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Greek Gods 101 April 7, 2010

Posted by Shujath in Articles, English, Movies, Reviews.
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It’s just three months into the year and we already have a couple of flicks based on Greek Gods. Are they the new successors to vampires and zombies? The box office performances of both have been encouraging but the films themselves haven’t found much appreciation to establish a genre.

The first one – Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief has (justifiably) been labeled as Harry Potter’s poor cousin. The HP films have set such high standards for fantasy flicks featuring teenagers that it is tough to watch any film in the genre without comparing it to the former. The Lightning Thief is definitely a well made film with the right mix of action, humor and VFX yet not great enough to warrant sequels (they are definitely being planned for sure). I’ve always found the Greek pantheon of deities extremely confusing. But they are a staple part of pop culture – especially in film and literature, so a film like this was to me a perfect initiation into that world.

Watching Clash of the Titans earlier this week, I felt quite at home with the characters but the film itself turned out be a bland CGI extravaganza. Even earlier, the promos didn’t excite me – I was just drawn in due to the hype surrounding it. The local posters were embellished with the funny sounding “From the Hero of Avatar” tag-line which nevertheless seemed to have been successful in drawing huge crowds. I watched the 2-D version but I don’t think I missed much….since the 3D post-conversion process has drawn huge flak from prominent folks recently.

Between the two films, I’d easily pick Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief over Clash of the Titans. In any case, if you’ve seen the trailer of COTT you’ve pretty much seen the entire movie.

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Varudu April 5, 2010

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Telugu.
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Do you want to know the secret of a successful marriage?
Do you want to know the secret of successful progeny?
Do you want to know the secret of a successful society?
Do you want to know the secret of a successful world?

Varudu answers it all and much more! Now, you might wonder why I’d write any further about such a groundbreaking film since it would obviously involve giving away spoilers. Well…the catch is that watching this movie comes with the risk of acute brain damage (temporary only…I hope!). I was able to confirm this condition in me because at one point in the movie I was actually cheering for the villain to sleep with the kidnapped bride and put our “Varudu” to a gruesome death. (There’s another part of me which says it’s a pretty reasonable wish and maybe my mind is alright after all – but let’s leave it at that for now).

If you’ve now decided you’d rather not watch the movie – here come the spoilers. The secret to all types of “success” mentioned above is the “Traditional Telugu 5-day Wedding Ritual”. Now, if you are really dumb to doubt something like that, Varudu even provides a scientific explanation to skeptics in one instance. Here it comes – It has been scientifically proved that putting Jeelakarra-Bellam (Cumin Seeds and Jaggery) on each other’s heads activates the “pathways of attraction” in the cerebral cortex of the people involved which results in them falling for each other instantly.

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(BTW, that was a two minute silence in memory of Science). In case you didn’t notice, with this film Gunasekhar successfully completes his trilogy of CGI-blunders (Remember Arjun and Sainikudu?). Maybe I am being a bit too harsh here. But someone loved the climax of Wolverine so much that they didn’t have any trouble composing shots of CGI Nuclear Power Plants with a CGI Kalyana Mandapam in a CGI countryside.

Varudu also boasts of the worst ever performance by a leading man. I’ve always admired Allu Arjun for his smart choice of films and the characters he plays – where his limited acting abilities fit in so perfectly; no wonder he reigns supreme over everyone else when it comes to the success rate of his films. In this film, the first thing which puts you off is his horrible diction. Also, in a lot of places he sports this obnoxious expression of smugness – which is a combination of a regular blush + “Wow…I am so stylish but see how I can still uphold and follow old traditions”. No wonder then…I was cheering for Arya!

Fooled by a Bad Trailer March 25, 2010

Posted by Shujath in Articles, English, Films, Movies, Reviews.
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If you happened to watch the trailer for Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers” and decide to check out the film – the only reason could be to find out why such a stellar cast and director are associated with such a beaten-to-death plot line. This is a film where you can make creepily accurate predictions about what is going to happen and when. The surprise is that the film actually works – it doesn’t really soar too high but the differential between what you expect and what you get is large enough not to have any complaints. It is one of those rare films where every rule in the book is followed faithfully but still the outcome seems fresh enough to warrant a look.

Coming to following “every rule in the book” here’s another one which just doesn’t turn out to be watchable but is undoubtedly one of the best films in its genre. I am talking about Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut “Whip It” with an awesome all-female cast led by Ellen Page. “Whip It” combines the familiar genres of the sports underdog and coming-of-age teenage flicks to concoct a delightful entertainer. I never really knew what Women’s Roller Derby was before but this was one of my best sport-in-a-movie experience for me. I feel really bad this was totally ignored at the box office despite overwhelmingly positive reviews (maybe the lackluster promos should be blamed for not generating enough interest). Has to be the happiest film I’ve seen in a long time – don’t miss it.

My Name is Khan March 12, 2010

Posted by Shujath in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Along with rom-coms, movies with the backdrop of “terrorism” have in general been on my must-not-watch list – I hate both genres for similar reasons….unbearable cliches to be exact. Though Karan Johar has not lost his knack to entertain his second directorial foray into “serious” cinema slowly and regrettably turns laughable and cringeworthy like his previous flick. MNIK is still a very watchable film purely because of Shah Rukh Khan but his magic too wears out towards the end.

When I saw the first look of the film a couple of months back, the fact that the story and screenplay are credited to a certain Ms. Shibani Bhatija made the alarm bells in my head work overtime. In the past even seasoned film-makers who have handled “terrorism” haven’t moved beyond the stereotypes so it is wrong to expect K Jo-Shibani to do something groundbreaking. Surprisingly, the protagonist’s condition is not used to manipulate the audience and that’s just the one commendable aspect of the film. There are also a few well crafted moments when the film has to say something about discrimination but mostly goes overboard.

Most people have gone way out praising the movie – at least during the time of its release but now that the film has been reduced to a “medium hit” from “blockbuster” you know better. Still, watch MNIK for Khan.

3 Idiots March 12, 2010

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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I love Rajkumar Hirani’s brand of “feel good cinema with a message”. I wish more young filmmakers made such films. This was a very well planned and executed film. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I’d love to watch it again. Kudos to Hirani and co-writer Abhijat Joshi, the cast (especially Aamir Khan, Boman Irani and Omi Vaidya), composer Shantanu Moitra and lyricist Swanand Kirkire (loved the Give Me Some Sunshine number). Since the film has received enough praise (and it has been a while), I’ll focus elsewhere.

If there is one thing I truly wish the film hadn’t done, it is the deification of the Rancho character. I mean, come on! In the past, Hirani carefully made his characters and situations idealistic without going over the line but this time he crosses it some.

Then there is the issue of credit to Chetan Bhagat. They did borrow the theme from his book (that doesn’t mean he deserves credit for the success of the movie) and they did tuck the name away in the end credits somewhere (did they feel like Bhagat was going to walk away with the credit? I’m sure Aamir gets the most credit even if Raju is the most deserving). So yes, I think the makers are clearly to blame for hiding his name.

And finally, I’ve always felt that it is hard to adapt a book for the screen and make it seem better than the book or equally as good for the readers. This is because when you read the book, you create this world in your mind. It is hard for anyone to recreate that personal experience. Another huge roadblock is the restrictions on duration that do not allow filmmakers to capture the content or the detail to the extent that a reader would like. So, whenever someone tells me that a film is not as good as a book, I never take them seriously because not everyone seems to understand or take into account the differences between the two media and the process and the limitations that come with the territory.

Having read the book, I had some mixed feelings while I watched the film. I had to consciously brush away the memories. In the end, they were two separate experiences, both of which I enjoyed thoroughly.

The Climax Cop-Outs March 8, 2010

Posted by Shujath in Articles, Films, Movies, Reviews, Tamil, Telugu.
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First of all, it is so hard to come across genuinely good Telugu flicks – and when I thought I did; in comes a terrible feel-good climax to ruin what made me actually feel good about the whole movie. My grouse is mostly directed against Leader and to a small extent – Ye Maya Chesave. There aren’t any spoilers here so continue reading even if you haven’t seen any of the films.

To begin with Leader – I must say it was a really engaging political thriller but most importantly it was bang on when it came to highlighting the moral dilemma of being a good politician. There was point where the movie should have ended but Sekhar Kammula gives you a cringing idealistic conclusion which pretty much undermines the entire film. I thought the feeling of “being cheated” in the end could only be delivered by Hollywood psychological thrillers but now I have to extend that list. Go watch it and you’ll know what I am saying. In any case Rana delivers hands down the best performance by a debutante ever.

Coming to Ye Maya Chesave – honestly I wasn’t really complaining about how it should have ended. I just felt it was just a wee bit inconsistent (and somewhat feel-good) with what went before but nevertheless it was a still a sensible conclusion. Then a couple of days later I happened to read that Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya (the original Tamil version) ends differently. I then checked out the last 15 minutes of that film and was extremely pleased to find that it was exactly how I expected/wanted the film to end. I was also equally sad that Gautham Menon didn’t (or couldn’t) end the Telugu version in the same way. How can one blame him since he was forced to include a “happy” climax when he remade Kaakha Kaakha in Telugu a few years back.

I keep reading and hearing about how Telugu audiences do not like sad (or rather un-triumphant) endings and to have one clearly spells disaster. It is impossible to prove or disprove a proposition like that. But I am hard pressed to come up with at least one instance where an otherwise excellent film was rejected by the audience just because of an unhappy end. I’d be glad if anyone could point me to a few.

All said and done, don’t miss Ye Maya Chesave – as far as love stories are concerned this is as good as it gets. Naga Chaitanya fits in very well but I can’t imagine him as a “regular” hero for at least a couple of years. The one walk away with the accolades is Samantha (wonderfully voiced by Chinmayi). And then there is also A.R Rahman’s splendid score which complements the movie so well.