale of this relentlessly generous man, and his many struggles and how he overcomes them. The narration is mediocre at its best, and extremely irritating at its worst as it jumps through the different stages in Amte’s life. I can see Porey trying hard to squeeze in as much detail as she can, as if she is begging for the audience to applaud at how unreal Amte’s sacrifices are in comparison with the cynical world we live in. But she hardly leaves any breathing space on a specific event for the audience to feel connected. The editing could be the culprit here. There are way too many events jam-packed into this, and yet, each one feels stretched out, or sometimes repetitive. I felt like I was compelled to watch an episodic TV series, albeit a boring one.

I can understand the underlying sentiment of the filmmaker might have been to genuinely show her reverence for Prakash Baba Amte. And nothing that I say here will take away from what Baba Amte’s influence is on people in India and all across the world. Neither does it undermine his efforts in any shape or form. But there is a clear distinction between the story and the story-telling. When asked in the Q&A section, what the real Prakash Amte’s reactions were on watching his own biopic, director Porey responded that Amte’s reply was – “I felt as if a camera was left on from my childhood to my present day, and I was watching it all on the big screen”. As a cinema lover, I cannot translate that to be a compliment.

This is a classic case of a filmmaker falling too much in love with the source, and failing to say “Cut”. There are numerous attempts by its stellar lead pair – Patekar and Kulkarni, who give earnest performances, and try to save this sinking ship. But it is too late by then. There are “Gods must be crazy” inspired scenes featuring the local tribes of Hemalkasa. You know the kind where they discover modern medicine, radio etc. But even these scenes failed to charm me. And the amount of bad-acting provided by its extras could put Farah Khan’s extras to shame. By the time the director decides to make Sonali Kulkarni and Nana Patekar give one-last-push with a breakdown scene when their domestic pet Leopard passes away, I was rolling my eyes. Looking at the audience around, I could see most attendees staring at their watches, or fast asleep. It is hence ironic to see that this feature won the runner up Audience Award.

 

This journey to Hemalkasa had the entertainers on the list, but was boring all the way.

 

For more info head on over to http://www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

@9e3k

OneKnightStands Bollypop | 9E3K | @9E3K

Anima State Review LIFF 2014

AnimaState_01The moment I was walking out of the screening of Anima State I was accosted by an elderly Pakistani gentleman. He asked me if I was from a TV channel (I said no) then he started a 15 min diatribe about how a movie like Anima State is an embarrassment to Pakistan, it is un-Islamic and why do “our” film makers feel the need to “make themselves look good” in front of the whole world by making “our motherland” look bad. Although I was trying hard to contain my laughter at the absurdity of the situation, I did truly feel bad for this poor uncle. He had walked into the movie theater hoping to see a Pakistani movie (an Industry which has never reached it’s true potential and doesn’t get the distribution to reach its audiences) in his local Cineworld, he had no notion of what Anima State was about before swiping his Unlimited card and was ready to walk out as soon as the main lead started to masturbate in front of a cricket match.

So just as a disclaimer for any other uncles possibly walking in, Anima state directed by Hammad Khan is not a Pakistani movie but a movie made by a Pakistani Londoner set in Pakistan, it is more of an art installation than a movie for general audiences and the frustrations it speaks about could honestly be set in any country but here the film makers deals with some personal issues he has with Pakistan. This is quite a big difference and something that wasn’t clear to many of the people attending screening and the Q&A after the screening (or even to the moderator leading the Q&A).

Anima State isn’t linear or plot driven and might have may interpretations but here is what I could understand (with minor spoilers).

The first ¾ of the movie we follow, The Stranger, a traveller whose face is covered in bandages, as he goes on a killing spree of the people he feels are morally corrupted: the urban youth, the corrupt police and media as well as the people that choose to be happy even when there is misery around, culminating in a Network styled- “I am mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore” monologue after shooting his way into a news studio.

The moments of introspection during this killing spree are when he is faced with Pakistani womanhood in 4 different forms: the wife, the beggar, the teacher, the whore (all played by actress Malika Mufti). It is also the last of these encounters that allows him to wake up from his nightmare and realize that he is not this Stanger but (SPOILER START) a filmmaker who has returned to Pakistan after many years. (It was all a dream people!)

A film maker who gets ridiculed and beaten up by twitterati hipster for that last movie he made and when questioned by the police at a random street corner, escapes the country, leaving his camera to a local boatman so that he can make movies ” of his wife and children” which might be of better use than being a film maker in Pakistan and trying to make an actual change when the ones in power are holding all the cards in their hands.

Anima State is a movie isn’t entertaining and can’t be measured in words as good or bad. It’s not a fun time and it requires the audiences to engage with it, as the movie of David Lynch or even Indian director Qaushiq Mukherjee (AKA Q) but lacking the hypnotism or visual flair of those film makers. The movie serves the director Hammad Khan more than by being his catharsis more than audience’s as there are no answers, and some of the questions raised might be pointless.

Quite a few of the metaphors are very much on the nose ie the dancing monkey, the masturbation scene, and the cell phone story. It also want to have it’s cake and eat it where it wants the Pakistani audience to wake up but refuses to fight with or for them, where it pre-emptively mocks the potential online reviews and backlash he gets for this or his previous movie.

But Anima State is still commendable as a sophomore effort and what I imagine must have been a tight budget that required quite a bit of guerilla filmmaking.

A very interesting movie and one of which visuals; themes and even the music create a lasting impact if and only if you aren’t turned off by the visual thought dump Hammad Khan projects on screen. His previous movie Slackistan was banned in Pakistan and Anima State is probably going to go down the same route.

And that is a shame as a lot of frustration on screen is what day to day Pakistani’s feel and unlike the bandaged protagonist of the movie, do not have the luxury to run away the moment they realize that they have been living a nightmare.

@asimburney

Ulidavaru Kandante Review LIFF 2014

Ulidavaru Kandante_01[Disclaimer: Due to messed up scheduling at the screening venue (for London Indian Film Festival), I missed the first 30 minutes of Ulidavaru Kandante, as I was still watching Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya (review link here). This post is hence, more of a rant on the remaining 4/5th of the Ulidavaru Kandante experience.]

So, as I walked in straight into the world of Ulidavaru Kandante (UK, As Seen By The Rest) at 00:30:00, I was met with the end of Chapter 1, and a journalist called Regina (Sheetal Shetty) talking about something that went wrong, referred to as “the Incident”. I was left confused, and yet curious about what this incident was, and if I had missed it in the first 30 minutes. But at the same time, I was glad I that I came in just in time for the beginning of Chapter 2 – the story of Richi. Cue smoke machines, theatrical spotlights on, and through the smoky mist, enters our hero – director Rakshit Shetty as Richi, the cocky cop who oozes testosterone in every frame. This is one of those alpha male leads that’s part Tony Montana, part Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, and part Chulbul Pandey, sans the Sonakshi pyar-thappar angle, or the drunk sillyness. At first glance, Shetty looks like a long lost brother of Mahakshay ‘Mimoh’ Chakraborty, but one who can actually act, and commands attention, and minus 20-30 kilos (to be confirmed). Richi is not a do-gooder or a Robin Hood. He has a reputation to take care of, and even in a lungi, gulping down on local desi-daaru, with an unkempt moustache, that reputation brings broken noses for the unlucky ones. And that tiger dance, oh yes, I get that Singham metaphor. Richi does not walk, he has the gait of a lion, make up or not.

Coming back to the story, or stories rather, the trailer is quite spoilerific in my opinion. There is an incident, which we don’t know of, until the climax i.e. There are multiple witnesses, and their multiple/conflicting point-of-views, a Pulp-Fiction-esque MacGuffin red bag with shiny contents, and many bullet shots. There’s tiger-painted people dancing(I like tigers). If that sounds like UK borrows a lot from cinema pop-culture, yes it does. Does it look like a copy? No, it does not. Shetty’s influence is visible, but UK is a beast of its own. You can smell the authenticity in the environment, and it is quite obvious how comfortable it is in its own skin, and yet does not shy away to flash its influences – from Kurosawa’s Rashomon, to Scarface, to even Frank Miller’s Sin City. The director expertly hides the details, and patiently peels off each layer. With cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, and each chapter serving as a teaser for the final reveal, UK works because of its sharp editing, its crisp script, and the believability of the world that surrounds these characters.

Kudos to the DOP Karm Chawla to have presented Malpe in its most stunning onscreen version – from the warm views of the washed clean sea and sandy beaches, to the amber nights lit with fire. Painted tiger faces never looked this great. The hustle and bustle of Janmashtami festival in temple city Udupi errupts with its vibrance and is a colour overload of sorts. And that entry scene of Richi through the smoke (mentioned above), as he says “Phata Poster Nikla Hero” is a wolf-whistle worthy one. Coupled with a loud drum-heavy background score, UK does not go easy on your senses.

Donning the acting jobs, the supporting cast do pretty well. Worth mentioning are Tara as Ratnakka – that scene when she sees her son after 15 years, and bursts into tears, gave me goosebumps. Little Sohan Shetty as street-smart kiddo Democracy steals the show in many scenes. And Kishore as Munna, is the missing piece in the whole puzzle. He provides the much needed gravitas, the heart that glues the tale. His wide-eyed dreamy stoner romance makes you chuckle, and also leaves you sad. But of course, above all, this movie belongs to Rakshit Shetty. Not only as the onscreen lead dude, but also as the offscreen one.

On the surface,it looks like yet another South-Indian alpha male hero rescuing damsels-in-distress. But UK is not content with that template, and breaks the norms. It is a tall rebel, heck it’s the “Rebel Alliance” on its own, which even though has a vernacular language, its speech is loud and global in all respects. Shetty’s attempt at marrying the two, often looks effortless, but only shows the confidence in his craft. It is nothing short of groundbreaking. I am highly curious of what is coming up next on his filmography. If this is what the new wave of Kannada cinema has to offer, count me in. I will drive that hype train.

This has been the best of the London Indian Film Festival’s offering this year.

5 Tigers Out of 5. ROAR!!!

[Footnote: I have deliberatley tried not to tell you much about this movie, and would rather have you check it out for yourself. Ulidavaru Kandante is available as PPV on ReelBoxTV.com. However, it does not have any subtitles, but they are working on it. Follow them on twitter @ReelBoxTV to find out when this would be done.
 
 The subtitles at my screening were quite funny. The swear words such as bastard and the like, had the vowels replaced with corresponding Greek symbols. That probably is because Director Rohit Shetty has not been able to completely get over his Engineering past!
 
Contact the director @rakshitshetty on twitter, make some noise, and probably he will bring this to a screen near you. It is definitely one to be experienced on the bigger screen, with booming sound. Or for you influential people out there, make Netlfix pick this gem up.]

The London Indian Film Festival has screenings all over London until the 17th of July.

For more info head on over to http://www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

@9e3k

OneKnightStands Bollypop | 9E3K | @9E3K

Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya Review LIFF 2014

Goopi_01Before I say anything about the movie, can I just applaud director Shilpa Ranade first, to have thought of remaking a Satyajit Ray classic that has been loved by generations. The classic short story by Upendra Kishore Rowchowdhury has already been immortalised onscreen by the inimitable pair of Tapen Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh as the crazy duo – Goopi and Bagha. And such a mammoth task of re-doing it for the current generation – why would one do that? The only answer to that is immense love for the source. And that love shows in Ranade’s adaptation of Goopi and Bagha’s tale, titled Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya.

The world of Goopi and Bagha have now been translated from the black and white images of Ray’s version to a world filled with shimmering colours. The style of animation here is nothing like the 3D cell animation that we are accustomed to from the likes of Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks. The word I am looking for here is quirky. I know use that word a lot. It sort of reminds me of a few PS3 games such as Media Molecule’s Little Big Planet, or Sony’s own – Puppeteer. Produced by the Children’s Film Society of India, it brought back memories of the many indie short animation features that used to be screened on Doordarshan on Sunday mornings in the 80s and the 90s. And having watched Ranade’s adaptation, I am compelled to say that perhaps, there couldn’t have been a better remake for this tale.

Of course, with the target age-group of this feature being the little ones, there are plenty of fart jokes and a few slapstick pranks thrown in. But it being an animated movie, I was instantly transported into that world of innocence, and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at those silly fart jokes. I did miss the original voice of Bhuter Raja which has now been replaced by an ultra autotune processed monster voice. But those are minor complaints. The music, which was one of the highlights of the original, in this version of the tale, has been composed by the band “Three Brothers And a Violin”. And to say the least, the music brings this whole movie together.  There was a French family watching this movie at the same screening that I was in. And as the end credits rolled, the little kid, in his most French accent, was humming “Shundi ke Raja ko Salaam”.

I think that says a lot. Some stories never age. Some stories never get lost in translation.

The London Indian Film Festival has screenings all over London until the 17th of July.

For more info head on over to http://www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

@9e3k

OneKnightStands Bollypop | 9E3K | @9E3K

Sulemaani Keeda Review LIFF 2014

Sulemani Keeda_01Director Amit Masurkar’s slacker bromance ‘Sulemaani Keedha’ (SK) on the surface is pretty much what one of its characters wants a movie to be like. That character is Gonzo, a producer’s son, a big fan of out-of-the-box ideas and who plans to make a paradoxical movie with a story that has no story. This is a movie, which on the surface has no real story to it, and speaks to Gonzo’s sensibilities of having no real hero, heroine, villain in its tale. And yet, by the end of its run, you cannot help rooting for its struggling protagonists and their fight against their own banal lives, and to rise from the crowd. I feel Sulemaani Keedha (Hindi street slang for pain in the ass), does not necessarily translate to the negative meaning that it may imply. In my opinion, it may be the royal itch to prove something – to yourself, and to the world.

We are introduced to these two slackers – Mainak and Dulal (debutantes Mayank Tewari and Naveen Kasturia), who are drowned in their own torn scripts and unpaid rents, and are dejected from every corner of Bollywood. But even with such amount of rejection, they refuse to give in to the temptation of a comfortable paycheck by writing for daily soaps. In their free time, which they seem to have a lot, they aimlessly and unsuccessfully attempt at hitting on girls, in the bookstore, in the clubs, and everywhere else. SK is about these perennially hungry and horny struggling writers, who juggle their struggles, opportunities and love.

Shot exceptionally well by Surjodeep Ghosh, SK captivates the spirit and the sparkle of Mumbai. The guerilla style shooting used to shoot this movie to keep costs low, actually works in its favour to make it look real and authentic, and often as silly as real life can be. The dialogue is spunky, and emotes the angst and the ferocity of all creative strugglers who come to this mad city looking for that one shot to make it in the big bad world of Bollywood. There are plenty of nudge nudge wink winf references to the Rohit Shetty’s 100 Cr Club formula, there’s a chuckle-worthy animated sequence involving Gonzo and his cat, and the music by Arfaaz and Anurag needs to be released on iTunes pronto.

For its warm hearted spirit, and its giggly jokes, SK left me feeling happy. You shouldn’t be surprised if this lands up on your Netflix queue soon. Until then, it is worth travelling that distance if it is playing at a festival near you.

3.5 snorts out of 5.

The London Indian Film Festival has screenings all over London until the 17th of July.

For more info head on over to http://www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

@9e3k

OneKnightStands Bollypop | 9E3K | @9E3K

Sold Review Liff 2014

Sold_01The London Indian Film Festival started with the UK premier of Sold, directed by Jeffrey D. Brown, Oscar winning director for best short film (Molly’s Pilgrim -1985) and starring Niyar Saikia, a 13 year old girl Lakshmi who under the guise of a job in the city gets sold to a brothel where she is forced into prostitution. The movie is produces by Emma Thompson and based on a Patricia McCormick novel.

Sold isn’t just a movie but is tied up with a few charities and a social media campaign hoping to make an actual change to the problem of child trafficking globally.

The message of the movie is something we can’t turn a blind eye to so before I dig into the movie, do check out www.soldthemovie.com or search #TaughtNotTrafficked on twitter if you want to contribute.

The movie is a tough watch, but it needs to be, the topic of the movie is so bleak that although the full horror is never shown, the implications are enough to make you want to avert your gaze many times from the screen, even more so for the Niyar Saika’s expressive eyes and naturalistic performance and so much pain to what we’re watching.

She is aided by some wonderful supporting Indian actors, Tillotama Shome, Sushmita Mukherjee who plays the main madame’s at the brothel. Tillotama has really been knocking it out of the park in term of performances this year in both Sold and Qissa which both played at the LIFF. There are a host of actors of all ages who were wonderful, I especially liked Priyanka Bose who I had noticed earlier this year in Gulaab Gang and who in some ways is playing a similarly street savvy woman again.

 

The movie also has some fleeting appearances by Seema Biswas, Gillian Anderson and David Arquette who have pretty much have non-consequential roles to support the cause of the movie by appearing in random scenes that probably didn’t take a long shooting schedule but when working in indie’s having these names attached to a property, does help attract audience.

 

One of the aid workers who tries to get these girl out of these horrific situations is played by Parambrata Chatterjee pretty much reprising his role from Kahaani, charming out of town ladies with his smoothness but this time with added facial hair.

Sold is shot beautifully both in the open skies of Nepal to the seedy streets of Kolkata. The movie has heart and great intentions but unfortunately it might have worked better and had a greater impact if Jeffrey Dean had made this as a short film instead of a feature.

The editing in quite a few scenes is jarring and even the pacing seems off. There are fleeting moments that would need to be delved into a bit more like the men that visit these brothels or the people that manage or traffic girls and although I can understand that these are evil people, there were moments where there was doubt or regret on their faces that could have been explored.

As a topic it’s something that has been explored many times in Hindi cinema, in more (Baaghi, Sadak) and less glamorous (Chandni Bar) ways, it is interesting to see a western point of view and although the movie ends with a positive note, (and even a Great Escape style climax) any straight thinking person would understand that is the point in the movie where fantasy takes over and just how sad the reality of so many Laxmi’s really is.

 

For more information about Sold’s release date, go to www.soldthemovie.com

#TaughtNotTrafficked
http://www.childreach.org.uk/TaughtNotTrafficked/

Million Dollar Arm Review Liff 2014

Million Dollar Arm_01I’ll let the product speak for itself” declares actor Madhur Mitthal enthusiastically when introducing the screening of Disney’s crossover offering Million Dollar Arm at the London Indian Film Festival. And that is precisely what Million Dollar Arm is – a product, neatly wrapped in cellophane, slotting obediently into an awkward space between mainstream Hollywood and what Hollywood thinks will sell to its own domestic market as well as to a primarily Indian audience.

Based on a true story, US sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) travels to India to find a cricket player to turn into a major sports star and secure his own business/career in the process. Of course, the process is not as simple as JB thinks and as he brings his two finds back to LA, he finds his life changes in an unexpected but Hollywood kind of pleasing way.

There are some fun moments in Million Dollar Arm – throwaway lines (bribing in India is described as “bypassing the system“), small set pieces which wryly observe culture clashes (when the boys tease JB about his walk of shame the night before) and of course every scene the wonderful Alan Arkin is in as a retired and grumpy talent scout. The cast also share a nice chemistry which the script doesn’t necessarily cater for and it almost feels like these moments take everyone by surprise (in a good way) before reverting back to auto pilot as the film veers towards its inevitable destination.

But overall, Million Dollar Arm feels clinical and felt like any other sports film where the underdog comes out on top against all the odds, only this time, the twist is the Indian influence is conveniently moulded from inspirational to comical to alien to familiar as per the needs of the story. This is a shame as if the script had gotten its hands dirty or dared to explore the more uncomfortable questions it manages to avoid, it may have been closer to that pan market hit it seems determined to be.

Thankfully, the cast are all rather good – Madhur Mitthal and Suraj Sharma portray Dinesh and Rinku’s journey well from overwhelmed young boys to finding themselves as sportsmen. Pitobash gives a good account of himself as Amit as does Lake Bell whose Brenda is like a breath of fresh air each time she appears on screen. Jon Hamm makes for a suitably rugged lead with a charm and ease that endears the audience towards him.

Whilst Million Dollar Arm does not really push the so called “crossover” canon forward in any way, the fact that it has some likeable and truthful moments shows the potential that this film has and if it had been allowed to find a space of its own, it may well have reached a wider audience that it seems to be aiming for. For now though, Million Dollar Arm entertains but ultimately does not fulfill. This is a Eat, Pitch, Love for a family audience.

Million Dollar Arm is on general release in the UK from 29th August 2014.

Million Dollar Arm

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mitthal, Lake Bell, Pitobash

Bhushan Kumar is a Hindi film and fashion obsessed being living and working in London.

Follow Bhushan on Twitter: @bogeyno2

Blog: http://bogeyno2.wordpress.com/

Qissa: The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost Review LIFF 2014

Qissa_01There are some films that remain with the viewer long after the fade to black – Qissa: The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost one of them. This haunting tale tells of Umber Singh (Khan) who is uprooted by the Partition of 1947 along with his wife and three daughters. Displaced from the newly created Pakistan to the Punjab in India, Singh believes having a son will bring the stability he has lost. So when his wife gives birth to another daughter, Singh creates an elaborate delusion that has far reaching and tragic consequences for all.

There is so much to talk about in Qissa that it is impossible to know where to start. Whether is the debate of nature versus nuture, the unforgiving nature of patriarchy or the search for one’s true self, all these issues are neatly referenced without feeling laboured or clumsy. Anup Singh (the writer and director) manages to weave a very complex story that insists on keeping its characters at the heart of the action and even has the audience colluding with Umber’s vision (no spoilers here).

Mention must also go to the cinematography and original score; there are some stunning visuals here, with the lighting and composition giving an eerie feel – at times, one feels they are looking at a magnificent oil painting in a deserted haveli (mansion). Similarly, the score is subtle and underplayed, yet the way it heightens the dramatic impact is at once impressive and moving.

Performance wise, Khan does the impossible again; playing an unpopular character with a sympathy and dignity which leaves the viewer conflicted but with a grudging understanding of the circumstances that lead to the character’s motivations. Chopra is very restrained as the mother who suffers for her children whilst Raskia Dugal is a revelation as Neeli, fully embracing the journey that Neeli goes on and pitching it with conviction.

However, it is Bengali actress Tillotame Shome who astonishes here as Kanwar, the girl brought up as a boy – it is rare to see someone imbibe a role so fully and make something that could easily go wrong with one nuance seem so effortless and natural. Everything from her expression to her body language is faultless and she is the true nucleus of Qissa which is no mean feat.

Qissa is the perfect film to watch as part of a festival but it is also heartening to know it will have a general release in India. Not only are the LGBT themes handled with sensitivity and tact but also with a timely relevance for today’s audiences. In fact, though this is a period piece, there is no doubt Qissa has a modern sensibility to it and deserves to be seen and appreciated by diverse audiences across the world. Quite simply, hauntingly beautiful.

Qissa: The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost is now playing at the LIFF,  will have a limited release in Germany in July 2014 and a general release in India from September 2014 (TBC).

Qissa: The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost

Directed by: Anup Singh

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Tisca Chopra, Tillotame Shome, Raskia Dugal

Bhushan Kumar is a Hindi film and fashion obsessed being living and working in London.

Follow Bhushan on Twitter: @bogeyno2

Blog: http://bogeyno2.wordpress.com/

The Class of ’92: extended collector’s edition – review

Teacher's pets

Teacher’s pets

As the resident Upodcasting sport fan and thankfully for this release, long time Manchester United fan it was an absolute pleasure to see this for review.

This is the story of how six 14 year-old working class boys (David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville) came together to play for the same club, becoming the spine of the most lauded team in world football and who throughout their period of unparalleled success remained best mates. The film offers unprecedented access to all six players and includes numerous high profile interviewees including Sir Alex Ferguson, Zinedine Zidane, Tony Blair, Mani from the Stone Roses, Eric Cantona and Danny Boyle.

Man United fan or not, if you’re of a certain age you probably know all about the success of the Treble winning team from 1999 and the core of it being a group of players who came through the youth system at the same time. The great thing about this movie is the splicing of archive footage featuring the young players, but also the wider context given to the rise of the Manchester United team throughout the 1990s as Britain picked itself up out of the doldrums and began to feel like a happy place once more. In some ways it is also fortunate that Manchester has such a strong cultural identity of its own; giving rise to such bands as the Happy Monday, Smiths, Oasis, The Stone Roses and being a true centre for the birth of British dance music culture in the ’90s. It makes adding a superb soundtrack somewhat easier and if like me you’re in your mid-30s then you know all of the music. It would be so easy for me to get all misty eyed because this was my music and my team!

But the film comes into its own for not dwelling entirely on the stars of the side. Also featured are the lesser known lights – Ben Thornley – or those who went on to have great careers away from Manchester United such as Robbie Savage. There’s some great stuff involving them all having a kick-about…some players now more, ahem, portly than others. Ryan Giggs was still playing when this was made to put it in context!

As the story unfolds, you really do get to know more about what made the players tick, be so successful and what sets elite sportsmen apart from those who don’t quite make it. The power of your own mind, the will to succeed and make sacrifices, but also the personality of the manager – in this case Alex Ferguson – who was able to drive on his own teams to new heights. There are some wonderful comments from Eric Cantona who played with all of the class of ’92 and from Eric Harrison the youth team coach who brought all of the players through the set-up.

For any fan of Manchester United this is a great movie. It’s also the perfect gift for fathers’ day! The Class of ’92 is released this week.  Check out the trailer below:

The Rajini Effect Review

What does the “Rajini Effect” mean? It is extremely hard to encompass the meaning of these two words. No superlative feels adequate to describe the force of the superstardom and religious fan following of the one and the only Thalaivaar Rajinikanth. And so, kudos to debutante director-duo Kuvera and Nelson Sivalingam to have picked up such a monumental task upon themselves. And surprisingly somehow, they have been able to convey what the Rajini Effect stands for.

The Rajini Effect is what makes you wake up in the morning at 5 am, to travel 2 hours, and stand in the queue to get the tickets of a Rajini movie on the first day. It is the undying enthusiasm to fight the crowds and to uncontrollably whistle at the entry of the hero. It is the madness that makes you dance like a fool, trying to ape the Baasha, plastering your wall from corner to corner with Rajini images, and quoting dialogues even when you don’t know the language. All this dedication of a true hearted Rajini fan is shown through the story of our protagonist – Taiho (Jonathan Truong), a Japanese guy who has grown up watching Rajini movies and passionately loves them. When he comes across an advert for an Indian short film competiton looking for “Tomorrow’s Superstar”, he realises this to be his ticket to Kollywood (nickname for Tamil Cinema). Teaming up with his 50 year old Indian friend Ramu (who happens to be a budding filmmaker/accountant), they set out to make their mutual dreams come true.

In true melodramatic Kollywood style, this is life imitating art imitating life. I say that with the utmost love for this movie. It is an underdog story, like many of those Rajini movies. Our hero Taiho is a regular Joe, who is upset with his life, and seems his passion for Rajini movies to be his only outlet and also his true calling. Ramu, played exceptionally well by Ramesh Vethanayagam, juggles his life between satisfying his wife’s demands, his 9-6 work schedules, and attending to his true love – cinema. Through Ramu, we get a crash course in what South Indian cinema stands for. Not only do we get schooled on the “Feel” of a heroine romancing her loved one, but also how the Sari should be draped for maximum exposure of the belly.

Of course what follows next is quite predictable. The duo hit multiple road blocks, ranging from finding the correct female lead, to villains and their goons, to even the creative duo getting separated due to circumstances beyond their own control, and then eventually emerging triumphant. But, when I say predictable, make no assumption that it is boring; far from it. The script swims through these events smoothly, and the dialogue ensures that the audience is chuckling all the way. I believe I have never laughed so hard in a movie for a very long time, especially in an indie movie such as this.

I think the directors have used the indie movie feel to their utmost advantage. There is a movie within the movie, and this allows for shaky cam, amateur angles, guerilla filming, as well as not really spending on any exotic locales. After all, this is the story about a regular London guy trying to shoot his “Youtube movie”. But this alone cannot simply convey the Rajini effect, can it? The directors have a cure for that too. Weaved beautifully into the narrative, are some messages from many Rajini fans – from actors to journalists to just admirers, who in their own words try to express (and how) the essence of the Rajini effect.

The movie as a whole succeeds in conveying that very essence. There is a special scene where Ramu and Taiho, after having a fight and not being in contact for a while, agree to meet up and reconcile.

There is an awkward silence between the two when they meet. And then Taiho plays a Rajini song which depicts the meaning of friendship. Taiho and Ramu look at each other and smile instantly. The Rajini Effect is also that instant connect that you share with a fellow Rajini fan. Vethanayagam and Jonathan play it extremely well without a single false note.

And if just for that, for me, this movie achieved its goal.

*Winner of Audience Award for Best Film at the 10th Stuttgart Indian Film Festival*
*Official Selection for the 8th Seattle South Asian Film Festival*

For more info on the movie head over to www.TheRajiniEffect.com

4 Lungis Out of 5.
OneKnightStands Bollypop | 9E3K | @9E3K

After the night (Ate ver a luz): Review

After the Night (Ate ver a luz)

After the night is a portrayal of life in the slums of Lisbon.  Directed by Basil da Cunha we see life through the eyes of Sombra, who returns to his life as a drug dealer after coming out of jail.

His life is a hard one, juggling the money he has lent and can’t get back and the money he owes the local neighbourhood gang leader.  His only sources of comfort are an iguana – Dragon – a young girl called Clarinha and an old fashioned oil lamp.  As the days pass he starts to think he is better off back in jail or perhaps even dead.

The cast all look like they could have lived on the very streets being so realistically filmed, but the lead, Pedro Ferreira is the stand out, bringing a genuinely haunting an unnerving presence.  Sombra (a play on words, it is close to Portuguese for dark/shadow) spends his time living at night and sleeping in his tiny shack.  As he starts to run out of time to pay back his debts, Sombra’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as if he is having the very life sucked out of him.  A man who has given up.

I really loved the scenes with Sombra and Dragon; he seemed to be about as happy as he could be and also with Clarinha.  When he starts to let go of the things that mean so much to him I felt particularly sad, knowing that this signified his letting go of life.  After the Night is not a simple watch, but is rewarding.  It is filmed beautifully and like a documentary throughout – the darkly lit scenes with an orangey-gold light are almost halo-like and offer a glimmer of hope.   Some things aren’t quite conveyed as clearly as I would have liked but if you pay attention then you will see some lovely touches.

I have to say that I didn’t really enjoy the ending, but this is purely a personal matter and down to how good the lead is.  Throughout, I was reminded of La Haine (and also City of God to an extent) so it’s great to see a new film maker using such a realistic approach 20 years later.  Not one to take the kids to see, but I recommend you check this out.  After the Night is released April 25th in theatres and VOD.

 

The Machine: review

The Machine is a British indie sci-fi movie, first screened last year before its general release in 2014.  Set in the near future, the West is in the midst of a new cold war with China that has sent the world into economic depression.  Technology is leading the race for military innovation and advantage and this is the heart of the film.  Vincent (Toby Stephens) is a robotics scientist working for the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), striving to create the first self-aware robot, but not necessarily for military gain: he has a young daughter with a degenerative muscle disease meaning she will eventually die.  Whilst testing new programming, a new scientist Ava (Caity Lotz) proves to have a breakthrough and is offered the chance to work with Vincent.

The dark secrets inside the military base are revealed little by little as we see Vincent’s experiments (wounded / brain-dead soldiers from the conflict) having their “consciousness” examined.  Unable to show themselves as intelligent, they become confused and violent before being killed.  Leading the mission for the self-aware machine is Thomson (Denis Lawson), who shows little remorse or compassion for anything at all: soldiers who are missing in action and then experimented on are effectively “disappeared”, kept hidden from their own families.  Somewhat disturbingly, most of the soldiers at the base are themselves failed robotics experiments: intelligent enough to follow orders to the letter, but without the ability to communicate with their human masters.

As Ava starts work in the base and programming with her software begins, her curiosity grows and she sees the experiments for the cruel that they are.  After being spied on by Thomson, Ava is “killed” but brought back to life using her own programming.  Vincent, trying to cope with his daughter’s condition sees that she could hold the future, not just for advanced robots but as a way of preserving his daughter – in a pretty weird way.  But the movie really leaps forward on many levels from this point, with Thomson truly showing his colours:  weaponising Ava and controlling and manipulating her emotions for his and the military’s ultimately nefarious aims.  However Thomson, realising the danger that Ava poses, Vincent is asked to remove her conscious.  Tricking Thomson by removing an irrelevant piece of hardware, Vincent sets his course against the military and with the help of Ava and the other robots, escapes from the base to live with Ava and the new version of his daughter.

There is a lot going on in The Machine. All of the above takes place in 91 minutes and if not answered, seeks to question what humanity is, what it is for, what love is, what being human is and how we as the human race must face this inevitable future reality. There are shades of both Blade Runner and Metropolis – drawing on those films’ own questions about the human mind, controlling robots and where the dividing line between man and machine is drawn. How intelligent are we as a species and how easily is this replicated in robots?  This film takes Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics and elaborates on them, engaging its audience.

I thought this film was brilliant and for one that I believe to be shot on a small budget. It thoroughly deserves its place among the best of British sci-fi films. Scenes inside the base are perfectly dark and dreary and those in the outside world, lit far more positively. Toby Stevens plays the burdened, frustrated scientist with a weariness and exasperation I could really relate to. I think Caity Lotz does steal the show though. Convincing as a brainbox but even more so as a robot and bringing exactly the right level of humanity required, to the role. The film was apparently shot in Wales on a very low budget and whilst I wouldn’t say that this is obvious or noticeable, it does make sense when you see how sparse the sets are and how they’ve been used and filmed.  It quite rightly won the Raindance Festival Best UK film in 2013.

Unusually for me, I thought The Machine was too short – another 15 minutes or so would have, I felt, given more substance to the wider global context of the robotics arms race and revealed more about Denis Lawson’s character, Thomson. It could also have served to give us more about the relationship between Vincent and Ava. Not to detract from a really great film though. The Machine is well worth watching on the big screen while you can. And if you can’t catch it in cinemas, then definitely watch it in one go, without ads otherwise all the intrigue and ambiguity will be lost. As brightly lit as the final scene is, there is something deeply dark being shown here.  A coldly beautiful movie and incredibly thought provoking.

In cinemas right now – here’s the trailer to enjoy.

 

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300 Rise of an Empire Review Upodcast

Almost a decade after dining in hell, we revisit the CGI vision of ancient Greece set through the eyes of Zach Snyder and Frank Miller. Ad Film maker, Noam Murro takes over the directing reigns with returning cast members Rodrigo Santoro, Lena Headley and David Wenham together with new additions Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green.

Were they able to recreate the CGI magic? Or should this sequel have found a better home on DVD?

The Box office suggest otherwise with respectable 147M (and counting at the box office). We break it down for you in this episode of Upodcast.

Listen/Stream/Download below or subscribe to iTunes to never miss a beat.

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Leave the World Behind Review

Breaking up is never easy, and saying sorry can sometimes be just as tough – so it seems for Swedish House Mafia in Leave the World Behind, the new film from Christian Larson which documents the trio’s final million-ticket-selling world tour.

It begins with show number one of fifty – the lights come up, tens of thousands of people are screaming, arms up and open wide. The words flash up on a giant screen We Come, We Rave, We Love. A curtain the size of the Vancouver Dam falls from the stage to reveal Axel ‘Axewell’ Hedfors, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angelio a.k.a Swedish House Mafia. The beats erupt, the arena explodes into an all out assault on the senses, and for several minutes, you feel you are part of it; that you’re sharing that experience with those who were really there. There’s no doubt about it, Swedish House Mafia are a musical force to be reckoned with. Or sadly, ‘were’ a force to be reckoned with, because this is there last ever tour and the last time these adoring beat-seekers will see their heroes perform on stage together. But why?

Is it down to all the regular clichés? The drugs? The personality clashes? Too many T.V.’s out of too many hotel windows? The problem is, I’m still not sure, and I don’t think they are either.

Leave the World Behind conveys a band in a constant state of frustration and disarray. They don’t hate each other, but are downright scared that they might start hating each other. The fans don’t want them to break up, and at times, they don’t particularly want to break up either, but something has become amiss between three guys who started out as just three friends out to spend every night on stage as if it were their last. The good times clearly can’t last forever. Things change and of course, people do too.

Larson tries to show us these changes. From party people to family men, some differences a clear, but these are in contradiction to other things we see; leaving the family to work on material, only for the interest of certain members seeming to waiver. There’s an elephant in the room, but this is a band hell bent on partying around it as opposed to blasting it away with those massive beats. The anger and frustration of three friends growing apart but still tied together by the most wonderful thing they have created is clear and yet no-one seems to have the guts to just come out and speak about it. Perhaps that’s just human nature and in real life, some questions will always go unanswered, especially when friendship is on the line. Although it seems Swedish House Mafia would be in a far better place if they were just honest and communicated properly with each other.

Larson gives us real insight into what made this trio such a giant in contemporary music and how their songs touched millions of fans. He also manages to show us the other side of being in a band with friends, and although this is by no means new territory to cover, it’s still a sad sight to see these guys drifting apart and completely unsure what to do about it except push the eject button. In the end, they sign off as a band that went out on top. A brave decision, but in light of Leave the World Behind, perhaps one made of less heroic choices. If you can’t confide in your friends, who can you confide in?

Leave The World Behind hits selected theaters in March.

Paul Mcghie is an Award-Winning Screenwriter, Director, London Lift-Off Film Festival Judge and git. You can check out his feature project here. His work is on Vimeo or you can follow him on twitter @DirPaulMcGhie

 

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The Monuments Men Review

If you’re wondering what kind of war film George Clooney has made in The Monuments Men, it can be easily summed up a third of the way through the film. Two American soldiers share a cigarette with a German solder and the only words they share in common is ‘John Wayne’. And that’s what this is; a John Wayne – 50’s style war film. Full of brave heroes with gallows humour wit, no dissent amongst the ranks and the loss of a fellow soldier is encapsulated by the short but sweet term “hell of a thing.” Don’t expect much in terms of the wider scale of the tragedy. Briefly mentioned in places, there really isn’t much time for that.

It starts out at a pace – like the Indiana Jones 4 we all wished we’d seen, a parade of Nazi’s driving through 1943 occupied Paris, arriving at the National Gallery and hand picking great works of art to be presented to the Fuhrer himself. A quick jump across the Atlantic and we are in a darkened government room watching slides of famous relics of art that have been seized by Hitler. The man giving the presentation,  jacket, beard and spectacles all in check is George Clooney. What does he want? To assemble a group of art historians, architects, and other likewise experts-come-unlikely-heroes, land on the frontline and save the western world’s most important cultural and historical artefacts before they are hidden away for good, or worse; destroyed.

Through the opening credits he assembles his team, who are basically some of the best actors to have worked in Hollywood over the past 30 years; Murray, Goodman, Damon are all plucked along for the ride. “You want to get in the war?” “Sure do!” Is the response and suddenly its feeling like a high art version of the A Team – and perhaps that isn’t too far off what the real Monuments men were like. But that’s where the similarities end, this isn’t an Indiana Jones movie where the Nazi’s are shooting at the protagonists all movie long, although there is a bit of that. This is a film based on real events, based on real people who risked their lives for the sake of keeping our culture and history alive and not eradicated into extinction by the Third Reich.

And because of this it’s a hard story not to like. This is an incredible chapter as yet to be told from the single most documented event in modern history. Clooney has set us a very important question; is art, is culture, is the expression of what makes us ‘us’ worth the price of a human life? It seems to me this is the crux of going to war when our freedom is threatened. If not for this, then what else? And Clooney has found a story which encapsulates this perfectly and turns it into a much smaller, neater story. The trouble is, it still isn’t small enough.

There were some 370 Monument Men in reality. Here, a stellar cast of eight try to tell that story, and although it’s a bit of a dream team of talent, by numbers alone, we don’t get to see enough of them. Split across Europe, in search of lost treasures, we are bounced about from one scene to the next, never with enough time to stop and indulge in their chemistry. I could have watched just a couple of these guys go at it for far longer. They are not together as a unit enough and in the scenes they are, the dialogue and chemistry is magical.

Stand out performances have to go to Bill Murray and Kate Blanchet. Just when you think everyone is playing to their strengths, Murray turns everything on its head with a moment halfway through the film that is just seconds long, but shows us something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen from him before. Blanchet, who seems to have a never-ending array of interesting performances up her sleeve, plays the mis-trusting Parisian gallery employee with brilliant initial distain for Matt Damon’s Monument Man; a women who needs him to prove he’s not just there to steal the artwork for the Americans. Of course he’s not and this is a big part of the film; this being the only time in history the spoils of war were not kept by the victors, but returned to their rightful owners.

And that’s what makes Monuments Men such an interesting and important film; if not the most remarkable.

UK Release:   14th February 2014

Director:          George Clooney (The Ides of March)

Written by:      George Clooney & Grant Heslov (The Ides of March), Based on a non-fiction book by Robert M. Edsel

Producers:      George Clooney & Grant Heslov (Argo, The Ides of March)

Cast:               George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Hugh Bonneville

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Paul Mcghie is an Award-Winning Screenwriter, Director, London Lift-Off Film Festival Judge and git. You can check out his feature project here. His work is on Vimeo or you can follow him on twitter @DirPaulMcGhie

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Dallas Buyers Club Review

His skinny ass gonna sell you the right drugs

First up, I’ll be candid and say that if you’re even vaguely curious to see this film, then I would urge to act on that impulse and watch it. The recounting of Ron Woodruff’s post-AIDS life is a remarkable one and well worth sitting down for.

Ron, played by Matthew McConaughey is an AIDS patient who, discovering that better (approved) medication cannot be prescribed due to FDA regulations, takes matters into his own hands. Importing drugs from Mexico and elsewhere, Ron is forced to accept that his friends disown him because he’s “queer and a faggot” and starts a business relationship (the buyers club in question) with Rayon, a transgender woman he befriends in hospital. Brilliantly played by Jared Leto it must be said.

That’s really the nuts and bolts of the plot without divulging too much. But director Jean Marc Vallee delivers so much more – what we’re given is the journey of a dead man walking. Told by doctors he has 30 days to live we see Ron immediately retreat to booze, cocaine and hookers – his staple diet up to this point. But it is increasingly obvious that he looks so utterly fucked whenever he isn’t either in hospital or not drinking or drug taking, that he looks so much better. One of the many great things about Ron’s journey is that he has no choice but to confront his life and what he wants from what remains. He is a man of the rodeo, the macho and certainly not the queer (references to Rock Hudson help date the film and reveal his and his friends’ attitudes).

The relationship that develops between Leto and McConaughey really is quite beautiful and there are little touches with Marc Bolan photos that are impeccable. More than that however is the way that we see Ron’s own attitudes change – be it to drugs, homosexuals…mankind. Someone who starts off as the alpha-male, self-centred and narrow minded becomes motivated, responsible and resilient in the face of adversity.  McConaughey is as brilliant as you’ve heard and this movie will most likely change your perception of him as an actor.

Sadly, for those who are old enough to remember the AIDS crisis, or if you’ve watched How to Survive a Plague, then you will know that the way in which AIDS patients were treated back then is accurately portrayed in the film.  Patients were so desperate they really did take their life into their own hands and start mixing approved and unapproved drugs.  There was simply no other choice.

Dallas Buyers Club isn’t quite as lighthearted as the trailer would lead to believe, but has some cracking lines; “DEA?  I’ll be DOA!” and some truly memorable scenes such as checking if a hot girl has AIDS as well so they can have unprotected sex.  Of course, there are characters Ron meets along the way (notably law enforcement) but we’re not told a huge amount about them.  Rayon’s drug addiction isn’t explained and the bond between Ron and Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) is allowed to bubble away without developing into much.  It really doesn’t matter though.  Ultimately this is a character study of a man who refuses to give-up and simply wants to help others.  And brilliantly done it is too.

Dallas Buyers Club is in theaters now.

@martincawley

 

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – review

He can only dress in black, it matches his gun

Warning, contains plot spoilers.

A film right up my street to almost kick-off the year with.  An interesting one this as Chris Pine is now the 4th incarnation of the seemingly evergreen Tom Clancy character, having been played previously by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck.  Also starring Kevin Costner, Keira Knightly and Kenneth Branagh who directs.  I was interested to learn from my fellow co-host that Tom Clancy sold off the rights to his books and characters long ago and that Jack Ryan can now be portrayed more or less as the producers wish.  Thankfully the initial story is pretty darned faithful to Jack Ryan’s own backstory from the novels.  We see him studying in London, before joining the Marine Corp and injuring his back in a helicopter crash.  During his rehabilitation he meets his future wife Catherine, (Keira Knightley) and is drafted into the CIA by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner).

Fast forward 10 years and using his cover as compliance officer at a major international bank, Jack Ryan uncovers a plot to financially cripple the USA and under KC’s guidance must prevent total global meltdown whilst keeping girlfriend Catherine in the dark.  When the Russian Federation loses a key vote at the United Nations, Ryan notices that the markets do not respond in the expected way. He discovers that billions of dollars in Russian assets have been secreted away to a level where the United States economy may become dependent on this secret Russian investment -traced directly to Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh).

Travelling to Moscow, Ryan is tasked with auditing Viktor Cherevin’s secret accounts, but before he can do much more than check-in to the hotel he has to survive an attempted assassination and winds up killing his would be killer.  Next thing we know Catherine, concerned Jack is having an affair, travels to Moscow and finds a gun in Jack’s bedroom and the whole thing unravels.  Hatching a plan to gain access to Cheverin’s secret files.  Ryan and Catherine meet Viktor for dinner over the road from his office; during dinner Ryan “gets drunk” and insults Cathy.  Excusing himself, he gains access to Cheverin’s office where he downloads critical files. He discovers Cheverin has been secretly propping up the Chinese and Japanese economies for 20 years, and that the entire global economy is vulnerable. Cheverin, alerted to Ryan’s infiltration, abducts Cathy. Ryan rescues her and we then wrap-up the action in the US as the plot to unleash a bomb in new York’s financial district is foiled.  Meanwhile, Viktor has been killed by his co-conspirators in Russia, having failed.

On the face of it that’s pretty standard spy fare – and Shadow Recruit is pretty much that: standard spy fare.  Kenneth Branagh directs it well enough and it looks great, but I have a series of niggles that I just can’t overlook.  Firstly it’s a long standing issue with me that whenever a civilian gets involved (against both protocol and reality) it just lacks credibility.  Alas Keira Knightly takes on this role and aside from finding her intensely annoying (apparently I’m in the minority for cottoning on so late) here, my heart sank once I knew she’d be undercover and in the field.  It’s as much as we have an agent with a bad back, being thrust a gun and told to get on with it, let alone his wife.  And no, no-one can get a Russian visa and just arrive in Moscow as quickly as she did.  I think it’s telling that the best and most convincing scenes aren’t actually the action sequences – Branagh is great as Cherevin and comes out with some excellent one-liners, delivered in a menacing English-Russian accent.  But Jack Ryan is supposed to get by on his wits and his brain, not his ability to drown a fat African in the bath.  I really want to like this movie but the straightforwardness of most things just kills it for me.  There’s not enough tension building up through it and although it moves quickly enough it lacks the conviction to be different.

Plenty of positives come out of the movie though.  It’s great to see Kevin Costner, older and wiser and bringing a nice sense of weariness to his role.  And I did love Branagh – some moments of pure wicked malevolence:  the scene with the light bulb is a great one.  Chris Pine certainly can act and I think he’s actually perfect for the role of Jack Ryan.  Assuming the producers want to roll out Jack Ryan as a Bourne-type franchise they should stick with him, but give him a lot more to work with.  Do that and ditch Knightly for the wife’s role and we should have something really good on our hands.  It’s very difficult to break into the truly action mould these days with the Bourne, Bond, Mission Impossible & other Jason Statham-ish characters who bring physicality that Ryan can’t / shouldn’t.  The writers need to figure out how to use his brain in a demonstratively better way and not give us something quite so indecisive.  Please sir, can I have some more?

 

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Review: Anchorman 2 – does the legend continue?

The team re-assemble

Joy of joys in the season of goodwill, my co-host Asim was unable to attend our screening of Anchorman 2. One man’s pain is another man’s gain.  It is a hard life, but sometimes you just have to take one for the team. That enthusiasm aside, I approached this movie with more than a hefty dose of caution, even scepticism. My bar was set low. Perhaps to protect me if it was mediocre and possibly to preserve the legacy of the first one.

Sometimes, when you love something so much, you just want more of the same, more of the good stuff.  Like an addiction to Cherry Coke or fizzy cola bottles you can keep stuffing your face until there is no more left and you have to demand more from the makers. I guess this is what happened with Anchorman. Fans – myself included – really were fans and took it to their hearts with a warm embrace, reeling off quote after quip, revelling in people being killed with tridents and women being seduced by Sex Panther.  But it wasn’t enough – how could it be? Genuinely strong characters, played quite perfectly by the cast, combined with surreal humour, a love story that ends happily ever after and a brilliant script with more take-home than your local Chinese.  All of which sets up the sequel nicely, but to what end? After almost 10 years away, how good is it and should you spend your hard earned cash on going to the cinema to see it?

With the 70s behind him, San Diego’s top-rated newsman, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), returns to the news desk along with co-anchor and wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), man on the street Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd) and sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner).

So, after the hype, does the legend really continue?  Thankfully, at least for this lucky viewer, it does.  I can’t say how much I laughed, but I was literally lol-ing all movie which rarely happens in public.  As with the first one, there is an almost non-stop stream of gags and jokes throughout the whole film.  It’s almost unfair to talk about certain high points or low points without giving away some of the story, but suffice to say, if you liked the first one, you will not be disappointed!  I can also report that Kanye is only briefly appearing and is able to JUST ABOUT deliver his lines without spoiling the scene – worry ye not.

So, now that I’ve talked about one scene, I may as well keep going…my least favourite would have to be the dinner with Linda Jackson’s (Meagan Good)  family and not really because it’s unfunny, I just think it doesn’t add much and it also reminded me of shit Eddie Murphy movies that should forever remain purged from my brain.  I did find it hilarious when he moves in to a lighthouse though and you will also find proof that you shouldn’t ever travel with bowling balls and scorpions.  Much has been made of the large cast of stars and I can confirm there is indeed a long long list.  You’ll be ticking them off the list as you see them but there were so many at one point that I even missed Kirsten Dunst entirely.

Anchorman 2 also has the wit to have a pop at media ownership, the quality of broadcast news & what 24 hour news channels have done to change the ways we consume news.  Let me be clear: this is not biting satire and if like my mum, you “don’t do silly”, it’s not going to get you to enjoy it.  However, if you loved the first one, you do “do silly” (like me) & you love the gags coming thick and fast, both verbal and visual then Amnchorman 2 is in every way a winner and the legend does indeed continue.

Enjoy the trailer to whet your appetite – it’s not like you haven’t seen it already is it?

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Blue Jasmine review: Jasmine is truly Blue in Woody’s latest bid for another actress Oscar

Oh so blue

A Woody Allen movie, despite the annual appearance, is always an event.  Upod casts its eye over Blue Jasmine, his latest release.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a former New York socialite, broke (although still travelling 1st Class), homeless and a widow. She’s also a mess of prescription drugs and booze in a bid to cope with the nervous breakdown she’s going through in the aftermath of her life shattering. Moving to San Franciso to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), this re-connects Jasmine (nee Jeanette) with her past and forces her to confront things she still doesn’t have the capacity to deal with. Her sense of denial is truly astonishing and it seems like she is incapable of moving on with her life. As the movie unfolds, we see through flashbacks exactly what happened to leave her in such a position.

Leaving university early as she was swept off her feet by financier Hal (very nicely played, Mr Alec Baldwin) she turns her back on friends and family, living high on the hog, all the while turning a blind eye to Hal’s incredibly dodgy business dealings and his pretty blatant affairs. Safely tucked-up in her world of Fendi bags and other pointless bagatelles, she also draws her sister’s husband into Hal’s murky financing, losing the family their $200 000 lottery winnings and causing the break-up between Ginger and Augie (Andrew Dice Clay).

As Jasmine’s present situation lurches through the various stages of better, worse, bad, good, rock bottom, positive, so we see more revealed about her past life. Whilst we know Hal is eventually arrested and sent to prison, we see their son walking out on his education (and his mum) in shame. He will not be able to stand the embarrassment of going back to Harvard and so leaves everything behind him. It is only later on that we see a woman truly scorned and after Hal confesses he’s in love with an au pair 20 years his junior, Jasmine calls in the Feds.

Ordinarily, that might not be considered a bad thing, but in this case our character cannot reconcile what she’s done with the consequences. We see her in an almost constant state of denial about everything she’s responsible for; brushing the means of her lifestyle under the carpet as we might if we bought a TV that “fell off the back of a lorry”. The reality she has constructed for herself is too painful to confront and so she clings to her past, blithely thinking all will get better. The superlative example of this being the diplomat she meets and wants to marry – it does not even cross her mind that her past cannot escape her.

Woody Allen has delivered us a fascinating look at the lives of others; in this case the filthy rich and socialites of Manhattan. In Jasmine we have one of the more selfish characters to grace a movie-screen, but we never sense it in a purely deliberate or hurtful way. Credit for this goes obviously to Cate Blanchett who, without wishing fall back on cliché, delivers a tour de force performance that will surely earn her the Best Actress gong next year. Blue Jasmine draws together themes such as sibling rivalry, keeping up with the joneses, family, snobbery, money & wealth, social mobility and finally and most simply of all, happiness. The ensemble cast is great and worth a mention absolutely, but such is the brilliance of the central performance they all but serve to further her role. The unpleasant truth for Jasmine and the matter she can’t get over is that she created her own mess – either through turning a blind eye or for reporting Hal to the authorities. She just can’t understand her son wanting nothing to do with her or that her sister can find happiness in a man who repairs cars for a living. There is plenty to take away and Blue Jasmine will get richer with repeat viewings. I already want to watch it again.

Blue Jasmine is released in cinemas across the UK today, Friday 27th September.  Enjoy the trailer below.

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Dial M for Murder 3D – a review in 2 dimensions

 

The perfect murder?

Dial M for Murder 3D. During what has become my unofficial Hitchcockathon at the British Film Institute this month, I had the chance to watch a restored version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950s classic in 3D. Possibly a surprise given my aversion to this technique/technology but with such a legendary film-making figure using it way back when, it proved too tempting to resist. Let’s start with the basics (spoiler alert) of plot: ex-tennis player Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) plots to have his adulterous wife, Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) killed by blackmailing an old friend from university days, C.A. Swann (Anthony Dawson). The scheme is elaborate and has taken months of planning and preparation. Confident his wife will be killed and that “the perfect murder” will have been committed, Tony’s dastardly plan is foiled when Margot kills the intruder, setting off a chain of events that lead ultimately to his capture.

Hitch wasn’t a huge fan of this film, making it because he was under contract and because another project had fallen through. Whether this influenced his use of 3D or not, I can’t say, but it is used sparingly and sensibly. I was certainly more aware of a lower camera angle to take in things like tables and lamps in the foreground, with the actors further away. And of course there are memorable scenes such as that where Grace Kelly reaches behind her to grasp the scissors. But that aside, we’re not “treated” to particularly staged shots as such and the movie feels very natural. It could well be that in choosing to keep the action 95% in the apartment (it was an adaptation of English playwright Frederick Knott’s successful play) Hitchcock’s hand was forced in minimal use of 3D. From his interviews with Francois Truffaut, we know that he chose not to open-up the film with needless outside shots of people approaching the apartment, or being taken in a police car to the courtroom. In fact there isn’t even a court room for that particular sequence.

With news that ticket sales for 3D films have been declining – presumably in part due to less content – I wanted to re-examine the subject and Dial M was the perfect opportunity. So, where does this leave us with a new but old take on 3D? Well, when it’s used like this, I cannot complain. It is when things start to feel contrived that I have problems and the sense of gimmickry overrides the natural flow or appearance of the film. And post-conversion is of a course a no-no in my book, serving nobody’s best interest. So, what are the motivations for audiences in watching 3D movies and more importantly, what are the motivations for film-makers wanting to use 3D? I remain convinced that viewers do not necessarily expect 3D in all movies and moreover, that entire movies need not be shot this way. If it was good enough for Hitch to use it in only 1 film and even then in very few set-pieces, then I think that speaks volumes. What is also clear, is that sales of 3D televisions are relatively poor. Even those that have sold, have not all been bought purely with 3D in mind – the purchase cycle of simply buying a new and Smart TV will take some credit here. Perhaps consumers just aren’t ready to sit at home and wear glasses for occasions where they are habitually used to not doing so.

This leaves moviemakers and what they want to gain by using 3D. Quite clearly we have the ultimate exemplar in James Cameron’s Avatar and some stunning scenes in Ang Lee’s Oscar

I love you darling & would never have an affair with this chap behind me

winning Life of Pi. However I would argue that one is a good film and one isn’t. In the case of Avatar, we have a (perhaps justifiably) hyped Fern Gully where the effects come thick and fast, but tellingly, is not a good experience in 2D. With Life of Pi, we have a more measured use of the effect and a darned strong film that will still work in 2D due to its superior story. 3D alone will not a good movie make; there simply needs to be substance over style. If Christopher Nolan – who knows a thing or two about making good movies that also make a metric f*ck ton of money – won’t work in digital, let alone 3D, how far can we expect the landscape to change? Martin Scorsese has of course released Hugo and has repeatedly said he is interested in the medium, but appears to have gone no further with it. For a technology that has been around for decades, surely we would have seen literally thousands more features employing three dimensions? We haven’t and what we have had has been generated in fits and starts – a few years where 3D is employed more heavily and then fallow periods where it’s back to usual.

I’ll theorise that when studios have conducted market research over the years and have perhaps asked “what do you want to see more of in movies?” cinema-goers haven’t replied in their droves “oooh, definitely more movies in 3D please”. So why this push over the last few years? I’ll refer to a recent interview with James Cameron where he talked about making 3D movies where you don’t need to wear glasses (which would be a great start) but also in which he talked about his own company pushing that technology into theatres. I think this is perhaps the biggest clue of all: money and James Cameron’s belligerence in using technology from which he stands to make even more of it. There’s just no pleasing some people is there? Don’t forget that the third dimension costs more (of our!) money and is also no guarantee of a great film. I personally don’t want to ban movies in 3D, but at least give me the choice please. And whilst I won’t be betting against James Cameron, I’ll wager we have a good many years ahead of us before he gets his wish.

Getting back to the film that started this verbal meander, I’d like to recommend everyone to watch it – 3D or not. Grace Kelly is as beautiful as she ever was, the story is clever and Hitchcock gives us genuine will he-won’t he? moments, stringing the audience along right to the very end. Measured use of 3D adds a little bit of something to an already great film and if you’re in France, this will be the first time those old enough to watch the original get to see it as the director intended. For some reason, the French theatres at the time couldn’t be bothered to install the necessary equipment spend the necessary money. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that, from the nation that gave birth to cinema.

 

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About Time: Review

4 weddings in Notting Hill, actually

About Time is the latest film from British director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings). A great cast of Brits, plus of course Rachel McAdams and Margot Robbie (Neighbours and the ill-fated/rubbish Pan-Am). With the exception of those Blackadder episodes and The Boat that Rocked, usually a “new Richard Curtis” breaks me out in a cold sweat, so, what lies in store?

At the age of 21, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time. After yet another crap New Year party (yep, I can relate to that), Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) tells his son that the men in his family have always been able to travel in time. Tim cannot change history, but he can change what happens and has happened to his own life—so he decides to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend (Mary, played by McAdams) Accidentally wiping out the timeline, he must try and win her back once again.

Not a bad set-up that, to start! But, if like me, you’re used to Curtis’ way of doing things, then I think you will tire. Tim already has a pretty sweet life by most people’s imagination (he’s studying for the bar…not the one that serves alcohol) and the locations also reflect this. Gorgeous place on the coast with the parents and a mighty impressive gaff (owned by playwright Tom Hollander) in London. I also could not get Groundhog Day out of my head, nor the Time Traveller’s Wife. So, we’ve got a typically well put together and lush looking movie that we’ve come to expect. I do think it’s easy to pick holes in time travel movies and I won’t dwell on that here – you will see the example I’m alluding to. Kudos for taking time travel out of the realm of science-fiction though; the intention is to be applauded.

Basically it’s Gleeson and McAdams who hold this movie together – great casting or just lucking out? I’m not sure, but they’re brilliant. I also really liked the soundtrack, so this combined with some of the funnies and high quality production mean that this is a decent, if not great date movie. I guess as a viewer, either you buy into the notion that Tim chasing Mary back through time…and again…and again, is really worth the message that his father delivers. That the gift of time travel is to make your life better…as good as it can be. I don’t quite buy into that and so we have an end product that’s a tad anodyne for my liking as you’ve probably guessed.

About Time opens in the UK on September 4th.

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Pain and Gain review: Michael Bay’s best film?

Your pain, their gain, our laughs

A good title for this movie I have to say.  Adapted from a truly horrific real life story Michael Bay‘s newest on screen adventure is a crime-comedy starring Mark WahlbergDwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie. The film is based on a story published in a 1999 series of Miami New Times articles written by Pete Collins and compiled in his book Pain & Gain: This is a True Story, which details the kidnapping, extortion, torture, and murder of several victims by criminals that included a number of bodybuilders affiliated with the Sun Gym.

After being inspired by motivational speaker Johnny Wu (a hilarious Ken Jeong character) and his women, money, boats etc, Lugo persuades John Mese, the gym’s owner (Rob Corddry) to be part of his scheme, as a notary.  With the other beefcakes along for the ride, things start to get ugly.

Things I liked about P&G abound – there’s a lot to like.  Dwayne Johnson (Paul Doyle) is excellent and Marky Wahlberg  (Daniel Lugo) perfectly cast.  Ever wanted to see Dwayne Johnson as an evangelical Christian, recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict?  To be fair, that thought had probably never crossed your mind, but now’s your chance.  Anthony Mackie (playing Adrian Doorbal) who I’d not really seen in anything other than Hurt Locker is excellent as the even less bright 1 of the 3, playing the part of an impotent steroid-using body builder.

Ed Harris (Ed Du Bois III) has his moments and is as convincing as can be as the private detective who takes up the case after the local police dismiss the complaints of Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) as the ravings of a madman.  It is this that I found perhaps the most interesting.  Whilst he is utterly abused and tortured, there is very little sympathy for him.  Not in the sense that he deserves it perhaps, but that he is such an unpleasant man, that even his employees prefer Lugo as their boss. In turn, I ended up siding with the bad guys.

Quite clearly it pays to be inept at crime.  For a short while at least.

Also livening-up proceedings is Rebel Wilson (Robin).  This time she plays Doorbal’s love interest.  And when she is scorned, boy does she not hold anything back – her line in the court scene near the end is brilliant.

So, that’s what’s hot, but what’s not?  Not much to be fair.  I understand some of the criticism levelled at the movie has come from its light-hearted take on what is of course a terrible story.  However, whilst Pain and Gain takes the less horrendous aspects and presents them accordingly, it is by no means played exclusively for laughs. Michael Bay does still find time for some lovely shots of helicopters, which are frankly unnecessary and I think it’s quite natural that those more familiar with the true story will object to the portrayal of 3 hugely despicable human beings.

Other criticism has been that there is perhaps too much poetic licence…that for example we have a made-up character and a semi-made-up character in key roles.  To this, I say nonsense.  Using our podcast to come for example, about Empire State, this would have worked so much better if someone had tried to be inventive or creative with an existing story.  Just because something is true, doesn’t necessarily make it interesting straight out of the can.

In light of this and my blog’s title, it’s interesting to note that this only cost $26 million.  Partly because Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are taking profit-share and of course partly because there are so few complicated action set-pieces, car chases, guns and special effects.  All credit to Michael Bay for directing this and for apparently loving the project from day one.  I am notoriously hard on “Michael-every shot’s a shot-Bay” but I genuinely believe this is his best film.  I do love The Rock  and Bad Boys, but they take themselves very…way too seriously.  Perhaps this is the dawn of a era for Bay.  Enough of the robots and the excessive CGI; get some budget, some great casting, a believable storyline & decent script and show us what you’ve got.  The camerawork has never been my contention in his films and Pain and Gain shows how effective he can be without all of the nonsense a $100m+ budget can bring.

Thanks Mike, for this one.

Pain and Gain previews this week and opens August 30th in UK cinemas.  Enjoy the trailer below

 

 

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Madras Cafe Review

Director Shoojit Sircar’s latest – Madras Cafe, sees him teaming up again with actor/producer John Abraham after the successful Vicky Donor to bring a different story to life. This time, John takes matters in his own hands, as he takes centre-stage as the big and brawny Indian Army Officer Vikram Singh, who is dropped in the middle of a country in civil war. Set mostly in India and Sri Lanka, Madras Cafe depicts the tale of 25+ years of the Sri Lankan Civil War, which eventually resulted in the assassination of one of India’s ex-Prime Minister.

The events in the story demand the plot to be taken seriously, and Madras Cafe wants to be a lot of things. From a political espionage thriller, to a war drama, to even a conspiracy theory about the dealers of war, Madras Cafe does not shy away from the grim side of politics and war. It does not necessarily take any sides, or show a blatant support to anyone. The one opinion it projects however, is how humanity is completely destroyed when the wrath of war strikes.

With cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi’s lens sweeping the tropical landscapes of Sri Lanka and the Southern coast of India, Sircar expertly captures the ugliness of how a nation gets torn into pieces when its people go to war. Enter our hero Vikram, who is on a mission to “conspire” peace by dealing with the ones who are the centre of it. Turns out, things are more convoluted than it seems, and caught in the action are not only the neighbouring countries, but a hell lot more. With so many dramatic elements playing, Madras Cafe does get a bit confusing at times.

And yet, it somehow feels a bit inadequate in its storytelling.  The scenes where RAW officers are in a cabinet meeting, making the calls on what would happen on the field is reminiscent to many political thrillers. And yet, it lacks that extra oomph that would grip us. It often feels like the dialogues by Juhi Chaturvedi were instead written by an intern who was provided with an outline of the scene, and just wrote the first thing that came into their heads. It is blatantly obvious at times, sometimes obvious enough to make you cringe.

It is unfortunate to see a brilliant supporting cast such as Siddharth Basu, Piyush Pandey, and the Bongs from Vicky Donor to be undermined by these badly written lines. Having said that, Siddharth Basu does seem effortlessly natural in his role as the head of RAW. Thankfully, there  is no sexual tension explored between John Abraham and Nargis Fakhri’s character, however it did come a bit close. Fakhri is not as annoying here as she was in Rockstar, however her character makes me confused. Why would a war reporter (apparently intelligent and pretty attractive) go in a jungle full of sexually starved men, dressed like she was? All for the job eh!

Madras Cafe also sees the debut of News Reporter Debang as a “khabri”, and one can only laugh when he says with a deadpan face – “Ye meeting kabhi nahi hui”  (This meeting never happened).

For those who expected this to be a John Abraham version of Ek Tha Tiger, they would be utterly disappointed. Because our hero is a mere mortal, and not a Sunny Deol, who’d gatecrash the Jaffna border, and win the island back with a handpump in one hand, and a baby in the other. Abraham’s Vikram Singh is a helpless protagonist who is compromised by moles in the organisation, kidnapped, beaten, and who eventually ends up as a drunkard in Kasauli. If you are not ready for your hero to be that, you should rather catch the Chennai Express. John does seem to play his part well, and I think it is all down to a director like Sircar to cut down the theatrics and treat the story as how it should be. However, I do have a problem with the lead guy being treated as one, when it comes to fashion. There are several moments where it does look like a snippet from a shirt advert.

In conclusion, all I would like to add is that Madras Cafe is an earnest effort at telling the tale of the Srilankan civil war and its aftermath. However, it does fall short as a captivating movie, and it is entirely the writer’s fault. There are scenes which you can predict coming from a mile, and for a thriller, that just should not be. With scenes involving hacking code that will make you giggle more than having a “Whoa” moment, Madras Cafe could have been so much more. Instead, it is a fairly simplified version of one of the many espionage conspiracy political thrillers that we have seen.

Rating: A disappointing 2.75 stars out of 5.

Find more of Sujoy’s work on : OneKnightStands | Bollypop | @9E3K

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Shahid Review at LIFF 2013

Everyone that listens to UPodcast knows that my tastes veer towards massy entertainers that have had some thought put into it. I don’t need added sound effects to punctuate punch lines but I cant’ stand slow, dreary movies that only get praise from other movie directors (usually friends) or snobby critics.

So when we received the line up of films at this year’s London Indian Film Festival, I naturally try to find the ones I have some connect with, be it an actor or director whose name sounds familiar or a story that would connect with me somehow.

Shahid was high on my list of movies to watch at this year’s LIFF as it starred Raj Kumar Yadav (now shortened to just Raj Kumar as the statute of limitations have surely expired on that foot fetishist from Pakeezah) who had the stand out performance as the lecherous pervert in Love, Sex Aur Dhoka as well as the goody goody in Kai Po Che. The other vague familiarity was that the movie was directed by Hansal Mehta (Does anyone own Woodstock Villa on Dvd except me?) and appreciated his short in Sanjay Gupta produced Dus Kahaniyan starring Jimmy Shergill.

 

Shahid is based on the story of Muslim human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi who (SPOILERS for Real LIFE) was shot dead in his own office after trying to defend people wrongfully incarcerated under terrorism charges in India.

 

One of the reasons I have yet to see Bhaag Milka Bhaag is that autobiographies in my book just have the same “inspirational” story arc and a movie about an interesting person, doesn’t necessarily make an interesting movie.

Shahid doesn’t avoid all “inspirational biography” trappings but gives the audience enough in Raj Kumar lead performance (who looks a bit like Shahid Kapoor’s more talented but less buff older brother) , it’s the tight screenplay and fiery courtroom scenes. The story starts with Shahid’s murder and then in flashback mode we jump in a linear fashion through the major chapters that lead him to his end.

 

After seeing the slaughter first hand in the ’92 Mumbai communal riots, Shahid tries to get some sense of vindication as wayward youths do by joining an Islamic Militant group in Kashmir but very soon he finds out that it’s not the right place for him as he doesn’t have any interest in the physical training or the stomach for beheadings (as one would). Unfortunately, when he finds his way back home, the Bombay police pick him up and he is sentenced under TADA (now defunct anti terrorism law) and ends up serving 7 years hard time.

In jail he picks up a law degree and wants to make sure he can do all he can to help people who suffered the same faith as him when he is released.

 

Shahid has some excellent supporting mostly unknown actors (his older brother (who was Imran Khan’s friend in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan), the female lawyer in his final case, his prison mentor) and quite surprising cameos by Kay Kay Menon (who almost pulls a Kosmo Kramer the way he appears in the movie) and Tigmanshu Dhulia (who in my mind will always be Romance Singh thank you Qtipya’s Gangs of WasseyPur Spoof).

 

It was also refreshing that Shahid isn’t mythologized and is shown with real human flaws and weaknesses without resorting to clichés. He is a weak man when it comes to his small family and avoids confrontation but when it comes to the fighting for his defendants he is on fire. His passion for his cause is undeniable in the courtroom scenes, which seem to be done quite realistically, so there are no “Dhai Kilo Ka Haath” monologues that illicit wolf whistles but illustrates the frustration of bureaucracy and process very well.

The movie is shot beautifully from the small alleys to the middle classes houses and offices in Mumbai to the majestic beautiful vistas of Kashmir.

 

Some of the editing can be jarring because of that some of the chronology can be confusing but these are minor issues with an overall satisfying movie without screaming it’s own importance.

 

Shahid has been picked up by UTV Films so will be getting a wide release. And for my money it was one of the best movies at the London Indian Film Festival that I saw this year.

 @asimburney

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The Heat

 

They're coming for you

The Heat is the latest movie from Paul Feig, director of the acclaimed and universally adored Bridesmaids. Starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy (also in Bridesmaids), The Heat is about an over-dedicated FBI agent teaming up with a no-nonsense local cop in order to take down the city’s biggest and nastiest drug dealer.

The movie is all about the relationship between the two leads. On the one hand, an uptight, pretty, slim, smartly dressed, ambitious and emotionally detached FBI agent (Sarah Ashburn) and the other a badly dressed, over-weight, insubordinate and slobbish police detective (Shannon Mullins). Both roles are perfectly cast and thankfully not too much of the Miss Congeniality from Sandra Bullock. There are some good support turns too, from Michael Rapaport, Tom Wilson and Marlon Wayans. I’m really not the biggest fan of Marlon Wayans’ contribution to movie history, but he’s used well here.

Things I loved about this move…well, you think it’ll go one way and then it doesn’t happen – particularly the tooling-up scene! This is important when we consider the genre and how often the buddy-buddy movie, with all its incarnations, has been done: Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, Midnight Run…the list is endless. Sandra Bullock. Yes, I do love her in this one and quite possibly I think I fancy her for the first time since the age of 15 (when you really don’t care too much who you fancy). There is less of the Congeniality thank God and just well-acted “straight man” style comedy. And of course Melissa Mcarthy is on top, top form. She has some absolutely cracking one-liners, whilst leaving the physical humour mainly to Sandra.

One thing that did strike me was the seemingly obvious resolution of Sandra Bullock’s problems (too uptight, follows the rules too strictly, no boyfriend etc) but not the same for Mcarthy. She is also overly dedicated, has alienated her family because of this and eats 2 week old sandwiches. But Sandra seems to have the moment of catharsis and the penny dropping and not Mcarthy. Other than that, I’m sure if you wanted, you could pick many holes in things – such and such would never happen, the FBI doesn’t work like that, blah blah. But then bridesmaids (I hope) don’t act like that in real life either.

So then, so far I make this the 2nd funniest film of the year/summer. No shame in being 2nd to the World’s End, none at all. I’ll have to wait and see what This is the End delivers of course, but doubt it will have the charms of The Heat. In some ways, this is almost the ideal date movie: plenty in it for both him and her, neither too girly (e.g. any comedy with la Anniston except Office Space) nor too boy-ish (e.g. any Bruce Willis film). Go to the cinema, get out of the heat and see The Heat. And do look out for the knife scene – truly excellent.

Enjoy this clip that mocks regional accents!

 

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LIFF Review Monsoon Shootout

 

 

Monsoon Shootout was the perfect opening film to the wonderful yearly non-Bollywood Indian film Festival LIFF. Not only was Amit Kumar’s 10 years in the making debut still riding on it’s praise from Cannes, it was a movie exclusive enough that wasn’t available to UK audiences but also had the cachet of a well known name attached to most of it’s marketing in critical darling Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

 

We follow Adi (Vijay Varma) who starts his day with his mother’s advice that life is basically Goldilock’s porridge, to be eaten just the right way. Armed with a Ganesha round his neck and the realization that his supervising officer (Neeraj Kabi) has watched Denzel Washington’s Training Day one to many times, he is assigned to chase down the Shiva, the Ax killer (Nawazuddin), who has been extorting money from builders for an underground Slum Lord who is preparing his entry for the world wrestling federation old timers division.

Adi and Shiva come face to face under on a rainy night which sets us up for the 3-way split narrative where we see what can happen if Adi eats his porridge too hot, too cold or just right.

 

It is clear to see that director Amit Kumar has poured in his personal vision in every frame of the movie, the movie is gritty, dark supported by some wonderful performances both by the leads Vijay Varma and Nawazuddin as well as the supporting cast of Neeraj Kabi, Tannishtha Chatterjee and the little dude that was playing her son. Monsoon Shootout clearly wants to distance itself from any conventional Bollywood film by its subject matter, casting choices and narrative flow.

 

Unfortunately this is not Tomas Twyker’s Run Lola Run, which had the visuals to support its structure forcing the movie to move at a relentless pace and never get boring.  Monsoon Shootout has none of those visual flourishes and keeps it dire and gritty vision until the end, whilst still managing to cut away from any impactful gore. From the 2nd narrative possibility things start to slow down and the aversion to Bollywood conventions seem a bit forced. Like most Hindi Independent films it remains in cinematic adolescents, rebelling against its Bollywood lineage but not grown up enough to play with global filmi big boys who have done this before and better.

 

Since Amit Kumar has been working on this story for a decade this are things he could have mended if he hadn’t been as close to the story as he was. I also think he had no idea that Nawazuddin would break out to become the start he is now. A savvier director could have padded up his scenes but this didn’t seem the case in Monsoon Shootout, so we miss out some of the fire that we know Siddiqui can bring to the screen as in Kahaani or Gangs Of Wasseypur.

 

But these are small issues with an overall positive cinematic experience and a great opener to one of the most unique cinematic festivals in London, which we hope to be covering in the next few days.

@asimburney

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The World’s End Upodcast Review

Any new feature by Edgar Wright is guaranteed to get us excited here at Upod and with the concluding part to the Cornetto trilogy, we have not been disappointed.

The action takes place in a sleepy English town when 5 friends (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan & Martin Freeman) re-enact a monstrous pub crawl around 12 of the local hostelries.  1990s British indie music provides the soundtrack and beer, several chasers and blue blooded robots provide the action.  Those of us familiar with Spaced or other Edgar Wright films, won’t be let down – there are plenty of references and appearances to whet our appetite – and for those of us less familiar with the genius, it’s just a plainly funny film, you don’t need the references.

Upod remains tight-lipped (at the director’s insistence) about plot and acting spoilers so even after listening, you’ll still be watching it as fresh as we did.  We will however let you know where this one stands in relation to the other two of the trilogy, how funny it REALLY is and what we think a bit more budget means for all concerned.  There are surely, no more fence-jumping jokes left to play!

The World’s End hits UK theaters today!

You can download/Listen to or subscribe to our episodes here:

@martincawley

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A Haunted House Review: More laughs than the Hangover

The Wayans have a particular brand of humor that straddles the line between spoof and gross out comedy combining it with what can be described as FLAVA.

It gets derided by critics as low bro when it comes to movies like Little Man and White Chicks, or put in the same category as Friedberg – Seltzer comedies especially as they took over the Scary Movie franchise over from the Wayans, burn it to the ground and then built a ridiculous million dollar empire on it.

But I pretty much love all of the Wayans, from the first time I saw “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka” directed, written and produced by Keenon Ivory Wayans (who also wrote part of Eddie Murphy’s RAW) back in ’88 all the way to Damion Wayans Jr, in the recently canceled Happy Endings, a show that like Arrested Development, people will be rediscovering and loving in years to come.

Marlon Wayans was probably the one that got the closest to breaking through to mainstream audiences having worked in the GI Joe movies as well as getting quite a bit of praise in the Arronofsky addiction themed gut punch Requiem for a Dream. (One of my favorites of his was Senseless though; probably available in bargain bins)

This time Marlon spoofs the found footage/ documentary style horror known from movies like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, The Last Exorcism.

A Haunted House makes as much sense as the movies it’s making fun of, Malcolm and Keisha move in together and soon realize that Keisha is being followed by a Demon as she sold her soul for a pair of shoes. To catch the presence Malcolm places cameras everywhere in the house and then humps a stuffed toy and Keisha break dances while possessed.

They are visited by priests, ghost hunters and psychics whilst their sexually deranged friends have mandingo parties in the garden shed.

Comedies are hard to argue, if you find any of the above funny than you will probably have a great time, even if some jokes are truly juvenile but the sincerity with which they are unrelentlessly delivered  cracked me up even when I didn’t want it to. ( I realized that seeing a man dessicrate the ashes of his father in law was something that did indeed make me laugh as i had been wrestling with that question for a while now). There is quite a bit of male nudity in the most unnappealing manner and the fart jokes (a staple for Wayans comedies) are what they are.

Haunted House does a good job of keeping a relentless pace of jokes coming in within the framework of the Paranomal Activity franchise, when it tries to expand and add to the story line by deviating into other movie franchises that’s when the movie begins to falter.  Lucky for us that is the moment that Cedric The Entertainer makes his entry and his jail house pastor, is just non stop hilarious.

Supported by some excellent comedic actors like David Koechner, Affion Crockett and even JB Smooth (LONG BALLS!) and a very likable main lead pair, Haunted House made me laugh out more than any of the Hangover movies did. And it does so with an unbelievably tight budget and funnier dead animal jokes

The trailer gives you a pretty good idea of what the movie is like, so give it a shot if it’s your cup of tea or if you like me like the Wayans brand of humour, it’s out in theaters this week in the UK.

@asimburney

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World War Z Review

World War Z produced by Brad Pitt’s company Plan B had an uphill PR battle to face up to it’s release.

The movie was a very heavy departure from the original source material by Max Brook’s zombie novel, which was a series of interviews of zombie apocalypse survivors where as the movie is more of the established action genre.

Director Marc Foster who has quite a few good movies on his resume is mostly remembered for unfortunate Quantum Of Solace, which audiences were disappointed with after Casino Royale. (I would opine they are wrong and QoS is quite a fun movie with some minor issues)

And on top of that, ongoing rumors were seeping through all through out the production.  Stories of delays, rewrites and reshoot, inflating budgets just up until the release of the movie, you can check out this piece from THR for more info (click here)

 

But I am glad to say that WWZ rises above all of those issues by climbing over a massive zombie wall and being a fun although gore-less globetrotting zombie adventure movie.

Not only is the movie beautiful to look at it but also adds something to the zombie genre of which we have seen so many different iterations from comedy, to rom- com to the classic horror genre.Just like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, we are dealing with speeded up zombies that run, jump and move at breakneck speed with the difference that they are sensitive to sound instead of smell, creating a very tense climactic set piece set in Wales.

But where WWZ differs more importantly from 28 days is that it has a sense of optimism towards humanity that I found quite refreshing.

People generally help each other out even when facing the worst possible situations, the armed forces and even politicians seems to be inherently good people and this lack of cynism was just a welcome change for once.

Brad Pitt plays the most important man in the world with an ugly haircut, who quit his job as a UN investigator to be with his wife played by The Killing’s Mireille Enos and two daughters.

On their daily commute a zombie outbreak starts that forces him to take charge and join his former boss’s (Fana Mokoena) mission to find a cure for the outbreak by travelling to South Korea, Israel and Wales whilst the whole world is being devoured by zombies and most of the political leaders are dead.

The movie has some amazing action set pieces and moves at a breakneck speed, it is shot beautifully by DOP Ben Seresin and uses that speed and beauty to camouflage the plot holes and editing problems (of which there are quite a few- like the ending).

Some actors appear and disappear (Matthew Fox from Lost was apparently in this but I don’t even recall a scene with him) and if every location wasn’t bookended with a zombie attack you might start to wonder what the point of that visit actually was to the overall solution to the zombie plague.

WWZ also has a PG-13 certificate, which might bring in a bigger audience but for a zombie film it works to its detriment. Some scenes were missing their full impact because of the way the camera cut off.

The CG in the zombie crowd scenes looks iffy but it would have been unfeasible to shoot it in any other way, but the digital effect team could have definitely used a bit more time and budget to chisel out the kinks. Sometimes the zombies look like the vampires in I Am Legend and this isn’t a good thing.

The 3D in the movie is pointless and must be avoided at all costs. It only managed to give me a headache.

Brad Pitt plays Brad Pitt very competently; he manages to capture the frustrations and love for his family as well as being extremely competent in tough situations. He is supported by a wonderful cast of which you wish you saw more of as sometimes it feels Pitt is just in every scene. (You have Peter Capaldi in this and he doesn’t even get to swear that much)

I went in with very low expectation and came out having had a great time.

I would definitely recommend World War Z, just don’t see it in 3D.

 World War Z attacks theaters on June 21st!

@asimburney


 

Hangover 3 Review

The marketing collateral and trailers for the The Hangover III all promised that this final chapter would be “…the epic conclusion to an incomparable odyssey of mayhem and bad decisions…”  As adverts always say the truth my expectations were set high.

 

The Hangover Part III reunites Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha and Ken Jeong as Phil, Stu, Alan, Doug and Leslie Chow.  Now two years later all the members of the “Wolfpack” are settled in their uneventful lives… The only member of the pack who’s not content is Alan, who has been of his meds and seems to have lost all sense of purpose.   The events start when Alan’s father, played by Jeffry Tambor, died of a heart attack following his son being responsible for a highway pile up caused by his beheaded pet giraffe.

Following this hilarious event the three friends step in to make sure Allan seeks the help he needs.   This will take the boys on an unplanned road trip to Mexico and Vegas on the hunt for Chow and the lost gold of bad guy, Marshall, played by John Goodman.

 

This time around there are no crazy tattoos, unplanned weddings or drug fueled nights that lead to mass amnesia….

 

Unlike in the first two Hangover movies Helms and Cooper mainly have supporting roles. This allowed for Zach Galifianakis’s character to become the lead closely followed by Ken Joeng. Galifianakis hilarious unpredictability makes way to expose a sensitive and needy side that paves the way to an unexpected romance, while Chow evolves from a crazy cokehead into a full blown psychopath.

 

The character chances also mean that most of the slapstick humor, that made the first two movies a success, made place for a more robust, albeit predictable story. This makes The Hangover III, more of a comedy thriller that can be enjoyed on many different levels.

 

But let’s get back to what The Hangover’s spin-doctors want us to believe. Is this truly an “Epic Conclusion” to The Hangover Trilogy?  Well, it isn’t.   It isn’t Epic nor is it a “final conclusion” and I predict we will see a fourth installment in the years to come.

 

That being said, The Hangover III did not disappoint it was really enjoyable and at times even managed to make the entire theatre laugh in unison.  If you’re not into Leonardo di Caprio or Science Fiction then The Hangover III is probably your best bet if you’re looking for a movie that the whole family will enjoy on a rainy bank holiday weekend.

 

 

The Hangover 3 is in UK theaters now!

For the Epic conclusion of this film we had to bring in an epic fan of the movie to write this up,you can follow our guest blogger,  Stephane on twitter by clicking here.

 

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Beat Girl Review

Releasing this week is the movie adaptation of Beat Girl a novel by Jasmine Kallay, about young Heather Jennings (played by Louise Dylan known to some form BBC’s Jane Austin’s Emma) who after the passing of her mother has to move in with her father and step- brother who she really doesn’t know or have any stable relationship with. She wants to earn a scholarship to Juliard as she’s quite the piano prodigy but along the way stumbles into underground Dj’ing and is torn between what she thought she wanted and the new enticing world that has opened up to her.

Beat Girl is an British independent feature produced by beActive but what’s interesting is that it’s simultaneously being released as a book, game, web series and of course the movie itself. We always want to support new initiatives and release strategies even though the target audience of the movie is women between 18 -35.

 

Or at least that’s what’s intended; unfortunately the real audience is probably a bit younger.

Struggling with a small budget and a very young cast, Beat Girl has its heart in the right place and delivers a few earnest performances especially from Louise Dylan and Percell Ascot (playing her younger brother). That was the main story line that I connected with most and I appreciated how casually a multi race family issue was dealt with. Unfortunately that story line gets side tracked by a romantic plot with Craig Daniels (playing Toby, the DJ Yoda), which lacks any semblance of chemistry.

The overall story of Heather being stuck between being a classical pianist or a DJ is just half baked and never really makes the viewer believe she has the skill or drive to be either.

The direction, cinematography and music are at the level of a day time soap or a TV movie for young teens that lack any sense of irony, I just don’t know if those teens exist, as I doubt people like Heather or Craig do either.

 

Although it has it’s heart in the right place, and an innovative way of releasing a project but unfortunately Beat Girl just misses the beat.

 

@asimburney

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Suddenly Last Summer BFI Review

An under the radar classic

Suddenly, last summer. But for me, more a case of: finally, this winter. Courtesy of the BFI Southbank and their screenings of Montgomery Clift movies I was able to catch this excellent movie. Also starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn, this 1960 film by Joseph Mankiewicz was the second highest grossing of that year (behind Psycho, and there’s no shame in that) and I can see why. In addition to the fine cast, this movie was produced by Sam Spiegel and the screenplay written by Gore Vidal.

Based on a Tenessee Williams play/book/novel Suddenly, last summer is the story of neuro surgeon Dr. John Cukrowicz (Clift), a wealthy patron Violet Venable (Hepburn) and her niece Catherine Holly (Taylor). Wanting to commit an emotionally disturbed Catherine for a lobotomy, Hepburn is trying to hide the events of the previous summer – when her son died – from possible public exposure and gossip. Woven into this are strands of professional medical ethics, homosexuality & pederasty, greed and motherly love bordering on obsession.

Williams himself a known homosexual, was not long out of therapy and battling his demons when he wrote the play and this is so clearly reflected in the screenplay. Further to this, the production suffered myriad problems: subject matter was of deep concern to the backers/studio/censors, Hepburn had to take second billing to Elizabeth Taylor for the first time since 1933, Clift was a law unto himself, the bottle & painkillers and upon completion, Hepburn actually spat in Mankiewicz’s face. Furthermore, Elizabeth Taylor was still mourning her fourth husband whilst married to her 5th. When filming for the most climactic scene finished, so emotionally drained was she, that she needed to be helped off the set by crew.

Plenty of off-screen matters to keep a viewer interested there and the outlines I’ve given don’t reveal too much. I really do rate this movie – a fantastic and gruesome story, Katie Hepburn playing someone as deranged as Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate and Elizabeth Taylor absolutely perfect as someone made to believe they’re insane enough to want to be lobotomised. Another great chance to watch some screen greats on fantastic form.

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Dragon (Wu Xia)

Science and nature

Coming out this Friday, a new (but 2 years old…) Donnie Yen movie: Dragon / Wu-Xia.  We love Donnie Yen at Upod so getting to see this was a treat.  Spoilers below; you have been warned 🙂

Liu Jin-xi (Yen) is a village craftsman whose quiet life is irrevocably shattered by the arrival of two notorious gangsters in the local general store. When Liu single-handedly saves the shopkeeper’s life, he comes under investigation by detective Xu Bai-jiu (Kaneshiro). Convinced that

Liu’s martial arts mastery belies a hidden history of training by one of the region’s vicious clans, Xu doggedly pursues the shy hero—and draws the attention of China’s criminal underworld in the process.

Originally released in 2011, I presume it was withheld from release whilst it was adapted and re-edited for Western audiences, but I don’t know this for a fact.

So, that’s the basics out of the way; now for my 2 cents.  I really liked this movie and I’m not at all a real fan of martial arts / Kung Fu / wires etc. It was great to see Donnie Yen in something outside of Ip Man and the somewhat, ahem, patchy Dragon-Tiger Gate.  To be fair, for such a big star, I really can’t say I’ve seen anything of Takeshi Kaneshiro (yeah I know, go see House of Flying Daggers etc), but I got shades of Johnny Depp‘s character in Sleepy Hollow. I also got a strong hint of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies and any episode of CSI that you care to mention.  And these are both positive things imo.  Where Dragon is very strong is in its portrayal of Liu, affording plenty of backstory and development.  Conversely, I felt a lack of the same with Xu and this left me wanting more.  I just wasn’t quite convinced as to why he had to be so dogged in unmasking someone and ultimately setting off a deadly chain of events.  This is a small pick at what I think is a fab film – it’s snappy at under a hundred minutes, great action sequences and a very neat story of two quiet men with differing beliefs in the physical and metaphysical worlds.

Check out the trailer here or better still, get to a cinema and watch it on the big screen.

Cloud Atlas Review

As I stood up from the chair in the cinema, as the end credits rolled, I suddenly realised how desperately I needed a wee. And then, a few members of the audience started clapping. And I yelled “Are you fucking serious”. And I was joined by a few others who agreed to my comment with laughter in unison. The movie I am talking about, is Cloud Atlas – a 3 hour long wastage of reel, acting talent, and a 100 million USD.

 

And when I say “well, there’s 3 hours I’ll never get back”, I mean it. Now, I am a staple consumer of Bollywood movies, and when it comes to epic 3 hours plus movies, I can handle them, and I have a long list of ones that I loved despite being lengthy movies. But if you are going to make such lengthy movies, please make sure that you convince me to be engrossed throughout the length, rather than make me feel so bored, that I’d start considering shooting myself in the face.

 

How can I possibly summarise the plot of this movie? But I will try my best.

 

1849 – A young attorney Adam Ewing, saves a slave, is poisoned by toothy Tom Hanks.

 

1930s – Robert Frobisher is having trouble with leading a gay life, and is trying to compose his best work, the Cloud Atlas, and sleeps around with his mentor’s wife.

 

1970s – An investigative journalist in San Francisco is trying to uncover corporate corruption which could shape the future of energy consumption.

 

2012 – A troubled London publisher finds himself trapped in a home for the elderly.

 

2140s – Neo Seoul at the peak of consumerism has designed to grow saleswomen. And some sort of revolution is about to begin.

 

After the Fall – in the middle of a fuck-all universe – there are cannibalistic tribes, and yet advanced technology, and pristine white uniforms.

 

You might argue that I am missing the point behind all these stories interlinked by words such as destiny, truth, love, choices, and all that. But here’s my point – It makes no fucking sense. Here are a few of the many things that I thought about this movie:

 

The movie simplifies the complexity of finding the common thread between the different lives by using same actors play repeated roles. This works in some cases, but fails spectacularly in most of the stories e.g.

  • Tom Hanks playing an Irish gangster with the worst Irish accent you’ll ever hear.
  • Halle Berry as the white wife of Vyvyan Ayrs.
  • Hugh Grant as the Korean saleswoman pimp.
  • Hugo Weaving in everything.

 

I just could not get past the horrendous make-ups of some of the characters. Between this and the Hobbit, I don’t know which one spent more on prosthetic noses, and fake tan.

The language in the “After the fall era” was just an epic fail. Why would a supposedly advanced civilization still use words such as true-true? Also, why are there cannibalistic tribes co-existing with these fusion energy users?

 

The movie reiterates the point about how we keep making the wrong choices over and over again. If that was the case, why does Hugo Weaving gets to be the twat in every single life of his?

 

The only part that is somewhat engaging and had the potential of being a movie on its own was the Neo-Seoul part, and you can see the obvious stamp of the Wachowskis in it. Right from the futuristic production design, to the laser action scenes – that was clearly my favourite story of the lot. Although, it does ring a bell – y’know, finding the “one” from a bunch of grown humans, to lead a revolution. Wasn’t that something that the Wachowskis did in the late 90’s?

 

In conclusion, Cloud Atlas is a bloody mess of a movie. There are too many stories being told, but none of them strong enough to strike a chord. Too many romances, and yet no heart-wrenching love story. It is eye-wateringly beautiful, but at its core remains a flawed film with a fascinating surface. Watch it if you must.

 

Cloud Atlas is out in theaters on February 22nd 2013.

This is a post by our good friend Sujoy’s  who is also know as @9e3k on twitter and his wonderful Gif’s have been featured all over the interwebz!

Find more of Sujoy’s work on : OneKnightStands | Bollypop | @9E3K

 

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A Good Day to Die Hard Review

So last week I was trying to get psyched for  A Good Day to Die Hard (OR as any normal thinking person calls it – Die Hard 5) a movie which until a month ago I had not even heard was in production.
Browsing through Netflix, I came across “Fire With Fire” (Starring  Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and Josh Duhamel) and I realised Bruce Willis career has reached that stage where his movies get released without anyone noticing.

Making him just a cut above the DVD rental careers that Steven Seagal and JCVD have cornered out for themselves until a couple of years ago.
But Bruce does still have the ability to surprise us and wake up from his slumber for movies like Looper or even Moonrise Kingdom (although some would argue he is just playing Bruce Willis but then again Picasso only painted Picasso’s)

 

 
Then I came across this video by Key And Peele which you should watch before reading on and watching A Good Day to Die Hard.

Key & Peele’s excitement made me adjust how to watch these most recent Die Hard movies and walking up to my screening I was genuinely excited to see what Bruce Willees would be doing in Russia with his estranged son, played by Jai Courtney, doing some “spy shit”.

I mean it couldn’t possibly be any worse than Die Hard 4.0 (still the worst of titles) where John McClane took on the Internet could it? (God I hated that one…)

I think everyone involved with A Good Day Die Hard knows what they are making and you should try to match those expectations when going in.  No 5th movie in a long running franchise is a masterpiece or can even come close to what the first one was, Willis can play the gruff action hero in his sleep and has been doing exactly that in quite a few of his recent films. A Good Day to Die Hard doesn’t have any meta winking, its a pretty enjoyable, simple action movie with a complete insane plot and it could have been far worse.

Unlike his characters in Red or Cop Out, Bruce Willis actually does enjoy playing John McClane, the every man stuck in  the most unbelievable circumstances he has no control over, is way in over his head and barely is able to figure out what the hell is going on.
Jai Courtney, looks a hell of a lot like Sam Worthington but is a more more watchable actor on screen, and when the McClane’s do have to deal with story exposition or the obligatory sentimental father-son bonding scenes they are done as wryly and winking at the camera as you would expect, they only last a couple of beats before the action starts.

The movie has some truly bonkers moments like the Febreze Anti Radiaton and the 5 word back story of the villain (they smuggled uranium, one got greedy, nuclear metldown)

A Good Day To Die Hard does have a few pretty good action set pieces, starting from the chase through the streets of Moscow at the start, the shoot out in the hotel as well as the final showdown in Chernobyl.
The movie has a few nods and twists like the original Die Hard did but nowhere as surprising or well put together, but that hasn’t been the case for any of the Gruberless Die Hard’s.
Like the Mclane’s the franchise has now become a bare bones, no nonsense action movie, almost a relic of another time.

Better than Die hard 4.0 and a lot better than some of the recent Bruce Willis movies he’s sleepwalked through.

Can it revive the franchise? No.

Does it have an an awesome Bruce Willees scene where he goes flying throw the air? YES!

Does his shirt get grimy at the end of it? Kinda!

@asimburney

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I Give It a Year Review

Brilliantly laugh out loud Rom-Com with a perfect 50/50 blend of British bad gags accompanied with warm fuzzy lovely scenes between the unlikely (and obviously likely) couples. Overall the cast was perfectly handpicked for this movie (Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker and Stephen Merchant) , which was scripted in a way that offers cringe, funny, witty and smug moments to tickle your emotions.

 

The films starts off with a sped up whirlwind romance – cue the lead actress and actor (Rose Bryne & Rafe Spall). The scene skips to their marriage and the best man’s (Stephen merchant) speech that is cringingly awkward but very amusing to watch. Cracks beginning to show in their relationship on the wedding day with the differences of bride and groom massively exaggerated. She is a slick looking, a bit uptight professional striving for romance, and a charming gentleman as a husband.

 

He is a lad’s lad who mucks around, is messy, free spirited – He’s not cool, even though he thinks he is but he is a softy a heart (which only shows when he talks to his ex)

 

Through the course of the films you see the downs and downs of a marriage between the two and you are sit there thinking – “how did they ever get together in the first place”. It then becomes apparent they are not made for each other when hunky client Guy (Simon baker) and hippy ex-girlfriend Chloe (Faris) are introduced so soon in the film.

 

With Ying and Yang couple developing twinkly starry feelings with their perfect matches they start to grow distant from each other – It’s as though Nat and Josh has split personality disorder the way they interact with each other compared to their love interest. In real life – this story line would seem quite sad when you are growing distant from someone you just married – but cameos from Minnie Diver (Nat’s sister) and other family members makes it all the more comical as it there are some painful but hella funny situations Josh gets into with his in laws. (One to watch here is the game of charades, which was shown in the trailers.).

 

It’s not all bad as there are moments where we can see the desperation with Nat and Josh to make it to a year and compromise with each other’s bad singing, bad dancing in order to “stick to it”… and just when you think you know how the movie ends – you got it- predictable! But with a twist which I won’t spoil for you.

 

With general release so close to Valentine’s Day it’s definitely one to watch as it has a simple story line filled with gags to make you laugh out loud (and last time that’s happened was the release Bridesmaids)

 I Give It A Year is in theaters now!

This is a guest post by our corrrespondent Lin who you can follow on twitter @Lin_To.

and here is a Red Band clip:


 

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Samsara / Baraka Blu Ray Review

We all stare in wonder

Celebrating its re-release today, Samsara and Baraka, two “movies” that will stun the viewer. As a fan of Koyaanisqatsi, the Godfrey Reggio release from 1983, getting to take a peak at the newly refurbed versions of Samsara and Baraka was a visual treat indeed.

Filmed over a four-year period in 25 countries and covering 5 continents, we are transported to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, industrial complexes, disaster zones and natural wonders. Dialogue-less and with no description, this is truly a movie that lets the viewer decide and subverts the notion of the traditional documentary. This encourages us to make our own mind up and soak up the stunning photography and images. Moreover, the distinct lack of language or words means that these films are truly international in scope.

Director-cinematographer Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson, both co-editors, used 70mm film-stock (as per Laurence of Arabia for example) to convey the story of man’s unique outpost in space.

A must see for anyone curious to watch something entirely different, that can leave you feeling bewildered, exhilarated and simply in awe. Release today, January 14th on DVD and even better Blu-ray.

SkyFall and Final Part of 007 James Bond Retrospective

Upod’s final fling with Bond culminates in an extravaganza of mind blowing proportions. This time we give you not one, not two, but four Bonds for your money and take a detailed look at Skyfall for good measure.

We start by training our sights on the Down Under Bond, Australia’s George Lazenby. One of the very first actor-slash-models, the guy arguably had the toughest job in all of Bond-dom, having to take the baton from Sean Connery. It wasn’t his fault he couldn’t match the hype and to be fair, On her majesty’s secret service is one of my favourites and gives us the first glimpse of a skiing James Bond.

Timothy Dalton gets the treatment next before we talk about perhaps the most important Bond, mr Pierce Brosnan.  If he failed in his mission, it was effectively the end of Bond as we know it: no reboots, no psychotic Sophie Marceau and in the end, no Daniel Craig, Quantum of Solace or of course Skyfall.  OK, we might all have been better off without Quantum, but hell, we’ve been spoiled with Casino Royale and of course most recently with one of the most mature films of the 50 year series; Sam Mendes’ forward looking Skyfall.

This week we are joined by first time guest and proper award winning film director Paul McGhie.

Check out more of his work on his blog or follow him on twitter

Or his Short All Pinatas Go To Heaven by going here.

 

Download/Subscribe/Listen to our podcast below!

@martincawley

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Midnights Children an Alternative Review

Midnights Children PosterWe were lucky enough to catch Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnights Children at the London Film Festival, and Martin Cawley loved it. Here is his review if you didn’t get a chance to read it.

But now with the release being closer, we had the chance to send our intrepid guest blogger and all round funny guy Sujoy Singha to have another look at he had quite a different take on the movie.

Here is Sujoy’s review who is also know as @9e3k on twitter and his wonderful Gif’s have been featured all over the interwebz:

Deepa Mehta’s latest feature, Midnight’s Children, is based upon the Man Booker prize winner book of the same name by Salman Rushdie. Rushdie has written the screenplay, and is also the narrator to this tale of three generations, and three different nations that stem out of a single one. The devil is in the details, as they say, and you get to experience exactly that in an excruciating snail pace, as Mehta indulges in the many details strewn across Rushdie’s faithful adaptation. It is hence, very difficult to review Midnight’s Children without diving into the details, and by that, I mean, discuss specific plot points which make it almost unwatchable to a certain extent. And so this review will have some minor spoilers.

Midnight’s is the story of Saleem Sinai (Darsheel Safary, Satya Bhabha), born at the very moment when India declared its independence, and by some stroke of luck, has a special power to connect with other children across India, who were born that very night – all of them having some superhuman power, although nothing of these powers is hardly anything to talk about, and it doesn’t become the focal point of the plot either. It is Sinai who gives a first person view of the state of the nations and many other historical milestone events, much like Forrest Gump. But the story doesn’t start there. It starts with the love story of Saleem’s grandfather, Aadam Aziz (Rajat Kapoor with a ridiculous prosthetic make up that means fuck all to me). And when told from Saleem’s perspective, it just doesn’t make sense, especially when Saleem starts narrating his grandfather’s sex life. Now that is some futuristic sperm. And boy oh boy, there are quite a few of these sex scenes at uniform intervals. Is that a filmmaker’s motif, or just a lame excuse to fit into that arty film mould? Fuck knows.

Spanning across almost 80 years, Rushdie’s tale has characters frequently entering the screen and exiting sooner than you realise. Mehta has been able to cast some really good actors no doubt, but they all fail to leave any lasting impression. Rahul Bose playing Army Chief Zulfikar is almost laughable, as he delivers monologue after monologue like a straight-up English play. Picture this; Zulfikar, on seeing Emerald (Saleem’s aunt) for the first time, falls in love with her. When he walks out of Aadam Aziz’s house, he says to his comrades in a very army general  tone – “Soldier, that is the woman I intend to marry. And the soldier replies – YES SIR!  Now that might seem like a good line in a book, but seeing that onscreen almost made me spill my drink.

There’s Ronit Roy, Shreeya Saran, Shahana Goswami, Siddharth, Khulbhushan Kharbanda, Soha Ali Khan, and even Shabana Azmi. And all of them seem too grateful to be in a Deepa Mehta/Salman Rushdie production to complain the mediocrity of their roles. I really wanted Siddharth to show off some badassness that his character promised, but alas that never happened.  And oh, there’s even Ranvir Shorey and Vinay Pathak, cast as Laurel and Hardy – no kidding. The biggest casting mishap however is of Suresh Menon as a Pakistani Field Marshall. I mean that pretty much ruined it for me. He is the equivalent of a modern day Jagdeep (but better). Now you wouldn’t cast Jagdeep as a Field Marshall, unless you were attempting a farce. And this is neither a farce, nor it seemed like a serious allegory that it was so desperately attempting to be one.

The only saving grace is Seema Biswas who can act her face off, even when she’s given so less material to play with. Her story seemed rushed, but even then, I was more interested to know how things were with her, than to know stupid Saleem’s ramblings. Yes, all these events are shown in the most clean and yet cinematically sumptuous fashion that Mehta is most known for. But even then, the drag of the script left me tired, underwhelmed, and with an overall bland aftertaste. It is only the striking background score by Nitin Sawhney which ties the narrative well, and for fans, there is even a Jagjit Singh track which caught me by surprise.

But despite that, the film fails to impress me. It goes from historical milestone 1 to 2 and so on. But by the end of it all, nothing came out of it. It lacked the emotional or dramatic connect that an epic tale of this size requires. Rushdie’s screenplay is the culprit here; it almost makes Mehta seem like an inept filmmaker. At a staggering two and a half hours, this will test your patience. Life’s too short and you’re better off watching MTV Jackass. At least that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Rating: 1 big plot-hole out of 5

 

Find more of Sujoy’s work on : OneKnightStands | Bollypop | @9E3K

 

@asimburney

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Psycho versus Psycho

Psycho to the power of erm, Psycho

…or Psycho x 5 as was last week’s reality, at the Leicester Square theatre; screened with www.cigaretteburnscinema.com.  Let me start with a brief description of the concept: 1 main screen showing Alfred Hitchcock’s original and 5 smaller screens showing the Gus Van Sant 1998 remake.  Of course, this only makes sense as the remake is so slavishly close to the 1960 version.  However, it did require months of work (editing) and given Psycho 1998 is ten minutes shorter, the occasional blank screen whilst the colour version “caught-up” with the black and white.  I’m not going to start talking about the many and various merits of Psycho – it’s been critiqued to death and there’s a good (probably) film with Anthony Hopkins in, about to be released that can give you a bunch of that knowledge.  What I will do is talk about some interesting scenes, reveal a lot of the plot and give some thoughts on the remake.  The last point is possibly unfair, given the sound was from the original, but it is what it is.

Firstly, I didn’t find it that hard to concentrate on both – I picked my secondary screen and stuck to it.  Usefully, I happened to see Psycho (1960) in the cinema a few weeks ago, so I could give more attention to the remake.  One of the consistent differences between the two is the shots that are mirrored; Perkins facing left, Vince Vaughan facing right for example.  Most notably of course, the remake is in colour.  I liked the quite vivid colouring and felt that it added a great sense of seediness and sleaziness to the whole thing, most notably the shots of the motel, with the neon.

More specifically, I managed to note a few key scenes had changed quite a lot.  Certainly the build-up to the shower scene is more graphic, with Norman Bates being seen to masturbate whilst he looks at Anne Heche‘s Marion Crane in the shower; something that is only alluded to in the Hitchcock.  Shortly thereafter, we all know what happens to the female lead, although with Gus Van Sant, we get to see the knife marks on Marion’s back and more noticeably, where Hitchcock slowly zooms out from Marion’s eye, in the remake the camera rotates around the eye, echoing the blood-stained water draining down the plug hole.

In the end, having watched the two of these movies side by side, I really loved it.  It does however beg the question of why movies could, should, would be remade and if so, what ought to be brought to them?  And in picking Psycho – such a revered movie – was it a wise choice given only minor tinkering and the slavish, almost fetishised replication?  Personally, I don’t mind that it’s been reworked or even the reworked version, but I do feel that setting it in perhaps the 70s or 80s would have been more effective.  Until someone else chooses another iconic movie and takes almost a frame by frame remake, this is going to stand alone: a one-off piece of controversy and for many, derision.

@martincawley

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LFF 2012 The Summit Review

In August 2008, 22 climbers from various international expeditions reached the High Camp of K2, the final pit-stop before the peak of the mountain, on an expedition renowned among adventurers as extremely dangerous to attempt – far worse than Everest, with a 1 in 4 chance of dying. Only 11 would make it down from there. The Summit is an attempt to understand what happened on a day that became known as the most tragic in modern mountaineering history. Through recreations, archive and home movie footage, and interviews with survivors and families of the people who died on the outing, Nick Ryan’s documentary presents a thorough, investigative and vivid version of events, showing the heartbreaking moral choices the climbers faced in attempting to survive.

As someone who has an interest in outdoor sports and various silly pursuits (nothing anywhere near as extreme as this) The Summit was something I wanted to catch.  Those who’ve watched and “enjoyed” Touching the Void will no doubt be aware of the unwritten code of the mountain (if someone falls or wanders off, then leave them) and this is brutally revealed in a brilliant documentary.  At the heart of the documentary, but not dominating the story, is an Irish climber, Ger McDonnell.  He was seemingly faced with a horrible choice when he discovered 3 battered, bruised, bloodied and dying climbers: follow the code or help them.  As The Summit unfolded, it was obvious I was in for an emotional 90 or so minutes and the archive footage, interviews and recreations are exceptionally well wielded.  Having a cousin who has climbed the highest peaks in Europe and South America and who has rescued fellow climbers certainly gave an added edge to this.

The main body of the documentary doesn’t necessarily seek out the truth (not that it tries to).  It simply builds a picture of the tragic events before presenting as much as real information as is known.  That Ger’s parents even needed to travel to Pakistan to try and understand what had happened to their son, is telling.  As we do get closer to the truth (as much as is possible) however, the horrors of those expeditions are shown and as hard as it to swallow, the reality is that a combination of factors got the better of most of the climbers: there is no one single cause.

I’m not always one for using recreations in documentaries – it can lead to things being a bit twee and childlike – but in this instance, I was stunned by how vivid and realistic they were, lending a genuinely convincing air to the film.  It was as if they had scaled K2 again with a film crew; truly remarkable.  This is a truly engaging documentary, whether you know a lot or little to nothing about mountaineering and if I’m honest, I’d have been crying if hadn’t watched this on a midweek morning with a roomful of journos; I was that affected.

No-one will ever really know exactly what happened in those few long days and no-one will ever really know what makes mankind want to push itself to such limits, where every second you spend in the death zone (8000m & higher) your body is dying.   The Summit at least shines a small light on human nature and the fragile relationship man has with the planet.

@martincawley

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LFF 2012: Midnight’s Children Review

 

The nose of destiny

Salman Rushdie‘s first film screenplay adapts his own Booker Prize-winning novel – an allegory that parallels the upheavals in one family’s history with the events that would shape a post-colonial India, from the British exit to the partitioning of Pakistan.

Born on the cusp of India’s independence from Britain and switched at birth by a maternity nurse in a secret act of protest, Saleem Sinai‘s fate is not only inextricably bound to the future of his country, but also to that of Shiva, the boy whose place of privilege he takes.

Following a traumatic incident, Saleem discovers he has special powers and is able to communicate with other children who share his special birthday. As the outside world become more chaotic, wielding his new-found magic becomes Saleem’s most powerful tactic for navigating the tumultuous course of history.

I’ll start by saying I haven’t read the book, so anything that follows is based solely on the film as I’ve seen it. I also cannot comment on how accurately the events are portrayed. Midnight’s Children was one the films at the London Film Festival that I really wanted to see and for a few reasons: it’s an Indian film that isn’t in a Bollywood style, based on a book by Salman Rushdie, whose other books I’ve enjoyed and that I was hoping it would serve as an elementary history lesson. And as someone who has benefited culturally, from Britain’s former empire in another part of Asia I did feel a personal draw to this movie.

Instinctively, the title of the movie is wrong, as Midnight’s Child would be more apt given the amount of the film given to Saleem’s journey, but this is a facile thing to say really. Of the important things that I felt fell short, the most significant would be my confusion / convenience of Saleem’s appearance (his nose) and the notion of switching a poor child for a rich child at birth. As we see at the beginning, “Saleem’s” grandfather has a gigantic nose and so when his own resembles this, no suspicion is aroused that he isn’t their biological son. It transpires that he is in fact the illegitimate son of an eccentric Brit (Charles Dance) and the young wife of a poor musician who plays the accordion and sings at his villa each day. Overlooking this however, I still can’t quite reconcile the switching of babies at birth as a justifiable action of Marxist revolution (let the rich be poor and the poor be rich) when the reality is that there are still the same number of rich/poor babies, who have no concept of what their life would have been anyway and who have been unnecessarily taken away from their own true parents. The futility of this gesture is played out with the stories of both Saleem and Shiva and in material terms you have to say that the rich-made-poor kid achieves a far higher station in life, although it’s not explained fully as to how.

At times I felt that perhaps there should have been more attention given to the other characters in the story – not so much for their sake, but so that there would be a better context to Saleem’s own life. That said, at two and a half hours, this is a lengthy film, so where this would come from isn’t clear. Thankfully, given the scale of the story (it starts in the early 20th century, ends in the 1970s), we have Salman Rushdie himself narrating and keeping the viewer in touch, should he/she have become a bit disconnected. Make no mistake though; this is a great film to watch and you will be able to follow it all the way through.

Deepa Mehta has created a film that looks and feels beautiful; it sent me back in time and place, easily evoking the emotions and tensions of the era and the beauty of this part of the world. Towards the end of the film when the dark times come and all of Midnight’s Children are imprisoned for insurrection, the sun simply fails to shine and it is black. Even this is poetically and subtly filmed and I think other directors would have made too much of this in a harsher and more obvious way.

There are many memorable moments, but seeing a young Saleem helping the generals plot the coup in Pakistan by moving the knives and forks and salt and pepper pots around the dinner table as tanks, soldiers and buildings around the battlefield was brilliant. There’s a positively black piece of humour when Saleem is knocked out by a silver spittoon, harking back to earlier scenes with his mother. And dancing to a Hindi version of Chubby Checker’s The Twist I loved and is as close to a Bollywood musical interlude as you’ll get. Satya Bhabha, playing Saleem, really is excellent and I felt very attached to his character and his journey. He has everything an affluent family can provide, loses it all, is beaten, humiliated, tortured, falls in love, is betrayed and still ends up happy with his lot in life. The story ends with the “circle” being completed as it were. Having invested nearly all my energy into Saleem, when the credits rolled I just breathed a big sigh of relief and was thankful for a wonderful movie.

I’ll end by giving a special mention to the musical score. Rarely, if ever have I heard such gorgeous music in a film and as sure as I am that Midnight’s Children will be nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, plus some of the technical ones, if Nitin Sawhney doesn’t win Best Music (original score) then any hint of respect I may have for the Oscars will cease to exist.

With Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami, Seema Biswas
Canada-UK 2012
148 mins

@martincawley

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Flying Swords of Dragon Gate Review

After the massive success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon back in 2000 and it’s subsequent Oscar win for best Foreign movie, there has been a steady flow of what I like to call poetic/esoteric martial arts movies, none have them have been as successful as Crouching Tiger or resonated with audiences.

 

Although a huge martial arts fan (Check out the podcast we did about nouveau Martial Arts by clicking here) I prefer contemporary settings combined with less wirework heavy action. While I still like Jet Li, his name doesn’t make me run out to ticket counter anymore especially his best work is behind him, on top of that the name “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” was just not sitting well with me as every time there is a mention of flying cutlery in Asian movies, I instantly switch off as I have a feeling the story will be too esoteric or set into cultural allegories too hard for non-Chinese audiences to grasps. And I’m not sure Flying Swords of Dragon’s Gate tackle either of those problems well enough.

 

So it was with slight trepidation that I entered the screening of the Flying Swords of Dragon’s Gate even though I still enjoy when a movie is well shot in 3D. Director Hark Tsui is working with a visual team that has some great credentials in terms of 3D work. And even though I’m not as well versed in Hark Tsui’s work, I have enjoyed Time and Tide (which I saw a life time ago) and some of his work with Jean Claude Van Damme, which wasn’t the worst from JCVD (which isn’t saying a lot, especially during that era)

 

Flying House of Dragon Gate (a reimagined sequel of 1992’s Dragon Inn) is the story of how China during the Ming Dynasty was under complete control of two factions of Eunuch bureaucrats; Eastern and Western bureau both seemingly corrupt. Jet Li plays a folk hero, Xhao Gwai On, who has vowed to take end both bureau’s, the movie starts as he just manages to eliminate the head of the Eastern Bureau (special appearance by Gordon Liu) in a sequence that really shows off the best of the 3D work as we see the camera fly through the shipyard and every possible tool found at a harbor flies at the audience, in some might say the most cheesy use of 3D. (Which in my mind is the fun way to do things in 3D)

So up next on his hit list is Yu Hua Tian (played by Kun Chen) head of the Western bureau who is desperately chasing a hand maiden who has been impregnated by the emperor, just as his men are about to kill her, Ling Lanqiu (Zhou Xun) steps in and escorts the hand maiden to the Dragon Gate inn, a sort of Shangri La den where a whole host of gangs end up finding shelter from a storm that comes every 60 years.

 

Since I hadn’t seen the first movie I was lost quite a few times at why this Inn was so important and who some of the key characters relationships where. Since there are plot itself is pretty much impossible to untangle, you end up just focusing on the action and the visuals.

The 3D is quite good especially in the landscape and aerial shots, it really made me want to visit these places if they do exist and aren’t CGI enhanced. The Action isn’t that great, but then again I loose interest when the martial arts is wire based and the characters are just flying everywhere on screen like Peter Pan.

The finale does have a fight in the eye of a Hurricane which has some great moments but that too fizzles out.

Performance wise, Jet Li appears and disappears randomly throughout the movie and usually looks like he has done this movie many many times already and has lost all vigor and passion for them. The standouts were Kun Chen and Zhou Xun, both actors I was seeing for the firs time but will definitely keep an eye out as they had great screen presence and delivered in the action sequences.

Unfortunately the meager positives aren’t enough to hold this movie together as it’s frankly too long. There is an entire plot of double crossing and treasure hunting that might have had more impact if I had seen the previous movie but as a stand alone Flying House of Dragon Gate doesn’t deliver.

 

Recommended only if you absolutely love Wuxia movies or are a massive Jet Li fan.

 

Some More thoughts:

 

  • Gordon Liu Eunuch character talks a lot about pickles.
  • Kun Chun makes a teacup explode by staring at it.
  • They really didn’t put in much effort into getting a Tartar translator
  • The hidden City of Gold has a real From Dusk Till Dawn shot, I was hoping for Vampires

Here is the trailer (which really does showcase  some of the best parts of the movie)

 

Flying House Of Dragon Gate is now available on DVD and Blu Ray.

 

@asimburney

 

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LFF 2012: Dreams for sale / Yume Uru Futari

Their dreams are for sale

A young and in-love couple Kanya (Sadawo Abe) and Satoko (Takako Matsu) see their restaurant burn down in an accident and their savings are wiped out by a compensation claim. Not knowing where to turn or what to do. Kanya has a drunken one-night stand with a woman he meets on the subway, and emerges from it with a cash windfall. Once she’s able to forgive her husband, Satoko sees a solution: she pushes Kanya into feigning marriage proposals to a series of vulnerable women, fuelling them with hard-luck stories which persuade them to part with their savings…

First off, I really liked this film. Not having seen any of Miwa Nishikawa’s other 3 movies I can’t say where this one ranks, but it makes me want to watch them. Gentle accoustic guitar accompanies the opening shots, showing domestic bliss, boredom and banalities. This shot is echoed much later in the film once the whole episode has unfolded and played out. If like me you look at the scenario above and think “bloody hell, this cannot possibly work out well” then you’d be right. And you’d also be wrong.

Dreams for sale addresses themes of love, marriage, revenge, growing up, what it means to be in a relationship and how easy it is to be hurt by someone, especially when you love them – and with much skill. I will put this down to great performances from Sadawo Abe and Takaku Matsu, in conjunction with a great script. There are some seriously telling lines and scenes. Sadawo brings so much to Kanya’s character; moments of joy, comedy, terror, helplessness and slapstick (literally). And with Satako, Matsu shows us cunning, loyalty, despair, leadership and forgiveness. At the heart of the movie however is love between the couple and no matter what the hair-brained, ill-thought schemes, both Sato and Kanya are clearly in love with one another, despite a couple of wobbles along the way.

As the film draws to a close and the inevitable conclusion of their fraud is revealed, yet more sacrifice is required to save their relationship. I can’t really say much more than that without spoiling the thing – just trust me. With a running time of 137 minutes, this doesn’t technically qualify as a gem of a film and if I was being harsh I’d say a few minutes less would serve it well…but that is being picky. It’s set at pretty much a perfect pace and it suits the character of the film. Not one for switching-off to, but wonderful in any case, it left me feeling just a little bit heart broken.

Director-Screenwriter Miwa Nishikawa
Producer Kayo Yoshida, Matsuda Hiroko, Nishikawa Asako
With Sadawo Abe, Takako Matsu, Lena Tanaka
Japan 2012
137 mins

video platform

 

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Sleep Tight (Mientras Duermes) Review

Here is a review from our guest blogger Miss FooFantastic from FrightFest in London, she’ll be posting a couple of reviews here, so if you are a horror fan, keep your eye out for them. (this one I’m actually quite looking forward to)

From [REC] co-director Jaume Balagueró, comes ‘Mientras Duermes’, titled ‘Sleep Tight’ in English. Moving away from zombie scares as seen in [REC], Jaume delivers a menacing psychological thriller, with a strong lead performance by Luis Tosar. This movie will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish as you’ll be keen to find out what the hell is going on, bringing you to a slow realisation of something much more malicious than you could imagine.

The story revolves around Cesar (Luis Tosar), a janitor of a fancy apartment building in Barcelona. Cesar has an unhealthy obsession with bubbly resident Clara (Marta Etura), each night hiding in her apartment waiting for her to return from work, only to sneak beside her in bed at night. He also goes through great lengths to even make her life more difficult, so he can seemingly play the hero. However, throughout the movie, it becomes clear that Cesar’s motives behind his actions are not purely because he’s obsessed with the person of Clara, it goes beyond that. And it’s discovering his actual motives that show what a miserable and mean character sits behind this seemingly innocent and helpful janitor. And still, as the viewer you get completely sucked into Cesar’s little world, and even get nervous for him during those moments where it seems he might get caught out.

Some elements of humour and light-heartedness to this unsettling tale are provided by the other residents in the building. There’s the bratty little girl bribing Cesar for some interesting objects, as she’s aware of what Cesar’s been up to during the night. Then there’s the old lady with her dogs, who gets an unwanted reality check from Cesar, making you laugh out loud, but also feel so extremely sad for the lady.

What makes this movie so awesome is the whole uncovering of why Cesar is doing what he does, and also, how far he gets in doing this.  Luis Tosar plays an excellent anti-hero, making you question your own character for having some sympathy at some points during the movie for such an evil person. The ending will leave you feel sick to your stomach, and you can imagine the heart-wrenching pain and disgust of what Clara must feel at that very moment. This is a wonderfully dark movie, maintaining a fine balance between creepiness and suspense, and most of all, it leaves you feeling very much disturbed.

Fun fact: Main actor and actress Luis Tosar and Marta Etura were married in real life. While they were still married when filming this movie, they are currently separated.

Watch this if: you like psychological thrillers, and can handle a few minutes of blood. Also recommended if you’re curious to see how evil people can actually be.

Don’t watch this if: you’re the type to check for monsters in closets, under beds, etc. before going to sleep. Also, if for some reason the janitor in your building/office creeps you out, you’d better skip this one.

 

Here’s the trailer:

 

Remnants Review

Here is a review from our guest blogger Miss FooFantastic from FrightFest in London, she’ll be posting a couple of reviews here, so if you are a horror fan, keep your eye out for them.

A movie such as Remnants is a perfect example of Frightfest being more than just about films dedicated to showing flying limbs, blood splatters, or creepy supernatural forces terrorizing us humans. Frightfest movies are not all purely about blood and gore: it’s about anything that can make anyone feel uncomfortable. Director Peter Engert shows us a bleak scenario of the future with his movie Remnants, which can feel frightening for a lot of people, especially if you expect the world to end anytime soon.

 

I had completely different expectations of this movie; therefore I guess these expectations did affect my overall opinion of it. Introduced as a post-apocalyptic movie, taking place after World War III, Remnants is about a group of strangers ending up together in a cellar in rural Texas, struggling for their survival. The introduction on the Frightfest site also mentioned the main characters fending off ‘…hordes of terrified, dying refugees as they attempt to endure the devastating holocaust’. Well, unfortunately in my mind I translated that into some degree of zombie action (I guess that’s what happens when you watch so many horror movies). Although some zombie-like characters appear in the movie, they’re not really as you would expect, and that’s as close to a zombie you’ll see in this movie.

 

The main character is a young doctor named Hunter (C.J. Thomason), who ends up seeking shelter with 8 other random people in a dark cellar, in order to avoid radiation exposure from a recent nuclear attack. Among this group you’ll find the typical range of different characters: the traumatised nervous young girl, the confident woman, the old grandpa that will die sooner or later anyway. Of course a stereotypical angry redneck cannot be avoided if you have the movie taking place in rural Texas, and here is where we meet Brad (Edward Furlong), who’s with his pregnant wife (another must-have in situations where random strangers end up together). Since the majority of the movie takes place within a dark cellar room, you can imagine claustrophobia and the accompanying human reactions to feature heavily in the film, and it did. Unnecessary fights breaking out, tough decisions to be made, the movie did do a good job in capturing the tension, anguish, and despair the characters are experiencing.

Towards the end, the movie goes into the weirdest transition of camera style ever, which left me somewhat confused as I thought the movie was ending there, but it didn’t. Instead, you had a few shots of the alternative camera style, and then it continued again to its usual style for another 10 minutes or so. I’m not really sure what the intention of this was, but once the movie ended, my mind was more engaged with what was behind that camera style switch than with the whole movie.

 

Overall, the movie does leave you feeling a bit grim. Although I’d say it’s partly feeling grim about the fate of the main characters, but also partly about the disappointment of having watched 90, mostly uneventful, minutes of a bunch of people stuck in a cellar. What’s interesting is that the movie does show a more plausible concept of ‘zombies’. This does mean though that you won’t be seeing any quick-paced raging 28 Days later type of zombies, nor the classic slow, brain-eating ones. Although it was an interesting concept, if could have been executed better in my opinion. The movie is too much skewed towards drama, and is missing any true classic horror elements.

 

Watch this if: you’re more of a fan of dramatic movies, rather than your typical horror movie. Remnants is more about human behaviour in times of despair rather than anything else.

Don’t watch this if: you envisage the end of the world to feature zombies in the ‘traditional’ sense, such as in 28 Days later, The Walking Dead etc.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

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Maniac Review: Battle of the Remakes

Here is a Battle of the Remakes review from our guest blogger Miss FooFantastic from FrightFest in London, she’ll be posting a couple of reviews here, so if you are a horror fan, keep your eye out for them.

 

Of the five movies that I watched at Frightfest the 13th, I’d have to say this one was my favourite. With a simple, straightforward story, and a very disturbed main character, director Franck Khalfoun leaves enough room for what matters in these type of movies: lots of gore, uneasy moments, and psycho creepiness.

Our Maniac is a man called Frank, who owns a mannequin shop left by his late mother. A strange fascination with women, mixed with terrorizing feelings of hatred, drives Frank to stalk and kill girls that catch his eye, and keep a souvenir of his victims. One day he meets photographer Anna, and a friendship develops, but this doesn’t stop Frank’s unusual obsession of collecting womens’ scalps.

The movie is a remake of William Lustig’s 1980s slasher ‘Maniac’, which I didn’t know at first. My initial plan was to watch the original movie before I would view the 2012 version, however in the end I had to do it the other way around. Didn’t make much of a difference eventually, since the 2012 version stays mostly true to the original storyline. The main difference is that the new movie is filmed from the killer’s point of view, so you see everything out of the Maniac’s eyes. You mainly get to see the Maniac himself when he looks in the mirror, is captured on photo etc.

While 1980s Frank is a big, sleazy-looking type played by Joe Spinell, 2012 Frank is very unthreatening looking and extremely shy in the form of Elijah Wood. I’m sure I’m not the only one that thought of Frodo Baggins when hearing Elijah Wood was playing the main character… but he played a great Maniac. What definitely did not draw me to this movie was seeing Elijah Wood’s name popping up, but he really did deliver this wonderful sense of awkwardness in how the Maniac interacts with women.

Both Maniacs are very emotionally disturbed, their view of women and love completely warped through their dysfunctional relationship with their mother. We see more about this relationship in the 2012 movie through flashbacks, and only hear about this indirectly in the 1980s. The Maniac’s love of collecting the scalps of his victims is obvious in both versions, and both movies surely make a point of showing this as graphically as possible. The amount of blood and gore in the two versions is fantastic (= a lot), and there are enough moments in both movies that will make you wince.

The victim situations are also fairly similar in both movies, although there are some tweaks in the 2012 version. For example, 2012 Frank apparently also uses online chatrooms to find his victims. Obviously 1980 Frank didn’t have this same luxury, and just goes out on the streets (which 2012 Frank does too, he just gets to enjoy more options in this digital age).

In both movies, the Maniacs meet photographer Anna, and this turns into an obsession. 1980s Maniac recognises his mother in this young lady, while 2012 Maniac mistakenly thinks he’s got a chance to be with Anna, only to find out she already has a boyfriend. Apart from these minor details and a few other differences, the overall development of the story is fairly similar. I guess it’s not a surprise that 2012 Anna gets the opportunity to have a bit more of a character than 1980s Anna, who gets the predictive role of ‘beautiful woman that reminds the Maniac of his mother’.

The 2012 version uses a 1980s inspired music score, which works nicely to recreate the typical 80s slasher atmosphere from the original movie. Talking about the music, a nice touch during a scene in the 2012 movie is the inclusion of ‘Goodbye horses’ by Q Lazarus, a.k.a. the Buffalo Bill song from The silence of the lambs. Other people might know it through the spoof done in Family Guy where Chris Griffin does this same dance. Needless to say this caused a few giggles in the audience, although it’s unknown which of the two references they were thinking of, most probably both (I hope!).

 

So the 2012 version of Maniac stays mainly true to its original, and unlike most remakes, it is actually really good. With some updates to make it more in line with the current times, it does not take away from the original story.

Old or New Maniac?: hmmmm….. the 1980s version did feel somewhat dated, although the sleaziness of 1980 Maniac did add a greater sense of grittiness to the movie which made it a bit more uncomfortable viewing than the remake. And that is exactly one of the things what makes a horror movie for me. However, seeing everything from the killer’s point of view in the remake really does add a nice effect to the movie, accentuating the Maniacs stalking behaviour, but also giving the audience a look into the head of this very disturbed man. Also, I prefer the choice of a more unassuming character to be a Maniac (it’s the quiet ones you always have to watch out for, isn’t it?). I’d have to give a slightly higher preference to the remake, although it is a very close call.

 

Watch this if: you enjoy the typical 80s slashers such as Friday the 13th, or you’re sceptical about whether Elijah Wood can actually play a maniac. There will always be the ‘original vs remake’ debate, but I personally think it’s worth watching if you liked the original.

Don’t watch this if: you’re the squeamish kinda type (well, that’s pretty obvious considering the main character collects scalps), or have strong feminist views: it’s still a remake of a typical slasher, so lots of helpless females that don’t have much chance to defend themselves before being brutally slaughtered.

You can follow Miss FooFantastic or drop her a line on twitter!

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Ek Tha Tiger Review

Yash Raj Films (YRF) and Salman Khan finally come together for the first time under the direction of Kabir Khan to bring us the story of what happens when a RAW Agent called Tiger starts using his “heart” when he has been trained to use his “head”. As usual with our reviews we have a separate spoiler section below so does this Tiger miaow or roaarrr, find out below!

 

Bollywood has been going spy crazy lately, starting with Don 2 (although that wasn’t really a spy movie but it ripped off many ideas from it) followed by Agent Vinod and a medium budget heroine driven movie (that I won’t be mentioning by name as it would spoil a big reveal), now comes Ek Tha Tiger (ETT), which from the first teaser trailer got catapulted to our “most looked forward”-movies of 2012.

ETT succeeds where the likes of Agent Vinod failed, is it delivers a movie that works within Bollywood conventions (sometimes to it’s detriment) and by not having it’s head up it’s own ass. This is big budget, big screen movie making, people. Where every shot looks pristine like it’s been scrubbed with Dettol, all the way from the locations to the actor’s faces. The dancers dance in sync, the fights are epic and in YRF tradition, we travel around the world without giving ourselves a Turkish makeover.

 

There are moments that feel like a compromise made by either the director Kabir Khan (who has a background in documentary film making and almost makes us sense his distain for selling out), star Salman Khan (who does not want to unleash the success he has tasted in recent years from his jaws like he lost a bet to one of the other Khan’s (and production house Yash Raj Films (who just can’t seem to find a consistency in it’s success ratio) so is trying out everything they can, even working with a star that they had until now not considered YRF material and one that they clearly can not control in any way possible.

 

The movie is segmented in very clearly delineated chapters in the screenplay, each with a different mood, location and wardrobes that sometimes gel together and sometimes don’t.

We start of, in the greatest of James Bond tradition, with action packed prologue set in Northern Iraq, where Tiger needs to deal with a double agent who has been selling RAW secrets to the ISI but essentially this is just a teaser to the bad ass-dom of the central character and has no further baring to the rest of the plot, but it is some serious butt-kickery on a level we haven’t seen in Bollywood.

 

The movie really gets going when Tiger is then sent to Dublin (after cooking some daal for his boss and having a few drinks with him) and needs to shadow a nuclear scientist by posing as a writer where he meets and eventually falling in love with charming Zoya, part time dancer and part time caretaker of the professor.

 

The Dublin storyline is just the mcguffin to set up the romance in Ek Tha Tiger, playing off their real life chemistry between with Salman and Katrina which up until now hadn’t been harnessed on the big screen yet (neither in Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya which was almost Katrina’s debut and neither Yuvraaj as Subhash Ghai lost his ability to make coherent movies back in the 80’s).

 

The back and forth dialogue feels so natural between both that you start wondering wonder how much was ad-libbed, references to Katrina’s pronunciation of the letter “dh” and her rabbit teeth seem to be very “Salman”.

 

What I really appreciated is that we go to see the sweet and charming Salman Khan again as we have to be honest that in Dabanng, Wanted and Ready he was playing kind of an a*hole. Salman seems to be having fun interacting with the local extras in every city he is in, from the hotel reception clerks in Dublin to the kids and old folks in Cuba. He is also genuinely funny again without having to play off his own persona or referencing Salman Khan the star.  The humor is dryer without obvious punchlines followed by a deliberate pause. There are some wonderful visual gags that works really well especially the intercut scenes of previous adventures and mishaps of Tiger and some of the winking at the camera without having to break the 4th wall. And clearly Salman loved spending time with Katrina and how could you not?

 

Katrina Kaif has been so consistent in delivering roles that seem to fit her like a glove. Like Mere Brother Ki Dulhan or even Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, I can’t see any other actress enacting the role of Zoya. The lady just has tons of screen presence and besides her bedazzling styling she brings such physicality to the role that other actresses like Priyanka (Don 2) and Deepika (Chandni Chowk To China) can only dream of.

I wouldn’t have minded seeing some more of that physicality in some key scenes (especially just before the interval). The problem she has is the characterization of Zoya is sometimes flaky, the screenplay never decides if she is a bad ass on the level of Tiger or a damsel in distress and that really does a disservice to Katrina.

 

The production values are top notch and ETT is beautifully framed, and truly feels global without feeling disjointed (unlike Don 2 and Agent Vinod which felt the need to globe hop for no reason) or giving a sense of déjà vu even though locations like Istanbul have recently been rediscovered and used in quite a few other movies (Game amongst other but maybe I’m the only one how saw that). YRF did a slightly better at the hiring non-Indian extras and background dancers job than that other foreign local gloss machine Dharma Films (who really scrape the bottom of the barrel, may I remind you of the drunk chapel scene in Ek Main Aur Ek Tu?).

 

The action set pieces are probably the highlight of the movie and they really pack multiple scissor kicks, the only problem I had was with the facial imaging effects they used on the Salman Khan Body Double were slightly jarring in the Dublin sequence, they weren’t as bad as some scenes in Krissh but when it comes to daylight shots, there is still some work to be done.

Another problem is the lack of central villain so we don’t get a final brawl although the climax does deliver in many other ways.

A bigger issue is that we never get a true motivation for why our romantic duo is being chased with such vigor, this could have easily been tweaked on a screenplay level but if you haven’t bought into the Tiger by then, you probably won’t.

 

Final Verdict: The Movie is GREEEEEAAAT (Could I leave you guys without a lame Tony The Tiger reference? – no, as that’s the kind of reviewer I am).

But lame jokes aside Ek Tha Tiger is a great summer blockbuster that is slightly loose around the edges but the performances of the main leads, the romance, production values, cinematography and action set pieces truly deliver and isn’t that really what we look for during the summer?

 

Spoiler Section:

Although the trailer was great and built up the required buzz, it did spoil quite a few jokes and action set pieces, which is a shame as they lessen the impact within the movie, but maybe that’s my mistake for rewatching them a billion time in anticipation for the release.

 

Ranvir Shorey styles some amazing facial hair.

 

Was there a need for the other ISI agent beside Katrina? It would have easily sufficed having her go all Angelina Jolie on the audience although Salman fans would probably not appreciate her clobbering him like a ninja and stealing his phone.

 

This movie is riddled with gaping lot of plot holes (Salman even jumps over a few in Iraq) consider yourself warned.

 

The biggest compromises in ETT were made by director Kabir Khan. To the point that if you listen very carefully you can hear him gnashing his teeth in the back ground at very forced Salman Khan trademark shirt removal scene. The placing of the song “Mashallah” also feels like an after thought, although beautifully picturised, these all out populist conventions clearly make the director feel ill at ease and it shows.

 

For a moment during the tram sequence I thought Salman would go all Spiderman on us and stop the train with his bare hands.

 

The epilogue and voice over were completely redundant as was the reveal of Tiger’s real name, had even less impact than the whole Professor Kidwai scene.

 

@asimburney

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Top Ten Movies of Upodcast – An Alternative to the Sight and Sound Poll

Last week there The British Film Institute released it’s Sight And Sound Poll, a survey they do every decade with over 800 Film critics, distributors and academics. The big news this year was that Citizen Kane was knocked out the number one position by Vertigo.

There hasn’t been much change in the names and the most recent film on the poll is 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, so our friend and previous Upodcast guest Adam Lowes (Check out his appearance on our Podcast by clicking here) conducted an alternative Film Bloggers Top Ten over at HeyUGuys and asked us to put in our two cinematic cents, which we were more than eager to do.

As always our choices are vastly different but pretty much in line with the guys you know so well yapping about movies on Upodcast.

Of course these aren’t definitive lists,they aren’t in any order of preference and I should add a disclaimer that these aren’t the best movies but maybe our favorite movies but does that really matter?

They are vastly different from the Sight and Sound Poll and some of our picks did make it in the HeyUGuys list.

We also asked our good friend FilmiGirl to send us her list as she is pretty much part of the Upodcast Family.

Here we go!

Asim‘s List:

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Godfather Part 2
  • Sholay
  • Goodfellas
  • 12 Angry Men
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Inception
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Andaz Apna Apna

Martin‘s List:

  • Layer Cake
  • Secrets And Lies
  • Heat (1995)
  • Rear Window
  • Requiem For A Dream
  • Old Boy
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  • Double Indemnity
  • Hudsucker Proxy
  • La Haine

Ahmed‘s List:

  • Bad Boys  
  • The Dark Knight
  • Drive
  • Demolition Man
  • GodFather 2
  • Stargate
  • BackTto The Future
  • Se7en
  • Time Crimes
  • Leon The Professiona

FilmiGirl‘s List:

  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • American Movie
  • Linda LInda Linda
  • Pithamagan
  • A (Kannada film by Upendra)
  • Dil Se
  • Sholay
  •  F for Fake
  • All About Eve
  • Crying Game

 

Here is the Sight And Sound List, click here for the complete list.

SIGHT AND SOUND’S TOP 10

1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)

2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)

3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)

4. La Regle du Jeu (Renoir, 1939)

5. Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)

7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)

8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)

10. 8½ (Fellini, 1963)

And here is the Alternative Film Bloggers Poll from HeyUGuys, click here for the complete list.

TOP TEN

1. Jaws
2. Back to the Future
3. = The Dark Knight
3. = Blade Runner
5. = 2001 A Space Odyssey
5. = There Will Be Blood
5. = Psycho
5. = Citizen Kane
9. Pulp Fiction
10. = The Thing
10. = Alien

I’ve added everyone’s twitter handle if you want to chuck stones at us, of course if you are a more chilled out person, you can always use the comment section below!

@asimburney

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Kuroneko

Black cats, unlucky for some

As July draws to a close, so does the small-scale marathon I’ve undertaken at the British Film Institute this month. I’ve already written about a classic Japanese horror, Onibaba but last week I had the fortune to watch Kuroneko, another Japanese film from the same genre.

Very much a companion piece to Onibaba, Kuroneko is also directed by Kaneto Shindo – shot 4 years later and with two of the actors (Kei Sato and Nobuko Otawa).

This brief synopsis shows the similarities of the 2 movies: a woman & daughter in-law live in a hut, on the edge of some woods and, as with Onibaba, we learn that the daughter’s husband is away fighting in the civil war. A group of soldiers appears, helping themselves to food and water before raping and killing the 2 women. We see a black cat licking at the two bodies and the hut is burned to the ground. Some time later, samurai start to die mysteriously.

And that, however, is where the similarities end.  I noted the almost claustrophobic feeling of Onibaba and Kuroneko spares us this.  It is a more open film, not with its head down in the reeds and rushes and is able to at least let us feel like we can breathe.  Whilst not particularly pleasant, one of the stand-out scenes for me is the opening sequence.  We see a group of soldiers emerge from the forest; the sound is silent & we can can hear only the wind in the trees.  Once the men reach the water, they bend down, like animals to a trough.  The sound is enhanced and there is no dialogue, just the noises of the slurping as their thirst is slaked.  Once the men enter the hut, there is also little if no conversation – merely grunting as the men help themselves to the women’s food, before the rape.  The scene ends as the soldiers retreat back to the forest – assimilated back from whence they came – and the hut is left to burn to the ground.

One of the clever tricks that Shindo plays is to tell us that the women have been taken over by the (vengeful) spirit of the demon as a black cat, without showing us fully.  We see glimpses of a long mane of hair, feline features from a distance or a hair covered arm, but never “cat women” as such.  Indeed, there is a scene near the end, that sent a full on chill right the way down my spine and is the culmination of all of these clever little shots.

I really enjoyed Kuroneko, possibly more so than Onibaba even.  It’s never going to rival anything from the modern horror catalogue – Saw, The Ring, Nightmare on Elm Street etc – in terms of blood and gore, but it has the feeling of being crafted, of being a film about human nature, myth and superstition.  It does of course have its moments of absolute terror (and humour) and so to have started my journey into Japanese horror movies with these two fine examples, makes me feel a tad lucky.  Next stop on the journey will have to be Kwaidan, Masaki Kobayashi‘s renowned shocker from 1964.

@martincawley

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Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum)

Take it from him, I dare you

Tin Drum

AKA Martin’s continuing voyage into yet more “weird old movies”.  If you thought I might have struggled with Onibaba‘s oddities and very loose write-up then that was a cake walk by comparison to what follows.  At least there is nothing really to hold back from in terms of plot / story and spoilers with Tin Drum.  Die Blechtrommel as known in its native Germany is one of the most startling films I’ve ever seen (along with Old Boy and Last Year in Marienbad).
Based on the acclaimed novel by the same name, from Gunter Grass, Tin Drum recounts the life of Oskar, a young boy who, when he sees the adult world around him does not like it one bit.  Aged 3 he is given a tin drum by his mother, but in disgust at the thought of becoming an adult, throws himself down a staircase and stops growing thereafter.  Oskar’s life runs parallel to the rise of the Nazis in Germany and this is where the allegory at the core of the novel lies.
For someone so young Oskar shows a remarkable ability to manipulate those around him in order to maintain what is essentially his deception.  Constantly banging on his tin drum he is disruptive at the threat of it being taken away, screeching and screaming at such a pitch that he can shatter and etch glass at will.  This makes for memorable scenes, although I do confess to wanting to snatch the wretched thing away from him, smash it to pieces and send him to bed early.
The film is set in Danzig (modern day Gdansk), the so-called free city in Poland, between the world wars.  Reflecting the duality of this setting are Oskar’s 2 fathers; the biological father being a Pole and the familial being a German.  As Oskar grows – he remains in the child’s body – so we see the return to growth of the German economy and in turn Nazism.  Not even Oskar’s drumming can prevent the march of Hitler – despite his wreaking havoc at a local rally, by making the other musicians play out of time and switch from a military march to a Viennese waltz.  A standout scene in the movie, in part for its outright humour and obvious subversion of something we know to be malevolent.  He is of course, ultimately powerless to stop the events of Kristallnacht and the armed struggle at the Polish post-office in Danzig, unfolding: both depicted in Blechtrommel.
As Oskar grows (remaining in the same body) and develops the film shows us some potent sexual images that would have the MPAA foaming at the mouth.  And I use this expression deliberately.  For the squeamish there is also a scene involving a horses head and some eels: you have been warned.  Equally, it is fair to say that as much as Oskar develops emotionally, he remains stunted in many ways.  Indeed, we can attribute the death of at least 3 people directly to his refusal to countenance any kind of growing up and taking wider responsibility for his childish actions.
I won’t divulge the ending of the movie.  Not because it’s a spoiler, but because the film doesn’t span the whole life of Oskar, as per the book.  Indeed, I have omitted many memorable scenes, not least the opening sequence which is mirrored in the closing scene.  I hope that what I have tried to explain thus far is intriguing enough to put this movie on your watch list – it is genuine work of art that will sustain multiple viewings – and reading the book.  Dark, strange and unpleasant as it may be, we are all the better for this movie existing at all.  Quite who would have the gumption to produce this nowadays I don’t know.  Maybe it is a product of its time – certainly the 70s were an incredible period in cinema (German in particular) – and perhaps it’s a one-off.  The scope and ambition in transferring this from page to celluloid is to be admired and I look forward to someone having the same vision in our own times.  Volker Schlondorff was approached to direct based on his previous good form in adapting novels for the big screen, but when it comes to contemporary directors I have no suggestions whatsoever.
Mesmerising, gruesome, unpleasant, bewildering but richly rewarding and haunting, The Tin Drum is certainly one the finest pieces of cinema I’ve seen.
@martincawley
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Onibaba

Onibaba, Japanese for "strange movie"

Onibaba

On a strong recommendation from a friend, I signed-up to watch this 1964 black and white Japanese movie. I didn’t know the director, the actors or the plot so this was the movie equivalent of a blind tasting. It’s a simple tale, set in 14th century Japan and based on a Buddhist parable.  A mother (Nobuko Otowa) and daughter in law (Jitsuko Yoshimura), live a detached existence, killing marooned samurai on their way through a vast reed-bed, in order to make a living by selling their armour and weapons to a local usury. But, for all its simplicity, Kaneto Shindo gives us a fable-like story interweaving lust, jealousy, fear, social-exclusion and death.

Set almost solely in amongst the reeds, the film becomes oppressive very quickly; the camera is rarely above the height of the reeds and with the constant sound of the wind rushing through the leaves. A nagging and sighing rustle and harsh whisper from which we really only escape when we see the characters in their hut haunts us throughout. This oppression is in turn reflected in the heat that becomes unbearable at night, making even sleep a difficult task. The sounds of the reeds is sometimes broken with music, but this is not a release as such; a jarring, gutteral burst of drums and percussion and screeching woodwind.

There is seemingly no escape; we will forever be held captive, a prisoner to the surroundings and inhuman way of life.

When a neighbour (Kei Sato) returns from war, telling of how the husband (and son) has died, so begins the breakdown of the relationship between the two women. One lusts and is lusted after, but the elder’s advances are spurned and the seeds of a bitter jealousy are sewn. As the sexual and social tension rises so this film shows us more gruesome and grotesque sides to human nature.

To reveal more will spoil the movie entirely, for it is certainly best seen first of all, with only a slight clue as to story and conclusion. An unusual film and although not horrific in terms of outright images – blood, guts, gore etc – is unsettling and strange. One for the curious and horror genre fans amongst us and ultimately very satisfying. I will be watching another Shindo horror – Kuroneko – later this month and will also post my thoughts.

@martincawley

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Some Like It Hot

Some Like it Hot. 

I know which one I'd sleep with

Although in Britain this “summer” we seem to like it mild and a bit damp. A members exclusive screening at the BFI seems like the perfect kick-off to a month of intense viewing on London’s Southbank. Part of the joy I guess, about seeing these old movies on the big screen is that I get to see films I have already seen on TV and in this case, seen on TV a long time ago. I get to re-assess my initial reaction as a teenager; now with a far greater volume of movies watched and in theory much more knowledge of moviemaking and movies.

As for the movie itself, it has “must watch” written all over it. The opening scenes echo the Warner Bros. gangster films of the ’30s and as the film unfolds, the gender stereotypes of ’50s America are gently subverted; anticipating the revolution that the ’60s would bring. This sounds quite serious, but the reality of Some like It Hot is the genius comedy brought to the screen. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play Gerry and Joe / Daphne and Josephine (and Shell Oil Junior) , two broke musicians on the run from the mob after having witnessed a Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago. The only way to escape is to join an all female jazz band who have a 3 week gig in Florida; meeting Marilyn Monroe‘s Sugar Kane (a ukulele player with a taste for liquor and sax players) along the way.

Will their true identities be revealed, will they escape from the mob? In the end this conceit becomes irrelevant – the sheer brilliance of the physical humour (men dressed as women, what’s not to find hilarious?) and the interaction between Sugar, Daphne and Josephine is all we really need. The lightness of touch by Billy Wilder is remarkable – the screenplay and direction of the 3 main protagonists seems so natural despite the obviously unreal scenario and I was stunned when I found out the movie pushes just over the 2 hour mark. Very much a case of “oh really, a 2 hour movie?” as opposed to “oh no, a 2 hour movie”.

If you’re looking for a true classic to cross off your list, with a great director, great actors and that is pure entertainment, then your search is over. Thoroughly recommended.

@martincawley

 

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Aaranya Kaandam Review at LIFF 2012

Yet another gangster flick made its London Premiere (the other one being Gangs of Wasseypur) at the London Indian Film Festival. And like a moth to the flame, I sniffed my way to the cinema screen to witness one of best selections of the festival overall. Director Thiagarajan’s “Aaranya Kaandam” (referring to the ‘jungle chapter’ in the Ramayana) throws away all the rules in the rule-book, and narrates a story so compelling, that we are bound to lend him our ears and eyes. Soaked in dark hues, this gangster flick set in the grit and dirt of Chennai, bypasses all set clichés and stereotypes associated with the genre.

The story circles around the rivalry between drug-lords of Chennai. In the red corner (there is a lot of red), is Singamperumal aka Ayya (Jackie Shroff)- impotent, dangerous, and a mental freak complete with a signature smile that shows the ins and outs of his lack of dental hygiene. He beats his mistress Subbu (Yasmin Ponappa), and bemoans her fate with the timid Sappai (Ravi Krishna). Sappai and Subbu fall in love. And in the blue corner, is the gang of the Gaj brothers – Gajendran and Gajapati, one uglier than the other. And we are also told of the legend of Gajendran. (You’ve got to find that out for yourself).

But when it comes to gangster films, nothing is as simple as just two opponents battling it out. Thrown in the mix are Pasupathy (Sampath Raj), Ayya’s lead henchman,who comes up with a stolen drug deal, which actually belongs to the Gaj brothers. And this sets the ball rolling for the rest of the movie which moves at an insane pace, jumping across the numerous characters and building up to a climax that wraps it all in, in a very satisfying way.

I am trying hard not to reveal much about this movie, because I’m concerned if that will dilute your experience. You should sit through this movie, without any prior knowledge of it, just like I did, and just let yourself get consumed by its sheer powerful imagery. Be it from Jackie Shroff’s relentless and no-holds-barred portrayal of a gangster struggling to “keep up” even when he’s way past his prime, to the little kid Kodukkapuli (Master Vasanth) whose smile and tears can melt your heart.

Aaranya Kaandam quenches that thirst for something “new” to watch. With stylish cinematography and action choreography, as well as an anime inspired moody omnipresence, Thiagarajan’s array of quirky, mad and loud characters come to life in their rawest form. Accompanied by a rocking background score, dollops of humour, and razor sharp dialogues, Aaranya Kaandam breathes life into the jungle of Chennai and its wildlife. For a debut feature, this is a must-watch.

Verdict: Blood Spurting 4 out of 5

Check out more of Sujoy’s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

For more about the London Indian Film Festival head over to their website or twitter feed!

Let us know what you thought of the review in the comment section below and do continue to check out Upodcast for more coverage of the LIFF!

@asimburney

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Gattu Review at the LIFF 2012

There can never be too many “children’s films”, especially ones which take you on a journey back to the days of innocence, where the mind was free from materialistic cravings, and all that mattered was to win a kite fight. Director Rajan Khosa‘s festival favourite “GATTU“, saw its London premiere yesterday at the London Indian Film Festival, and effortlessly swept the audience off its feet by its utter charm and simplistic story-telling.

 

At just 82 minutes, the story squeezes in multiple narratives. There’s the naughty protagonist in the centre – Gattu (Mohammad Samad), an orphaned boy who is unaware of his birthday, and is raised by Anees Bhai, whom he calls Chachu (Uncle). Between working at Anees Bhai’s junkyard, and doing daily chores, Gattu has one aim – to beat Kali, the unbeatable kite of Roorkee. To beat Kali, Gattu must find the tallest terrace in the town, which belongs to a school. Street smart Gattu devises a master plan, and even improvises on some. He sneaks into the school, posing as a student, but what he receives in the school, transforms him from being just a street urchin to a child full of hope. A simple lesson on gravity becomes the genesis of the “curious kid” in Gattu, and you can’t help but smile when he tries to educate his street mates with an apple.

 

Most importantly, GATTU touched me on a personal level, as it brought back a gush of nostalgic memories of my own school days – the images of the morning school assembly with children in uniforms, singing the school song in perfect cacophony, the punishments for not bringing text books, or “smuggling” comic books named “Wafadaar Jasoos” (the loyal detective), pranks played at clerks, and the innocent outburst of laughter at just the sight of a goat in the school compound.

Rajan Khosa seamlessly weaves all of that within the narrative, and yet doesn’t shy away from the reality of the street kids who toil tirelessly. Gattu also reminds me a bit of Amole Gupte‘s excellent feature film – Stanley Ka Dabba.

 

With its brilliantly filmed kite fight sequences which are a mix of CGI and aerial shots, Khosa efficiently captures the essence of a sport mostly unknown to the western world. But you can’t help giving in to the excitement, and cheer for the underdog. And just when you start to think that the climax is done, a final reveal leaves you with an aftertaste of “khussee ke aansoo” (tears of joy). Sprinkled with a healthy dosage of humour, GATTU conveys the message that it sets out to without being didactic. And that in itself is an admirable feat. Do yourself a favour and watch this. It is probably the nearest equivalent of a cinematic hug.

Verdict: 3 Giant Hugs out of 5

 

Check out more of Sujoy‘s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

For more about the London Indian Film Festival head over to their website or twitter feed!

Let us know what you thought of the review in the comment section below and do continue to check out Upodcast for more coverage of the LIFF!

@asimburney

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Dekh Indian Circus Review at LIFF 2012

Our intrepid reporter Sujoy (@9e3K) continues his coverage at the London Indian Film Festival with a review of Dekh Indian Circus.

What do you expect from a movie, which has a poster showing a young boy, with the fluttering Indian tricolour on a bicycle decorated with CDs and bottle caps. Also, a golden brown sandy background with the sun shining beneath, and a fun red font for the title of the movie, all point towards a fun, charming and innocent “children’s film”, well suited to please Film Festivals and Sunday afternoon TV slots. Director Mangesh Hadawale‘s second feature “Dekh Indian Circus” is a crowd-pleaser no doubt, with its child actors providing enough smiles that remain with you throughout the movie. But by the time the lights come up, that pre-assumption of it being yet another “children’s film” goes straight out of the window, as we are left with characters, metaphors and pointed statistics which leave an indelible impression.

 

Dekh Indian Circus has a rather straightforward storyline depicting the struggle of a family of four, somewhere in the middle of rural Rajasthan. The father of the family, Jethu (Nawazzuddin Sidiqqui, Gangs of Wasseypur, Kahaani) is one of the many who struggle hard to earn the daily bread for their family. Being illiterate, member of the minor class, and mute leaves him  struggling to make ends meet. This makes his wife Kajro (Tannishta Chatterjee, Brick Lane), the head of the family, who despite being a rural woman, is progressive-minded and ambitious. She holds strong opinions on everything, be it morality or politicians, and is fiercely determined to secure proper education for her kids – the naughty Ghumroo (Virendra Singh Rathod, the boy in the poster), and his younger sister Panni (Suhani Oza).

Set during a political campaign, it shows how rival candidates host huge rallies and promote electoral candidates – each promising to bring change, prosperity, as well as bribery in exchange for votes. This political “circus” is clearly taking advantage of the economically disadvantaged, who are manipulated, threatened and even beaten up. Meshed smartly within this political subtext, is the story of an innocent desire of the family to watch a traveling Circus. Little Panni is entranced by a flyer of the circus which has a stilt walker, she fondly calls “Lamboora Kaka” (Bamboo Man, literally translates to Very Tall Man). She begs her parents to make her only dream come true.

 

The story then takes us through the trials and tribulations of this circus visit. Hadawale smartly weaves various references to subtly convey the larger picture of how a nation, which is rising and shining as a leader of world economy, has poverty in its roots. India is the bigger “circus”, which has its “ringmasters” whipping the lions and making elephants dance, and then there are the “midget clowns” to be laughed at as well.

 

The performances by lead actors Nawazuddin Sidiqqui and Tannishta Chatterjee are top notch. Although Nawaz plays a mute, his angst, embarassment, and anguish comes alive with his expressive eyes. With Kahaani, and Gangs of Wasseypur, we have come to expect more and more out of this wonderful actor. And it was a bit disappointing to see him muted. But that is hardly a complaint. Tannishta Chatterjee might have been a bit “glammed” up for cinematic reasons, but brings authenticity in her role through mannerisms and genuine love to the role of Kajro – the ever sacrificing mother, and the relentless well spirited woman. And if young and naughty Ghumroo’s antics make you giggle and chuckle uncontrollably, little Panni’s sad face and precious tears are just heartbreaking.

 

Dekh Indian Circus is a competent film when it comes to depicting the story it intends to tell. It doesn’t take the route of portraying a third world environment via means of showcasing grinding poverty or sickening tragedy of rural India. It rather shows it in the light of ethnic beauty, of a communal presence of a society, which despite the dire circumstances they live in, derive happiness from the sounds of nature, the open landscapes and the simpler things in life. There is neither any didactic labeling when it opts to hint the political subtext. And enveloped with widescreen landscape images from Laxman Utekar, Wayne Sharpe’s effervescent score, and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Prasoon Joshi handling the music and lyrics department, Dekh Indian Circus oozes of optimism and leaves you with a smile, even though your eyes might or might not be dry. It deserves the mainstream release it is getting in India.

Verdict: 3 Splashing Stars Out of 5

Check out more of Sujoy’s work at OneKnighStand and Bollypop!

For more about the London Indian Film Festival head over to their website or twitter feed!

Let us know what you thought of the review in the comment section below and do continue to check out Upodcast for more coverage of the LIFF!

@asimburney

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Don 2 (3D) Review

Our favorite suave and chique crime lord Don is back after escaping from Interpol agents Roma (Priyanka Chopra) and Malik (Om Puri) in the first part of this franchise. We pick up the story after a 5-year gap (most of which Don has spent growing his hair and getting a butt ugly tattoo probably as the trend of wearing a tie under your shirt wasn’t taking off)

After becoming the ruler of Asia’s drug empire, he has now set his eyes on conquering Europe too. The top gaudy shirted crime bosses of Europe get together to get rid of Don but by doing so they set into motion the return of the king. This time his plan is to steal the currency plates for Euro Notes, I think he probably watched Lethal Weapon 4 a few times when he was kicking back and having his hair braided by Apache Indian’s stylist, but to do this he needs to get a key to a safe containing a video tape from Vardhan (Boman Irani), his nemesis from the earlier adventure who’s locked up in a Kuala Lumpur jail. Will Don be able to bust out Vardhan, steal the Euro plates, wipe out his enemies and finally become the king of crime in both Europe and Asia?

 

Where as the 2006 Don was a remake/re-imagining, the twist it added set the movie up as a slick action thriller franchise. The sequel takes us into the heist genre following the usual tropes i.e. setting up the heist with blue prints and lasers, getting a crew together each with a specialized skill set, things go wrong during the heist and then the big reveal. The movie is quite action heavy and the set pieces are very glossy and precision engineered. The team will be glad to hear that they are on par with stunt sequences reminiscent of the James Bond or Mission Impossible franchises, and that is clearly what the film makers were intending. I particularly enjoyed the initial Muay Thai double cross in Asia and the main car chase in the middle of the movie.

Unfortunately the action scenes are very heavily inspired by some of the above mentioned movies, also they are trying to match that level but never surpassing or adding anything original to the mix. Barring arguments about budgets, this is something that Korean, Thai or even French cinema is able to do much better and hence has a more unique voice in the global cinematic landscape, maybe this is one of the struggles Hindi Film cinema will continue to have until they develop a confident identity and vision.

 

This brings us to the fundamental flaws in the screenplay. As an audience we are trained to inherently root for the good guy. The hero dishooms his way through a pack of villains and vindicates the social injustices we identify with. The original Don’s main intrigue was about a simple guy, Vijay, infiltrating a crime organization for the future of his adopted street children and a sense of civic duty.

You want him to succeed in his mission whenever he is danger of his secret identity being disclosed by police or gangsters. You cared for Vijay’s well being.

When you take that away that suspense from the audience, as was the case in the 2006 version, understandably you feel cheated. You loose track of why you are rooting for the protagonist and only your affinity for the actors on screen makes ithe movie a satisfying experience. The cache of the actors involved for both Priyanka and ShahRukh was on a much higher level in 2006 then it is now.

Although Don is now the king of Asian drug trafficking, in the screenplay as a character his crimes are white washed.  We don’t see him doing any “evil deeds” or get any retribution for his actions whatsoever, Don is and remains a bad guy form start to finish without any character development.

Shahrukh has played anti heroes before in Baazigar and Darr that have been dubbed grey or negative characters but of each characters as an audience member you understood the motivation and story arc, be it obsession for revenge or love. I do think his role in Anjaam was overwhelmingly negative and to my recollection Anjaam flopped because of that. Don is a different beast.

He isn’t a “steal from the rich, give to the poor” kind of criminal. He is a vicious drug lord wanted in pretty much every country (which would make his mom proud as he proudly proclaims).

We are expected to root for this character and many times I was left wondering why we should do that? Just because Shahrukh looks cool? (again his coolness has lost a lot of its sheen since ’06) Or because he says please and thank you? Also where is his gang? Where are his minions? He seems to be very hands-on when it comes to pulling capers?

Director Farhan Akhtar mentioned when we spoke to him on our podcast that he also struggles with why audiences’ root for Don as a character and I don’t think he ever really figures it out during the entire movie and the only thing we are left with is… “Isn’t’ Shahrukh awesome?”  (as a disclaimer, yes he is awesome)

 

The whole set up of Don 2 is that he wants to be a billionaire and wipe out all his enemies, of which all the information is contained on a again a mythical disk that acts as a mcguffin through the rest of the flick. You reach the intermission and ask yourself what are the stakes in this movie?

Are we just here to see a bad guy do more bad stuff (ie  kill hostages and security guards by his henchmen) and if he has planned everything in detail as we are intended to believe then the innocents killed are on his conscience making the character very hard to like.

 

As a side note, I was watching a very interesting Star Wars documentary called “The People vs. George Lucas”, it spoke partly about how George Lucas made the first Star Wars when he started wanted to have control of his own movies and image and wanted to rail against the established studios by being a rebel outside of the system.  But now after living years off of his franchise and desperately trying to protect his “vision” ended up becoming the system himself. Watching Don 2 made me draw a parallel between George Lucas and Shahrukh’s career.

Shahrukh in the same way started out breaking all the classical hero molds. He took on supporting roles, off beat characters and small scales movies when Hindi film leads were not willing to experiment. This became the reason we love our Shahrukh, the reason we want to see him on screen, the nostalgia we feel when we call him King Khan.

And now quite ironically, he has become the one hero who has become most rigidly stuck in the image he has created.

But it’s been a rough year for SRK and I don’t think the detractors will change their tune after seeing Don, which is unfortunate but also understandable after the oversaturation people fell after marketing mayhem of Ra.One and now Don 2.

 

Following the rules of sequelitis, this one is bigger, better, flashier but the ’78 Saleem Javed version delivered something that was still memorable after 20 years. So much so that it has been remade in different eras as well as languages and regions. No one will be remaking Don 2 in 20 years and people that aren’t on board of the SRK or Piggy Chops train, won’t come out of theatres won over by the movie.

 

Although the loopholes in the screenplay, the dialogues penned by Farhan Akhtar himself are fun zingy one liners that had me half smirking in the quintessential SRK way quite a few times. I did purposefully stay away from the “Don Says’ virals on the net as I didn’t want the impact of the dialogues spoilt outside of context and this was a major win for me. Also since I am not a fan of those desperate marketing experiments, which are the equivalent of entertainment fast food that neither the performers nor the audience truly enjoy, and if they do, shame on them!

 

The soundtrack has been a pretty big disappointment and lacks anything catchy or mythical for us to buy or even revisit the album. Unlike Don ’06 we missed Kareena’s sizzling item number and there isn’t a “Khaike paan banaras wala” to lift the spirits either. The background score is slightly better and makes the heist and the action scenes more impactful.

In a way this makes the movie less Bollywood and maybe missing what the French call ” I don’t know what?”

 

The stunts are shot exquisitely shot (actually most of the cinematography is great by Jason West. Who is also playing one of the baddies, if I haven’t misread the cast list) they are very much competing with the MI franchise but unfortunately never taking it ever further. The execution is top notch but it looses out in creativity.

 

I chose to see Don 2 in 3D even if I am not a big fan of post converted movies (I haven’t seen any that I have liked or felt that the 3D added anything more). The 3D adds a sense of depth to the action scenes and but also points out the low budget design of the movies CGI. What 3D can provide something more is to the dance sequences in Zara Dil Ko Thamlo, But again since there was only one song and not much choreography required, there wasn’t much left. (My hopes are still high for Shrish Kunder’s Joker, next year, which IS shot in 3d and not post converted)

I wouldn’t shell out for the premium ticket for 3D if you are on a budget or anything and don’t enjoy wearing the glasses.

Unless like me you are not biased against 3D or just want to see a hindi 3D movie.

 

The 2 other niggles I had with the movie were Priyanka Chopra as performer and the character of Roma and her team at Interpol.

Interpol never provides a foil for Don or any threat, weakening the dramatic tension. Roma was an innocent victim of Don and collaborated with Interpol as an undercover mole, now she seems to be a Special Agent and the bright shining future of the team and there isn’t a moment her ability to do anything except pout and point out whatever is obvious on screen. Here is an example of her investigative method: “We see 2 people in the car, BUT now there is only 1 person so someone must have stepped out of the car” – No shit, Sherlock!

Not even the local German police takes this version of Interpol seriously, neither do the banking officials (who seem to have the power to offer immunity to felons)

 

On top of that Roma struts around every time Don surrends as if she actually did anything to catch him, which she clearly didn’t. Her introduction to the movie is where she has forgotten her colleagues’ birthday… and this is the agency that is chasing Don, the most notorious criminal, no wonder they haven’t gotten anywhere.

Priyanka does look ravishing and is quite impressive in the final action scene where she kicks some ass with really skinny arms.

Too bad for her she again gets outshone by the supporting actress who is wearing a gold dress, last time Kareena, this time Lara Dutta.

 

Overall I would say, I had been really excited for Don 2 and I liked it but it’s not going be on anyone’s top 10 of the year list. It’s a very slick, enjoyable and above all well made movie reminding me of Excel’s Game, released earlier this year. The star power and the brand recognition of Don 2 will carry this movie further in terms of Box office then it did for Game.

And I do have to admit that I walked out of the theater humming the title track, popping my collar and sneer- smirking like only a wanted man does….

 

 

Spoiler Section:

  • Having been cheated once before in the earlier Don, you start to expect a twist at the end of this one. I wouldn’t want the Don franchise become a N Shymalan style movie where most of the impact is lost just because you as an audience member don’t want to me cheated and just sit there waiting for a twist.
  • Hritik Roshan’s cameo: Don goes undercover as Hritik followed by a Mission Impossible 2 style mask taking off, which was illustrated in one of the posters that came out earlier. Although a preposterous set up ( MI did put in the effort to explain how the managed to copy the voice and mannerisms, here it’s not the case) it was quite fun to see Hritik even if it was for a short while. It made me wonder when will we get to see Hritik play a bad ass? But then I thought of the Agneepath traier and it was like my wish will be granted very soon
  • More effort should have been put into establishing Interpol’s credibility, instead of introducing us to them by talking about missed birthdays, maybe talk about a case Roma just cracked? would have given her a bit more development as a character.
  • Some of the influencesI picked up watching the movie:
    • Die Hard and the Nakatomi heist, up to the final climax where Don arches his arms back when he is close to surrendering. I was hoping they would just go completely meta and make SRK say something like: “Yippikay kutte!”).
    • Mission Impossible 1: face masks, heist, poison pen, fire brigade escape, upside down safe crack
    • MI 2: Don’s get up in the finale
  • Shah Rukh’s hair foibles: Seriously what look were they trying to go for?

Let us know what you thought of Don 2? We have a podcast discussion with our good friend Danny Bowes about Don 2 going up in a couple of days so keep your iTunes feeds updated!

@asimburney

 

 

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Review Ladies vs Ricky Bahl

Ranveer Singh, Anushka Sharma and director Maneesh Sharma come together once again under the YRF banner after their sleeper hit of last year Band Baaja Baarat, Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl is called a Rom-Con puntastically and banks heavily and is pretty much built around the popularity of the leading man, after Ranveer’s debut which almost ecplipsed his co-star unfairly.

 

Here we follow grifter Ricky Bahl (Ranveer Singh) under his different guises as he cons Daddy’s Girl Dimple in Delhi (Parineeti Chopra) as a gym trainer, no non-sense business lady Raina in Mumbai as an art critic (played by former model Dippanita Sharma) and before that as shy garment manufacturer from a small village so where he duped the innocent Saira played by Aditi Sharma in Lucknow (Probably the most “evil” of cons).

The swindled ladies want to get back their money, respect or “boyfriend” back and hire salesgirl Ishika (Anushka Sharma) to con the “conner”.

 

Up to this point in the story (which is pretty much the interval) the movie is a joyous ride of the different cities, accents, get-ups, cultures and each of the different scams of which especially the one in Delhi is fun to watch.  We see firecracker Ranveer proving his debut was not a fluke and he truly is a guy to watch out.  Anushka makes an energetic introduction in Jazba, shaking her behind in front of dubbawhala’s in a station and Parineeti has us pretty much cracking up in every scene she is in almost playing a spoilt version of Shruti Kakkar, or is just that no nonsense Delhi accent she puts on? It makes certainly makes us look forward to her forthcoming movie Ishqzaade with Arjun Kapoor.

But then things start to go downhill as soon as the focus shifts to the duped trying to get back at Ricky.

 

As we discussed during our Matchstick Men Upodcast about con movies, a con movie is only as good as the con, and here there is not a moment that you truly believe that these girls will be able to have the upper hand on Ricky. What remains is the love story, which is underdeveloped, and when it does pop up, it comes out of nowhere.

If the pacing of a movie engrossing you don’t realize some loopholes but this is not the case in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and the pace actually drops in the scenes were Ranveer isn’t present.

 

Although the supporting actresses are talented, and Saira was channeling a bit of Yasmeen from Dhobi Ghaat)

Both Anushka and Ranveer look great but as an audience member you almost feel cheated as I didn’t feel there was enough of them in the 2nd half of the movie. We never really get to understand Ricky and in a very “500 Days of Summer”- way we only see the version of Bloody Kamina that the victims of his cons show us. Making it that even the climactic scenes of character growth feel like they materialized out of thin air. I do think Ranveer was trying to channel a bit of Tanni from Rab Ne Banadi Jodi (before the reveal) looking at everything with mysterious glances, is he aware that he is being conned? Or is he just playing along? But this is probably just the performance trying to add more to an underdeveloped script.

Anushka is radiant, and there was lots of talk of her weight loss, some going as far as to shout anorexia but she manages to fill the screen with a positive energy that no other contemporary actress has.  Some actresses ooze class, some sensuality, Anushka manages to do both and adds a girl next-door charm.

And god that smile… too bad Ishika, the character, doesn’t live up to the talent of this amazing performer.

 

The visuals are glossy as Christmas ornaments; every scene has the popping energy that we are used to YRF studios (I do wonder if this is a look that will translate to the US movies they are now producing)

 

The songs are mediocre although choreographed marvelously. I did feel that the undershirt dance in title track was reminiscent of the studios massive hit Dhoom 2′ s “Dhoom Machale”. The song placement is balanced and the performances by the leads against are so energetic they are enjoyable even though you wont be buying the soundtrack anytime soon (something I haven’t done either, although that jazz sample in the title track is pretty awesome)

Every close up is shot with lots of fans so hair is always flopping around, something I might have found more annoying as I was sitting super close to the screen.  (I could actually see a couple of nose hairs poking out of Ricky’s pulling me totally out of the moment, I hope I didn’t spoil any moments)

 

All in all Ladies vs Ricky Bahl is quite fun and enjoyable even though I don’t imagine it ending up on any best of 2011 lists. Something I am preparing for a future Bollywood Upodcast so keep checking us out. Maneesh Sharma needs a better screenplay next time but it’s quite tough to capture lightning in a bottle. If you don’t go with the expectations of another Band Baaja Baraat, you will have a great time.

 

Something more:

 

  • I would love to see what Ranveer can do coming out of the YRF banner. The guy has such a screen presence and could totally take on more challenging and edgier roles if given the chance.

 

  • I would like to see Anushka Sharma in pretty much everything, she s such a delight to watch.

 

  • Ladies vs Ricky Bahl is another in a long line of Yash Raj con after Bunty Aur Babli, Badmaash Company, the Dhoom series and in some ways even Rab Ne Banadi Jodi. Maybe Band Baaja Baraat connected more with audiences, as it was a movie about hard work and graft? Something we don’t seem to get as much in contemporary Hindi cinema.
  • It seems that Yash Raj studios have no idea how to portray the business world actually works.  Salesmen are equated with con men (something that was also raised in last years Rocket Singh-Salesmen of the Year) and seem to be proud of duping their customers, something I inherently disagree with. Even Raina’s who’s supposed to be a hardnosed corporate manager also has to deal with interior decoration and also being a part time art critic

 

 @asimburney

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Rockstar Review

Coming to the close of a huge year in Box Office but maybe not in complete tune with my personal sensibilities I was pretty much sold on Rockstar from the outset just because of 2 names: Imtiaz Ali and AR Rahman. Imtiaz Ali has been quietly making romantic movies in a very fresh manner. When the trailer and especially Kun Faya Kun video was released I knew this would be hitting all my sweet spots.

A bittersweet love story (which I am going to talk about below in the spoiler section) set against the backdrop of the birth of a fictional Rockstar, from gangly Steve Urkel look-a-like Janardhan Jakhar to trendy bohemian bourgeois shalwar/pant-wearing stadium rocker. Although Rock On was a success and a movie I totally loved, London Dreams left such a skid mark in my cinematic briefs even if it starred one of my favorite actors that I was weary of Hindi Films taking on Rock again. (Ranbir prancing around with a guitar during the press tour really didn’t help either)

I was happy to see that there was less rock than the title suggests but the amount there is, is unfortunately not well handled. For anyone that has had the soundtrack on repeat (like me) would know that there really is only one song that could maybe be qualified as rock (although people that like to wear black T-shirts probably don’t agree with either) but it does bring us to the second element of the movie that had me sold and that is of musical wunderkind AR Rahman. Every soundtrack that the guy has ever produced is like crack to me. If I don’t get some new music at regular intervals I started hanging out with Bubbles in Hamsterdam or trying to steal some copper wire.

The movie is told in a nonlinear timeline starting with the final concert in Rome, flashing back to a young Jordan. This is quite refreshing although not unique for a Hindi film, it did however create quite a bit of confusion for the samosa auntie collective around me in the theater. Some of the emotional beats suffer a bit due the timeline but the movie weaves such a magic that it sticks so close to your heart that you yearn to revisit it as soon as you step out of the darkness of the cinema.

Rockstar is many things, but first and foremost it’s a musical epic composed around the soundtrack of Rahman.  Rockstar would not be possible without the sounds that have been on repeat on my iPod since the soundtrack was released a couple of months ago. From the chant-along stadium anthem Saada Haq, the hypnotism of the sufi inspired Kun Faaya Kun to the fun loving Katiya Karoon, there hasn’t been an album like this all year and truly only someone like AR Rahman’s midas touch could craft something that accompanied with the beautiful cinematography of Anil Mehta takes us to the soaring highs that we see Jordan gaze upon many times throughout the movie. A very smart move was to have one playback singer take on all of the songs that Jordan sings; it just creates more cohesion between Ranbir and Jordan which makes the character just that tad bit believable. And another thing I loved about the songs… there were no damn techno remixes of them on the album, thank Rahman.

Rockstar is a powerhouse performance by Ranbir Kapoor, although the young actor has been known to have the luxury to experiment unlike his contemporaries, he has an innate and effortless talent that can’t be denied.  We have seen him as a slacker in Wake Up Sid, a college graduate transformed into a political strategist in Raajneeti but the performance here is just something different. Although Jordan is pretty much a petulant man child (isn’t that what Rockstar are supposed to be?) Ranbir makes you feel his anger, his frustration, his ambition and his love for Heer.

Played by newcomer and former Whose Americas Top Model ( I dont know the exact name of that show) contestant Nargis Fakhri, the character of Heer teeters on the manic pixie dream girl, a character template coined by film Critic Nathan Rabin.  Man-children protagonists usually fall in love with MPDG but Heer is more of a driver of the relationship than the label usually offers us. The decision to dub Nargis’ voice creates a disconnect doesn’t help making the performance more stilted, a decision I never understand but then again I am a sucker for all types of accents.  And who knows if it’s something that even Rani Mukherjee and Katrina Kaif struggled with at the start of their careers maybe we can see more of Nargis soon, I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing more of her. (I totally also dig that little scar she has under her nose)

And maybe Heer is a MPDG in the way Paro was in Devdas or Kiran was in Darr but Nargis’ fresh appearance is so charming that you just want to chill out with her and have fun like Janardhan does before he becomes Jordan.

Her backstory is treated with nuance and hints (her marriage and her decisions in Prague) which are very subtle but make us understand why we as audience members fall in love with her. She is clearly playing that girl in high school that every guy has met, the one every guy and approximately 10-15% of girls are crazy about in college, that teenagers dream about after class and since she is engaged to be married that just adds to her allure.

Rockstar is a passionate love story of the kind we haven’t seen in a while and earlier this year Mausam probably tried to deliver. Director Imtiaz Ali has steadily worked throughout his previous movies trying to understand the foibles of young love within the conventions of Bollywood. Some might say he is getting stuck in the same mold but he manages to do so by giving us a new perspective on stories we know and some of us love. This is the case with Rockstar too, we know where the story will take us and where it will end but the ride is just so fresh that you forgive most of the faults.

There are some issues with the movie though, the second half of the movie starts dragging and the writing of the characters becomes a bit unbelievable especially in the female characters, like Heer’s sister, her sister in law and mother. ? Maybe the writer in Imtiaz Ali is only able to handle one female character to halfbakedly flesh out?

I also would have liked to see more of the journey of Jordan, suddenly he seems to be rocking stadiums and kicking journalists and we never have a sense on how that is justified. It would have been great to see him struggle more with the music industry (which we hear clearly in Sheher Mein on the soundtrack than in the movie itself). It reminded me of those scenes in 8 Mile where we see Eminem writing lyrics on the palm of his hand as he’s just working on this music all the time. This sense of creativity was lacking in Jordan. But this is probably due to the decision to focus on the love story.

Most of all Rockstar is a movie of achieving all your dreams but the price it comes at can be very high.

Spoiler Section: (if you want a non spoiler- non desi review, you should check out the review I did for HeyUGuys posting very soon)

  • What a wonderful strategy to release the music much earlier. We all know AR Rahman’s soundtracks are slow poison so it was great let us get used to the songs so we are singing along oh yay a with Jordan during Jo Bhi Main.
  • Mohit Chauhan, the main playback singer and Irshad Kamil, the lyricist are together with Rahman an amazing combination. Sheer poetry together with an amazing voice, it leaves me speechless at every listen. I love this soundtrack especially in a horrible year for music in Hindi films.
  • I have been trying to avoid as much as possible but Rockstar is a TRAGIC love story, meaning someone dies but love never does.  I think the way Hindi Films just go all out and wallow in the tragedy and melodrama of love is the reason I adore our good ole Bollywood. We’ve had our masala and will probably have more looking at the roster of releases for the next year but Rockstar reminded me in parts of some of my favorite movies like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
  • Where can we order those pants Ranbir is wearing? They seems very conforable to lounge in but debonair enough to go out and get some milk on a sunday from he corner shop.
  • Also is Shehnaz Patel getting typecast taking care of bed ridden characters after Guzaarish?
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Lego The Movie

Don't leave us in pieces after the movie

Some interesting news greeted my inbox today and I’m not at all sure of where I stand on this one. In fact, even thinking of standing on Lego brings back painful childhood memories – especially when you step right on the corner of a little square block in bare feet.

So, back to the movie…the studio behind Lego The Movie* is Warner Bros. and a release date has been set for 2014. Notably, the movie is expected to be an animation / live action hybrid. Quite what this will really entail is anyone’s guess, but if anyone can show me a good and/or successful film in this format, since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? way back when, then I’d love to know.

Does this make me a sceptic? Yes, of course it does; but that’s only because I have the best of interests at heart. I loved and still love, Lego the toy and I think the Lego computer games are brilliant. I just want a decent movie out of this project; enough that I won’t feel like a total and utter victim for paying to see this when you can imagine the field day that marketing execs in both companies will have in the run up to the release. If Lego already make good toys (and computer games) associated with other movies – Star Wars, Batman, Hippy Puffer etc – then their own merch for their own film ought to be so good that a kid’s brain melts just by seeing the ads on TV.

With the apparent 3 year wait for a green light now over, casting for the human roles is expected to commence in January 2012. Aussie company Animal Logic (Happy Feet) has been lined-up to produce the effects and further details about the story and plot are expected to be released at some point next week. It is thought that production will also begin next week. If you’re not sure what Lego is (really, is there anyone?) then check out this clip…it’s also a really introduction to Eddie Izzard.

*As named by ME as no name announced just yet

 

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The Artist

Not coming to a UK screen soon

The Artist is the latest film from director Michel Hazanavicius.  Re-uniting Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo (also from Hazanavicius’ hilarious OSS117: Cairo, nest of spies) the Artist tells the story of the fall of a silent movie star, George Valentin (Dujardin) and the rise of Peppy Miller (Bejo) when the talkies were becoming the norm in Hollywood.  So, nothing special there; but where the movie will surprise is that it is both black and white and silent.  Very much a rarity in the age of Michael Bay & 3D, I for one cannot wait for the UK release.  And this I guess, is a teeny problem…slated for release in France on October 12th and in the US on November 23rd, the UK still has no date confirmed.  I am sure that this will change once the movie has its mainstream release in various other markets, so until then, we will have to content ourselves with the trailer.  You can enjoy Jean Dujardin’s Cannes Film Festival Best Actor winning performance, all too briefly, below.  Oh and Berenice Bejo looks as gorgeous as ever.

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Drive – quite possibly movie of the year

A star is born

Having heard a lot about The Pusher and having seen Bronson, I’m not sure why I was quite as surprised as I was by how damned fine the film is.  It’s a pretty easy plot – stunt driver in the movies has a sideline at night driving getaway cars, falls in love with his neighbour and pulls one last, ill-fated job – but this sets expectations so low against what is delivered – Nicolas Winding Refn has really delivered with this movie.  First off, it would be remiss to not talk about the violence and there are some supremely bloody scenes in the film; really quite explicit and graphic but not gratuitous.  This is balanced by a very tender relationship between Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan which is not expressed in the conventional manner: there is but one kiss that is shared throughout the film.  For more on Refn’s observations about love and violence, see the clip from BBC Breakfast…  

So, Drive is a truly original film; a tremendous re-imagining of the “man with no name” concept and not easy to pigeon-hole.  That we don’t know any back-story about “Driver” makes this all the more compelling.  For that I guess we have to read the James Sallis novel upon which the film is based. 

Everything else aside, what else makes this such a winner (literally as Refn won Best Director at Cannes earlier this year for Drive)?  Well for a start, LA at night is shot wonderfully (as it is during the day too).  There are some great performances from the whole ensemble cast; standout from Gosling and I thought notably from Bryan Cranston who, not having seen Breaking Bad, for me will forever be Hal, the father in Malcolm in the Middle.  What will stay with me most I think will be the soundtrack; almost an ever-present in the movie and the most perfect complement to the visuals and story.  I was reminded both of the Scarface and Heat soundtracks – a brilliant blend of electro-pop-synth and moody atmospherics, particularly in the opening sequence.  A modern day noir, Drive gets the Upod thumbs-up, so treat yourselves and check it out as soon as you can.  A clip is below just in case you need more encouragement.

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Review Bodyguard

It’s Eid, a day of rejoicing after a pious month of fasting and introspection. And how do us Hindi Film fans celebrate? We go out to the movies of course! Since the past few years Eid has become synonymous with a Salman Khan release. He’s set records with Dabanng and Wanted at Eid and Ready earlier this year. Will he be able to do so again with Bodyguard? Will he be A-One number one and beat that other King? Has Upodcast ever been interested in the box office fate of a movie and will we start to do so now? If you want to know if Bodyguard will be a hit, I am sure there will be numerous reviews posted around the interwebz in the next few days. But if you want to get into the nitty gritty of Bodyguard, read our review!

Bodyguard is the story of Lovely Singh (Salman Khan)a trusted and loyal bodyguard that gets hired by Sartaj Rana (Raj babbar) – one of those dhoti wearing rich dudes with a moustache-  to protect his college going daughter Divya (Kareena Kapoor). Divya feels her style gets cramped by having a bodyguard shadowing her in college, so she decides to prank call Lovely Singh pretending to be a girl named Chayya to distract him by making him believe she is in love with him…Do I need to spell out what happens next?

It’s never great to start a review by talking about another movie but I have to admit as a Salman Khan fan, watching Ready ( our full review) was a torture that still gives me pant shitting nightmares every time I hear the annoying whistle from Dhinka Chikka. But it was a huge hit so I guess it only shows how much out of touch I can be with the taste of mainstream audiences. (I didn’t like Transformers 3 either). So to put it mildly I was reticent of watching Bodyguard after seeing the first trailer. I felt it was an easy cash earner riding on the popularity of Salman after his previous hits, the soundtrack wasn’t really exciting me either (does any Himesh soundtrack do that anymore?). Another thing Ready proved was that Salman’s movies were becoming critic proof, and no matter the shoddy direction or egregious plot, the shirt removal scenes would have the audiences in raptures. It’s back in vogue to be a Salman Khan fan and more power to him. He’s had a couple of rough years pre-Wanted.

(Where were you people when he was making Jaan E Mann, Garv and Veergati? I ask you this faux Salman fans, where were you when he needed you???)

Bodyguard is tailor made to be a massive hit. The timing is perfect, the marketing has been ramping up (of which you have seen a lot on Upodcast, truth be told) and they have created a lot of buzz in a short span of time (Bodyguard started shooting in January if I’m not mistaken). It mixes everything we want as a time pass movie in measured doses. First half is comedy and a hint of a love story. The 2nd half ramps up the action and emotions. The songs are placed with precision engineering and more than anything this movie is produced by an ace team.

Performances are what are to be expected from stars of this caliber. Glad to see that this will finally be a hit for this pair after the underappreciated Kyon Ki and the unmitigated disaster that was Main Aur Mrs Khanna. Salman is playing Salman as he usually does. He’s a lot more subdued playing a dutiful Bodyguard but the moments he needs to switch up with some classic Michael Jackson moves and charm the audience, he does so faultlessly. He’s become a master at giving the audience what they need, I just hope the audience needs this Salman for a whole while longer. Also can we have every movie of his start with a warehouse fight? (This one was particularly brilliant)

The money and effort spent Kareena’s look and wardrobe is staggering and she looks luminescent on screen in every frame. (We might still be a bit besotted by meeting her last week and her podcast with us). Compared to Kaajal Agarwal in Singham (The previous South Indian remake) who was also dressed in the ethnic look, you can understand what sets Kareena apart from anyone else and why she is in the position she is. Above all that she has really developed into a fine actress, even in a movie like this which is pretty light, the moments she needs to emote with her tear filled eyes, she does so with aplomb. She gets an introductory montage in the movie which makes you forget for a moment that you are watching a movie and if she would turn around and sell us a brand of shampoo or face cream, I am sure the audience would have run out and bought that product straight away. (She doesn’t do so although there is quite a bit of overt product placement throughout the movie). I’m not entirely sure she can still pull off the role of a college girl but I am sure people show me the “Amir Khan in 3 Idiots” card as soon as they have finished reading this sentence, so it becomes a moot point.

The action scenes designed by Vijayan (who worked with Salman in Wanted and Dabanng) are amazing, probably the best we will see all year (until Agneepath comes out). They take the no-holds barred mix martial arts approach from the climax of Dabanng and add more wire work to it. Whereas the wire work in Singham (apologies for harping on about Singham, maybe check out our full review for our thoughts) made the action seem weightless and cartoonish at times. The fights in Bodyguard feel more grounded as they are aided by well used freeze frames and bullet time. The final fight scene with Aditya Pancholi ( why don’t we see more of him) if breathtaking, and even if the villains are only punching bags for Salman in this movie, they do a pretty good job.

But all this is a success of the production team but a movie needs a few more elements like a tight or at least logical screenplay, clap worthy dialogues and competent directing and that is where bodyguard starts to falter.

Director Siddique has written and directed this movie 3 times (In Tamil as Kaavalan, in Malayalam as Bodyguard and now again in Hindi) now but he is still not skilled at telling the story and he seems to have no idea what the job description of bodyguard actually is. In Siddique’s warped mind a bodyguard is an amalgam of a special ops commando, a personal trainer and a nanny. Apparently a bodyguard needs to attract as much attention as possible and can also not sit next to his master.

He fills in the first half of the movie with an comedy track with overweight side kick (something that seems to happen quite a bit when importing movies from the south- see Wanted and Singham). The overweight girl from “I H8 Luv Stories” is somewhere on the background and only around so the midget (dwarf, little person, I don’t want to piss any karate proficient little people) can make some fat jokes. Apparently these jokes benefit from the rapid fire repartee of South Indian cadence, I don’t think I would find them funny in anyway shape or form.

The love story until the interval is pretty juvenile and if it wasn’t for the charming performance of the stars, it would be ridiculous. Why do remakes of South Indian movies make their female characters act only a couple of levels above the retardation line is a mystery to me? (I’m sure their moms had to get involved to get them just above that line a la Mama Gump)

I want to talk about the ending of the movie in the spoiler section but only read it if you have seen the movie already in one of its previous avatars or don’t care enough about it not to have it spoilt. But Siddique reminded me of Puri Jagganath director of Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap. Another director who overstretches his skills and his movie was only successful through the weight that the actors brought in. At least Puri made an orginal movie. Siddique has done this 3 times now and if it wasn’t for a strong action director, camera man and production team, he would not have been able to deliver.

Clearly not every South Indian director is Prabhu Deva.

For whoever is keeping final score for Bodyguard:

Dabanng ≥ Wanted > Bodyguard > Ready > Suryavanshi

Before I go into the spoiler section I want to go into a bit of tangent.

I do wonder how far we can stretch the southification of Hindi Film Cinema. Audiences will get tired of the inane comedy that just doesn’t make that much sense and every South Indian I have spoken with prefers the original version and feels the adaptation wasn’t done right. It would be an idea to take the time and effort to really adapt and distill the screenplays to local audiences and just change the timing of the comedy and emotional beats. Even the dialogues lack the punch when translated from a language they weren’t originally written in. Until now, the power of the stars has been able to drag these movies to box office success. Stars like Aamir, Salman and even Ajay have enough of a following to do so but what will happen when these movies have minor stars attached to it?

I am dreading seeing the promo’s for Force and I do not believe that people who loved seeing Surya in Kaakha Kaakha( which we reviewed) will enjoy pretty boy John Abraham in it.

I also understand the anger that some South Indian fans feel towards these movies which can only be described as a Mcdonaldisation of their cinema transforming it into a bland mongrel form of sustenance which only nourishes but does not fill the appetite.

When speaking with my twiter buddy Reena Mumbai from TwoMangoes (check out her blog by clicking here) about our obsession with pre- 50 Cent hip hop. It made me think of a song by Mos Def called Rock N Roll on his epic Black on Both sides Album, about how white America has appropriated much of black culture thanklessly.

“I said, Elvis Presley ain’t got no soul
Chuck Berry is rock and roll
You may dig on the Rolling Stones
But they ain’t come up with that style on they own”

I wouldn’t say we are there yet but I do hope more effort is put into adapting these movies in the future.

But can we at least get rid of the overweight sidekicks and inane slapstick comedy?

Spoiler Section: ( Really do not read before watching the movie)

  • There is unnecessarily convoluted twist at the end of the movie which is an example of the ineptitude of the writing. Not only does it just seem to give us the same result we were going to get 15 min earlier but it does so using one of the most thankless characters in the entire movie. This could very well be a prequel to Kuch Kuch Hota hai. It really sucks and annoyed me to no end. (oh I was really evil, and I now have this ailment that the writer doesn’t even take the time to name and could you please not tell your daddy I was evil oh bespectacled son)
  • I also wonder why did no one get any older? We don’t need them to pull a Veer Zaara but you could add some wrinkles or at least dress people differently, it seemed the scenes were just shot 2 days later but a 7 year old kid had suddenly appeared out of the blue.
  • The entire phone plot made me miss Karisma Kapoor so much. I hope she comes back soon and if we pray really hard maybe she will do a movie with Salman Khan again. I don’t think there was ever an actress he seemed more comfortable with or just had fun with and it showed on screen. It’s a shame because to think that way though as Bebo looks so pretty but did anyone else feel she was channeling a bit of Lolo on those phone scenes?

Let us know what you thought of Bodyguard and how they did adapting it from the previous versions in the comments section below

 

 

 

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Review Aarakshan (Reservation)

After the unexpected box office success of last year’s Raajneeti, a political drama with a huge star cast taking influences from Indian Mythology and the Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather, director and auteur Prakash Jha is back with his intense brand of cinema with Aarakshan (Reservation) starring Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpai and Deepika Padukone. This time he tackles the issue of reservation, the practice of setting jobs and positions aside for certain social classes who were left behind as a remnant of the old Indian Caste based society, a bit like affirmative action but not entirely. So is Prakash Jha able to entertain and educate us? Does the chemistry of Deepika and Saif Ali Khan work wonders again after Love Aaj Kal? Check out our review after the jump! Read More

Review Rise of the Planet of the Apes

When I first heard of another Apes movie planned, I didn’t feel I was the right audience for it. I almost have no affinity with animals in general, I don’t have or ever have had pets and I prefer giving money for human orphans than tortured bears or dying whales on top of that I was never a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes series kicked off by the Charlton Heston‘s 1968 classic (the one of the most spoofed endings in film history) of which this Rupert Wyatt directed and starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto is a prequel to some sense. To further illustrate how much I don’t care about the original franchise I could even go as far as scarlet lettering myself in the film community by mentioning that I actually enjoyed the critically panned Tim Burton, Mark Wahlberg version of 2001. But something changed when I saw the first trailer and most of it was the performance and heart in the performance that you could see in the character of Caesar, the main chimpanzee played by now motion capture veteran Andy Serkis.

Something within the frames of the trailer where Caesar hugs a disheveled John Lithgow after an altercation with his neighbor just struck a chord with me.

The movie starts with unidentified poachers capturing some apes in a forest and from right from that point we can sense the frustration and panic of the animals in details that we know will be pulling our heart strings. James Franco plays Will Rodman a scientist for a pharmaceutical company whose music professor father (John Lithgow) is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He’s doing test on the animals to find a cure and while doing so he invents a strand that connects the synaptic chords of animals in the brain or some kind of weird science that we should just go with. As a result of his tests though he creates an chimp, Caesar, that’s smarter than the average child, which he then raises in secret in his home.

We see Caesar growing up in his house and becoming part of the family and not just a pet. Whilst Franco starts a relationship with veterinarian Caroline (Freida Pinto). After an altercation with one of the one-note human neighbors (which will have a big impact later on) Caesar’s animalistic sense of protection forces him to change homes to a primate shelter where he is the tormented and humiliated by Tom Felton, but more than that comes in contact with other apes for the first time and feels the sense of abandonment which leads to an ape uprising alluded to in the title.

Look at those eyes! Amazing work by Weta and Andy Serkis

It’s disconcerting when a movie makes you cheer for the demise of humanity. It does illustrate how we have changed as a society where we can root for these animals although there is no real pain that they are submitted too, the filmmakers hint at some bigger questions as animal testing for the purpose of human pharmaceutical improvement.

From the trailer what sold me was the performance of Andy Serkis Caesar and the technical wizardry that Weta, the company behind the effects in movies such as Lord Of The Rings, King Kong and Black Sheep (check out our very old podcast about that one! By clicking here). Caesar’s character arc from him growing and becoming an integral part of the family (there is an unbelievably touching scene with some cutlery and fried eggs) up to the sense of betrayal he feels right at the animal shelter, where he just can’t fall asleep so he draws a pillow on his cell wall, I have to admit even getting a lump in my throat just recalling the scene. Right up to the gathering of the troops of the apes at the Animal shelter and the final showdown,  we see such a range of complex and well defined emotions that Andy Serkis’ it has to be one of the best performances all year round.

Every Ape has its own character design, body movement and story arc. One of the best scenes is probably the silent communication between the apes and the power dynamics within the shelter. Even in all the awesome destruction of the climactic battle on the Golden bridge we can see which ape is which and all credit must go to Weta and the effects they have created.

The other performances are good but since the story is really based on the evolution of the Apes that almost all the human characters get the short shrift and this goes for James Franco and Freida Pinto. I can actually challenge you to remember any names of any of the characters except the boss of the pharmaceutical lab, I am sure you won’t be able to. Franco has been cemented in my mind as the stoner since Pineapple Express so it takes a bit of convincing to see him as a genetic scientist. There were moments in his performance that I thought, he s so confused that he needs to light up a jay to chill out and get his mind sorted. Freida Pinto is her sparkling self, unfortunately her character is not well etched out, playing the typical female supporting role but the moment she does appears on screen and flashes that beautiful smile you are completely smitten with her as Franco and Caesar are. The stand out human performance is John Lithgow, playing the Alzheimer ridden music professor although he sometimes goes over the top with his disheveled look most of his story arc is quite touching and he just has more to play with.

The worst performance is probably Tom Felton playing a dirtier version Draco Malfoy but without the magic powers. It’s not entirely his fault as he mostly serves as a plot device and to drive a very overt reference to the original movie that the actor is not yet ready to carry. There are a few other references hidden throughout the movie which are cute if you catch them but you don’t really need to have seen the original to appreciate Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

The movie is beautifully shot. From the scenes in the Redwood Forrest and Caesar looking over the city afar, the battle on the bridge and even some of the scenes in the neighborhood (the leaves falling on the street during the Ape attack) are breathtaking.

The pacing and the editing of the movie are great and it has been a while since I wanted to know the name of the director straight after I saw the movie. Although only made one previous movie the 2008 prison movie Escapist (which I haven’t seen but will seek out now) He delivers a complete and very plausible story with some iffy science but works within the world it creates.

This has really been the year of successful reboots that had very low expectations attached after Xmen First Class and now Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I do wonder what trend this will give us but for the time being we can at least enjoy a summer movie that isn’t super hero and delivers quite a bit more than we expected. It’s great fun even if you’re not sure you should be cheering those damn dirty apes basically taking over the world!

Spoiler Section:

The John Lithgow scene where he declines the second strand of the Alzheimer’s medicine is really touching and honestly got a bit dusty in the theatre.

Isn’t everything that happens entirely James Franco’s fault? There are quite a few moments that it becomes frustrating to see there is no real consequence paid to what he actually does and what it entails.

The movie poses some interesting questions on animal testing for the benefit of mankind without losing track that it is supposed to be a summer blockbuster. It does show how we have moved on as a society since the original movie came out and Heston could just unabashedly hate the animals.

The scene where Caesar speaks finally speaks is amazing, placed at the right time and really gives the kick off to all of the ill shit that happens. In contrast the final scene with James Franco where he speaks again is less well done but I didn’t want to take the away one of the only emotional beats Franco’s character had.

Freida Pinto is great in this! Haters to the left!

The final scene felt a bit Outbreakey so do stick around for the end credits where the virus goes Airborn!!!

 

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Review Kaakha Kaakha (and what should be fixed for its Hindi remake “Force”)

So this 2003 cop drama starring Surya, Jyotika and directed by Gautham Menon was available on Youtube (probably temporarily so check it out!) on some extremely shady channel but with some funtastic “paagal” subtitles. Having lamented the fact that there is no proper distribution system set up for South Indian movies, making it impossible to be completely up to date with new releases. I take any chance I get to catch up with this flamboyant film genre. Releasing in September in a Hindi remake directed by Nishikanth Kamat starring John Abraham and Genelia. We analyzed the trailer in an earlier post, but now check out our review of the original after the jump! Read More

Review Singham

Bajirao Singham is an honest cop and darling of a small town, Shivgad, where his daddy is a rich merchant and crime seems to be very low as he keeps paying off every crime anyone does, maybe not the best of crime fighting techniques. Singham also helps out villagers with road side assistance when their carts get stuck in the mud and helps crippled kids win school races (what type of school would put a crippled kid in a race, is a question best not asked), while all the time wearing Aviators and having the cleanest police uniform in the history of Ariel. Before spending the first half of the movie romancing Kaavya (Kaajal Aggarwal known from the bonkers Magadheera making her Hindi Film Debut), he comes face to face with Jaikant Shikre(Prakash Raj), the usual thug/politician villain and part time comedian in a pretty awesomely shot pre-intermission scene in his local village. Not able to take the insult to his ego, Shikre pulls some strings to get Singham transferred to Goa, a city under his thumb. He “tortures” Singham by prank calls and having his henchmen play “doorbell ditch” which forces our eponymous hero to take his shirt off and unleash the lion within him. The Indian Police uniform has lions on it, so there are metaphors on kung fu wires in this movie as much as there are cars and goons flying around.

Although I have laid down the plot in quite a few details, it’s a story we know and can’t be spoilt. This movie in my mind is truly critic proof. You can point out problems with it but at the end of the day it does win you over. You rejoice when the hero thrashes the bad guy and clap when he roars his punchy dialogues against the villain. Taking box office out of the equation, a movie is effective when it succeeds in its intention and Singham truly does that. The best comparison I can make is actually the Transformers ( of which we reviewed part 3 on episode 30 of our podcast) series. Like Michael Bay, Rohit Shetty has an unbelievable eye for action and quite the visual flair but his comedic sensibilities and handling of the romantic track is low brow and juvenile.  (And sometimes you do wonder if it’s written by this guy)

Director and longtime collaborator, Rohit Shetty (who also designed most of the action) uses a hell of a lot of wire work in his set pieces and most of it is truly heart pounding but he tends to go overboard quite a few times where cars and people are just flying around with no weight or consequence. There are moments where you just stop caring the third time Bajirao takes off his belt to whip villains. I admit, the first 2 times were awesome, the third even the villain seems bored and just talks through it.

I have never found wire work to be effectively done in Hindi Films ( I hold my heart for RA.One), it works when used as a punch line to action but not when the entirety of the action is built upon it. Unfortnately Rohit Shetty has a propensity for overusing it as demonstrated in pretty much every movie he has ever done as a director (Sunday, All The Best, Golmaal series) there are moments that it feels like a 5 year old bashing action figures against each other.  Some scenes are bizarre choices that take you out of the movie especially the night sequences which are shot with green screen and a filter, and everything just seems brightly pastel colored which give the movie a fresh look but for tires my eyes after a while. I do see Rohit turning to 3D, I think he would be very effective.  There are some underlying religious and nationalistic themes to the movie too which felt a bit heavy handed. (There’s that Michael Bay comparison again was…). I did really enjoy how hands on Rohit is in designing the action sequences as we see in the post credit sequence and he genuinely seems like a cool guy to hang out with unlike Bay who just seems like an twat.

Performance wise Ajay “Jazz hands” Devgan(I haven’t kept up with the latest version of the spelling of his name using numerology) in the titular role is amazing! One of the most consistent actors in the Hindi film industry (even more so than the Khans) he is back in an action packed role sans 90’s hair but mixed in with the comedic flair he has developed lately mostly by working with Rohit Shetty. The first half of the movie is full of comedy which is  completely subjective if it works for you or not.  Comedic sidekicks or villagers running away scared by a plastic mask are just not my thing but Ajay even performs well in those scenes. But he really comes into his own facing off with Prakash Raj or bashing goons and even in our screening the audience was close to clapping and whistling.

Kaajal Agarwal has a very perky appearance but unfortunately her character of Kaavya is the most vanilla of Hindi film love interests. She’s the annoying prankster in the first half and the motivator in the second. Even though Kaajal does well, I was groaning every time she would appear in the second half as I just did not want to get back to the corniness of the first. Someone does need to fire the wardrobe department as she’s wearing the same suit in a multitude of colors throughout the movie.

Prakash Raj has been playing the same bad guy in Wanted and Bbhuddah Hoga Tera Baap ( check out our special podcast) but he’s just so good at it, that I just love seeing him on screen. This time he gets a lot more screen time and amazing lines. And the balance he strikes between comedy and straight up menace even overshadows Ajay in some scenes.  The Shikre vs Singham dialogue showdowns are truly the best part of the picture and are so well paced from the pre-intermission on wards that you are fully on board with the pace of the movie.  Both actors get the chance to get the upper hand in sequences and especially Ajay Devgan is really great in underplaying when he needs to let Prakash’s charisma as a villain shine on screen.

The songs in Singham on the other hand are unforgiveably bad and even are shot uninspiringly.

Although I find the drums in the title song very rhythmic, the song works better as a background score then a fully-fledged play back song . However cool the Jazz hands are, the belt buckle shake from Dabanng trumps it. The other songs are completely forgettable and honestly I have forgotten them already… I just know they had Kaajal Agarwal and Ajay Devgan in them and they were dancing or riding a bike or something else romantic…

All in all Singham is straight up masala flick, nothing meta about it, no subversion of the genre like Dabanng was to certain extent. You need to watch this movie with your heart and whenever your brain starts thinking again, just wrestle it back to the ground or look at the pretty colors and carflipping or munch on some popcorn. Singham succeeds in what it sets out to do and if you want to have a good family friendly time (the action is completely bloodless) and some old school hero-giri, then it’s a total recommend.

Some Further thoughts:

I know Ganesh Acharya is not the most svelte of choreographers, but does he ever invent any dance steps that move more than 1 body part simultaneously?

The whole officer Kadam suicide track which serves as a catalyst just pops up and out when needed and his kid that’s supposed to play “the conscience” of the police force has the most morose face ever. Who in the production team is he related to?

Sonali Kulkarni is a joy to watch on screen and I’m glad to see her again, I can’t believe she is already relegated to aunty roles.

I had some real issues with the climax of the movie. I just don’t agree with police brutality and I feel it felt out of character for a straight laced, honest cop to out and out assassinate the villains. And you could totally flip around the roles and make the cop the villain and the hero the goon taking on a corrupt police force.

This movie is the bizarro version of Ajay Devgan’s “Gangaajal” directed by Prakash Jha, there is even a villain whipping scene which I felt was much more effective than the ones in Singham.

If you have watched the ManMohan Singham version on YouTube, you will be thinking about it and giggling during those scenes.

 

Here is the trailer:

 

 

Let us know what you thought of Singham in the comment section below. Also, this is a remake of a South Indian film , I haven’t watched it yet so let us know what the differences or improvements are?

ImageSource: JazzHands by PareshG from the CurrySmugglers

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Review: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

I’ll lay my cards out on the table; I am a sucker for Excel Entertainments cinematic sensibilities (production team of Farhan Akthar and longtime collaborator Ritesh Sidwani). Pretty much every movie they have had their hand in has worked for me (except Karthik calling Karthik) and although I don’t run always run out to the theater to catch them at the day of release, whenever I do discover them, they truly are small gems to me. Zoya Akhtar‘s previous directorial venture “Luck By Chance” was a behind the scene glimpse in the world of the Hindi Film Industry, that sensitively portrayed the challenges of struggling to make your mark in life as in Bollywood and had tons of heart.
Although it didn’t light the box office on fire, it was one of my favorite movies of 2009. A much retweeted pun by comedian Mihir Fadnavis calling Zindagi Na Milegi Dobar, Chutiya nahi banega dobara (in the grand tradition of spoofing Bollywood names. There are quite a few good ones out there especially one for K3KG which I won’t be repeating here, google it) illustrates how the cinematic landscape in the Hindi Film cinema has changed since Excel’s maiden venture “Dil Chahta Hai“, a movie that has been named in the same breath as ZNMD (as well as Hangover and Bucket List) both comparisons that don’t really hold up in anyway. The hindi film geek/cinephile is alive and very vocal, he has seen movies of the past 2 decades and can use copy/paste functions to post the wittiest comments from the message boards of Reddif or the now defunct bastion of hindi film snarkiness Passion For Cinema.
On the one hand Hindi film cinema needs and wants to evolve, but on the other hands gets beaten down at every effort it tries to do so. Recent release Delhi Belly’s was a good example of this even though the movie was hugely successful, it was derided by traditionalists for its obscene use of language and potty humor and simultaneously mocked by film geeks for its inspiration and influence from British gangster flicks.
Like Dil Chahta hai, ZNMD does live within the yuppie world with slim ties and designer thick rimmed glasses (I am wearing mine whilst typing up this review). A perfect example of the new golden, shining India. A world I imagine the Akhtars feel at home. A world where everyone is an architects, poet, artist or financial brokers and lives in sleek monochrome apartments carrying rustic notepads if ever the moleskine stock has run out. Throughout the movie there are poems serving as serving as a leitmotif written by Farhan Akthar himself, if you feel you cannot connect with his poetry, I would suggest you walk out of the theater immediately as you will not connect with the message the filmmakers are trying to convey and you will leave theaters sorely disappointed.
ZNMD is a beautifully composed film that starts off in a fairy tale setting where we see slim tie, thick rimmed glasses wearing architect Kabir (Abhay Deol) proposing to his interior designer girlfriend of 6 months Natasha (Kalki). But before his wedding, he and his bwaoys – Imran (copywriter/poet played by producer, dialogue writer and brother of the director Farhan Akthar) and Arjun (broker, workaholic played by Hrithik Roshan stepping out of a GQ shoot) have to take a Mcguffin of a sport adventure road trip through Spain that will give them life lessons as well as some unbelievably scenic backdrop.
The movie focuses as much as possible on the growth and relationship of these boys becoming men. I have to admit I felt the cast was a bit old too still be unable to figure out simple life lessons which is surprising as the cast of Dil Chahta hai was probably older but I didn’t feel that way. From the offset we see the seeds being sown of the underlying tension between the wise cracking Imran who has some daddy issues and Arjun who only seems to be interested in making a future and not living in the now. Every character is finely sketched and given enough emotional background with the aid of some well-placed flashback sequences. (Hritiks flashback even gets a colored filter)
Surprisingly knowing that the movie is written by women (Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti) the female characters get the short shrift, not that women writers should be forced to write only fully developed female characters just because they are women. And even though the ladies in ZNMD are less well sketched out they still have their moments to shine. A good example of this is Kalki’s charater that was it not for the charming sing along in the car ride to the airport would pretty much be a one note jealous “chuddail”(witch) but the actress is so charming in her role that she brings more depth to the performance than is actually written in the screenplay. Katrina Kaif‘s Laila is basically playing the desi version of the manic pixie dream girl who serves to give guidance, life lessons and serve as the romantic counterpoint Arjun but you never quite understand where her cavalier attitude to life comes from or what her background actually is.
Except for the male bonding the true heart of ZNMD for me is the resuscitation of Arjun life and his return to humanity by deep sea diving instructor Laila.
I want to take some time to rave about Katrina Kaif, so you may skip this paragraph if this will annoy you or if you feel that the actress is just a pretty face that still needs to prove her acting prowess although she has done this many time already in my book. Dear God the lady just sparkles on screen. Our friend Filmigirl always speaks about the physicality that Katrina brings to her every role and I strongly believe that no one else could have pulled off the role of a diving instructor as Katrina has. She seems completely at ease underwater and there is no moment you don’t believe she hasn’t been diving, speaking Spanish or riding on Royal Enfields (my all time favorite bike) for years. Her cute accent works perfectly imparting wisdom and some clichéd Carpe Diem moments as well as just riffing and being one of the boys. Every shot she is in, she brings more light to the screen that then Spanish son and the moment she leaves, you can’t wait for her to come back. (Which she does eventually but in a weirdly edited finale)
Beside that together with Hrithik Roshan they probably are the best looking people in India at the moment.

Don't you just hate them for being so pretty?

 

Both actors have a very similar meticulousness to their performance which works really well and I hope we get to see these two teamed up together soon. He definitely seems to share more chemistry than with Priyanka in Krrissh but knowing Bollywood producers he probably will be teamed up with Priyanka or Deepika sooner that Katrina which is a shame. The whole deep sea dive sequence and quiet walk through the street of Spain sequence are perfectly played and quite touching.
Abhay deol playing the straight man is probably the opposite of these 2 performers and together with Farhan they have a cool, laid back demeanor and approach to acting. Each plays their part excellently although one wonder how much “acting” there is involved for them. And I understand Abhay hesitance to step into mainstream hindi films as he would need to work quite a bit on his singing and dancing, but I guess standing next to Hritik doesn’t do you any favors, but then I think of that scene in Wanted where Salman Khan danced next to Govinda and Prabu Deva… some people are actors and some are stars, but I don’t think Abhay wants to be a star in the conventional sense of the word so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Farhan is pretty much hilarious and had me laughing out loud throughout. But the moment he does need to deliver emotionally he does so with aplomb, like the touching scene with his Spanish Flame where they both communicate without speaking a common language is beautifully touching. He gets to play the clown with the sad eyes and he does so faultlessly.
The soundtrack of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is amazing and seeing it in the grandeur of the cinematography of in theaters just makes it perfect, actually I would say that this is a movie that will have a bigger impact on you if you watch it in theaters not only the visuals but also your emotional connection with the movie as you can’t get engaged if you are tweeting at the same time or getting drinks out of the fridge. Both “Senorita” and “Paint It Red” are so much fun to watch and especially as the entire cast seem to be having a blast. Many times you forget if they are actually being choreographed and filmed or just having fun.
All oft eh adventures sports are so exhilarating to watch. The deep sea dive is actually much better than anything shot in Anthony D’Souza’s “Blue” especially as there is emotional pay off that follows. The same goes for the sky jump and the run with the bulls of San Fermin.
All in all there wasn’t a scene in “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” that didn’t work for me, and I genuinely cracked up where needed and even got a lump in my throat a few times. I truly loved this movie and cant wait for what Zoya Akhtar will cook up next.
I have some more thoughts for the spoiler section but I am glad there is a place created for movies like ZNMD and it might not be “paisa vasool”/popcorn entertainment but we have enough of those coming soon. It definitely is a high quality cinema and that’s something we should all applaud.

 

Spoiler Section:
I loved how Farhan underplayed the scene confronting his long lost dad, Naseeruddin Shah (who else could it have been?). It’s not easy playing off such a talented artist but I felt that the moment felt real.
The final shot of the Running with Bulls is perfect end to the movie especially the slow motion finals shots, I was hoping the movie would end even if I knew there were a few unresolved threads. Although some people in the theater seemed quite disappointed. (Don’t you just hate those people that shoot off a condescending comment just at the final shot and take away your chance to feel what you want to feel- unless it’s you that s making the comment, and then it’s hilarious and quite witty). But if you haven’t bought into the movie until then, I can understand you haven’t just be quiet and let others enjoy what they say. I think my tip works, if you haven’t connected with Imran poetic interludes, walk away immediately.
The reappearance of Katrina Kaif seemed a bit random and also anachronistic with the editing but her every scene is so sparkling and it leads to an extra shirtless shot of Hritik so I guess neither man or women should complaining.
The Wedding post credit sequence clearly inspired from a very well known Youtube video was although fun to watch was a bit unnecessary. It doesn’t make sense that all these people are still friends and especially it’s supposed to explain what happened to Kalki and Abhay’s track which is left open but you need you need to watch the end credits with a magnifying glass to figure out what happened. ( Is Natasha going out with one of the dudes from the start of the movie? I didn’t catch that part). I understand director decision to end the movie where she did by focusing on the boys and not the individual relationship, a choice not everyone might agree with. And we got to see Katrina Kaif dance in a white dress which was great. Have you figured out we like her quite a bit?

Here’s the trailer and my favorite track from the OST.

 

 

 

let us know what you thought of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara on the comment section below!

 

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Review: Point Blank (A Bout Portant)

I have no idea why the producers of A Bout Portant chose to give this French thriller, directed by Fred Cavaye and starring Giles Lelouche, Gerard Lanvin and Roschdy Zem, the same name as the classic John BoormanLee Marvin 1967 film noir but there must be some marketing genius that got a promotion out of it, so who am I to complain about it.

We start off with a very impressive bike crash (the opposite of Meet Joe Black’s car accident) in the tunnels of Paris where a wounded man, bank robber Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem), is brought into the ward of Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lelouche) a nurse in training with a lovely 7.5 month pregnant Spanish wife Nadia (played by Elena Anaya known from Sex and Lucia , Mesrine and Van Helsing) . After rescuing the wounded man from an assassination attempt and in the midst of bragging about it in the morning, he is knocked out and his wife is kidnapped. When he wakes up by the sound a ringing cell phone he hears a crying Nadia and a simple message: Bring the man you saved to us and your wife will be returned to you.

From the outset the stakes are set unbelievably high, just having a pregnant women crying in a cold storage room gives viewers the Heebie-jeebies and the movies pace is relentless with some a very cold and realistic cinematography. Although not related but after seeing last year’s “Ne le Dit a Personne” (Tell No One, soon to be remade by Ben Affleck… and there was much rejoicing) these kind of pulpy French thrillers have definitely been on my radar.

Where Gilles Lelouche had a small but pivotal role in “Tell No One” where he was playing a gangster/ hustler, here he plays just an everyman that bleeds, cries and pukes. He really sells you on the sense of desperation straight from the kidnapping scene. It’s the complete opposite of the cell phone scene with Liam Neeson in Taken. Where that scene left the audience fist bumping “Fuck Yeah”, here Gilles really sells us his helplessness but also his resolve to do anything to find his wife.

The performances by all the cast are great and I have to give a special mention to Elena Anaya who just has the cutest accent when speaking French, maybe something non-native speakers won’t catch but I am sure her performance will win you over and feel protective of her.

I am trying to be careful of spoilers but knowing French cinema conventions and general disdain for the police force, you can pretty much figure out the twist and turns but the action is so fast paced that you are fully engaged with the movies. Director Fred Cavayé‘s approach has a good balance of familiar thriller tropes combined with that Gaelic “I don’t know what” and like his previous movie Pour Elle which was remade by Paul Haggis with Russel Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, A Bout Portant is ready to be remade by Hollywood too, I hope it does get a better treatment at the box office then “The Next Three Days” did (as it was a pretty good movie that was completely neglected by general audiences).

Nothing ground breaking but if you are in the mood for a decent thriller you can definitely not go wrong with A Bout Portant.

 

Here is the trailer:

A Bout Portant is now out on Blu Ray and DVD in France.

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Delhi Belly: The Anti-Slum Dog Millionaire

Delhi Belly is the long in the making black comedy produced
by the illustrious Amir Khan Productions, a banner that is constantly on the
threshold of that very coveted first potential Indian cross-over that gives Hindi
cinema the acceptance and credibility by International audiences that it almost
tasted with the 2001 Oscar nomination of Amir Khan’s very own period cricket
saga Lagaan (and then Danny Boyle took away it’s thunder with Slumdog
Millionaire). Former Ad maker Abhinay Deo‘s shows a hell of a lot of visual
flair, as he did in his previous release Game (a slick who-dunnit that Upodcast
enjoyed but was universally panned by critics and rejected by the box office),
taking us on a wild and thoroughly unhygienic ride through the mean street of
Delhi via diamond scams, dubious broast chicken, orange juice lota’s and halfhearted
cunnilingus interrupted by a Paris Hilton style inability to switch off the
phone.

The story of Delhi Belly is off three ironic T-shirt wearing
slacker types (Imran Khan- Tashi the jounalist, Vir Das– Arup the cartoonist
and Kunal Roy Kapoor- Nitin the perverted photographer) who live together in a
dirty ass apartment with bad plumbing, noisy classical-dancing (I won’t try to
guess if it’s Khatak or something else, just take it from me it’s classical as
the teacher is kinda effeminate) upstairs neighbors and a meek prostitute
visiting landlord. Tashi’s airhostess girlfriend played by Shehnaz Treasurywala
(a pleasant appearance after a very long hiatus- I didn’t bother with Himesh
Reshammiya ‘s Radio) asks him to deliver a package, containing a Russian doll
with diamonds, for some shady Russian types. Through a series of confusions, as
is the case with such crime capers, the packet gets exchanged with Kunal Roy
Kapur’s stool sample that’s off to the doctors lab as after he’s eating some
very dubious looking chicken and is suffering from the titular “Delhi Belly”. The
delivery was expected by wise cracking foulmouthed and pretty menacing Vijay
Raaz playing the crime boss. After a firecracker sodomy torture scene (reminiscent
of Dum Maaro Dum’s chili pepper pistol scene) the pressure is on our reluctant
heroes to retrieve the diamonds. There is a lot of running around, quippy
dialogue, snappy editing, a blaring background score, taking you on a wild journey
that all ties up at the end.

The problem is that the ride takes a pretty long time to get
going and before it does Delhi Belly tries so hard distancing itself from the
usual Bollywood tropes and clichés that it starts to revel in its own ugliness,
demanding a lot of audience. We see butt cracks, diarrhea spread out over
velvet and a cacophony of poop noises that after a while just ends up being
stomach churning. The comedic beats in the first half are very erratic relying
heavily in the ability of the scriptwriters to pack as many swear words as
possible. And boy there are a lot of swear words and although the movie is
mostly English spoken, it’s the Hindi dialogues that really work especially
when delivered by Vir Das or Vijay Raaz. The English ones just don’t seem to
sound right. Maybe not all the cast is used to delivering English dialogues and
sometimes the cadence is just a bit off making it lack verbal panache. But
Delhi Belly kicks and screams like a petulant child trying to break free by the
shackles of its expectations and even though it stumbles along the way to before
finding its footing in the second half, the overall the product is very
enjoyable.

Arup’s romantic and professional woes really slow down the
first half of the movie and serve no real purpose to the overall story line.
They also seem to pop and drop randomly. The banana joke, Ja Chudail and Disco
Fighter are funny as hell though helped by Vir’s comedic timing( probably honed
by his years of Stand up Comedy), the girlfriend break up scenes were unnecessary
except to make him get rid of that terrible haircut which we can all applaud. It
also further feeds into Bollywood’s newfound Elvis Jumpsuit obsession.

Kunal Roy is hilarious as the perverted and easy going
photographer playing the equivalent of the Zach Galafanakis role from the
Hangover, Melissa McCarthy in the recent Bridemaids or even taking us all the
way back to Jim Belushi in Animal Farm. In other words he’s playing the
overweight comedic catalyst to the plot. He does have a moment of emotional
redemption at the end which is sweetly played. In my mind he’s a performer than
his younger brother Aditya Roy Kapoor and has much better hair.

Imran’s Tashi as the lead is a tough call, clearly still
very fresh as a performer when this was shot (and you can see it in quite a few
sequences although Imran disagrees when we spoke during our Podcast). Dellhi Belly
is supposed to be Tashi’s hero’s journey but you don’t really understand the romantic
malaise he feels with his fiancée Shehnaz Treasurywala nor do you really root
for his no-nonsense chemistry with Poorna Jagannathan (making her debut in
Bollywood). Somewhere you want him to stand up and just become a man but at the
point it happens you’ve stopped caring for any of his three story treads. Maybe
it’s just the remnant of  Wake Up Sid/Break
ke Baad  slacker types from a couple of
years ago that just don’t want to take a stand in life until the climax of the
movie and audiences (and me!) have gotten annoyed with and latched on to more
testosterone driven masala hero roles like Wanted, Dabanng, Dum Maaro Dum and
soon Singham; But the guy definetly deserves respect for taking such bold choices at the start of his career. Clearly although he has found box office acceptance in romantic roles but the actor in him does want to experiment and do something different which is something that needs to be applauded and in my book puts him above the cookie cutter roles that his competitors take on.

As soon as the gangsters come into the fold, and this
happens quite quickly, the movie finally really picks up the pace and Delhi Belly
starts delivering consistent laughs. The visual style and the awesome
soundtrack that has been rocking my iPod since the first teaser trailer starts
kicking in and as an audience member (and I feel the movie makers) have a
better sense of where we’re going. A lot of Hindi movie fans have an
uncomfortable position towards the Danny Boyle Feel Good Oscar monger of 2008 Slumdog
Millionaire, feeling a lack of ownership towards but it being billboard or
entry point for “outsiders”. (If I only had a nickel for everyone that’s told
me they loved Slumdog Millionaire when conversations veer towards Bollywood). Delhi
Belly tries to cater to the same Metroplex/ International film smug geek audience
but instead of subverting Bollywood tropes as Slumdog Millionaire did it does
so with Danny Boyle’s own Trainspotting mixed with a heavy dose of Tarantino
and Guy Ritchie. A tactic that might backfire as this is exactly the audience
that is very familiar of this type of storytelling and doesn’t mind spouting
their half assed “IT’S A COPY, YAAR”-comments on every possible social media. A
point very eloquently written up on Rajasen Blog which you should definitely read
if you are one of those guys.

Releasing on the same day in India as Amitabh Bachchan’s
return to his angry young man template created in the 70’s gotten in Buddha
Tera Baap, a movie probably ingrained in Bollywood conventions and meta-references.
And although these movies have nothing to do with each other (except releasing on
the same day) and cater to completely different audiences, people will be
caught up in pitching box office returns against each other. Delhi Belly carves
its own path making no qualms of its influences i.e. Snatch and Lock, Stock and
Two Smoking barrels but to me it’s closer to 2002 Brazilian “Cidade de Deus” (City
of Gods) where director Fernando Mireilles managed to transport the Brit
Gangster/Tarantino tropes to the Favelas of Brazil. Delhi Belly does the same
and it does it quite successfully rising above its influences and adding that
desi tharka (seasoning) that adds all the flavor to Indian homegrown dishes but
comes with the risk of giving us the runs.

Sometimes Bollywwod needs a kick in the nuts or in this case a firecrackers up it’s ass! Delhi belly is just that wake up call!

Other Things I really liked

  • Shehnaz Treasury (wala) looked great shitting, bleeding
    out of her nose, almost sexually climaxing  and slapping Tashi (not all in the same scene)
  • Amir Khan’s, Austin Powers-hair wig wearing
    Disco Fighter promo that’s on the air now really worked for me. What can I say;
    the man can do no wrong in my book!
  • The soundtrack composed by Ram Sampath is
    amazing. Definitely a music director to look out for after Amit Trivedi (Dev D,
    Aisha)
  • The Cinematography is lucious even surrounded by all the murkiness
  • Vijay Raaz is a great desi Bricktop!

Some side thoughts:

  • Check out our interview with Delhi belly’s star
    Imran Khan by clicking here!
  • The Adult certificate and the production teams
    numerous warning should really be taken to heart. Don’t take your mommy and
    daddy to this unless you guys are cool.
  • What’s up with all the curly hairdos? (Poorna
    and Vir)
  • Is it wrong to think that chicken that causes
    all the problems did look delicious? I grabbed a KFC after the screening and
    felt something was definitely missing.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Let us know what you thought of Delhi
Belly and our review in the comment section below!

Image Source:

Bollykings

Totally Filmi

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Ready Review

 

The promos have been playing night and day. The pocket pointy dance has become a fad. The public has been waiting for a time pass masala entertainer since January. Salman Khan is riding high after Dabanng and Wanted. Aneez Bazmee is at an all-time low after Thank You and No Problem. No one can even remember the last time Tips, the production company, behind Ready had a bona fide hit. So how does Ready stack up with all these expectations? Check out our review after the jump!

Before I start talking about the movie I have to mention that there are a ton of sponsorship deals, thank you’s and corporate tie-ins that appear before the movie starts.

A special mention to Rahul Rawail Grandson’s logo which is a straight lift from Disney’s The Lion King. It’s probably the first time I actually wanted Disney to sue someone.

But I was hungry to be entertained and more than anything I wanted this movie to work.

Having seen Dum Maaro Dum and Game, both movies I really enjoyed but didn’t tickle my masala craving, I walked in with my pot of strawberry flavored yoghurt into the theatre. I have always made my fondness for Salman Khan clear in even his most dreary outings. Everyone can love the man in Dabanng but loving him in God Tussi Great Ho demands a certain kind of insanity and adulation.

Asin is always a pleasant appearance on the big screen in the few movies I have seen her in and I felt the chemistry she had with Salman in London Dreams was probably the best part of that horror fest.

But I had no faith in director Anees Bazmee whatsoever as I have never enjoyed any of his movies. I don’t like his brand of humor and above all I question his mindset.

To me he seems like lecherous old man cracking inappropriate jokes that gets invited to your house party. You can humor him for a couple of minutes but after that you can or drop kick him out your house or walk away. It’s always a surprise seeing his interviews as the man seems quite sensitive and well spoken. It’s a shame none of his eloquence translates through to his cinema.

Bazmee land is a cacophony of inane puns fired blindly at the audience. Calling them double entendres would be too smart a word. It’s just words that sound like other words (Tu teacher nahi, cheater hai)

The whole scenario is doused with Anees’ usual tropes i.e. mild rape references or hurting women physically (I counted 5), husband cheating on their wives treated as a mild faux-pas (a thread that annoyed me to no end in his previous disaster Thank You, a film where the hero slaps one of the backup dancer in a song for no apparent reason) and just a general patronization of womankind even when trying to endear them. At the climactic fight sequence where we should be cheering on the hero, a throw away joke is made that just leaves a bad taste.

The mind of Anees Bazmee is a dirty horrible conservative place which I do not wish to visit but this is supposed to be a family entertainer which makes it even more worrisome. His brand of humor seems to work though as most of the auntijee’s who had snuck in bottle of hot sauce to pour over their chips were laughing harder than anyone in the audience. And this will make a ton of money which in turn will allow Anees Bazmee to make more of these movies.

Besides all that, he is just an incompetent director. The comedic beats are off, the editing is shoddy and the times Ready beats you in submission and you do start laughing you feel you need to take a long  shower like Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas.

I want to try and explain the plot of Ready but instead I have the perfect visual presentation:

 

But if that doesn’t work for you. Here is a summary:

Prem Kapoor (Salman Khan) is a good hearted rascal/kameena/kutta/dog that lives with his joint family of uncles and aunties. All the uncles have a quirky trait so it makes it easier to keep them apart, the aunties are not so lucky. Sanjana walks into their family posing as Pooja (some really old lady waiting at an airport that we’re supposed to believe is a bride to be for Salman Khan) trying to escape her evil uncles who want to forcefully marry her off to their brother-in laws to usurp her riches.

Prem and Sanjana end up falling in love just before the interval. After the interval Prem poses as an an accountant for Sanjana’s mafia uncles and tries to go all DDLJ on ’em in Salman Style via way of a speeded up chase climax a la Priyadarshan.

Don’t you wish you had just looked at the picture instead of reading that paragraph?

The first half is just a slog to sit through. The family dynamic is annoying and the pace is just dead slow. Post interval things pick up and this is solely because the appearance of one man that should be wearing a big ‘S’ on his chest and that man is Paresh Rawal. Everything the man says or does is just freaking hilarious and every scene he has is probably the best the movie ever gets. Too bad he didn’t have a bigger role and didn’t have more scenes with Salman.

The movie just feels very heavily edited and tinkered with. Whole joke sequences and reaction shots are done behind a blue screen. There is even a voice over at the start of the movie establishing characters which substantiates the rumors that the director took a back seat. Instead Salman Khan and the producers tried to readjust as much as was salvageable of the movie. They did try really hard but the whole base is off and there is only so much polish a turd can take.

Character Dheela (Zarine Khan looking very pretty), Dhinka Chika and Meri Ada (Rahat Fateh Ali Khan FTW!!!) are awesome to look at and you do get forget how badly they are placed within the narrative.

The song sequences, the production design, the action which were rumored to be tinkered with are shot lavishly and pretty much the best part of the movie. Especially as this is the moments that Asin can shine as she doesn’t have much to do in the second part of the movie which is really surprising as her character is a real kameeni and churratth (not my words) in the first half.

Salman khan has free reign like a lion that can not and will not be tamed by anyone. He stands, dresses and jokes as he pleases and no man will come between him and his understanding of his audiences.

But our hero can sure pack a punch when needed even if he seems a bit puffier then he usually is. His obligatory shirt taking off scene is even heavily CGI’ed and played as a joke that really isn’t a joke. I won’t say more as I don’t want to spoil the few jokes that did work for me at least.

Your enjoyment of Ready is really dependent on how much you enjoy watching Salman on screen and how much you want to be entertained as you walk into the theatre.

A good comparison is last week’s Hangover part 2, a movie based on a finely calculated scientific formula of laughs per minute and dependent on the appeal and familiarity of the audience for its stars. Like a blind man with an UZI in a dance hall, some jokes are bound to find a target. More than anything this movie is a success in terms of production, marketing and above all timing.

Go in with your expectations set to low, wanting to laugh and if you can go in a group do so as even then you will only have a moderately good time. Damn you Bazmee, Damn you!!!!

 

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The Third Man

Continuing my theme of “old black and white films, good, new colour films, bad”, I hope the following proves inspirational enough that more people watch what has been voted the “best British film of the 20th century” by the British Film Institute.

Notable for many things, not least the cast, including Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard. It also stars Bernard Lee (latterly more famous for playing M in the majority of the James Bond films) and is based on a screenplay by Graham Greene.

So…potentially a lot to live up to there. Does it succeed, does it pass the audition?

Of course it does. Set in bombed-out post-war Vienna The Third Man tells the story of Holly Martins (Cotton) and his quest to uncover the truth about the increasingly strange disappearance of his friend Harry Limes (Welles).  As the film progresses we get introduced to Harry Limes through his friends and lover Anna (Valli) before the final scenes reveal the true picture.  This is somewhat of an oversimplification, but then to reveal more would just show me up as a shameless Wikipedia plagiariser.

So why is it so damned good then? There are many stand-out moments for me.  Let’s start with the score, which will I’m sure be familiar to most people, it being used in adverts and all sorts over the years.  This provides a perfect accompaniment to the film; helping create atmosphere, set the tempo and lead the action sequences such as they are.  Surprisingly, the score was written and performed by Anton Karas using only a zither (stringed instrument from central Europe) and it is remarkable given the effects it achieves.

Secondly, I was mightily impressed with the characters and story.  Without divulging too much, the film is very clever at building-up a picture of Limes, without him even appearing in person until the final quarter of the film.  This is accomplished by Holly’s determination to uncover what really happened, and by speaking to the various players surrounding Limes; from his fellow racketeers and Anna through to Major Calloway of the British Army.  In this time, we can see Holly’s own picture of his friend change from good to bad to worse.

When Welles does appear we are treated to some wonderful shots (standing in a darkened doorway, suddenly lit), but it is in Limes wanting to know what his friend is up to, that ultimately leads to his exposure and downfall.  The climax to the film is shot in the sewers under Vienna (filmed on set in Shepperton studios) and is a masterpiece of direction and sound.  We see Limes chased around the sewer system by Calloway and his troops; shadows everwhere, arches, narrow passageways, footsteps and running water.  The combination is wonderful and makes for a thrilling and fitting climax to such a great film.  Welles is brilliant in this section of the film and convinces utterly as someone who knows his time is up; running out of hiding places and having run out of friends.

Much has been made of Orson Welles’ role in the making of the film and I can only conclude this stems from most of the very memorable scenes containing him.  His own influence was something he always denied, giving full credit to director Carol Reed.  In conclusion, The Third Man is a very British noir and if older films don’t quite click for you, would make an ideal introduction to film noir, Orson Welles and film ”classics” in general.

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Upod gets serious: Metropolis, restored edition

As far as Upod is concerned, anything is game: who else would bring you reviews of Black Sheep, Let The Right One in, Lord of War and 500 days of summer?

I recently had the opportunity, courtesy of the British Film Institute (BFI) to watch the most up-to-date and restored version of Fritz Lang‘s masterpiece, Metropolis on the big screen.  So in a departure from the usual Upod frivolities I made my way to London’s Southbank and settled down to some serious cinema history.

There has been much written about this film over the years and to be honest there is very little that I can add to what already exists.  What I can however say is that I was simply stunned by a silent film that is 83 years old.

Produced when German cinema was at the height of its influence it is also the most expensive silent film ever made, costing around 5 million Reichsmark at the time.  Let us not forget however that this is essentially a sci-fi film and one with such vision and fine execution that modern audiences will have no problem marvelling at the special effects.  Whilst we are nearly all so accustomed to a faster pace of film (Anton Corbijn‘s The American being a notable exception in recent times) with quick cuts and sharp editing, it is testament to Fritz Lang’s skill as a film-maker that for 150 minutes I never felt bored or wanted to look at my watch.  Indeed, I was so taken by the story, acting, set designs and musical score that I could have happily sat there for another hour.

 As this version is the latest and greatest, restored from reels found in Argentina, I will conclude by wholeheartedly recommending this on Blu-Ray.  If you have had any doubts at all about tucking into black and white silent cinema, this really is a treat to behold and worth every penny and minute.

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Review Tees Maar Khan

Farah Khan’s comic caper has a lot riding on it. It’s Farah breaking out on her own, free from collaborations that were safe bets from within a comfort zone. In some way it’s a comeback for Akshay Kumar whose had a horrible year of releases. And it’s also Katrina Kaif strongest claim for the top Bollywood heroine slot. (if she doesn’t already own it?)

A lot of question surround this movie but you forget about all of that within minutes when Tees Maar Khan theme song kicks in.

I’ll try my best not to spoil too much of the movie as I was fortunate enough to catch an early preview in London; but honestly speaking I could only spoil some of the comedic beats,not much of the plot.

It’s a pretty straight forward masala caper and most of the set up is in the trailers.

Tees Maar Khan urf Tabrez Mirza Khan ,the biggest con artist in the world, is hired to rob a train carrying an immense treasure for a set of conjoint twin “villains”. He also is a shameless plugger of his own name. There was maybe one too many reference to the title of the movie to my taste but all that is not important for what we get is easily one of the funniest and most entertaining entertainers of the year.

It’s what Housefulll wishes it was, what Action Replayy could never accomplish and what Golmaal lies in bed at night crying it could be one day.

First, I would suggest that if you have a chance, go and watch this movie on the big screen. Partly because it’s the kind of movie that is elevated with a participating audience and partly because it needs the big canvas so you can soak up all the gorgeousness in every shot.

I have a pretty good media set up at home but in no way could I understand the awesomeness of Sheila Ki Jawaani until I saw it today.

There were many discussions the previous weeks about which was the best item number of the year: Munni Badnaam Hui from Dabangg or Sheila Ki Jawaani.I am still not sure I have an answer for that question but what I can tell you is that there were moments in Sheila ki Jawaani that Katrina Kaif took the entire audience’s breath away.

It is EPIC and if I could, I would rewind it and watch it again. You might not be able to do that in a cinema (unless you’re Raja Babu) but what you do get in the theatre experience is the full force of Vishal- Shekar‘s “saaand” blaring through the speakers and every minute detail of Katrina’ s performance elevating the song to a whole new level.

In my opinion Katrina delivers the strongest female comedic performance since Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met. She is hilarious in every scene as Anya Khan the wannabe Starlet/Item girl and I really hope people stop asking her to prove herself over and over again. I think she has been doing that in her recent roles and this is probably one of her bests.

When reviewing our best Bollywood soundtracks of 2010 (click here) we thought that the Tees Maar Khan OST was maybe not the greatest (I am still not convinced of the Sonu Nigam’s Chipmunk voices) but it could only be fully judged when seeing it picturized. And lo and behold I was humming the songs exiting the theatre and want to get my hands on the soundtrack as soon as I can.

Although Salman Khan’s cameo in Wallah Re Wallah is featured in the promos, it still manages to send a bolt of excitement through your spine.

The first half of the movie just breezes by and the second half has a bit of a slower start but manages to put in a lot more heart in the movie.

So now on to the Khiladi. See I’ve always been fond of Akshay Kumar (especially his work ethic and just plain sincerity) but somewhere his lovable loud mouthed buffoon shtick and those indistinguishable Priyadarshan comedies just turned me away from him.

A movie that I unashamedly loved back in the day was “Mr. and Mrs. Khiladi” ,probably not the most discerning of choices, I admit but Akshay was amazing in it. That’s the kind of Akshay we get here. he is again ahead of the world, a real hero character kids would want to emulate (those fluorescent Jersey Shore Shirts can be omitted) . Someone who is witty, funny and confident. I don’t know if he ad-libs some of his lines in that throw away manner but it makes me crack up everytime and actually believe in Akshay as a leading man again.

Unfortunately for my non-hindi speakers the subtitles were not able to catch every joke thrown in but there are so many if you miss one you’ll surely catch the next one.

There are even “Inception- like” levels of joke-within-a-joke which film geeks can play filmi-bingo with. I would suggest inventing a drinking game around it, someone catches a reference and everyone drinks. Even I jumped with joy seeing Anil Kapoor’s most iconic dance and the whole Master India sequence. (Boney for reals, can we get that Mr.India sequel already??)

But you can also just enjoy the movie just as a fun masala caper with great dances and and performances from the lead as well as the supporting cast (woohoo Avtaar Gill!!) and we even get the final sequence where the whole team apears.

Akshay Khanna is hilarious as the oscar obsessed Bollywood superstar, some will claim it’s inspired by Amir or Shahrukh but I don’t see it really or at least nothing to create news stories about but I’m sure that won’ stop people.

There are certain moment that I did feel the ghost of Shahrukh Khan, who was rumoured as the main lead, loom over Tees Maar Khan. In some of Akshay’s hero poses, comedic repartés and even some of the choreography, you can can almost imagine what Shahrukh would have done with it. Even a few of the sets and décors were eerily similar to Om Shanti Om. But although fun to speculate that’s just context with no real importance to the film.

All in all I think this movie is a great move for Farah, Shrish Kunder and her production company in developing her Manmohan desai style even further. I am truly looking forward to her next paisa vasool flick but until then: go watch Tees Maar Khan on the big screen NOW!

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Review: Rare Exports – A Christmas Tale

When I heard the words “Evil Santa movie” I was sold. The trailer was smart, brooding and promised a very dark film twisting the usual conventions of the annual bearded gift giver. So does this Finnish flick -that’s receiving some excellent reviews- live up to the promise? Check out our full review after the jump! Read More

The Ultimate Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 Review

THE BEGINNING OF THE END: A Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 by a self-proclaimed Potterhead, Anandini Sekhar

The anticipation for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 has been building for much longer than these last few months for us uber-geeky fans of Harry Potter. Conversations began just moments after many of us finished reading the Epilogue of J.K. Rowling’s final volume — what scenes would they include? How would Daniel Radcliffe portray this scene? Who would they cast as the young Snape? How many familiar faces from the early films would come back for the Final Battle scenes? The plans were being made back in July 2010 as thousands of fans gathered at Infinitus, a 3-day Harry Potter Educational Forum Conference (which included academic panels, wizarding fashion shows, a full-length musical and countless Wizard Rock, or Wrock, performances) in Orlando, Florida. Groups of unlikely friends planned to visit each other from across the country and attend the midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows Part 1 together, and creative fans started sewing special costumes to wear in the mile-long lines outside the movie theatres.

I count myself as one of the more obsessive fans of the Harry Potter series … one of the ones who spent hours upon hours on various fansites and forums posting theories before the series ended, discussing favorite characters and their motivations, reading fanfiction when the wait for the next volume got unbearable, and of course, attending midnight premieres of the films, dressed to the nines in my Gryffindor gear.

Like many fans of the books, I find the films problematic. The filmmakers started this series running blind, not knowing what was to come in J.K. Rowling’s final books, having no clue as to what characters would become significant and which would be bumped off – to put it delicately. Due to this, or perhaps because they haven’t read the books 8-9 times as I have, things that the fans have noted as significant and that have been discussed for hours online or with friends weren’t focused on in the films. Obviously it’s impossible to condense the depth and the detail of the books, which are filled with incredible moments of both hilarity and deep sadness, into a commercial-length film. After being slightly disappointed by the lack of a specific storyline (The Marauders backstory) in Alfonso Cuaron’s take on the 3rd book Prisoner of Azkaban, I began to change my approach to the films. If I went in expecting to see every moment that I loved from each of the books, I was sure to be disappointed. I began to see the films as a supplement to my reading, and felt that these movies were made for the fans, so that we could fill in the blanks with information we knew from the books. And while there were choices made in the films that I didn’t exactly agree with (such as the degradation of Ron Weasley’s character to simple comic relief while Hermione took on his best, bravest moments), I am appreciative of the films because they paint the pictures in my mind on the big screen. After some time, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson became the Harry, Ron and Hermione in my mind as I read and re-read the books, and I’m grateful to even have a glimpse of this amazing world of wizardry that I’ve fallen in love with.

So it was with a grain of salt in mind that I got into line at the AMC Boston Common at roughly 9:45 pm on Thursday November 17th to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: The IMAX Experience. I was surrounded by teens and 20-somethings, including a group of young boys in the requisite hoodies right in front of me. Though I rolled my eyes as I first got behind them, I was soon smiling at their jokes. These boys, who looked to be in the first year or so of college, were making references to BOOKS. They had read the series, obviously multiple times by the detail of the jokes and references they were making. I started to feel proud to be a part of this phenomenon … a book series that has inspired a generation that is inundated with mobile apps and texting to pick up not only an ink-and-paper book, but 7 books, some of which are considerably huge. The creativity that it has inspired is also incredible; there were young people costumed not only in Hogwarts Student costumes, but several Dumbledores, House Elves, a Hedwig the Owl and even a Silver Doe Patronus. It was a freezing cold night in Boston, and the line wrapped all the way around the entire city block, but the fans were chatting, smiling and singing songs by their favorite Wrock bands or tunes from the YouTube sensation ‘A Very Potter Musical’. When I finally got into the theatre around 11:30, the crowd thawed quickly and there was an air of celebration. Fans started up chants of “Snape, Snape, Severus Snape. DUMBLEDORE!” (from another YouTube sensation, the Potter Puppet Pals). The crowd cheered for every preview and chatted loudly, but then the dark, cracked WB logo appeared and there was pin-drop silence as we entered Harry’s world.

I absolutely LOVED this film. I think that it was the most faithful installment of the books since the first film, which can’t be judged in the same way because it was the introductory film to this world. This film had the perfect tone; dark, tense and desperate. It conveyed all the confusion and frustration that the characters SHOULD be feeling at this time. That is not to say that I didn’t have a dozen nitpicks, I most certainly do. My feelings on the Harry Potter films is incredibly contradictory … I will list 20 things that frustrated me about the film, and yet I will watch the film over and over. This film in particular fell more on the positive side for me – I have some gripes but am pleased with how close this film is to the book. Those who haven’t read the books will probably feel frustrated by the pacing and the length of time given to camping in the woods, and this is PERFECT because this is how we felt as readers when experiencing Deathly Hallows the first time. This is how these characters feel in these scenes … they are scared, confused, isolated and completely lost. I do feel that there are many things that will slip past those that haven’t read the books, or that they might even find themselves confused about the events they are watching. The actions scenes are incredibly fast-paced and there is a great deal of emotion as well as exposition in this film. It is a lot of information to absorb! This, more than any of the other Harry Potter films, feels like it was made for the fans of the books … it feels like things have been placed in without explanation as a nod to the fans who will note and recognize the smallest of details.

The acting by the young trio is vastly improved in this installment. This film focuses almost exclusively on Harry, Hermione and Ron, who are forced to escape the safety of school and home and take to the wilderness. Rupert Grint is, as always, the most natural and talented of the three young actors. His character has new complexity in this film; no longer just Harry Potter’s funny friend with the clownish expressions, Ron is now dealing with deep insecurity and jealousy while also battling mortal fear for his family – each member of which is marked as a traitor to the new regime. Rupert has always been the most outstanding of the three for me, and every single frame he is in is incredibly moving. Emma Watson is by far the most improved in this film. Previously criticized for her acting by many in the fandom, in this film she truly is a scene-stealer. Hermione is the heart of this film, imbuing every moment with emotion. Emma truly shines in several scenes, and her dialogue delivery has become less methodical and more subdued, which was much needed. And speaking of subdued, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter gives a very heartfelt and moving performance as Harry. Though never my favorite of the three, Dan’s acting has improved since his experience on Broadway in Equus. He has been criticized for being wooden in the Potter films, and I have to say for me, this works. In this film he is more vulnerable and emotional that previous films, and that actually was a detriment to me. Harry IS stoic, he IS reserved, he does not wear his heart on his sleeve (that’s Hermione). He’s prone to silences, to being absorbed in his own thoughts and preoccupied with the task ahead of him, and so I don’t want an overly expressive actor. Where Dan shines is in the subtle moments, the small reactions.

The films are lucky enough to be graced by some of the greatest British actors in existence, and the adult actors are of course brilliant in their roles, however limited or diminished they may be. Alan Rickman as Severus Snape is given minimal screen time but makes a great impact, and Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham-Carter are deliciously frightening as Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, respectively. Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour is unfortunately not given enough time to make a mark, and Richard Griffiths is barely seen in two shots as Vernon Dursley. The Order of the Phoenix members are featured, and Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Julie Walters (Molly Weasley), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Natalia Tena (Tonks), George Harris (Kingsley Shacklebolt) and Andy Linden (Mundungus Fletcher) are joined by the younger recruits, including the newest Weasley addition Dohmnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley), Clemence Poesy (Fleur Delacour), James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) – but their appearances are so brief they may as well not be there at all (apart from the Weasley Twins who always provide some wonderful humorous moments).

Notable performances include Jason Isaacs and Tom Felton as Lucius and Draco Malfoy — you really sense how far they have fallen from grace and how much they fear Voldemort despite being in his inner circle. Both convey their conflicted loyalty and shades of grey in the evil/good dichotomy beautifully.

David O’ Hara (Albert Runcorn), Steffan Rhodri (Reg Cattermole) and Sophie Thompson (Mafalda Hopkirk) were particularly funny in portraying Harry, Ron and Hermione disguised with Polyjuice Potion to sneak into the Ministry of Magic. These scenes also featured the return of Imelda Staunton as the wicked, power-hungry Dolores Umbridge. Matthew Lewis had only one major scene as Neville Longbottom but got roaring cheers from the audience, and Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) had her second clinch with Dan Radcliffe but again lacked any sort of chemistry with him. Evanna Lynch incited a few laughs from the audience as Luna Lovegood, and new cast member Rhys Ifans had a fair amount of screen time and was WONDERFUL as her father, Xenophilius Lovegood.

And the CGI/House Elf cast members Dobby and Kreacher were also greatly appreciated by the audience, particularly Dobby!

There were many outstanding scenes in the film, and I wanted to make sure I summarized them, but I HAVE to also mention the moments/scenes that I DIDN’T like or that I missed …

*SPOILERS*

BEST MOMENTS –

OBLIVIATE
The film begins with a moving montage of the trio preparing to go on their epic journey to find Horcruxes, evil objects enchanted with part of Lord Voldemort’s soul. They must locate and destroy them or there is no hope of ever defeating Voldemort. Hermione’s scene is particularly heartbreaking — she performs a memory charm on her parents so they completely forget her existence, and we watch as her childhood photos disappear from frames around the house. Harry re-visits the Cupboard Under the Stairs that he slept in for the first 10 years of his life, and Ron prepares to say goodbye to his entire family, knowing they are in as much danger as he is.

MALFOY MANOR
Both scenes at Malfoy Manor are incredibly good. The first features a meeting of Death Eaters, with Voldemort seated at the head of the table. We are shown that the Malfoys have been disgraced, and that Lucius is still being punished for his failure to procure the prophecy Voldemort sought in Order of the Phoenix. Draco Malfoy also is terrified to find himself a Death Eater, forced to not only witness but now participate in torture and murder plots. This is a chilling scene because it is clear that even Voldemort’s inner circle is not safe from his fury – he could turn on them at any moment. The second scene is at the climax of the film – Harry, Ron and Hermione are captured by the snatchers and being held by Bellatrix. Hermione is tortured in one of the most intense scenes in both the book and film – her bloodcurdling screams will make you squirm in your seat. The addition of having Bellatrix carve ‘Mudblood’ into her arm is horrifyingly perfect – it conveys the hatred and the senselessness of Voldemort’s new order. Dobby is, of course, extremely prominent in this scene, and has a wonderful mini-speech that had the crowd whistling and cheering.

THE DESTRUCTION OF THE LOCKET HORCRUX
This scene was one of my favorites from the book – and the only time I cried in reading the entire HP series (I have a soft spot for Ron). It gives Rupert a chance to really showcase his abilities, and I think he did so with incredible skill. Ron’s worst fears come to life to taunt him when the Horcrux is opened, and he is forced to face his deepest insecurities. The filmmakers clearly put a lot of effort into the special effects for this scene, creating the “more terrifyingly beautiful versions of Harry and Hermione” described in the books. This also the source of the “brief sensuality” that got the film its PG-13 rating from the MPAA. It was perfectly done, perhaps because Dan Radcliffe and Emma Watson have really powerful on-screen chemistry. Beautifully acted by Rupert Grint and a moment I’ve been waiting to see him depict since I read the books.

THE SEVEN POTTERS CHASE SEQUENCE
As seen in the trailers, early on in the film the Order of the Phoenix members use Polyjuice Potion to tranform seven of their members into doppelgangers of Harry Potter to ensure his safety. This provided some lighthearted moments and also displayed the filmmakers technical wizardry (no pun intended). The scene was done with 90+ takes layered to insert Dan Radcliffe into the shot seven times. Apparently he was also given the task of studying his co-actors in order to emulate each of them as they are disguised as him. It was quite a spectacle! This scene is followed by, in my opinion, the most thrilling sequence in the film – they are attacked by Death Eaters almost as soon as they take to the skies. Hagrid and Harry are chased in the flying motorcycle and take to the streets and the skies. The action is so fast-paced that your eyes almost can’t take it all in. Harry’s identity is given away in a tragic moment, and Voldemort himself arrives – but Harry is miraculously saved and reaches the safety of the Weasley home. Emotions run high as each individual team returns, and there are gruesome and sad repercussions. I wasn’t expecting to be moved by this scene, and found myself incredibly affected. I had an actual physical reaction — my teeth were literally chattering! It is wonderfully chaotic and I found myself wanting more of the aftermath.

BREAKING INTO THE MINISTRY
As I mentioned above, the three actors featured in this sequence did a brilliant job mimicking the mannerisms and expressions of Dan, Rupert and Emma. Audiences reacted wildly to seeing Imelda Staunton as Umbridge again, and there were wonderful moments of hilarity to balance the tension of these scenes. Also very powerful were the undertones in these scenes – we see the Ministry as it’s been overtaken by the Dark Side. Uniformed guards evoke Nazi soldiers – a very deliberate choice by the filmmakers. The underlying political messages are driven home here as the Ministry works to separate ‘Mudbloods’ from Wizarding Society.

RON AND HARRY’S FIGHT
At the height of the frustrating scenes in the woods is the fight scene between Ron and Harry, when Ron, affected by his injury (splinching), the Horcrux locket, and his own jealousy of Harry, unleashes all of his anger. Rupert is particularly brilliant in this scene, but this is also Dan’s best scene in the film. His own helplessness at his situation, his anger at Dumbledore for not giving him more instructions, and his lack of knowledge about what to do next is evident here. Also it seems clear that Ron is incredibly important to Harry — Ron has always been his right-hand man; his most loyal supporter. To lose Ron is a terrible blow for Harry, and even as he yells at Ron to leave, you see how much it breaks his heart to say so. Emma also does a lovely job in trying (and failing) to pacify Ron, and her moment of having to choose between the boy she loves and the boy she’s sworn to stand by is very powerful. In the very next scene, after they’ve apparated away and she finally has to accept that Ron is truly gone, she breaks down into tears. Emma is outstanding in this scene.

THE TALE OF THE THREE BROTHERS
In a fascinating work of animation, the story of the Deathly Hallows is told with narration by Emma Watson during a visit to Xenophilius Lovegood’s house. The shadow-puppet like animated storytelling is extremely effective and makes the story even more compelling. It was an unexpected treat for the viewers and everyone I’ve spoken to has pointed to this sequence as a highlight of the film. It’s deliciously creepy and almost feels like a Tim Burton production — it in fact made me realize that if a film-version of J.K. Rowling’s dark fairytale book The Tales of Beedle the Bard is ever made, Tim Burton would be a perfect director for it!

GODRIC’S HOLLOW AND BATHILDA BAGSHOT
Some of the scariest moments are contained in this sequence where Harry and Hermione visit the village where Harry was born, and where his parents were killed. Bathilda Bagshot, played by Hazel Douglas, was beyond my expectations. The look, the gait, and the sinister feeling of the whole scene with her is perfectly played. I almost expected more of an action sequence than we actually got here; it goes by very quickly but is certainly effective and has great shock value. The preceeding cemetery scene is appropriately heartwrenching and is probably Dan’s second-best scene in the film.

ATTACK AT THE WEDDING
There is a very small moment that I noticed only in my second viewing of the film, right as the Death Eaters attack Bill and Fleur’s wedding where chaos erupts and Harry, in a panic, shouts “Ginny!” just as Remus stands in his way and insists that he run. Since the Harry and Ginny romantic angle is woefully bland in the films, I was grateful for this little moment where Harry actually shows that he cares for her deeply. We never got to see him develop a relationship with her in the sixth film, much less break up with her because he fears for her safety. That small moment where Harry throws all of his restraint out the window and tries to fight his way to protect her gave me the warm fuzzies. Another very subtle but great moment for Dan Radcliffe.

WORST/LEAST SATISFYING ASPECTS –

HARRY AND HERMIONE’S DANCE
Though the filmmakers and actors have all mentioned this as being one of their favorite scenes, it was distinctly uncomfortable for me. Soon after Ron leaves, Harry and Hermione share a tender, intimate dance which is positioned as Harry trying to cheer Hermione up. The filmmakers intended for their relationship to be very ambiguous at this point, to show that there is indeed a possibility for romance between them, but then it passes. While it was a sweet and funny scene, I found it completely unnecessary and incredibly out-of-character for Harry in particular. The problem is that Dan Radcliffe and Emma Watson have great chemistry together. So much chemistry that it is incredibly confusing for the viewer. For those that have not read the books it is unfathomable why Hermione would choose Ron, because they have never seen his good side. Ron in the films is all but reduced to comic relief. His best and brightest moments have always been given to Hermione. So for the average viewer, it seems natural that Harry and Hermione are meant for each other. It seems like the filmmakers have been positioning Harry and Hermione in the forefront as hero and heroine throughout the series. They already seem too intimate, too close, and too intense together. The way it was played, it made it seem as though Harry was in love with Hermione, and Hermione was torn between her two best friends. What is this, Twilight: New Moon?

Not to mention that a sad, sweet moment of tenderness and borderline romantic tension is already present in the books, when Harry and Hermione visit his parents’ graves in Godric’s Hollow. J.K. Rowling herself has stated that in that scene there is sense that things could have gone that way, perhaps. The effect of that scene is downplayed by the creation of this whole new scene, and it has less impact overall.

Also, since Harry and Hermione already have so much chemistry, if they needed lighthearted scene to break up the tension then it would have made sense to give this dance moment to RON and Hermione — they NEED the build-up of their relationship. It’s only ever been hinted at in the films, and in the wake of all the intense Harry/Hermione moments, the Ron/Hermione dynamic is hardly going to make sense to the audience when it comes to fruition in the next installment. It would have been a great opportunity for them to show WHY Hermione loves Ron, why she would choose him. Because even if he is just the gangly, goofy sidekick, he can show her sincere love and tenderness.

And lastly, the moment is terribly out-of-character for Harry. Book Harry would never have the sensitivity or inclination to go and try to break Hermione out of her gloom. He wasn’t sitting around thinking about how to make Hermione feel better … he was thinking about Horcruxes and how to find them. He was despairing about the loss of Ron for HIM and feeling angry at Dumbledore for not preparing him better. He was too consumed with his task to be devising ways to make Hermione feel better. And while Book Harry recognized that Hermione was miserable, he was distinctly awkward and unsure about what to do about it, so he simply pretended that nothing was happening. The way Dan portrayed this scene made it seem as though he cared about Hermione more than anything else, and the casual moviegoer could easily have thought that they were in love and meant to be.

HARRY AND HERMIONE IN THE FOREST OF DEAN
There is a great deal of time given to Hermione in this scene for her to sit and blabber about the river and the trees, and I found it off-putting rather than sad and sentimental. She sits and waxes poetic about things changing, and the scenery looking just as it did when she was a girl. Interestingly the movie only seems to drag in the moments that the filmmakers inserted — the moments that weren’t from the books. Most disturbing was the line where Hermione says “Why don’t we just stay here Harry … grow old.” It just seems so ridiculous. Understandably they are scared and tired and Hermione has been bearing the brunt of being the brains of their entire operation, but again, it gives more of a sense of Harry and Hermione being the only central characters. In the books, the lack of Ron was a constant source of pain for both of them … they were unable to be their normal selves without him there with them. Frankly the way Harry and Hermione behave in this film, I can hardly blame Ron for walking out, and I probably wouldn’t have come back.

Also, the time spent on this drivel would have been better spent on other things that were condensed or cut completely.

THE MIRROR
The 2-way mirror that Sirius Black gifts to Harry in Order of the Phoenix miraculously finds its way into Harry’s hands in this film, though it was never featured in previous films. They make no attempt to explain what this mirror fragment is, what it does or where he got it, which is highly odd. Fans of the books will understand what it is and what it means, but for those who are following the story only through the movies, this will come as completely out of left field. The strangest thing is that it’s never explained, the audience is simply supposed to accept that Harry suddenly has some broken mirror that he carries around with him for no apparent reason. I accepted it, assuming the filmmakers expect us to fill in the blanks with what we know from the books. But it seems like a strange choice for them to introduce a magical object and focus on it heavily but never explain its origins.

KREACHER’S STORY, OR LACK THEREOF
While I was thrilled to have Kreacher brought into the picture, and they obviously worked very hard on the CGI for the House Elf, I really missed the fleshing out of his back story. Kreacher’s tale in the book is quite significant, and it was completely drained of emotion in the film. I wanted to see Kreacher’s facade fall, to see him display his pain openly and weep for his lost master. There was no opportunity to see Kreacher’s personality turn around, to see how kindness can rehabilitate even the most vile of characters!

THE GREATER THREAT OUT IN THE WORLD
Because the film focuses so narrowly on Harry and Hermione (and only a little bit on Ron, too), there was a real missed opportunity to convey, even briefly, the greater threat that Voldemort is to the world at large. While we see little glimpses here and there in a newspaper headline, or witness Neville Longbottom standing up to Death Eaters on the Hogwarts Express, we don’t get a true sense of the dangers out there … what the Snatchers are and what they are doing, how the Ministry is rounding up Mudbloods and forcing them to relinquish their wands and their status in society. There’s no sense of what is happening at Hogwarts now that Snape is Headmaster. I think it would have taken just a few moments to show us what was happening in the greater world, just snippets or quick flashes of the remaining members of Dumbledore’s Army standing up to Snape and the Carrows, the members of the Order being attacked or followed, Muggles disappearing, etc. Though the book is also tightly focused on the trio, the film drags a bit by doing so. Perhaps instead of Ron telling us about how he finds his way back to Harry and Hermione, we could have seen a glimpse of him hiding from snatchers and then using the Deluminator to return to them.

WHO TO TRUST?
One of the major themes of the first half of the book is discovering new information about Dumbledore and the break-down of Harry’s hero. Though the question of Dumbledore’s past is brought up in the wedding scene through a conversation with Ron’s Aunt Muriel, it is not touched on again. The confusion and questioning of Dumbledore’s motives is a major theme of the book. Harry has been given this task, but he deals with a real crisis of faith in terms of whether or not Dumbledore is truly to be trusted. Perhaps they plan to save that storyline till part 2, where it can complete it’s arc within one film. I certainly hope that they will give it proper attention.

Also in reading books 6 & 7, a major question is whether or not to trust Snape. The movies have seemingly dropped the ball on this question, and make it fairly obvious where Snape’s loyalties lie. Harry doesn’t seem concerned with Snape at all, he isn’t infuriated by Snape’s betrayal the way he is in the book, he isn’t infused with rage and the need for revenge. He doesn’t see Snape as responsible for the deaths of Sirius AND Dumbledore, and therefore when all is revealed in the final installment it will have little to no impact.

THE FINAL SCENES
This I think is the weakest part of the film. Though emotions run high with the death of a beloved character, and Dan has acted beautifully in that portion of the film, the final sequence fails to really show how the threat has heightened with Voldemort’s new acquisition. This could have been achieved by the trio having their conversation about which Hallow they would choose, and Ron emphasizing the lure of having an unbeatable wand. Also missing was the VERY significant moment where Harry makes the choice between pursuing the Hallows vs. continuing his hunt for the Horcruxes. His decision and it’s implications would have made the cliffhanger way more powerful. This is where Harry really starts to grow up – the first moment where he chooses inaction vs. action. Every move after this is incredibly deliberate on his part. The set-up for the final film would have been far more pronounced if he had voiced that there was this choice for him and he had made his decision, knowing the consequences of allowing Voldemort to attain the Elder Wand. Again, they could have chosen to whittle down some of the Harry/Hermione tenderness scenes to highlight this far more poignant moment from the books.

There are definitely more nit-picks I have, but I will limit myself to these for this review. In considering the entire film as a whole, it was rich with emotion, visually stunning, set to a bittersweet and lovely musical score, and had the right tone. There are certainly many loose ends to tie and a number of new pieces of information that will need to be introduced in order to carry the next film forward, and I am concerned as to how they will bring in so many points and then resolve them within one film.

My overall opinion is wholly positive. As a fan, I loved this film and am grateful that the filmmakers finally decided to rely primarily on the source material, which is so rich and detailed that it doesn’t need modification. Much of the dialogue is extremely close, if not exactly as it is in the books and the sense of urgency and foreboding is communicated effectively. The scary moments are positively frightening, the emotional moments are truly tearjerkers and the fun moments are heartwarming. Having already seen the film twice, I look forward to a third viewing and know that I will enjoy it just as much!

The ultimate Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows fan review by guest blogger Anandini. You can find more of her writings on Harry Potter on potterpensieve.tumblr.com or her Bollywood blog and podcast on Bollystalgia, and she has been a guest on Upodcast’s Dabanng podcast. We do not know a bigger Harry Potter fan so there was no better person to write up a review/ in depth analysis of this first half of the final installment. Besides being a Potterhead she is also a Bharata Natyam Dancer, a singer and an avid reader. You can also follow anandini on Twitter or Tumblr.

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Review: Due Date

Director Todd Philips follow-up to the unbelievably successful Hangover is a re-imagining of the Steve MartinJohn Candy classic: Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But this time it’s Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galafanakis taking the main leads. Due Date is a Road trip comedy  as most of Todd Philips’ filmography where Robert Downey, who plays a grumpy architect, needs to get to his wife’s delivery room in time for the birth of his first son. But that is until his paths cross with Ethan, a hapless wanna-be actor travelling to LA, a man who has quirks galore.

No matter what the publicity machine says, Due Date is certainly not the funniest movie of the year. I would go as far as to say it only has a handful of jokes. I think I counted 5.

There is a general consensus that Robert Downey Junior is awesome in everything he does but in Due Date he is relegated to playing the straight man to the quirky Galafanakis who plays his usual self with some added campiness that is never directly addressed. Ethan (ZG) wants to go to “Hollywood” to work in Two and a Half Men which is his favorite show and he carries a masturbating dog in his handbag.

There are quite a few gags set up that go nowhere and the comedic beats are very uneven. Some jokes start off as moderately entertaining but end up with a melodramatic punch line which just leaves the audience confused. Even the cameos from the likes of Danny McBride (Kenny Powers from Eastbound and Out) have no real pay off.

After the initial ruckus on the flight, the duo land up near the Mexican border playing on some themes from recent news stories i.e. paranoia of airline security or hardened stance on Mexican immigration but the writers have chosen to go for gross out moments instead of trying to say anything of relevance or funny.

The movie relies on the chemistry between the leads and the main leads are clearly enjoying themselves unfortunately this is not the case for the audience leaving. The remaining cast members are  un-etched characters. Michele Monaghan plays the exact same role as the bride in the Hangover which is screaming on the phone and asking where Downey Jr’s character is and why he isn’t arrived where he was supposed to.

The one positive I did take from the movie is that Galafankis is a competent dramatic actor especially in a few scenes where he has to show heart and doesn’t hide behind they quirkiness and weirdness. Too bad the audience wasn’t expecting this and laughed when they maybe weren’t intended to. (but then again who am I to judge when you should or should not laugh)

You will forget everything about Due Date the moment you leave the theaters and maybe that’s for the best.

Go watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles or even Between Two Ferns Zach Galafanakis webseries in you want more laughs!

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Review: Lafangey Parindey

Lafangey Parindey (directed by Pradeep Sarkar ) is the product of a confused studio,Yash Raj films. Once the most illustrious production company in India now a factory of cookie cutter, bland and utterly forgettable products. A studio that just doesn’t understand anymore how to recapture their old glory and Lafangey Parindey is the another final grasp of desperation from  a man trying to hold on to anything he can whilst plummeting to the debts of mediocrity, this movie is basically Hans Gruber falling off the Nakatomi building!

Our fiend Ness from ShahrukhIsLove  and I decided to do a double review for this movie as we stumbled across it on the same day and decided/were forced to watch it.

You can find her review here which is a great piece of writing although I do not agree with much of it. Ness found a lot of enjoyment out of Lafangey, I unfortunately found almost none.

To summarize the plot, Nandu is a sweaty, grease-laden underground fighter with heightened extra sensory perception or an acute sense of smell (must be one of the two as he can knock out his opponent blind folded with one single punch).  Before the movie starts( in the part we don’t get to see), he hires a team of communication consultants to come up with the perfect catchy nickname which would look good on  billboards and publicity hoardings as well give him exactly the right street amount of cred for his homies and peeps who he enjoys taking motorcycle rides with.

 After holding focus groups, in depth motivational analysis and finally a Don Draper-type eureka moment they came up with the name “One shot Nandu” and there was much rejoicing. Armed with a snappy nickname, his band of motorcycling cronies and his desi-street lingo dictionary (although nothing of Govinda level: “Haata sawan ki ghata kha khuja ke batti buzhake soja nintukale pintukale..Raste pe khadeli Anty bajarahi hain baar baar ghanti..atale watae shaane..Kulla ghuma ke pashchim ko palat..phutale watale shaane..”-Deewana Mastana) Nandu is ready to take on the world if he can find time between some horribly choreographed dancing and inspiring a few precocious