19 Aug 2017

James Bond News: Bond 25: Daniel Craig Returns

Daniel Craig, the actor who has played Bond with an edgy, authentic rough and tough scrub, is set to star in his fifth James Bond movie. This was confirmed recently by Craig on a late night show, according to 007.com, the official James Bond website. The movie is presently tentatively titled Bond 25.

Full Circle for Daniel Craig
Craig has come full circle since his first Bond movie Casino Royale (2006). In fact, Craig was hit with widespread public criticism when he was first selected to play the flamboyant British spy. There was even an website called saynotodanielcraig.com to protest against Craig's casting. But over the years, Daniel Craig has proven his mettle, though the films have been largely underwhelming, except for Skyfall (2012).
Bond 25 Release Dates
The evergreen, smooth-talking, playboy spy will return to the big screen in 2019. The US release is set for November 8, 2019. Binding to tradition, the UK, and other countries will get earlier release dates.This will be the 25th official film of the Bond franchise. This is not counting, of course, the only unofficial 1983 Bond movie Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery.

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, collaborators on previous Bond productions including the four movies starring Daniel Craig, return to the helm again. Meanwhile, cheers and let's sip our martini at a beach side of an exotic foreign locale, waiting for Eva Green to turn up, or sip...Ursula Andress.

18 Aug 2017

Movie Review: Bareilly Ki Barfi: Sweet, Satisfying, Romantic Comedy

Bitti Mishra (Kriti Sanon) is the unabated, small-town tomboy, a sly Bareilly electricity board employee, break dancer, occasional smoker and drinker, and part-comprehending viewer of English movies. Her parents (Pankaj Tripathi and Seema Bhargava) are introduced by the off-putting narration as 'not normal' (The old world Hindi novel-like narration is redundant and unnecessary). Unlike typical Indian small-town parents, they don't impose themselves on Bitti.

When the unconventional, free-spirited Bitti gets repeatedly rejected by prospective grooms, she dejectedly decides to leave town. At the railway station book stall, she stumbles upon a novel called 'Bareilly Ki Barfi' by Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao). The female lead is (surprise!surprise!) exactly like Bitti. Mystified, Bitti cancels her fleeing plans, desirous to meet this mysterious writer. Enter Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana).

Love Triangle With Laughs  
Despite the far off echoes of the Sanjay Dutt-Salman Khan-Madhuri Dixit love triangle Saajan (1991), Bareilly Ki Barfi has a now familiar semi-rural authentic zeal, color, clean humor and occasional zing.

Midway, there are clear hints as to how it will go. A lesser director would have delivered this cold and dull. But director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari takes sufficient clever diversions to keep us guessing in this sweet, funny film.

Rajkummar Rao Towers Over the Cast 
Kriti Sanon has matured into a good actor, far cry from her dull-faced Hindi debut Heropanti (2014). Ayushmann Khurrana is competent, dependable and sporty, adding ample conviction to his tortured, selfish lover role. The Chirag-Pritam interactions showcase great male lead chemistry.    

Pankaj Tripathi, so hilariously brilliant in the director's previous release Nil Battey Sannata (2016) is in his element here. It is Rajkummar Rao's innocent sari salesman and induced-tough guy act that is stand out terrific. Rao battles the character's uneven turns, to create a compelling, laugh-out-loud meek, good-hearted part.    

Sweet Minus Bite  
Bareilly Ki Barfi sticks to its conventional romantic comedy journey, takes its time to crackle, makes us laugh loud and ends tad predictable, without that necessary elevated bite.

For its fluent editing, performances, genre-faithful writing, and assured direction, Bareilly Ki Barfi is a good (*** out of ***** stars) bet at the cinemas this week. It is not a laugh riot, but balanced and intelligently made.  

15 Aug 2017

The Best Movies of 2017: As on August 15, 2017

Based on what I have seen in the theaters so far, the best movies of 2017 as on August 15, 2017 are as follows. 
It has been a memorable time at the movie theaters. I have consciously attended single screens, multiplexes, and alleged IMAX theaters to savor movies (more than ever before) on 70mm this calendar year. 
A Death in the Gunj 
Konkana Sen Sharma’s debut directorial is an haunting ode to nostalgia, introverts, bullying and human fragility.
Nolan scores with a minimalist, non-linear, bloodless and sharply edited war movie that digs out a new genre for itself. A war classic in the making.
Lipstick Under My Burkha
Funny, bold, revolutionary, relevant as hell, path-breaking. A serious contender to the TOP THREE BOOM BOX FILMS OF THE YEAR title. A big bear hug to all women who want to live their lives, just like men do and not be sorry for it. Hear, hear. 
A mind-blowing smoking hot X-Men movie that goes against the norm, has gruesome violence, well-coordinated action set-pieces, nice sci-fi mumbo-jumbo to explain the merciless plot. A script that pushes the envelope to mark an important curve in the Wolverine story. Thank you, Hugh Jackman. Thank you steel claws.

Spider-Man: Homecoming 
A refreshing contemporary teenage update, a great commercial punch to take Peter Parker back to school again. The clumsiest, error-prone, raw, clueless Spider-Man ever. This is not great cinema, but the many irreverent, comic touches and quips make this a version just right for the random WhatsApp-indulgent audience.
Moving On: Every film screening has its share of memorable moments. Startling cell phone ringtones, snores, sniggers, ex-colleagues, near-deserted spooky auditoriums, accompanying friends have added to the conversation, laughter, exasperation, and drama. 
Not a dull moment at the cinemas, despite piracy, streaming services, torrent and pen drives. May the big screen live on. Amen!  

11 Aug 2017

Movie Review: Toilet:Ek Prem Katha: Propaganda Unlimited

The well-educated, (I have a toilet at home) Jaya falls for and marries cycle shop owner Keshav. Her joy is short-lived when she discovers that Keshav's village doesn't have a toilet. The village women go on long early morning walks to relieve themselves in the bushes. Jaya refuses to cave into such shaming practices. The marriage begins to crack and the couple's differences lead to a widespread social change.

Preachy Take
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a long-winded, forceful, aggressive government propaganda vaguely disguised as a movie. Open defecation is a relevant issue and large-scale toilet construction an arguably valid solution. Don't throw it up in our faces in a preachy, unmasked tone. At one moment, I felt the film's makers will step out of the screen and build a toilet right there in the cinema hall, and push me in to try it. It's that kind of a movie.

Genuinely Funny First Half
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha does pleasantly surprise when it smells of using the toilet as a metaphor for Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and Jaya's (Bhumi Pednekar) love story. The first half has outrageously funny moments, but you know where this is going.

The unusual love story build up is blown out of the way, as the second half dips into hyper dramatics, wayward monologues, and contrived eye-opening situations. The stink becomes evident.

Akshay Kumar Holds Fort 
Pity, for Akshay Kumar is in top-form be it the humor, drama or maudlin moments. Though clearly looking his age on the screen lately like his contemporaries, Kumar seems a better actor with every new release. Bhumi Pednekar is adequately fiery as the outspoken wife. Divyendu Sharma as Keshav's brother makes his presence felt. The underrated, rarely cast Sudhir Pandey plays the unyielding father with great conviction. Anupam Kher is a hoot.

But this is no free-willed, creative-burst of a film. Leave the undeniably multiple laugh-out moments, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a heavy, infuriated dose of a social-message injection.

6 Aug 2017

Bollywood Specials: Shah Rukh Khan and the Kiss Dilemma

Jab Harry Met Sejal 

Way back in 2004, Neha Dhupia was promoting Julie, her steamy solo-heroine mainstream movie. The makers made no pretense that sex was the film's main selling card. Neha Dhupia then uttered what summed up the status quo,"In Bollywood, either sex sells or Shah Rukh Khan."

Dhupia had unwittingly also rounded up Bollywood, its star system, typecasting and the blatancy of formula in that one brief statement. In commercial Hindi cinema, sex scenes are often filmed in a sleazy and gratifying manner. It has nothing to do with telling a story. Thirteen years later, nothing much has changed, except that Bollywood now tries to sell everything, from stars, sex, cover versions of older hits, younger struggling stars to....Shah Rukh Khan.  

The other side of it: Once a star gets too big an image to be tampered with, the roles are written with an almost platonic, noble flourish. The kisses (lip-to-lip, to be precise) don't make it to the story. The white-sheets draped Maya Memsaab (1993) encounter was shot before Khan's stardom. Ramesh Sippy drenched Khan and Raveena Tandon in sensual colors in the much panned Zamaana Deewana (1995). The body chemistry in both films were at least attempts at conveying emotions. 

The Bollywood Archie-Betty-Veronica Version

Kiss vs Image
The making of the Shah Rukh Khan romantic, charming, good boy image began with Aditya Chopra's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) and found validation in Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). The closest Khan came to kissing was in Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and by quite a distance in Asoka (2001). He is conveniently interrupted in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas (2002). 

Years after the ridiculous but cute image of two shivering flowers coming together in speculative communion meant sex was on, it was about timely disruptions now. In the new millennium, Bollywood was still conservative about mainstream actors kissing.

Like Helen was the only one supposed to dress down and do the Bollywood cabaret, for years only Emraan Hashmi seemed to have a Supreme Court permission to kiss prolifically onscreen, mostly picturized coarsely and provocatively. 'Serial Kisser' became a Hashmi tag and a played up lame joke on the actor himself in films like The Dirty Picture (2011) and Ungli (2014). 

The 'My Boyfriend is Watching' Kiss
Shah Rukh Khan finally did dare to kiss Katrina Kaif on screen in Yash Chopra's last directorial film Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012). These are strangely brief, reluctant millisecond smooch moments. It was as if Kaif's off-screen boyfriend was close by, with bloated eyeballs and a pair of XXL size censor scissors.

The Sane Bit in Jab Harry Met Sejal 
Shah Rukh Khan does go for a lengthy kiss in culminating Jab Harry Met Sejal's unbelievable premise with some sane sexual release. In a fluffy, soap lather romance it was already alien that lovers detested from making out, that the kiss was a big saving grace in the film's flimsy context. It took two and half decades to tweak a trademark Shah Rukh Khan template, even if mildly. It's a tiny dot of a dare in a safe, redundant movie that Jab Harry Met Sejal is.    

Movie Talk: Why Jab Harry Met Sejal is Imtiaz Ali's Biggest Letdown Yet

Imtiaz Ali's directorial debut Socha Na Tha (2005) was a refreshing, entertaining youngsters film. Travel was seemingly incidental in a lovely sweet film that stood out for its little nudge-away-from-formula writing.

The Unending Journey
The director first won over audience's hearts and the box-office with Jab We Met (2007).Then followed a series of movies with travel as a metaphor.

The beautifully juxtapositioned Love Aaj Kal (2009), wayward but heartfelt Rockstar (2011). The physical journey and the journey within. Chaos, suffering, heartbreak, and self-discovery. The grossly underrated Tamasha (2015) is my favorite Imtiaz Ali film. It is a culmination of all Ali had revealed in earlier films about his side on love, travel and life.

Ali's strength is layering an all-out commercial, Hindi film formulaic story with strong, poetic writing. But isn't it time to move on from travel? How about a film that tells of the time between journeys. The time when a person is still, in transit. I long for out of the box variations from Ali now, not the same loop. As the Tamasha tagline goes: Why always the same story? 

Jab Harry Met Sejal in comparison is a conventional rom-com that banks very hard on its lead stars to pull it off. For the first time, the writing is not wrapped in layers. Here's a list of what else doesn't work:

Creepy Casanova? No Problemo! 
Harry is a self-confessed womanizer, yet Sejal just wants to hang out with him in a distant city, day and night. Who is Sejal, freak or just plain foolish?

Star Power Over Story
Sejal's family is not conservative, they are only pretending to be so, by the looks of it. Why else would a 'strict' family allow an engaged daughter, alone in a distant country, search for a ring with a tour guide they barely know for days? Because he is Shah Rukh Khan. Khan hasn't yet deflowered a woman on screen, at least not when he is romancing one. The family must know.

Ten Second Trivia:In his two-decade filmography, Khan has slept with women on camera occasionally. Memorably in Maya Memsaab (1993) and as part of a brutal revenge and murder in the entertaining, morally ambiguous anti-hero blockbuster Baazigar (1993). 

Beech Beech Mein has no story premise, it just begins, plays and ends

Song After Song After Song

Imtiaz Ali has delved into complexities and contradictions of his main protagonists in all his previous films. It made the predictable 'lovers unite!' endings just a milestone. The fun was in the journey and moments. He makes a startling exception in Jab Harry Met Sejal. The mushy romance has no ground, too many songs and dance bits underline this mush with soap-bubble lather. It's a huge turn-off.

This Sejal Character  
Sejal is free-minded, adventurous and chirpy, a repeat take on Ali's previous female leads. Sejal's casualness stands out weird here. She strangely gives no thought to her fiancee, just because Harry's around. Should we conclude that when Shah Rukh Khan is around, you give in to him. It is a star surrender contrivance, that kills any audience relatability to the romance.  

The Imtiaz Ali Standard
We have expected a certain quality from Imtiaz Ali films. That is where Jab Harry Met Sejal disappoints the most. Did top star presence affect his writing from going all out? Rather play it safe and sugary?

A decade of romance + poetic travel metaphors + good looking lovers + self-discovery songs is not the issue. We have enjoyed those movies. But repeating that same template here with nothing new to add, that killed it.

On hindsight, this may be where Imtiaz Ali moves out of the typecast to other genres of cinema. He may yet surprise us. The journey may have just begun for him.

4 Aug 2017

Movie Review: Jab Harry Met Sejal: Fluffy Entertainment, Predictable Rom-Com

Harry (Shah Rukh Khan) is a Europe-based tour guide for Indian tourists, his life churning in similarities and routine like the windmill in the opening scene. Sejal (Anushka Sharma) is one of his customers. A tiff with her fiancee over a lost engagement ring leads Sejal to miss the home-bound flight and stubbornly stay back to retrieve the ring. She coaxes and threatens Harry to accompany her in the search.

You Knowaa What You Gonna Gettaa 
You may see what is coming next, right to the end credits from miles away down the road. This is Imtiaz Ali's most straight, conventional Hindi commercial (an ode to travel, as usual) movie yet. No nonlinear narration, no symbolisms, no live your life talk, just straight out rom-com.

Garam Garam Double 
I will come up with a cheaper, hornier Hinglish subheading soon. But Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma crackle with so much chemistry that they reel in the audience for most of the tad predictable journey. Age differences disappear when they are together.

Khan's bearded look adds to the character's turmoil. He is in subtle form, reining in, letting loose the legendary charm at will. Sharma's once there, once not Gujarati accent doesn't hinder in creating a watchable character, foolish, instinctive and meandering. An echo to Kareena Kapoor's Geet in Jab We Met (2007). Khan and Sharma can take a hell lot of credit for audience engagement. They keep it all afloat and brimming to an amazing, mercurial degree.

Great Locales
The European setting gives the film a beautiful travel-with-me feel. The bridges, cafes, night clubs and cobbled streets add conviction to the characters actions. Why wouldn't you want to hang out in places as charming as these a little longer?! Say, say.

Nice Safar, Some Suffer
Ali is going for the lovers-get-together fun love journey with no complexities here. He shoots down any chances of great cinema right there. It is now about keeping the humor and joy coming. Ali doesn't get there smoothly.

The first half is a breeze, with damn funny interchanges and some danger. By intermission though, you know it is a matter of time. There is nowhere else to go but the bloody arrow through heart wala luv, luv, luv.

Harry's Punjab backstory is hinted at, yet mysteriously never explained. Giving Sejal's backstory a miss adds to the allure. The 'love happens' sections are a bit contrived. When does Sejal end up so casual and easy with Harry, spending nights together all of a sudden? That is Khan's star charm in play rather than Harry's.

No Musical Musical Please 
Despite Harry's louder-than-the-tractor-singer touch, there are just too many songs here, mitigating the impact, underlining the obvious Harry-Sejal romance too many times. This happens in so many Hindi movies. They just go lip-synching and musical without any thought how it may mar the storytelling. Song-and-dance make great celebratory, whistle out moments, but not always. The tiresome sections in the second half are to do with song marathons.  

Pritam's soundtrack is impressive in parts, listenable audio that required judicious use in film.

Before We Part 
Don't expect depth, layers and insight, or a strong, daring take here. Ali digs for travel's most attractive aspect, get together, don't pause and have a great time. Who doesn't want to? Jab Harry Met Sejal is mostly a decent rom-com, somewhere between OK and good.

2 Aug 2017

Movie News: Ready Player One: Forthcoming Spielberg Movie

Steven Spielberg's forthcoming directorial venture is called Ready Player One, based on the Ernest Cline 2011 sci-fi/dystopian novel of the same name. The teaser trailer looks ravishing and visionary.

Think Spielberg revisiting the dark drab atmospherics of Minority Report (2002), the wide ocean spectrum of  A.I.Artificial Intelligence (2001), and the absorbing, addictive world of virtual reality video gaming multiplied by 50. Spielberg is clearly going for the epic, universal spread here like only he can.

The extended trailers provide a sneak peek to popular cultural references, not a usual Spielberg film element. There is the giant robot from Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, The Lord of the Rings, the Back to the Future time machine, the modified Mad Max Ford Falcon, among other recognizable nostalgia elements.

We do yearn for a rollicking experience that a potential Spielberg blockbuster is. Among top-notch contemporary directors, nobody has consistently combined box-office success and cinematic ambition like Steven Spielberg.       

Ready Player One is set for a March 30, 2018, US release. Watch this blog for updates and special features.            

1 Aug 2017

Movie Watch: My 'Dunkirk on IMAX or LieMAX' Experience: Cinepolis, Westend Mall, Aundh, Pune, India Review

Big hello to moviegoers who saw Nolan's Dunkirk on a mammoth IMAX screen

It started with a childish curiosity, gaa-gaa, go-go and other baby sounds. What exactly is the word on IMAX? As a movie regular, an IMAX feel was long overdue.

Life and the movies are best experienced, so I waded the Internet for information. Would you believe it? Pune city, in all its cosmopolitan entirety, has just one IMAX screen! Dunkirk was showing at this sole, haloed screen at Cinepolis, Westend Mall, all day, all week in IMAX 2D. I promptly booked a weekday morning show ticket.

Initial Letdown
The first shock was the screen size. I had half a mind to throw up a baby tantrum there and then. The Cinepolis IMAX screen was barely 10-12% bigger than the regular screen. Waaah! Boo Hoo! IMAX screens are meant to be at least double the size of standard cinema screens.

Excellent Sound Quality, Uneven Picture Quality  
The film screening finally commenced after a dreary run of advertisements, 15 minutes past schedule. I had already watched Dunkirk at a regular screening, a fortnight ago. The comparisons came easy.

The sound was sharper and balanced. Bomb explosions, fighter plane sound effects made for great acoustics, without hitting high deafening decibel levels. The Hans Zimmer background score stood out, especially the violin set piece and the now famous 'ticking watch'. The picture quality was also a notch higher.

The fighter plane sections stood out with outstanding clarity. IMAX (Oh yeah?) did make the experience more close-in and immediate, but only by a small degree. Certain visuals had a scandalous, shunted look. It was like a magician trying to stuff his stubborn rabbit back into the top hat.

More than the technical glitter, the second viewing of Dunkirk on suspect IMAX revealed a sharp, minimal, cleverly executed, uplifting war movie. It hit me with an enormous wallop. But the screen size dwarfed my thrill. It was just not done. If you don't have a mammoth wide screen, why call it IMAX? At that exorbitant ticket price, a definite con job.

Screen Size Issues     
My experience echoes in similarly ripped off IMAX audiences around the world. They refer to this shrunk screen phenomenon as LieMAX. You may ask, what is that dude?

LieMAX is a term for theater screens pretending to be IMAX when they are just a bit larger than regular screens. So if you are looking for the IMAX experience in Pune, it's clearly not happening as publicized at Cinepolis, Westend Mall, Aundh, Pune.

Last Word
A badly made movie will not elevate you, even on IMAX. The Dunkirk experience is enhanced by a further 20% even on LieMAX. A good movie always gets to you, the format is only a medium then. There goes my concluding self-comforting, false-refuge statement.

29 Jul 2017

Indian Cinema Specials: Lipstick Under My Burkha: A Necessary Revolution

This symbolic, potentially iconic poster released soon after the film was approved by the censors

Post Screening Scribble: I finally caught up with Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha yesterday evening. At the time of viewing, the film was enjoying a second week-run at cinema halls. The evening multiplex show had a sizeable audience, a majority of them young women. As it has been at Pune multiplexes lately, the screening commenced dozen minutes past scheduled time, after the government ads, random advertisements, and the national anthem.

Against the Tide Cinema
I deter from the usual review here, for the release of Lipstick Under My Burkha is a landmark against-the-tide event in Indian cinema. Here is a movie that was crying out to be made. Four women living in the same locality in Bhopal are guilty of the same crime, of living life on their terms. Yes, after 70 years of independence, in our populous conservative sex-taboo society - guilty as hell.

The set boundaries for Indian women are unanimous, traditional and obvious.That the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refused a certification to the film because "The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life," is itself a reaffirming teaser trailer to the film's intent.

Winged Dreams  
Ratna Pathak plays the older, sexually repressed Usha, a reader of steamy Hindi adult novels, lonesome for a male companion. Konkona Sen Sharma as Shireen is a successful door-to-door saleswoman, married and a mother to three kids. Rehana's Saudi-working husband Rahim (Sushant Singh) savagely dominates his wife with brutal sexual subjugation.

Leela (Aahana Kumra) struggles to convince her wedding photographer lover Arshad (Vikrant Massey) to elope. Her sexual drive and a looming forced arranged marriage drives her to chaos. For college going, Miley Cyrus fan Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), the burkha is a refuge from her conservative, strict household. She uses it as cover to steal lipsticks, expensive attire, and footwear from malls. The burkha also allows her a double life, the college bathroom is where she emerges in her t-shirt and jeans, like a proverbial, everyday superwoman. A woman who has to struggle, scamper and hide to just be herself.

Shades, Colours, Celebrations  
Lipstick Under My Burkha plays out as a hilarious, laugh-out-loud (not just silent keypad LOL, real laughs) black comedy. It swerves from falling into a feminist, protest-ridden commentary. The takeaways are memorable and infectious.

The cheap sex novel narrative gets a tad repetitive after an hour, but Shrivastava gives a purposeful screenplay end to it.

Like, when did a girl last threaten her boyfriend that she would share their love making MMS if he doesn't marry her? Never in an Indian film, N-E-V-E-R by a long distance. How about an older woman anonymously indulging in phone sex with her swimming instructor? The scenes of marital rape are harrowing, uncomfortable revelations. Perhaps, a girl condemned to stitch burkhas as punishment is the most damning of the story threads.

The Cigarette Bonding Finale  
All male characters end up as shallow, judgemental and prejudiced. There is no salvaging there. But it's not a notorious, partial take either.

When the film resorts to pathos in its culmination, it loses some steam. Reinforcing the comic, satirical take would have topped this remarkable film. That said, the climax doesn't mess it up. Four women bonding over cigarettes is at once rebellious, even if mildly misdirected. Each yearned for a sky, but are now against a formidable wall, probably shut out for life. End credits, Excellent. Nothing more is to be told. Amazing how a sharp touch of edit makes/breaks a movie.

Enough Said
Lipstick Under My Burkha is not merely the pick of the week. It stands out, pulls the revolutionary trigger and makes itself heard. It is oh so totally justified and true. Here readers is a brave, undeterred film of our times. Not to be missed.

The main cast give astounding performances

28 Jul 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets: A Slow, Dull Crawl

I had to etch out entertainment and urge for even a strain of thrill during the entire running time of Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets. Based on a French comic book series, Valerian is a sci-fi/adventure movie that is way off the mark.

Oh Yeah, The Story
It's the 28th century and Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are the human police force's special agents out on a mission. They are out to retrieve a 'converter', a rare animal that duplicates energy-containing pearls. Even as the duo braves dangers to accomplish the task, a new threat lurks on their return to Space Station Alpha. Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) is to be protected from unknown forces and possible attack.

Alpha is home to millions of citizens from different planets, co-existing in peace, indulging in knowledge and culture sharing. As Valerian and Laureline dive deeper into the intrigue, nothing is what it seems.

Wanted: A Rocking Villian 
Director Luc Besson gets the CGI part, his strong point, absolutely right. The art design borders on the visionary. A Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy deja vu looms here. But there is no bite, no danger, sleepwalking action and bland attempts at humor. That the lead pair's chemistry is nil further dampens proceedings. The damning part - no menacing villain.

Good Bits, Some   
Popular pop singer Rihanna dazzles in a brief cameo as the shape-shifter. Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke are competent too. A monologue on love grazes the heart momentarily, and that's it for engagement. The dullest first half I have watched this year. The second is an inch better. A remote sense of danger grows and fades. Something vaguely resembling a coherent story begins to take shape. Then the end credits come up.

Redeeming Factor, Nay!
A hell lot of editing could have made Valerian a lot breezier and fun. The editing is a shocker, most scenes are lengthy, from the strange, ineffective dream sequence opening to the kid-stuff action parts. A lot needed to be trimmed for the film to have any sort of impact.

What Happened Here?   
Go for the colorful art design and costumes that resemble delightful dessert dishes on 3D. There is just nothing else on offer here. It surprises me to say this, that despite the ambition, scale, and spread, Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets is a dull, snailish movie that seems as long as reading out the film title 100 times in one breath as a school punishment.

26 Jul 2017

Movie News: Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Set for 40th Anniversary Re-Release

Steven Spielberg's path-breaking 1977 sci-fi alien movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind is set for a Sep 1 re-release at select US theaters. The trailer promises 4K picture quality and upgraded special effects.

My take, as an ardent admirer of the film, is to miss the full-length trailer and just watch the film. The teaser trailer above is an adequate surprise, without giving much away. The less you know the more you will enjoy this exceptional, unexpectedly moving motion picture.

Spielberg's Indian Following
Re-releases are not a trend in India. But I do hope that the film somehow finds its way to select Indian theaters too. Among Indian audiences, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the least known of Spielberg's classic movies. Spielberg's fame in India can be attributed to the monster universal success of Jurassic Park (1993) and subsequent releases Saving Private Ryan (1998), Minority Report (2002), Catch Me If You Can (2002) and The Adventures of Tintin (2011).

But few here in India have seen the director's early works, notably the much-acclaimed road thriller Duel (1971), his first blockbuster Jaws (1975), arguably the best Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and that wonderfully endearing sci-fi/kids adventure E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Re-releases and India
India did have a culture of re-releases in the 70's and 80's. But the coming of VHS tapes, CD's and advanced digital mediums, lead to rampant piracy. Unchecked piracy continues to affect footfalls at theaters across the country. Superior quality movie files are now downloaded into pen drives and watched at most households. Apart from satellite TV, legitimate online streaming services and mass availability of free Internet has further dampened movies-on-the-big-screen culture.

There's nothing like re-releases to bring genuine movie lovers to the cinema halls. At that note, hoping against hope to catch Close Encounters of the Third Kind at a theater near by or affordably far far away.

23 Jul 2017

Movie Talk: The Case of the Smiling Dunkirk Extra

In these torrid times of cell phone addiction, HD picture quality and streaming content, nothing escapes the PAUSE button. So for someone of Christopher Nolan's stature to have overlooked a split-second smiling extra in a key Dunkirk bombing scene is almost cinematically criminal. But is that really a hiccup in a sharply edited film? Are we reading too much into the case of the smiling extra in Dunkirk?

Stand out of the gathering in a crowd scene, disobey the director's instructions, escape the editing scissors and bingo. Fame!    

To be fair, if you play out the scene, the smile can be interpreted as a concerned leer, or a resigned 'here we go again' expression. But it certainly sticks out in a film so painstakingly real.

Theory two: This was an intentional Nolan touch. There is always a joker in the pack who sees the funny side of things. "We are gonna get bombed and die anyway. Let's put a smile on that face."

Exaggerating it a bit more, probably this was a tribute to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Why so serious? Eh? Life is fleeting.

Ironically, the scene featured prominently in Dunkirk's first teaser trailer. Now that the case of the smiling Dunkirk extra is going viral on the Internet, two things can alternately happen. An unemployed extra or 15 minutes of fame on a late night show. So much for celebrity status.

Movie Review: Dunkirk: Restrained, Throbbing War Movie

A Christopher Nolan movie you can fully understand at first viewing. Boy!Is that a relief!

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan's most life-relatable film. After all, just how much psychic bend can Nolan do with true World War II events? Wait for it.

While I love Memento (2000) for its masterly nonlinear mind-bombing and the darker, rocking  Batman trilogy, Nolan's Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) were boggling and unforgivingly incoherent in their final take. Yes, keeping box office takings and popular opinion aside. So when the shroud-white-over-black-background Dunkirk film title appeared, I wished only for an easily understandable film.

The State of Affairs at Dunkirk 
It's 1940 and Germany is all over World War II. They have conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway and are weeks away from taking over France. The English, French, Belgian and Canadian Allied Forces now find themselves cornered by advancing German troops, U boats and deadly air strikes at the seaside French town of Dunkirk. Over 4 lakh soldiers face certain death, with British shores agonisingly visible to them from the shore.

Non-Linear Storytelling Virtues 
Nolan skillfully refrains from an epic, heavy, marathon take. He instead goes where most Hollywood war movies don't. A big budget military retreat movie. No gory blood, no bullet-ridden bodies, no epic battles or heroic, sentimental stuff.Undoubtedly, a standout, box-office endangering premise.

The director delves into moments, despair, defeat, death and unlikely saviours. He harks on man's basic instinct to live. Not blood-drowned killing on screen, just the primitive instinct of running when you are hunted. The universal truth conveyed here - in victory or defeat, it is damn good to be breathing and that is always enough.

Comfortingly, the nonlinear narrative results in clear multiple perspectives and heart-stopping suspense. After a held-back first hour, Nolan's reveals his unseen strands by going back-forth and delivers a heart-rending second act.

Taut Screenplay, Sparse Dialogues 
Dunkirk's writing (Nolan again) hinges on less-spoken moments, firing the story in three distinct threads, selective events unfolding on land, sea and air. He picks individuals to make the experience personal, and through their eyes, the gravity of the situation sinks in deep. When a soldier swims between two aflame, sinking ships, you share his panic. We understand that long conversations would not have occurred in such a hopeless scenario.

That Germans are unseen all through the film makes it ultra-spooky. Like the soldiers, I didn't know where the bullets, torpedos and bombs were raining from. This screenplay gamble works big time for Dunkirk.

Nervy Background Score
Hans Zimmer picks up the nerve-rattling violin from the Joker's theme in The Dark Knight and adds layers of tension and edge. The simple tick-tock of a pocket watch conveys the alarming truth - time is running out. Another classy, nervy background score from the Zimmer-Nolan combo.

Great Cast Connects in Silences  
Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard simmer as the fleeing soldiers. Harry Styles is a surprise as a British Army Private.Mark Rylance gets another meaty role as a rescuing mariner. Tom Hardy dazzles as an RAF pilot, though we largely get only his eyes, muffled voice and plane manoeuvring hands. Everything seems real and up close, thanks to Nolan's rejection of CGI and Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography.

Weak Points
When the film delves into dialogue, the spell breaks a little. Trivia on fighter plane engines and talk of young men dying to old men's orders is tad routine stuff. But this is a minor niggle.

Don't Miss It   
I can't wait to catch Dunkirk again at the theatres. There is so much to read in a second viewing, and comprehension is not a factor, thankfully. A master is at work and in a superbly trimmed 106 minutes, Dunkirk is a modern war movie classic in the making.

14 Jul 2017

Movie Talk: Jagga Jasoos: What Brings Down a Potential Masterpiece?

Make no mistake Jagga Jasoos is a rare achievement, combining age-old human emotions with an intriguing real-life arms drop incident. But there are several stumbles to what could have been a more structured masterpiece.

The Duration Issue 
The film doesn't actually drag but stretches out into a series of comic action gags, without contributing to the story. Three hours of running time, too much for a whirlwind, round-the-world non-stop romp. Easier said than done, for Basu paints a huge canvas here, combining a children's stage musical, travel adventure and the sore weak links - thrills, suspense, and action.

Many Loose Ends 
By the looks of it, the three-year torrid filmmaking period of the movie has its effects on the story. A lot of it stands out half-baked and propped up as gimmicks. For instance, the stumbling similarities that Shruti and Jagga's father share has no explanation. Jagga and Shruti escaping bullets, blasts and entire packs of gun-wielding baddies, there is just too much of it, for disbelief and disconnect to set in.

Wanted: Merciless, Clever Editing
Sharper, merciless editing would have worked wonders here. With so many elements and subplots and genres served on a platter, the film needed a master editor to take over proceedings.A two-hour running time would have worked wonders. The movie needed sweet slices of everything. An epic saga like the Lord of the Rings trilogy justifies the marathon length, not an ambitious comic caper like Jagga Jasoos. 

A Dizzy Mix of Genres   
Even in Basu's Barfi (2012), the murder mystery angle off-tracked the film, before if found sure-footing again. There is no such salvaging in Jagga Jasoos. On hindsight, just narrating episodic adventures of Jagga's detective tales as the core story could have worked for the film's comic/mystery genre. Instead, the film is a wild mix comic musical adventure thriller, a tightrope walk in storytelling. The most glaring casualty: The two-headed international rogue and his supposedly dreaded syndicate are skimmed through rather than explained. So is the Pope air-dropping gifts angle, what was that about?

Ambition Versus Balance   
Truth be told, Anurag Basu almost pulls this through, his effort has nothing short in inventiveness, imagination, and spunk. It is in bringing all the madness together into a cohesiveness that most of the damage is done.

That said... 
Jagga Jasoos may seem more enjoyable in subsequent viewings. Often, a new take takes its time to settle down in a cinema-goers consciousness. We are so used to the usual, linear pattern in popular Hindi cinema. Anything out of line is so often rejected at first. So will Jagga Jasoos find its following in its theatrical run or later? This is a tough one for even the most hardened detective.


Movie Review: Jagga Jasoos: Part Masterpiece, In No Way Ordinary!

It was worth the wait! Anurag Basu's long-time-in-waiting Jagga Jasoos is a comic, musical drama the likes of which you haven't seen in a cinema theater for a long time.

Ironically, Jagga Jasoos could well be the Andaz Apna Apna of our times, a film that will slowly burn into mass audience hearts.

Simple-Complex Story Mixtape
Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor), an orphan kid growing up in a hospital, sulks through life in stammers and silences. Then the 1995 Purulia arms drop incident happens. On a quiet, bright, train-viewing day, Jagga saves 'Tutti Futti' (broken bones, rotten luck), a mysterious middle-aged man. As Tutti Futti recovers, he also instills in Jagga a confidence and curiosity for life, asking him to sing his words. Soon Tutti and Jagga are a pair, happily living with a clumsy father-curious son chemistry. But the arms case shadows Tutti to wish a broken-hearted Jagga goodbye.

Jagga now infuses his lonely, boarding school loneliness into the art of detection. How he solves two cases is so creatively depicted, and the coming of investigative journalist Shruti (Katrina Kaif) is blended well into the story. Soon, circumstances lead Jagga to search for his lost father.  

Genuine Moments, Jumbled Final Act 
Ambitious and pioneering cinema is always a huge risk, yet Basu almost pulls off a new signature comic drama musical.This is new, daring, unchartered territory. He attempts to weave here a simple lost-found, father-son-companion mix into a serious intriguing story and balances it pretty adroitly in the first half. But finally, the second half stumbles and rushes through much-contrived action (a huge downer), almost overdoing the film's fantasy, comic book treatment premise. The uneven rushed finale is a worry, so is the sequel-promising ending.

Ranbir Kapoor Rules 
Building up an engaging character, a variation of their Barfi (2012) partnership, Ranbir Kapoor is spot on and mercurial, the film's life and soul. The Tintin-like detective turn needed more screen time. Katrina Kaif barely passes muster, though her accent is explained off, she doesn't match up to Ranbir. Saswata Chatterjee is impressive as Jagga's dad, as is Saurabh Shukla and rest of the supporting cast.

Music Rocks!
The soundtrack drapes the film in celebration. With Jagga's dialogues set to music, Pritam is in his element here. Amitabh Bhattacharya's lyrics are a riot, so is the Neelsh Mishra penned Jhumritaliayya. Arijit Singh dazzles through the songs, showing a more complete, polished side of his vocals, steps ahead from mandatory love songs.

Ahead of its time? 
Finally, Jagga Jasoos is a light-hearted entertaining film that needs an audience. That it doesn't string back to our turbulent times and lives in its own candy-sugar world, despite the conspiracy angle, could affect the film's box-office prospects.

A rocking musical, great detective bits, undeniably funny, unimpressive sub-plots, part-masterpiece and in no way ordinary, Jagga Jasoos is a reaffirmation of Anurag Basu's passion for against-the-tide cinema. Just for cinema's sake, and the fact that I loved most of the film, I hope Jagga Jasoos does great business. My verdict, don't miss it! There is so much heart and courage here, despite the flaws.

11 Jul 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming: Funny, Smart Teenage Flick

Spider-Man: Homecoming is everything that the web-swinging superhero movie franchise needed. First and foremost, a fresh start.

Post his antics in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is now an intern to Iron Man/ Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr, good as ever). Parker restlessly awaits a potential Avengers call up, while hilariously giving road directions, stopping a bicycle thief and staring at his school crush. Adrian (Michael Keaton, another 'bird' role), the illegal seller of advanced weapons scavenged from The Avengers (2012) battlefield remains, adds danger to the proceedings.

Film writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley infuse Peter Parker with contemporary cell phone age eagerness, awkwardness, irrelevance, randomness and erring teenage qualities, keeping us hooked all through. This is the Spider-Man we want, raw, human, bordering on buffoonery, as an under-18 teenager with superpowers will be.

Mirroring a funny, adolescent comic book version, director Jon Watts keeps it breezy and balanced. No serious talk, no world-conquering villain, just clips from a school-going kid's life who's got powers but is clueless about life and consequences. Peter's schoolmates and his Aunt May add to the mix, making this a pleasant joyride.

A funny coming of age tale with the right ingredients, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a neat, smart entertainer, a good watch at the cinemas.

Movie Review: Mom: Sridevi Shoulders Average Revenge Tale

Sridevi plays Devki, a biology school teacher, wife to businessman husband Anand (Adnan Siddiqui), stepmom to Anand's rebellious teenage daughter Arya (Sajal Ali), mother to a younger daughter. Arya is resentful of her stepmom. Meanwhile, Arya's porn-sharing, drug-snorting classmate Mohit (Adarsh Gaurav), disturbed by her rejection, resorts to extreme measures, leading to the film's revenge premise.  

Mom is a typical Hindi film revenge tale with huge plot loopholes and a dangerous idea of mob-inspired justice. Castration, cyanide poisoning and planting evidence as revenge for rape is a lowbrow crowd puller, not a solution. Nothing holds, not how the perpetrators are released for lack of evidence or the revenge crimes. The story brushes aside eyewitnesses at the crime scene and crime-incriminating evidence, just like that. The final police-as-accomplice act is even more fluffy. The murders are easily done, as a walk in a park.

Neither a compelling drama nor a wise social comment or a heart-stopping thriller, Mom is solely salvaged by its performances. 

Sridevi rules her scenes, Sajal Ali is very effective as the rape victim, Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a balding small-time detective almost steals the show with much-needed humor and impeccable timing. The very deserving Akshaye Khanna is saddled with a dim, one-dimensional role, so is the menacing Abhimanyu Singh. Both needed backstories for their contrasting actions.  

Mom rides on Sridevi's amazing, enigmatic talent but fails to hold its own. The standout scenes that gave me a shudder - a black SUV going down an empty road to AR Rahman's apt background score. These are the only moments when the film stands apart from the formulaic skeletons of similar Hindi films. Finally, Mom is just a tad above disappointing.    

18 Jun 2017

Johny Mera Naam: Hand Painted Poster

Nobody could make a musical Hindi film thriller work like Vijay Anand. Johny Mera Naam (1970) had several things going for it, despite the rawness, awkwardness, formulaic proceedings and flimsiness of it all. One flimsiness example: In the opening credits, the film title appears in blood dripping red font, for some strange reason.

But the Dev Anand chemistry with Hema Malini and Pran is rollicking, so is the Kalyanji-Anandji soundtrack. At almost three hours and still entertaining. Check out the opening scene boxing match between siblings. A unique Vijay Anand touch.