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Inglorious Basterds October 14, 2009

Posted by Shujath in English, Movies, Reviews.
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One of the most visible and appealing aspects of Tarantino’s films are those long winding conversations – absolutely having nothing do with the plot (if any) yet turn out to be the most memorable parts. Technically, Inglorious Basterds happens to be a montage of just such exchanges – the difference being that now they do have to do something with the film. A Tarantino enthusiast couldn’t ask for more so it isn’t an understatement to say that Basterds is an instant classic. But be warned if you are not accustomed to QT – the constant grumbles and a few walkouts in the auditorium weren’t too surprising to me.

When Tarantino announced he’d be making a World War II movie it made almost everyone curious (with a little disbelief). Basterds never gives a damn to convention – what you see in the trailer is rather the tamest part. The very first conversation – which I think lasts for about fifteen minutes gives you a hint of things to come. For someone who has seen the movie, it is really hard to describe the content and yet convince someone who hasn’t seen it; that Basterds is one of the most riveting thrillers in recent memory.

Unsurprisingly, this film like every film QT has made comes with its share of memorable characters. Christoph Waltz is the name on everyone’s lips and rightly so. Hans Land aka “The Jew Hunter” is to Basterds what the Joker was to The Dark Knight – maybe more. Evil was never so sexy. French actress Melanie Laurent is super as Shosanna Dreyfus. I hope we get to see more of her now in mainstream Hollywood. Though playing the lead, Brad Pitt seemed relatively sidelined but he proves yet again what a riot he can be when he’s funny. There’s a huge bunch of supporting characters – Diane Kruger, Daniel Bruhl, Eli Roth, Omar Doom to name a few who perform admirably well.

Inglorious Basterds is yet another maverick piece of work from Quentin Tarantino – who expectedly subverts the genre to give us another memorable film. Oh..as usual he manages to fit in some great soundtracks.

Mozhi May 17, 2008

Posted by Sai in Movies, Reviews, Tamil.
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In the beginning of this film, Prakash Raj makes a joke about ‘the daughters of rich landlords falling in love with beggars’ being a common scenario in recent Tamil cinema. I expected then that this film would not fall into the trap of creating an unexpected love story without plausible reasons. But it definitely does and that disappointed me a little.

The love here is between a handsome young keyboard player and a beautiful deaf and dumb girl. The boy proposes but the girl disposes. Will the situation improve? Will they get together in the end? It is as simple as it seems with the physical disability being the reason for its existence.

The movie does have some nice material but the problem for me was that director Radhamohan could have decided to make it a bit more subtle. A lot more subtle, actually. That, of course, means that this movie is made for the mainstream audience (despite its purported critical acclaim) and that is not necessarily a bad thing (as substantiated by its box office success).

The first half of this film breezes through quite quickly but it gets a bit turgid towards the conclusion when it moves into the romantic comedy conflict zone. One interesting aspect is that you don’t feel for the dumb girl with a high self esteem and short temper. The film makes her seem normal enough to be unlikable, which is quite unexpected in a commercial film, but it focuses too much on her disability to treat her as a normal person. A movie that could successfully achieve this would be worth a watch but this isn’t it.

I wouldn’t rave about Jyothika’s work too much but Prithviraj and Prakash Raj make an impression fas does Swarnamalya. It was surprising to see Brahmanandam in a major comic part in a Tamil film but it is the sort of role that he gets in every second film. The tunes composed by Vidyasagar are quite beautiful (that was what pulled me to this movie in the first place) and the lyrics (Vairamuthu) seemed good too (the subtitles were definitely much better that what I’ve seen earlier with DVDs of south Indian movies).

Overall, this is a reasonably entertaining film that isn’t a bad watch. Just don’t expect it to be a realistic portrayal of an uncommon love story.

Parting Shot: In a movie that projects itself to be sensitive, making fun of an obese kid is clearly a major faux pas.

The Bank Job March 10, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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There was little buzz about this film before it hit the theatres but if critics are to be believed, this is the only good film to release this weekend when the universally lambasted 10,000 B.C. raked in the big bucks.

The movie is based on an infamous robbery from 1971. Terry (Jason Statham) and his friends are offered a bank job by an old friend who has some inside information. The small time crooks decide to take up the job to rob the safe deposit boxes at Lloyd’s Bank in London. What they don’t know is that these boxes hold some very big secrets including one that is linked to the Royal family and before they know it, they are entangled in a web that threatens their lives.

This isn’t an entertainer like The Italian Job or the Ocean’s movies or a slick, charming enterprise like Guy Ritchie’s Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Nonetheless, it is an engaging, well-made caper flick. Director Roger Donaldson (The World’s Fastest Indian, Dante’s Peak) maintains the tension throughout and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who worked together on films like Flushed Away and Goal!) weave together the intricate subplots competently. It would have been quite easy to confuse the audience but credit to the writers, director and the editor, John Gilbert (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Bridge to Terabithia) that this does not happen. Jason Statham is sincere and convincing. He can carry a film on his shoulders but this film carries itself. The large supporting cast filled with British actors (most of whom I haven’t come across) is effective.

It is hard to discuss this film without giving away some of its secrets but the various subplots (apparently based on reality or at least what is known of it) keep you hooked. The robbery itself is a well-executed, tense affair. The intelligently plotted climax comes at you quick and ties up all the ends together but if you blink, you might miss one or two key moments. In between all this, the characters are given some personality and a love triangle finds its place too. There isn’t a lot of humor but you don’t really miss it because the film is paced well and doesn’t let your mind wander. This is well worth a watch.

Disturbia March 2, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) plays a teenage version of the kid from Home Alone 3 in a Rear Window style voyeuristic adventure with the neighborhood serial killer suspect. Kale (sounds so much like ‘kill’) is under house arrest and not just figuratively (the reason for the arrest isn’t particularly noteworthy). He has a device attached to the foot that monitors his movements and if he crosses a certain radius around his house, the cops are alerted (and they show up in record time too except, of course, when most necessary). And then his behavior makes his mother turn into a dictator. That means no X-Box, no i-Tunes and even no television (parents can be so harsh nowadays!). So he puts to good use the two pairs of binoculars that he’s got lying around (not to mention the video camera) to spy on everyone around, particularly the newly moved-in neighborhood teen hottie. The hottie befriends him just around the time he starts taking interest in another neighbor, whom he suspects to be a serial killer from Texas. As their love blossoms, the mystery of the strange neighbor unfolds. Is he really a serial killer? Or is it just time to give back the kid his television?

Sarcasm aside, the predictable film does have its share of suspenseful moments and is definitely a much better watch than all those horror movies and torture porn flicks that are releasing with amazing regularity. Shia is watchable, Sarah Roemer provides the eye-candy and Aaron Yoo contributes with comic support. Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix Trilogy) turns mother for this one while David Morse (The Green Mile) is very effective playing the terror suspect and his voice modulation helps.

Anyone who might want to compare this to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window shouldn’t be watching at all. This film isn’t aiming for greatness but it is a reasonable summer suspense thriller aimed at youngsters. The recycled premise is still interesting enough but I just hope that the studios don’t start commissioning sequels due to its box-office success.

Michael Clayton February 24, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Writer Tony Gilroy (The Devil’s Advocate, The Bourne Trilogy) makes his directorial debut with Michael Clayton. An intellectual thriller with strong dramatic elements, this is just the sort of film that critics and film buffs will love but ordinary viewers might find it tedious.

Michael Clayton is a lawyer who doesn’t go to court anymore. He is listed as special counsel for his firm and his job is to clean up the mess that is created by his firm’s big clients. His bosses refer to him as “miracle worker” while he is more pragmatic about his job as a “janitor” and to paraphrase him, the smaller the mess, the easier it is to clean. This time however, the mess isn’t small. A lawyer handling a big class action lawsuit suddenly develops a conscience that he can’t fight and decides to go against the company that he is representing. Clayton is sent to get the situation under control but can he? And more importantly, will he?

Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty, Shakespeare in Love) plays the lawyer who develops a conscience. His role is one that requires more discernable histrionics and can be easily susceptible to overacting but he doesn’t go overboard and you start believing he is crazy enough to do the right thing. Tilda Swinton (The Deep End, The Chronicles of Narnia), on the other hand, gets a role that requires a subtle performance and I really enjoyed her work. Even though her role is short, she gets some really good scenes to perform in. Sydney Pollack (the director of films like Out of Africa and Three Days of the Condor, who also apparently acts at times) is actually quite nice as the boss of the law firm where George Clooney works. Clooney, of course, plays Michael Clayton and he is solid in a role that is perfectly suited for him (but as he himself notes, he might lose the Oscar to Daniel Day Lewis).

Tony Gilroy’s screenplay is topnotch and he creates a great mood for this film as the director. He decides against a straight narrative and that makes the film more complicated. There is a lot that is conveyed through the dialogue and the viewer would need to connect the dots many a time. The viewer that stays with the film in the first half hour would be able to appreciate the rest. Many might question the need for such a narrative but it definitely serves a purpose. It brings all the primary characters and issues into focus in the early part of the film and then manages to keep your engrossed as you are trying to figure out how everything pans out and what it means. This, unfortunately, alienates many viewers as is clearly evident from the domestic gross (under $50 million).

If you are expecting this to be an exciting, crowd-pleasing thriller, you might be disappointed. If you are prepared for an intelligently-plotted conscientious legal thriller that requires you to pay rapt attention, this should definitely appeal to you. This is the sort of movie that you need to watch a second time to get the best out of it. Both as the writer and director, Gilroy has the choice to make this a crowd pleaser like Erin Brockovich but he doesn’t go that way. His goal doesn’t seem to be to please the audience or to educate them about how money can be more important to big companies than lives. Instead, he decides to investigate how morals can affect the decisions people take, influencing their lives and how situations in life can affect people’s morals. Reliving the film from this perspective can keep you thinking for a long time.

Jodhaa Akbar February 17, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Period films aren’t common in Hindi cinema and they don’t work well at the box office. That is primarily because movies like Subhash Ghai’s disastrous offering Kisna and the way-off-the-mark Asoka by Santosh Sivan are being dished out in the guise of landmark films. Finally, we have a notable entry in the historical genre in the form of Jodhaa Akbar. Director Ashutosh Gowariker (Swades, Lagaan) shows us that it can be done even if he takes too much time.

The film begins when a young teenager, Jalaluddin Mohammad (who will later be known as Akbar), is forced to take over the reigns of the kingdom due to the death of his father, Humayun. His next few years are spent waging wars under the guidance of Bairam Khan. When Jalal is old enough to take over, he resorts to more peaceful ways of expanding his control and uniting Hindustan under the Mughal rule. Meanwhile, the Rajput ruler of Amer, who is also against wars, decides to join his hands with Akbar, incurring the wrath of other Rajput rulers. Faced with a dilemma, he decides to marry his daughter, Jodhaa to Akbar. The rest of the film deals with the developing relationship between the two as well as the rule of Akbar during that period.

The writers (Haider Ali and Gowariker himself) effectively mix historical facts with fiction to create a watchable film. Though the film touches many aspects, both political and emotional, the writers manage to keep it uncomplicated. The visuals are extremely impressive. The production design by Nitin Desai is superlative and I loved the costumes, head gear and jewellery by Neeta Lulla. Cinematographer Kiran Deohans captures these beautiful visuals but Gowariker makes sure that they don’t become the focus in any of the scenes. A R Rahman, once again, delivers for Ashutosh. The songs are lovely (Jashn-E-Bahara is probably my favorite) and his background score is commendable (especially for the scenes involving Hrithik and Aish). Ashutosh films the nicely choreographed Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah and the romantic In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein numbers well and Manmohana is placed quite effectively but Khwaja Mere Khwaja does not warrant a place in the narrative.

Ashutosh, as always, casts well and both his lead actors have what it takes to look regal. Hrithik Roshan pulls off a tough role once again with ease. Some might feel that he doesn’t look like Akbar because of the preconceived images of Prithviraj Kapoor (Mughal-e-Azam) or Vikram Gokhale (Akbar-Birbal teleseries) but better sense should prevail. He doesn’t quite have the baritone of Amitabh Bachchan or even Raza Murad (who plays the prime minister in this film) but he does his best to make up for it with his earnest dialogue delivery. Aishwarya Rai is more beautiful here than in any of her recent films and this is as natural a performance as she has ever given in her career. She far exceeds my expectations. Kudos to Gowariker for bringing out the best in these two. As usual Ashutosh Gowariker collects an eclectic and less exposed cast for this film including Ila Arun (who manages to be quite scary as Maham Anga), Kulbhushan Kharbanda (who played a King in Lagaan as well) and Punam Sinha (presumably Shatrughan Sinha’s wife, who is very likable as Akbar’s mother) and it always helps to relate better to the characters. Sonu Sood gets to play a sympathetic role as Jodhaa’s cousin, Sujamal. A good opportunity for him to get better recognition and hopefully, more roles that can justice to his capability.

This isn’t quite the perfect film. The first hour of the film is somewhat languorously paced and doesn’t really pull you in despite the visual splendour. This section could have been shortened, considering the length of the film. The film holds strong appeal once Jodhaa and Akbar get together. The best parts of the film involve the interactions between these two characters. Gowariker creates some brilliant scenes here with subtle expressions and reactions from both his lead actors. In fact, Ashutosh’s impact is all over this film and he successfully pulls off another challenging film, even if isn’t a great one.

This film is clearly not for those who cannot sit through one that lasts over 200 minutes. Also, it isn’t for those who want simple entertainment and are likely to look at this as a history lesson. For the rest, this is recommended because one hardly gets to see such a well made historical in India.