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Rock On!! August 30, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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When I walked in to watch this film, I half expected to watch a story about the trials and tribulations of a rock band and their ultimate triumph. You will be glad to know that this film isn’t about triumph. It is about relationships. It is about choices and decisions. It is about life.

Magik is the name of a somewhat successful rock band. Four guys in their mid-twenties, following their passions and living their dream. But that was 10 years ago. They are rock stars no more. Each has chosen a different profession. Some have been successful and some are still struggling. Rock On is the story of their past and the story of their present. It is about their journey through the hardened road of life.

One notable aspect in the film is that the conflict is not the traditional Bollywood black-and-white type. It is closer to reality in that the persons involved come out thinking that the other is at fault. Towards the end of the film, you have a sinking feeling where you wonder if the makers will sell out and do a Karan Johar (trying to “touch” you with death) but this aspect is treated well. And in the climax, when they have a choice to show a miraculous achievement (because everyone loves miracles), they steer clear. This film is clearly about the journey; success be damned. And therein lies its triumph.

This film is co-written (with Pubali Chaudhuri and dialogue by Farhan Akhtar) and directed by Abhishek Kapoor (who previously made Aryan and also acted in a couple of films more than a decade ago). Considering that his first film was a dud (that I haven’t seen), this is quite a leap for Kapoor. He handles this film admirably well. For a filmmaker looking desperately for success, he takes a road less traveled and comes up trumps. One hopes that he can continue on the same path in the future.

The casting in the film is spot on. No actor looks out of place. Farhan Akhtar acts and sings (apart from writing the dialogue and producing this). He does a pretty neat job on both fronts. Agreed that he hasn’t the greatest voice but he acquits himself quite well. Arjun Rampal gets probably the best role of his career so far. Om Shanti Om might have got him a lot of recognition but this will bring him the respect. And he totally looks like a rock star. Purab Kohli is very likable and I’d like to see him in more films. Luke Kenny and Prachi Desai make worthy acting debuts and Shahana Goswami also does well as Rampal’s wife.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is the backbone of this film. There has been some discussion online whether this is “true” rock or whatever. Being relatively ignorant on this aspect, I couldn’t care less. What matters though was that the music worked brilliantly in the film. The film ends with about 15 minutes of music and I came out exhilarated, looking to give my throat and lungs some serious exercise.

This isn’t a film with real “commercial” appeal. It isn’t like Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai (though some elements overlap) which had a lot of entertainment and the identification factor for youth. I saw the film with a theater full of youngsters but this mature film is actually for a more adult audience. While the film delivers a seemingly authentic experience, it could seem slow to some. I would wholeheartedly recommend this film but prepare yourself before you watch it!

21 August 15, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Apparently inspired by a true story, this film is the story of how an MIT professor and his students count cards and win/steal gobs of cash from Vegas casinos. Kevin Spacey plays the professor who devises a foolproof scheme for the purpose. The film actually is about a kid call Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a math whiz who is newly inducted into the team and soon becomes its star. Ben needs the money for Med School but he thinks he can get out when he makes enough for his tuition. But greed, jealousy and immaturity take over and things turn sour. Ben loses the money and if he doesn’t get it back in time, his Harvard dreams could be shattered.

I was terribly bored by the end of this film. Even though the premise could have resulted in a watchable film, screenwriters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb turn this into an exercise in tedium. The intelligence of this kid is hammered to us time and again but it would have been better if the intelligence of the script came through. Stock characters and mostly uninteresting situations bring this film down and director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) isn’t really able to use the inherent charm of Vegas and making easy money.

I am sure a lot of people watched this film due to the presence of Spacey. I wouldn’t have checked it out if not for Spacey but he isn’t on screen for as long a time as you might expect. He doesn’t get scope to impress and Laurence Fishburne is wasted but Sturgess does manage to do well.

Casino Royale
sold Poker to me. 21 couldn’t do the same for Blackjack. I wouldn’t recommend this film.

Hancock July 5, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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I was conflicted before watching Hancock. Who wouldn’t want to watch the undeniably charismatic Will Smith playing a superhero (you even wonder why it didn’t happen earlier). However, the talk of reshoots followed by the lack of enthusiasm from critics brought down my interest level in the film. The makers maintained that the film did something very different with the superhero genre and I wasn’t so sure. So, I went in with lowered expectations. After watching the film, I can say that the makers weren’t fibbing.

Smith plays a superhero with a bad attitude and inept interpersonal skills. He helps people like all superheroes must but he has a drinking problem and a penchant for destroying public property. One day, the unpopular hero saves a publicist who wants to better the world. He sees the good in Hancock and tries to improve his image.

What I like about this film is that it feels unlike the comic book superhero movies that we have seen (and liked) in the past. It is not about a lovable superhero. It is not about saving the world. It is not heavy on action. It doesn’t even feel like it is set in a fantasy world. It is really a film that has humor, drama and some surprises.

Screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan are aiming to bridge genres but the attempt isn’t perfect. Director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, The Rundown) renders a film that feels a bit disjointed (I will keep away from discussing some of the flaws to avoid spoilers). The film could have been better but it does entertain and I’d say it was worth the price of admission.

One of the primary reasons that it works is Will Smith. Smith is the perfect choice for this role because he is one of the few actors that can pull off a film in any genre. Though the film doesn’t allow you to love him all that much, he still is Will Smith and you can’t get enough of him. Charlize Theron (Monster, The Italian Job) and Jason Bateman (Juno, Arrested Development) are well cast and they manage to impress as well.

This film is a decent summer diversion but expectations can mar your experience. Just don’t think of it as a superhero movie. Think of it as a non-serious partly-dramatic entertainer headlined by Will Smith and you might enjoy it like I did.

The Nanny Diaries April 12, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Based on a novel of the same name by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, this film is an inert comedy cum drama. Annie is a college graduate who is unable to decide on her future when she is accidentally hired as a nanny by Mrs X. The X family is a stereotypically dysfunctional upper class family and the film depicts Annie’s learning experiences even as she teaches them a thing or two.

Writer-director duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor) don’t have material compelling enough for a winning motion picture. Between the stock characters, spiritless romance, soporific drama and mildly appealing satire, this film falls flat.

It is a shame because two actors do impress. Laura Linney (The Savages, Love Actually, Mystic River) gets the best part as Mrs X and she shines. Paul Giamatti (Lady in the Water, Sideways) also has fun as Mr X. The same cannot be said of Scarlett Johannson (The Prestige, Lost in Translation) who once again okays a film that doesn’t give her a chance to sparkle.

When the promotional material showed Johannson with an umbrella, one had hoped that this film might be in the Mary Poppins genre. It is anything but and the references to that film were unwanted and unwelcome.

Neither funny nor insightful, this decidedly uneventful film is avoidable.

Gone Baby Gone October 18, 2007

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Ben Affleck’s directorial debut is a crime thriller with a conscience. Set in Boston, the film revolves around the abduction of a four year old girl. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), a detective who finds lost children along with his partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monahan), is brought into the case to help the police due to his knowledge of the people in the area. Police chief Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) is not impressed but instructs his senior detectives, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) to cooperate. As the investigation progresses, the team find some leads but something goes very wrong bringing the case to an abrupt end. However, Kenzie becomes emotionally attached and he investigates further to uncover the truth behind what went wrong.

The screenplay (by Affleck, who co-wrote Good Will Hunting, and Aaron Stockard) is based on a novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River). Affleck does a splendid job in writing and directing this film. He creates the right mood to feel the characters and the neighborhood. The dialogue is superb, especially in the first half of the film. Just when you think this could be a simple thriller, it kicks you out of your comfort zone. The rest of the film changes tracks to a brooding moralistic drama. Affleck directs this smartly and manages to keep you guessing as the motives of each of the characters unfold.

This film is well cast and provides the scope for multiple actors to shine. Casey Affleck (Good Will Hunting, Ocean’s Thirteen), who is also winning over critics with his performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, is impressive as Patrick Kenzie. His brother’s faith in him is not misplaced. Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris are good as usual, with Harris getting the better part. Amy Ryan, playing the alcoholic mother of the kidnapped child, is very effective. Michelle Monahan is adequate but she doesn’t get the scope to impress.

The film has its share of twists to keep you engrossed but this is not the fast-paced popcorn thriller. It has a heart and a mind as well. Watch this if you are looking for an intelligent thriller that leaves you thinking. I was still wondering about the climax, its implications and what was right/wrong when I left the theater and I am sure many will have the same experience.

We Own The Night October 11, 2007

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Set in 1988, the film is about Bobby Green/Grusinsky (Joaquin Phoenix), who is the manager of a nightclub in New York. Born in a family of police officers, Bobby doesn’t follow in the footsteps of his father (Robert Duvall) or brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg). He even changes his last name to hide his relationship with the family. A drug investigation brings Joseph to Bobby’s nightclub in search of Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov). Soon Joseph and his father are targeted by the Russian mafia and it is up to Bobby to help his brother and father using his inside knowledge and connections.

The film has satisfying performances but this isn’t the film for outstanding work. When you watch the promos of this film, it seems like this would be a thrilling movie about the conflict between two brothers on opposite sides of the law. However, those promos are misleading. The film really revolves around Joaquin Phoenix’s character. Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes and Mark Wahlberg play convincing supporting parts. I was expecting the film to revolve around Wahlberg and Phoenix but Wahlberg gets very limited time and little scope for histrionics. This isn’t the right role for him after The Departed. Mendes’ character (Bobby’s girlfriend) doesn’t get a suitable sendoff but she does get some scope to perform.

Director James Gray (Little Odessa, The Yards) clearly knows how to create an atmosphere. He creates the right mood for the film and narrates the story at a leisurely pace. Despite a competent helmer, the film doesn’t make a great impression, mainly due to the writing. At the end of the screening, I had two words to describe this film: “nothing special”. The screenplay, also by Gray, seems too convenient at times. One big question that one asks at the beginning of the film is about how Bobby is able to hide his identity effectively from the gangsters despite still meeting his family every once in a while. Similar questions keep popping up. In spite of the logical flaws, the main drawback is that the film doesn’t offer any thrilling moments and avid filmgoers could easily predict the events that unfold.

Overall, this is a well made film that could appeal to those who enjoy crime dramas. However, it has nothing new to offer. Michael Clayton, which is also releasing this weekend, is receiving rave reviews from critics and might make a better watch.