Monday, January 15, 2018

Kaalakaandi: Short Film Review

The story of a night in Mumbai where parallel and completely different lives cross each other in a bizarre way, making us laugh at times, and wince at other times, but always pointing at the absurdity of life and the pointlessness of it all. 

A straight-jacketed nice guy dealing with the news of last-stage cancer, with a little help of the red pill (Saif). A young guy tempted to cheat on his wedding night with an ex-girlfriend (Akshay). A young couple preparing for the girl’s departure to study in the US, but getting caught up in a drug raid (Kunaal and Sobhita). A gangster’s side-kicks planning a coup to make fast money (Vijay ‘Dubeyji’ Raaz and Deepak ‘Pappiji’ Dobriyal)

All the makings of a great plot. And the movie starts with a lot of promise. Saif is brilliant, and he makes us laugh almost throughout the movie. But it’s not enough to save the movie from delivering an overall underwhelming experience. The plot builds up too slowly. The dialogues aren’t as funny as they should have been. And there is an overall missing cleverness to the parallel stories, as well as how they interconnect. As a result, we neither feel the darkness nor the comedy, in this attempted dark comedy. Kaalakaandi, apparently, is a phrase in Marathi that means ‘when everything goes disastrously wrong’. The experience of the movie, certainly feels that way.

I am not a big fan of comparing one movie with another, since I feel each movie has it’s own unique story to tell. But, in this case, I couldn’t help comparing it to others in this similar genre that had much more to offer. Go Goa Gone, again with Saif, was hilarious, and even though a copy of ‘Shaun of the Dead’, it offered a mindless laugh riot in a uniquely Indian way. More recently, Death in the Gunj, again struck a chord in the dark comedy genre, with its brooding and melancholy story-telling of adolescent pain. Even Finding Fanny had a story that kept you waiting for the end, with joy in the eccentric characters that are forced to come together in a car journey. 

But, of course, the biggest comparison, ironically, is with Kaalakaandi’s writer-director Akshat Verma’s first master piece, Delhi Belly in 2011. Of all the above movies, Delhi Belly, by far, is one of the funniest, coolest and trippiest movies of our time. And for that Akshat will be remembered forever. And so, it was actually a great idea to do the next movie as ‘Mumbai Madness’. But it misses the mark by a mile. May be Akshat, you need a good director to make your stories come alive in the way you visualised it. Remember, Delhi Belly had one ingredient that Kaalakaandi didn’t. Abhinay Deo, as the director.  

Saif says in a vulnerable moment in the movie ‘what was the point of it all’. And you can’t help but feel that way about the movie too. 

If you haven’t seen Delhi Belly, I’d say go and watch that. (my review of Delhi Belly in 2011, here http://books-booze-boxoffice.blogspot.in/2011/08/delhi-belly-2011.html). That’s what Kaalakaandi had the potential to be, but didn’t become. Alas! 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

All The Money In The World: Short Film Review

What could you possibly want when you have #AllTheMoneyInTheWorld  The answer is quite simple and blindingly obvious “More”! as J Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) announces in the most banal baritone, a response that simultaneously enrages and deflates Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) and the audience. Were we expecting something more? The meaning of life, universe and everything, perhaps?

This honest realisation about the world’s richest man of his time forms the backbone of the story and the basis for a dispassionate story telling of an other-wise traumatic kidnapping of Paul Getty (the grandson, Charlie Plummer). Yes, there are a few nervous moments of ‘will the boy be rescued’ and ‘are they really going to torture him’. But the main story revolves around the characters going through the ‘process’ of kidnapping-ransom-rescue, because that’s just how any business in an American capitalist set up is done. Negotiations take time, and everything has a value equation. Benefit divided by the Cost of getting it.

And everyone gets it. They hate it, but they get it. Gail Harris gets it, the mother of the kidnapped boy (Michelle Williams). Fletcher Chase gets it, the ex-CIA man sent to rescue the boy. And sometimes we feel even Paul himself gets it (the kidnapped boy). Ironically, the only person that doesn’t get it is one of the Italian kidnappers himself, Cinquata (Romain Duris), who finally gives in to helping the boy escape, with very little monetary gains for himself. Once again money ‘trumps’ emotions. 

One of my favourite scenes is when, to find the money for her son’s ransom, Gail tries to pawn of an antique piece given by old man Getty to her son many years ago as a priceless emotional gift. Only to realise that it was but a fake toy given to a boy to win him over. Low Cost. High Benefit! 

If you’re looking for a kidnapping and rescue thriller, then watch any of Liam Neeson’s “Taken” series. This movie is not that. 

If you’re looking for action (thinking that Mark Wahlberg is there) or for a movie with a super-engrossing plot, super-cool dialogues and a storyline with a climax, then watch “Departed”. This movie is not that.

Even, if you’re looking for a slick movie about money, greed, fame, corruption and interesting characters that make the movie tick, then watch “The Wolf of Wall Street”. This movie is not that either.

But if you’re looking for some powerful performances (Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer are fabulous in playing their complex roles), against an unconventional kind of story-telling about one man’s world of money and the consequences on everyone around him, then this movie is that. 


In fact, the most edge-of-the-seat moments are not around the kidnapped boy, but around waiting to see what depths of negotiation J Paul Getty is capable of, when the life of his beloved family member is at stake! Because after all, “Money is never just money; it always stands for something”

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: Short Film Review

Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, play their predictable personas, as in-game avataars of real life teenagers. But what makes the movie enjoyable is that these personas are the complete opposite of the teenagers' real life personalities. Dwayne, who is actually a puny cowardly nerd. Kevin, who is a big black no-nonsense jock. And Jack, who is a self-obsessed PYT
(I know, right!).
These conflicted characters conflicting with each other, as they play the game they are sucked into, battling for survival, finishing the mission, from one adventure to the next, makes for an entertaining watch on the big screen in 3D. Why expect anything more?

How does it compare with the original? Well, it doesn’t.

Jumanji 1995 had Robin Williams. Firstly, nothing can beat that. The movie was disruptive for its time. It showed us a story that was never seen before, every scene surprising us and keeping us at the edge of the seats. We were always left wondering ‘Oh God, what will the next roll of dice bring!’ and no matter how much we thought we could guess, the actual reveal was always beyond our expectations.
But, most importantly, Jumanji 1 was the world of “children”, where fantasy and imagination of an alternate world lived and changed our real world. By contrast, Jumanji 2 is the world of “teenagers”, where being literally transported to an alternate world and going through a journey is the only way we can experience a new reality. Imagination is no longer the muse of a young mind!
My advice: Watch #JumanjiWelcomeToTheJungle without any comparisons or expectations. And you should be fine.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

How do you make a legend from history relevant to contemporary times?

#StarWarsTheLastJedi shows how - being a legendary movie that is an absolute delight to watch, whether you were born in the 70s or in the 21st century. 

It is not enough for Luke Skywalker, the legendary Jedi Master, to be a symbol of hope for the universe, from his retirement planet. He needs to train the next generation to continue the legacy (even if he is disillusioned with it), and also fight the war today, right upfront in the battlefield. Luke may be the hero everyone is waiting for to save the universe, and he may never be able to absolve himself of also being responsible for creating the evil the world is facing today. But, get over it Luke. Just do your bit.

Because that’s what every other mortal is doing. When Poe recklessly destroys the enemy ships in the opening sequence and later rebels against his own command. When Finn and Rose go to Caton Bight planet to find the code-breaker and later risk their lives to defeat the laser weapon. When Vice Admiral Holdo chooses to escape-rather-than-fight, despite being called a coward and later becomes a hero when she sacrifices her life to let the rest of crew escape. When Rey convinces Luke to return and help the Resistance and later attempts to win back Kylo Ren from the dark side, at great risk to her life.

Because, the only way we can fight the evil in the universe is when everyone does their bit, together... with, ofcourse, a little help from the Jedi’s Force. ( I know, I know, you told us that the Force doesn’t belong to the Jedi, but we don’t believe you!)

May be a little too long, and may be at times a bit too pedagogical. And may be for the purists, a parent-like feeling of letting your child go. But I loved it.

Multiple action sequences, many old and new interesting characters contributing to the overall storyline, the conflicted relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey, the conflicted relationship between Kylo Ren and himself, the rich-but-feudal Canto Bight planet, Benicio Del Toro’s short but important cameo, Princess Leia’s calm and confident leadership, and above all the faith in the Force that keeps giving hope that ‘we have all we need’. As Princess Leia says “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you see it you’ll never make it through the night.”

Don’t miss it on the big screen.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express: Short Film Review

The most brilliant crime novelist ever. The world's greatest detective. One of the most iconic murder mysteries of all time. Need I say more?
Kenneth Branagh, as the director, and as Hercule Poirot, simply nails it. The film retains all the nostalgia for us die-hard Agatha Christie fans, and yet feels very contemporary in the way its presented. Beautifully shot, pacy story-telling, quick building of the characters, an unbeatable storyline, great performances by some all-time favourites (Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench and the delightful Michelle Pfeiffer) and un-expected vulnerable and reflective Poirot moments.
Agatha Christie's stories stand out because they are not just about crime and mystery, but about human beings and their psychology. What makes someone commit murder?
Murder on the Orient Express is special because it even questions whether murder is always injustice? Even Poirot is not sure!
And this film takes it from the 1930s and puts it right in the centre of the 21st century when Poirot says "I can only see a world as it should be. It makes an imperfection stick out like the nose on your face.”
If you're a Christie fan, you must watch this. If you're not, then you must watch it even more to know what you've been missing all your life.
And it gets better. This film seems to be the first of the series. Death on the Nile seems next.
Now, here is a franchise that will never go wrong.
#murderontheorientexpress #agathachristie #herculepoirot

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Justice League: Short Film Review

"Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost"
Leonard Cohen's 80s number in a Bond-inspired Sigrid's haunting voice, sets the apt tone for Zack Snyder's redemption after his 2016 disaster.

When hope (Superman) is not just lost, but dead and buried, what do you do? Do you give up? Or do you give in to your destiny of saving the world. When God no longer exists, the only solution is for the angels to 'Come Together.. Right Now.. Over Me'.

DC comics have always presented an alternative narrative compared to Marvel's super heroes. And thankfully, Justice League (for the most part) stays true to that. Marvel super heroes are extroverted, loud, clever, funny and love to perform in front of an audience that will stand and clap (even Hulk now as we saw in Ragnarok!). By contrast DC superheroes are introverted, intense, self-critical, and reluctant. Batman, Wonder woman, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg, all play that part perfectly, in their own unique ways.

We see some disappointing 'flashes' of Marvel trickling in like when Batman tries to play Iron Man'ish mentor to Flash's Spider-Man'ish rookie status. Or when Wonder woman tricks Aquaman with her truth-telling lasso. Or when the entire plot revolves around the villain (Steppenwolf) trying to find and control mother boxes that are suspiciously like the Tesseract.

Admittedly, not the most imaginative of storylines. And the fact they still need Superman to save the day kind of defeats the point a bit.

Yet, the movie works somehow, with stories of the different characters and how they get together to become better than who they are individually.

The music through the film is awesome. The action scenes impactful. Wonder Woman is a delight again. Cyborg is an interesting new hero. Aquaman has not been seen before. Flash is a really cool discovery. And Batman... well, he tries too. #justiceleague

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thor Ragnarok: Short Film Review

#Thorragnarok Classic Avengers fare. Great action sequences. Clever dialogues. Sense of humor. References to previous films. New super heroes. And more importantly, new bad guys (or girl - Cate Blanchett as Hela totally rocks). 

There were even makings of a story line, when Hela exposes the hypocrisy of Odin and Asgard. But when Hulk and Thor become better super-comedians than super-heroes, then you start wondering if everything needs to be an Avengers movie (or “revengers” in this case). Didn't the entire Sakaar planet sequence belong to Guardians of the Galaxy? 

But like a good Bollywood movie, it is paisa-vasool entertainer to be watched on the big screen. 

BTW. What was with the Wonder Woman music playing on the Thor action?!