Movie Review: The Amazing Spiderman 2

I went to see The Amazing Spiderman 2 at PVR last evening. Here’s what I thought about the movie.

Story: Pretty well told from Peter Parker’s perspective. His past demons haunt him and his discovery about his parents’ past is narrated in an unexpected manner. The emergence of the villains is pretty disappointing. It’s a tad too simplified. However, the intense adulation turning into pure rage is captured well.

Screenplay and Cinematography: Completely written for a 3D viewing experience. I watched the movie in 2D because I personally don’t fancy 3D that much. But lovers of 3D will surely gasp a couple of times. The shots that stand out are the slow-mo ones and the musical grid one. Just brilliant!

The Amazing Spiderman 2 - Spiderman vs Electro

The Amazing Spiderman 2 – Spiderman vs Electro

Acting: I think this is the biggest plus of the movie. Both Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) and Electro (Jamie Foxx) put in spirited performances. Be it Peter Parker’s tough yet vulnerable avatar or Max Dillon’s obsession for his idol, both are a joy to watch. Though I must admit, Jamie’ role is author backed and hence he brings more life to his character. The juxtaposition between being a complete nobody with a need for social acceptance and being a rage monster is well captured.

Direction: To be fair, this is not much of a director’s movie. But some scenes like Spiderman’s first interaction with Electro, Max’s own delusions, the clock tower scene are well captured from a direction viewpoint.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 - Plutonium

The Amazing Spiderman 2 – Plutonium

Editing: This is the biggest goof up in the film. Disproportionate editing. There’s too much happening in too short a while, specially in the second half. Either they should’ve extended the movie by 20 min. or hastened up the first part of the film (which for the record is better than the latter half, even though it lacks the most critical fight scenes).

Overall: I’d say do give this movie a watch. Expect to see some good 3D effects, cinematography and some solid acting from Jamie Foxx.

Brave Pixar

For a very long time after falling in love with Disney’s ‘The Lion King’, I didn’t watch animated films. Honestly, I don’t know why. Perhaps it was a belief that no one could make a better animation film. Perhaps it was the bond I shared with Simba. I really don’t know.

And then one fine day, perhaps one of the best days in the life of the film-buff inside me I saw a movie that brought life to every child’s best friends – toys. ‘Toy Story’ was perhaps the game changer of its time. True, Disney was still making animated movies, scores of them. But a little animation studio that was an erstwhile computer graphics division of Lucasfilm, was the brain behind this wonderful game-changer of a film – Pixar Animation Studios. Was the genius of Pixar in its Photorealistic Renderman CGI software, its creative hero John Lasseter or the fact that the man at the helm was Steve Jobs (Yes, Apple’s Steve Jobs)? No one knows. But a daring, brave challenger of an animation studio was born. And with every passing film its cult grew. A section of moviegoers who did not miss a single Pixar film. People like me.

In its 26-year lifespan Pixar has arguably made the most brilliant animation movies in history. And by that I don’t mean technical brilliance. That’s table-stakes. Pixar has infused life into inanimate objects and made us laugh at their jokes, cheer in their victories, cry at their failures, scream at their faults and even love their stories. Be it Buzz Lightyear, Sulley Sullivan, Nemo, Lightning McQueen, Remy, Wall-E or even Carl Fredricksen; every single character has bonded with the audience much more than some live-action characters.

Today, I saw yet another Pixar gem called ‘Brave’. A really brave move by Pixar to have a young woman protagonist. True, Brave is not as good as some other of Pixar’s films such as Finding Nemo, Wall-E and Up. But that’s because every film by Pixar competes with its own films. Compare them to any other animation studio….Sony Pictures Animation, Animal Logic Studios, Dreamworks, Blue Sky Studios…and you’ll know that though the others are hugely competent and creative…they’re not in Pixar’s league. Little wonder, that in 2006 Disney who had been a leader in animated films for ages, bought out Pixar after the hugely successful Cars.

In 2001 the Academy Awards introduced a new category called Best Animated Film. Since then Pixar’s films have won it 6 times, apart from winning an overall 26 Academy Awards. Only 3 times in the history of the Oscars has an animated film been nominated for Best Picture….2 of those are Pixar’s. With all its films being among the 50 highest-grossing animated films and 3 of them being among the 50 highest-grossing films, I think Pixar will need a name change very soon – ‘Pics Czar’.

Movie Review: Shanghai

I awaited with bated breath till Shanghai began. And I thought I would be calm once it started. But I was wrong. My breathing didn’t slow down, my pulse rate didn’t normalize and my eyes didn’t blink. That, in a nut-shell was how I received Dibakar Banerjee’s political thriller.

I’ll wrap up the acting first because that’s the least interesting part. Abhay Deol is easily the best of the lot…very competent and in control. His body language is positively a brilliant portrayal of an Indian bureaucrat. Emraan Hashmi surprised me completely…this is not what I ever, ever saw him coming up with….he’s terrific as a part-time media videographer, part-time pornography filmmaker. Kalki Koechlin is good…but her expressions are very similar to the ones in Shaitan, That Girl in Yellow Boots and Dev D…nothing ‘really’ new to offer…needs to work on emoting more earnestly. Prosenjit Chatterjee is extremely competent as the political activist….most importantly his character is extremely crucial to the story and he does make the viewer believe that he’s going to make a difference(there’s a mention of this in the film about him having stopped some Government project in the past).

Moving over, the most brilliant parts of Shanghai are the screenplay, dialogues (Dibakar Banerjee and Urmi Juvekar), direction (Dibakar Banerjee), cinematography (Nikos Andritsakis) and background music (Michael McCarthy). Being a political thriller, it’s imperative that the story has sub-plots, grey characters and powerful dialogues. Dibakar Banerjee and Urmi Juvekar (screenplay writer of ‘Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’ and the national award winning ‘I Am’) just don’t go wrong in this crucial area. Dibakar Banerjee has already made his mark as a ‘hatke’ filmmaker, with films such as Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Love, Sex Aur Dhoka, behind him. In Shanghai he leaves you ample scope for imagination, guessing (almost every viewer loves predicting the next move in a thriller) and yet…you don’t visualize what’s coming next. The end of the movie is a classic point-in-case…I saw it very very differently in my mind…but….but…but…watch it to know! With Shanghai he doesn’t just climb the ladder, he joins a small group of promising filmmakers who dare to make different films (I’d put Anuraag Kashyap, Onir, Shimit Amin, Farhan Akhtar in this list for now). This is very difficult in a country that loves films such as Dabangg, Singham and Rowdy Rathore. Cinematography is top-notch in Shanghai…Nikos has left no-stone-unturned to showcase everything right from rowdy crowds, rallies, government enquiries and even sleazy films…as authentically as possible. Some of the slow-mo shots are brilliantly timed! The background score in Shanghai is a separate character in the film…it’s got its own voice which turns up at the perfect moments in the story…delightfully haunting!

Shanghai is dirty, contemporary and dangerously close to reality. It makes the viewer squirm, uncomfortable, think, think again and at some sequences…scream! Yes, it’s a powerful film…a film that draws inspiration from Vassilis Vassilikos’ 1960s book ‘Z’. I also saw shades of Khakee and Yuva in some portions. But by no means is it a blatant copy. The best I can compare is the relationship between Othello and Omkara….inspired; yet topical, relevant and original.

If you’re looking for a movie that DOESN’T stress you, make you think and rethink, make you face some ugly truths and question your beliefs….DO NOT WATCH SHANGHAI. It’s only for serious film buffs…people who only love popular, actor-driven cinema, picturesque photography will absolutely despise the movie…so don’t waste that seat and your money…let a serious film-goer occupy it.

With Shanghai under his belt I think Dibakar has made one point amply clear…aam filmmakers ki ‘wannabe’ talent ki aan, baan aur shaan-gayi!

Around the world in 3 days

I was damn sure that London Paris New York would not be a good film. And by good I mean it would not be intellectual, touching or entertaining (at least). Because that’s how I judge films…they have to either make you think or make you feel or make you laugh…if you’ve got all three…you’ve got a fair chance to pick up the golden statuette in Hollywood.

While scouring the net for previews about London Paris New York, I chanced upon an article that spoke more about Anu Menon (the writer and director) and less about the film. It revealed the passion for writing that this London Film School student exhibited…and being a writer myself, I just had to go and check out Anu’s passion spill out on celluloid.

Without being overtly critical of the story I’d like to point out that it’s got no story, so to speak. It’s more like a slice of life narrative…although a ‘filmy’ slice of life, mind you.

Anu scores heavily in 2 departments – characterization and dialogues. And that’s her winning formula. Because London Paris New York is about 2 people and the moments they share…that’s it. No scope for cheesy, trying-very-hard-to-be-funny comedians, mummys, papas, friends, etc. etc. It’s just Nikhil and Lalita all the way.

Both actors have possibly poured their guts out on the sets and look as natural as you and me would, in daily life. Ali Zafar brings life to the brash, impulsive, rich, spoilt Punjabi brat Nikhil, while Aditi Rao shines in a completely opposite independent, middle-class, limited-exposure-to-real-life Lalita. They’re so good that not once do you feel that they’re acting in front of a camera. Ali Zafar’s explosive confrontation in the pre-climax is just jaw-dropping…he cries naturally…something very very few actors…I’d love to be sexist here…very very few ‘men’ can do…Shah Rukh Khan and Shiney Ahuja being among the worst. As for chemistry between the leads…it’s fresh…and you do pine for the lovers (Ali Zafar to be specific) at a certain point…this viewer’s ‘pining for the lovers’ stage is a critical element of a love story…something Anu has got partly right…so I’d say she needs to brush up her direction skills a bit.

Dialogues as I mentioned earlier are splendid…simply because they’re very today. Lines that you and I would spout in real life with our friends, lovers – in the coffee shop, at the restaurant, in the bedroom…so on and so forth. One can actually relate to the lines like “Hey, I’ve said this line to someone” or “I can imagine myself using this line.”

A huge credit goes to Shyam Salgaonkar for keeping the film as crisp as 140 mins. What creates a problem though is that there are 3 full songs in the story, which eat into the already small running time. So, the story gets edited for the sake of songs…could’ve been explored a little more…this being Anu’s mistake (which is why I said it’s got no real story)…something I didn’t take too kindly…but then ‘most’ Indians just don’t like films without songs, do they?

Cinematography is top-notch…no two ways about that…but then if the film was shot in London, Paris and New York, how wrong could Sameer Arya go? Yet, I feel he’s captured the Paris segment incredibly. And yes, the solo lovemaking sequence is captured tastefully…very subtle yet sensual.

Songs….pah…what should I write…truth be told I’m not one for songs in a movie (unless it’s a musical, which this is not)…but to be fair Woh Dekhnay Mein is possibly the pick of the lot for it’s sprightliness, and to an extent it sets the tone for Nikhil and Lalita’s relationship. Others like Ting Rang and Aaja are just narrative fillers.

So, for me London Paris New York was a decent film…because it made me feel. Without doubt, it was an excellent study in modern day characterization and dialogue writing. I’d recommend it to 2 kinds of people:

  1. Men / women who like ‘filmy’ slice of life love stories, set in exotic locations.
  2. Anyone who loves to deconstruct cinema and appreciate its finer points, even if the film is not the best one they’ve seen.

Rockstar Ranbir meets Flopstar Imtiaz

I’ll start with a bias. I don’t like Ranbir Kapoor. Period. I don’t think he can act. Double period. But, post Rockstar I stand corrected. I think all he ever needed was a director to extract a brilliant performance. And who better would he choose than Imtiaz Ali? (Remember, he turned Kareena into an actor post Jab We Met. Till then she was just a glam doll.)

Rockstar is a simple story of a boy who wants to be a rockstar. Who looks up to Jim Morrison. Who is a simpleton at heart. Disconnected from the real world. For some unexplained reason Imtiaz has told the story in such a complicated manner, that one fails to understand the logic behind several parts of the script.

Rockstar goofs up quite a bit in the writing and editing department. The movie could’ve been much shorter, without cutting the songs…which means some scenes are just too stretched…like the Prague sequence. Writing is flawed at many places…Ranbir’s love barely looks like love…whenever he meets Nargis he’s on some testosterone overdose…most unlike an Imtiaz Ali treatment (the love stories in Socha Na Tha or Jab We Met were based on feelings and not feeling each other). The first half of the film does have its moments, so does part of the second half. I guess about 20 mins after the interval the film gets stretched and irrational. What was the reason for Nargis’ illness angle? Aise hi movie ka running time badhane ke liye? The opening sequence leaves you wondering what the hell happened and the movie’s end joins back to where it began (the entire story is told in non-linear flashback)…even after the movie ends you don’t know anything about the opening sequence…add to that a supremely confusing finale.

Ranbir’s emotional graph is so damn erratic…forget the aam junta, I’m sure even he must’ve got confused while seeing the preview screening. For no reason whatsoever he’s losing his cool, picking fights, bashing up people, etc. And much as I would’ve loved to bash Ranbir’s acting…actually he’s really good at it…. it’s the characterization that is flawed. Ditto for Nargis Fakri’s character…completely disconnected in parts. It’s like both inspired by Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Having said that, Nargis really got a raw deal in the film…she’s got no big scene, no big lines…bah…could’ve been any other model (yep, she’s still a model…not an actor). Kumud Mishra who plays Khatana has possibly the best written character because it is consistent….and he’s really good in his role. Piyush Mishra is very good too. Aditi Rao is completely wasted. The rest are just there as fillers.

Two departments where the movie scores is music and cinematography. A.R.Rehman’s score is amazing. Every song has something special..though some of them take time to grow on the listener, eventually you’ll love the entire soundtrack. Regards cinematography….if someone shoots the most picturesque locales in Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir and Prague, how wrong can the visuals go?

There are a few sequences to be watched out for….the Junglee Jawani sequence…Ranbir-Shammi’s first meeting….Ranbir tearing the agreement…some sequences in Stephen’s college.

Overall, Ranbir puts in an earnest performance but is let down by the writing. I’d recommend watching it for Ranbir’s performance and really good music.

Bol: A movie that leaves you speechless

I’ll be honest that I did go to see Bol with a bias, towards director Shoiab Mansoor. Even before watching the movie I knew somewhere deep inside, that I was going find it dark, disturbing and moving.

Bol begins on a rather unusual note, with the protagonist narrating her life’s story to the media, just before being hanged for homicide. As the viewer you’re wondering why would anyone do so? Zainub tells the story of her family which relocated from Delhi to Lahore in 1948. A family where her father, the Hakim wants a son at any cost, which results in 14 pregnancies for the mother. 7 girls survive and the 8th is born a hermaphrodite. The problems faced by the family due to the father’s patriarchal nature, the hermaphrodite’s introduction to society, a large family with one earning member, etc. forms the crux of the story.

What works for Bol are the strong story (Shoaib Mansoor), a fitting climax, hard-hitting dialogues, stellar performances by Manzar Sehbai and Humaima Malik and an effective background score by Baqir Abbas. Every sequence between the father and eldest daughter fills the narrative with tension. You can’t take your eyes off the screen when the two of them are together in the frame. On the flipside, the screenplay is not watertight and deviates from the plot, at places. The portions with Iman Ali and the songs don’t add to the story, and can be easily cut. The music is good but it could’ve done with being in the OST. Another problem with Bol is the pacing of the story…it unfolds at a languid pace, which is a combination of both, a loose screenplay and slow movements between scenes.

Much as I loathed the character while watching the film, the father’s role essayed by Manzar Sehbai, is the best performance in the film. His chauvinistic ideologies, his skewed religious beliefs, the gall to go to any extent to get money into the house…terrifically written character. You just can’t help hating him. Humaima Malik as Zainub, the eldest daughter is also extremely competent. Her role as the protector for her siblings and mother, as the tough decision maker, as the rebel is crafted as an opposite of the father. Shafqat Cheema as the pimp is as sleazy as one can possibly be…it’s a treat watching him. Apart from these three the film doesn’t give much scope to anyone else, save a few sequences for Ayesha, the other rebel sister (Mahira Khan). I won’t even mention the other characters, since they’re inconsequential to the story.

Overall, Bol is a daring film that raises vital questions, challenges tradition and shows us the spirit of the younger generation. Though the story is set in Pakistan, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with India…the situations, characters, problems are as much a reality in India. Also, I don’t think that the movie mirrors problems specifically related to Islam…they’re as much prevalent in Hindus, Christians or any other religion.

If you’re looking for frivolous cinema with fun and laughter, please don’t watch Bol. The group sitting behind me obviously didn’t have any sensitivity towards the other viewers, as they were busy laughing, passing inane comments and discussing a recent party. Watch Bol if you’re looking for mature cinema with real emotions. It’ll leave you speechless.

Starry Eyed Viewing

I was talking to my mother yesterday and she said something which set me thinking. We were having a discussion about the newly released movie ‘I Hate Luv Storys’. I was asking my mother why she would want to see the film. And she said ‘The cast is good’. And I wondered……..Imran Khan has given one ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’ which was fresh because of its writing style, thanks to Abbas Tyrewala and a flop called ‘Kidnap’ by a certain Sanjay Gadhvi who gave us the intellectually stimulating Dhoom series. Coming to Sonam Kapoor , I have no doubt her dress designers do a damn good job to make her look fashionable but she has given two back-to-back flops – Sawariya and Delhi-6. So, how is the principal cast of ‘I Hate Luv Storys’ any good at all?

The point-in-case is the fact that most Indian movie viewers are driven by the side-dish the film offers in the form of great locations, good looking actors, designer apparel, etc. The main course which is the story, screenplay, direction (due to which the side paraphernalia exist) is in fact sidelined. The poor writer or director both of who have control over everything in the narrative of the cinema are relegated to some side alley.

I asked my mother ‘Have you heard of Punit Malhotra?’ and she came back with ‘Is he famous?’

We have some really brilliant modern day directors who get sidelined due to other not-so-good ones simply because the latter are tied to some large production house which enables them to work with the most famous actors. A large part of the audience didn’t know Imtiaz Ali existed till they saw Jab We Met and loved it, though Imtiaz had made an even better Socha Na Tha some years earlier. Lovers of unconventional cinema knew Nagesh Kukunoor but he became really famous after Iqbal, though critics would argue that Iqbal is not his best effort.

Following a director’s or writer’s work can be much more fulfilling for a movie experience even if it’s purely entertainment for someone. If I were to choose between a comedy film by Dibakar Bannerjee and another one by Priyadarshan, I would choose Dibakar Bannerjee. This is because though both churn out good comedies, Dibakar’s scripts are stronger, dialogues are better and genuinely funny. Priyan on the other hand tends to use situational comedy as his main tool to induce laughter.

So the next time you watch a film and like it, try and see who the director and writer are. Try and follow that particular director’s and/or writer’s work. Not all his/her efforts may be good but chances are brighter you’ll come out feeling you’ve spent your bucks wisely.

As regards, ‘I Hate Luv Storys’, I have nothing against Imran, Sonam or Punit. May the film do well and may Punit join the tiny bandwagon of independent-thought filmmakers. Perhaps he may join the ranks of Imtiaz, Nagesh or even Farhan.