Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Well, what do you know. Danish and I actually managed to enjoy some of the same films this year. Perhaps the world IS going to end next year after all! We may have bitterly disagreed on the merits of Contagion, The Tree of Life, The Ides of March and so many others but where's the fun if everybody in the world got along?  

Happy New Year, folks!

Danish's Top Ten 

10. The Source Code was a cerebral piece of science fiction with heart and a devilishly intriguing plot.  

9. Fright Night surprised me by how scary - and simultaneously hilarious - it managed to be. At a time when vampires are growing increasingly bloodless, this was a thrilling resurrection of the genre of yore.

8. In a year of shrill dramas and thudding blockbusters, Dhobi Ghat gave us a muted vision of the maximum city. Drenched in rain and coated in mellow guitar riffs, it was as unlikely (and perfect) an ode to Mumbai as Allen's reimagining of the Parisian nightlife.

7. 50/50 gave us the unlikeliest of genre mash ups - cancer comedy! - and made it work with charm to spare.

6.  Charm was also a prominent adjective for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, which took a wondrous fantasy  conceit and combined it with a lyrical ode to a magical city.

5. and 4.  The Tree of Life gave us a vision of the creation of life, and Melancholia showed its destruction: both were transcendental pieces of filmmaking, by master film-makers working at the height of their powers. 

3.  A Separation was the best foreign language film I saw this year - the Iranian drama is remarkably complex and manages to dig deep into the well of its layered cast. 

2.  Beginners was suffused with wistfulness and hope, a hilarious and moving portrait of a gay man who comes out at the age of 70, and his straight son who struggles with commitment. Quirky and melancholic, this was Ewan McGregor at his sympathetic best. 

So that's the rest of the best - but what was the most purely enoyable cinematic experience I had at the movies this year? 

With the boy who lived, of course.  There were many, many ways for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to end up disappointing me. The preceding movies have had their fare share of disappointing moments. And yet, when it came to it, when it really really mattered, when we wanted, nay, needed a rip-roaring cinematic conclusion - well, they delivered. 

The Battle of Hogwarts was a slam-bang spectacle, but here more than ever, we got to see the giant beating heart of the franchise. When the Order of the Phoenix comes together to cast protective enchantments around Hogwarts  or when Lupin and Tonks stretch out their quivering hands towards each other or even when Harry walks up to Voldemort facing certain death .... oh  we knew what was coming, but it didn't matter; every Potter fan worth his/her salt got the cathartic emotional payoff they deserved. A roll call of goodbyes was weaved into the 2 odd-hour running time, but it never cut the momentum. Instead, we got one last glorious hurrah for everyone – Slughorn, McGonagall, Trelawney, Flitwick, Sirius, the Potters, the Weasleys, the Malfoys, Ollivander, Fleur, Neville, Luna and the rest of Dumbledore’s Army …  and everything – the Chamber of Secrets, the Room of Requirement, those pixies from Gilderoy Lockhart’s reign, even some final broomstick flight – every little detail that made up the wizarding world for us popped into the busy frames at some point.

“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic” says Dumbledore to Harry. For years, Joanne Kathleen Rowling gave us a constant supply of that magic – and the movies carried it on for a while longer. It’s over now, this  magnificent journey, and those of us who were middle school kids when the Philosopher’s Stone entered our lives are now caught in the vagaries of adult life.  There’s something heartbreaking about this, but I’m mostly thankful that we got to see this cultural phenomenon through.

And again, if it had to end - what a way to go.

Mischief Managed, Mr. Potter.

Honourable Mentions: 

Friends with Benefits was one of the best romantic comedies I've seen in a while; Wim Wenders' dance documentary Pina was a sight to behold; and Delhi Belly is probably the film that made me laugh the hardest this year. Also, Tintin for giving us that sustained string of animated thrills, and MI4, for managing the rare feat of being the best movie in a franchise at such a late stage. 

Lekha's Top Ten

10.  Contagion:  This is not a film likely to end up on many top ten lists because of what many have criticized as an overly realistic and almost documentary-like attention to detail. Despite all the characters behaving exactly like how non-movie people do and a perfectly reasonable approach towards apocalyptic scenarios, this film never lost that sense of drama and humanness.  Be it Matt Damon trying to give his daughter a childhood while trying to keep her alive or Marion Cotillard's pathos towards her kidnappers.

9. The Guard:  The best black comedy of the year, this film stars a foul-mouthed, racist but surprisingly smart Irish cop (Brendan Gleeson) and a preppy, straitlaced FBI agent (Don Cheadle) who have revived the buddy-cop genre (like it could ever die!).  I also loved how this film so rightly points out how the proliferation of American pop culture has affected our perceptions of crime and investigation.  Whenever Don Cheadle introduced himself as a Special Agent with the FBI, people knowingly say, "ah, Behavioral Science Unit".  
I'd have done the same.

8.  X-Men: First Class: The Wolverine is going to have some serious competition for Hottest Mutant of the Year Award. Michael Fassbender's animal MAGNETISM (sorry, I had to)  with James McAvoy's charm have revived a series that everybody had pronounced dead.  While it may not be the best X-Men film we've seen, I'm very much looking forward to the next installment.

7.  Bridesmaids: One of the dark horses of the year,  Bridesmaids was a smart, funny film that despite targeting the female demographic, did not reinforce stereotypes. Is it the best ever film ever made? Probably not, but it's a good start.  If nothing else, it might make Hollywood desist from making pandering films like The Help.

6.  Source Code:  You'd think that watching the same 8-minute clip 20 times is going to get boring.  You'd think that a sci-fi film with time travel and alternate time lines is bound to be full of plot holes. But surprisingly, this film worked.  It was gripping, and will have you thinking about it even days later. If that isn't the mark of a good sci-fi film, then I don't know what is.

5.  Attack the Block:  It hasn't been called the District 9 of 2011 for nothing.  As much of a social and political commentary as it is an action film about alien invasion,  Attack the Block managed to be funny, scary and touching.  After monumental flops like Cowboys & Aliens and World Invasion: Los Angeles, it is heartening that a plucky little film showed the big studios how the alien invasion genre is done.  And with so much attitude.

4.  Moneyball:  I've watched a dozen movies about baseball, but that game is freakin confounding. That said, Moneyball was a surprisingly non-melodramatic but brilliant sports film.  This is one of the few movies where the focus was not on the players or even the coaches.  The general manager, who treats players like they're cattle; the scouts and analysts who build the team and see each player as merely a bundle of strengths and weaknesses-- they're the focus. What this film lacks in terms of training montages, it more than makes up for in gripping sequences where players are bought and sold in the matter of minutes. And Brad Pitt? Also (surprisingly) brilliant.  

3.  Rango:  Right from the start, Rango immerses you in this surreal, almost dream-like landscape.  It tells the story of a small village of animals in the Mojave desert, struggling to make ends meet with their dwindling water source and an administration that callously controls this water source for personal gain.  This hilarious and fairy-tale like animated film seamlessly brings together diverse elements like spaghetti westerns, cowboy motifs, mythology, mariachi owls and the economic recession. And Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrowesque character was not annoying for the first time in years.

2.  Paul:  Nobody makes fun of the nerds anymore except in an affectionate way.  Keeping with that trend, comic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost return as two English sci-fi nerds with a deep interest in UFO-logy. Like any decent film by nerds for nerds, it begins at the San Diego Comic Con and takes us on a proper road trip across America. Also on the journey are a young earth creationist (it IS America, after all) and a foul-mouthed, Reese's Pieces loving alien trying to phone home ("Why does everybody assume that I want to probe their anus? Am I harvesting farts? How much can I learn from an ass?"). 

1.  Midnight in Paris:  It isn't often that a top ten of the year list also has a movie that made it to one's all-time favourite list, but Woody Allen did it again. With his wonderfully nostalgic portrayal of '20s Paris, he confronts and comforts the Walter Mitty in all of us.  You say is it merely a confection?  Well, all I can say is, the wisest thoughts I've ever had have been over a particularly good macaron or cheesecake. 

Ryan Gosling in Drive/ The Ides of March:  Enough time and space has been dedicated to Ryan Gosling's photoshopped looking abs. Most cant believe that this suave hottie was the awkward man in love with a doll in Lars and the Real Girl.  While Crazy Stupid Love shamelessly exploited his sheer yumminess, Gosling managed to stand himself apart from mere eye candy with his intense performances in Drive and The Ides of March. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

RECAP: 'Tis the Season to be Jolly!

It is that time of the year again: when you've lost all feeling in your extremities, when it is impossible to get a jot of work done in anticipation of the coming holidays, when the only reason anybody should have to get out of bed is to find a sunny spot on the balcony, when Judy is urging you to have yourself a merry little Christmas. Don't fight it; crack open that bottle of wine and get down to watching Danish and Lekha's List of Essential Christmas Films

This year, I'm adding Arthur Christmas to my list, which I'm told is deeper than your usual everything- horrible-till-Christmas-Eve-when-a-Christmas-miracle-happens-and-everybody-lives-happily-ever-after fare. If you want to mix things up a little, do watch this eclectic collection of free video clips and Christmas films.

Merry Christmas, folks!

Danish's One Cent:

NBC may have played Grinch this year and stolen Community from the mid season schedule, but not before the show gave us a Christmas episode for the ages- and then some. In Regional Holiday Music, Greendale's show choir director attempts to enlist the gang to perform at the Christmas pageant after the Glee club gets arrested for copyright infringement. That's right - the episode is both, a spot-on parody of Glee (we're going to Regionals everybody!!!) while simultaneously serving as a gut-bustingly funny musical in its own right. Oh wait, and it's ALSO a parody of the horror-invasion genre, as the Christmas spirit spookily latches on to the group, one by one. 

Oh Community. Don't go.

Friday, December 16, 2011


This is only half the cast.

 After a roller-coaster year of films ranging from awesome to meh, it is only fitting that 2011 ends with a deeply introspective film about the travails of urban life; a film that showed us that even though everything around us is designed to make us feel like we’re great and unique, they have the exact opposite effect on us.

Set in New York City on New Year’s Eve (would you have guessed?), this film follows the lives of a 100 characters, who are lucky/unlucky/happy/unhappy in love, family, work, philandering, etc.

Great scripts, properly fleshed out characters and witty dialogue are so 2010.  This film has such terrible dialogue uttered by shallow, one-dimensional characters with perplexing motivations, that it cannot have been anything but deliberate. Right there is the film’s true brilliance: the courage to point out that we’re drowning in an ocean of irrelevant information. Its lacklustre script is an allegory of our shallow, one-dimensional Facebook lives, and the gag-worthy memes we wearily link to, so as not to look like the fuddy-duddy who hasn’t got with the programme.

The greatest message one can take away from this film, is that we’re all sad, lonely and desperate people in December and only Hollywood is to blame for that. Thanks to vapid romcoms and Christmas fluff like that saccharine mess called It’s a Wonderful Life (starring the highly untalented Jimmy Stewart), it has become practically compulsory to meet someone cool and quirky and spend a special holiday moment with them. And as the clock ticks on, we’re supposed to make out with any person who happened to have been around for the last couple of hours– even if they look unwashed and then convince ourselves that it wasn’t oxytocin or Hollywood indoctrination, but was a Life-Changing Moment.  We’re supposed to convince ourselves that falling in love with somebody you’re stuck with in an elevator is the real McCoy and not Stockholm Syndrome.  There hasn’t been a braver film since Sunset Boulevard to show us Hollywood’s dark underbelly. In fact, New Year’s Eve is more than a film; it is an exposé.

SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be discussing some of the plots, so don’t read ahead if you haven’t watched the movie because you are waiting for the Director’s Cut DVD.

Perhaps the second greatest message one takes away from this film, is the far-reaching effects of bad parenting.  One the one hand, we see Robert De Niro dying of a terminal illness. His only wish is to see the ball drop in Times Square because it represents all the happy times he had with his daughter before he drove her away. His daughter Hillary Swank, is a VP of the Times Square Alliance and makes it her life-ambition to make sure that ball drops at 12, because she knows her dying father will be watching.  What cold-blooded revenge!  Instead of forgiving her father and spending his last days with him by reconnecting with him, she makes sure to only spend the last 10 minutes of his life with him when they see the ball drop together. The ball drop itself is a clear allegory of his dropping the parental ball and a representation of how her life has become defined by his callous parenting. On the other hand, we see new parents Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel generously but foolishly refuse a cheque for $25,000, which could have easily gone to their child’s college fund and ensured him a future. As the camera zooms in to the baby’s (apparently innocent) face, we see a seed of resentment glimmering in his big eyes. Chilling.

The film also warns foolish romantics about the dangerous myth of serendipitous love.  Why else would they have the woman who played Carrie “Cupid has flown the co-op” Bradshaw fall in love with a lothario? On the one hand, we have Sarah Jessica Parker (a divorced mom) and Josh Duhamel (a rake) who had one conversation a year before and then decide to meet again the next year, despite not knowing each other’s names or situations. On the other hand, we have Zac Efron (a surprisingly well-connected FedEx employee with a magical bike that can avoid New Year’s Eve traffic in Manhattan) and Michelle Pfeiffer (a mousy little woman) who join forces to complete Pfeiffer’s extremely pedestrian list of resolutions. Not only is this another example of the horrible longing for love that Hollywood wants us to feel so we’ll keep buying DVDs of Miracle on 34th Street, but it is also extremely obvious that one of the four will turn out to be a serial killer and/or a secret-cam perv (possible gritty action sequel? Fingers crossed!).

A-list actors in cameo roles in a film where every main character is also a cameo role may initially strike one as incongruous. What is the purpose of having Alyssa Milano, Cary Elwes and John Lithgow in supremely inconsequential roles that could have been ably performed by set extras, you ask?  Why, it is nothing but an allegory for the groupie-culture urban society engenders, and the immense amount of peer pressure we’re under all the time. Obviously, when Alyssa, Cary and John discovered that every single Hollywood A-lister ever was in this movie and that the premier party was going to be rad, they shed every last ounce of dignity and took on two-line roles.  Not since Requiem for a Dream have we seen such a powerful (and effective) anti-drug message.

A few minor quibbles: Not enough time was spent on the highly necessary ‘War = :(' plot line. That undercurrent of racist tension so beautifully captured by Sofia Vergara and Russell Peters by portraying annoying racist caricatures would’ve received an Oscar nod, if only they had received more screen time.  The excessive amount of product placement in the film grew tiresome. But I suppose it is naive to expect a film set mostly in Times Square to not milk that hormone-injected cash cow.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Early in  The Dirty Picture, Vidya Balan's fiesty Silk tells a detractor that he should probably keep all his conceptions about the art of cinema aside, for there are three things that the public wants to see: "Entertainment. Entertainment. Entertainment." It's a formula that the makers follow well enough, and yet - The Dirty Picture is a frustrating experience in the most heartbreaking manner possible. Here is a movie that starts off as great, with a cracker of a opening half, then suddenly loses steam and just sort of chugs half-heartedly to the end. So one part of the movie is just so good that you want to implore everyone and their dog to run to the nearest theatre - but there's the obvious reservation about what the sum of the individual parts entails. 

But let me try.

The movie's not-so-secret weapon is Vidya Balan, who gives the most astonishingly fearless performance of her career, and has an absolute blast doing it. She's helped in large part by that kicker of a script - it's essentially a barrage of one liners and marvelously bold innuendos that force you to gasp in horrified, convulsive laughter. Balan simply owns every single piece of fiery dialogue she's given, and lets her body language do the rest. Silk is a woman uninhibited in every way possible, and in one of the more courageous portrayals I've seen from a Bollywood actress, Balan flaunts her curves, her stomach that threatens to spill out of her tight jeans, her tongue languorously caressing her lips. There's a lot of flak that the actress has gotten following her acclaimed performance in Parineeta, including the oft-mooted point that she's probably best suited to the soft doe-eyed all-Indian-female role. To see her tap into something of this nature with such success is the biggest joy of The Dirty Picture. 

The other attribute that gives the first half its potency is the many ideas about cinema and the audience that the movie throws at us. A hungry Silk has 5 rupees to get something to eat - but the sight of a new movie starring her cinema idol has her scurrying to the cinema hall and devouring the joy of the movies instead. There's the constant tension between the diatribes offered by various critics and the adoring masses; there is the editor of a gossip rag who admires Silk as much as she constantly slanders her;  and in one of the most interesting scenes in the movie, a rant by Silk at an awards ceremony about who's the hypocrisy of the audience who exalts her and despises her sexuality at the same time. This final pre-intermission sequence sets you up for all kinds of exciting possibilities regarding the direction the movie might take, and I for one spent the intermission salivating at the ways in which the movie would take its ideas forward.

Unfortunately, The Dirty Picture's ambition sort of trails off there. It's interested in making the big speeches but not quite exploring the ideas behind them. It sets up romantic subplots that don't seem to go anywhere, and the riches-to-rags portion that it inevitably has to deal with is strangely unconvincing. It doesn't help that Tusshar Kappor hijacks the second half with some truly atrocious acting, and Emraan Hashmi's dormant character suddenly pushes himself into the movie in the closing twenty minutes (this includes the most abrupt sufi love song I've had to face in a while). There's an interesting narrative conceit where a character who despises our protagonist gets to relay her tale to her: but again, the character's motivations for disliking her are so poorly etched, his own anger so lazily realized, and his obvious turnaround so abrupt that it just doesn't work.  There's also a relentlessly overbearing head-thumper of a score that starts out as charming throwback to the movies The Dirty Picture is gently ribbing, but then just kind of gives you a headache. 

And that ending!!! It's - just - wrong. It feels like it's imported from a completely different story with a different sensibility, and even though I'm informed that was indeed the conclusion to the real Silk Smitha's story, I'm sorry but it just doesn't work. A movie that takes so many creative liberties otherwise cannot use the "this-is-all-biography" angle to shoehorn in something that feels so egregiously against its spirit otherwise. Tarantino for one realized this when he (spoiler alert!) decided to kill off Hitler in Inglorious Basterds' rip roaring climax.

That said, I'm still going to recommend this movie. Watch it for Vidya Balan giving the finger to a panoply of critics and discerning audiences (how meta!) and watch it for the sensational dialogue. If possible, walk out in the intermission and don't come back. 

Monday, November 28, 2011


“You can lie, you can cheat, you can start a war, you can bankrupt the country. But you can’t f*** the interns. They get you for that.”

That’s Rule #1 of Presidential elections, according to Stephen Meyers, an up-and-coming campaign manager (played by Ryan Gosling).  He’s successful, knows how the game works and is not green behind the ears. He knows that elections aren’t great, well-intentioned battles between highly competent people. It’s about hoping that the voters think the deep blue sea is worse than the devil. Everybody is a pawn on somebody’s game board.

The Ides of March charts the events preceding the American Democratic Party presidential primaries in Ohio and the valuable life lessons learnt by all the characters.  Off the bat, the most striking thing about the film is that Ryan is the new George Clooney. And George is the new Marlon Brando.  With a supporting cast (Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Philip Seymour Hoffman) that played off each other brilliantly and did justice to the excellent dialogue, this film stayed true to its Thespian origin.  Rembrandt lighting and Alexandre Desplat’s moody, vintagey music between scenes gave the film an air of quiet drama.  If this extensive set-up hadn’t yielded any conspiratorial plots and skulduggery, I’d have been thoroughly disappointed (spoiler alert: I wasn’t).

While it is tempting to see this film as the story of Gosling’s loss of innocence,  there’s more to it than meets the eye.  None of the characters are what they seem.  George Clooney while coming across as the dream candidate, who has everything working for him, learns a valuable lesson in the importance of discretion. Gosling is an old hand at political intrigue, but all it took was one charismatic man to make him wonder if, perhaps there was something to the whole ‘honour’ shtick after all. Evan Rachel Wood is just a lowly intern, but she’s also the daughter of a very powerful politician. She’s mature and sexually confident, but she’s also just 20 years old. The scenes with Wood and Gosling were sizzling with chemistry– he’s the boss, she’s just an intern but she’s the one who’s leading the waltz.  I’m sure I don’t need to say anything about Giamatti and Hoffman, who despite having comparably less screen time, carved memorable characters. But be warned, Hoffman: you are in imminent danger of getting typecasted as The Foul-mouthed and Dishevelled Politico.

George Clooney plays Mike Morris, a presidential candidate whose optimism and principles are infectious. But eventually, everybody disappoints without fail; we are not built to live up to others’ expectations.  Even the most admirable will fall, and take with them the last vestige of any idealism you may have ever had.

The thing about George is that, while he’s terribly handsome, smart, has crinkly eyes, etc, he just… Clooneys around, you know? It becomes hard to separate suave and sexy George from the suave and sexy character he’s supposed to be playing, barring some memorable films like Syriana (2005) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). If he’s keen on winning a Best Actor Oscar, he needs to be less suave and charm-oozy  (since the Academy is refusing to institute that Award for Best Clooney in a Motion Picture).  Fortunately, George pulls off Morris’ character very well. He’s the young, optimistic and honourable politician, reminiscent of JFK and Obama– the cool, hands-on kind of guy who’s in love with his wife. But under that charismatic veneer, he always seems too good to be true. Which, as you know, usually means that it isn’t true.

While one could find a number of minor things to quibble over, the film’s backbone is its simple plot, superb lines and the confidence with which it let the actors rather than events take centre stage.

I was somewhat disdainful of Stephen Meyer’s decisions; what else was he expecting from a politician, I remember wondering. In politics, isn’t everyday is the Ides of March? Is is a sign of how disillusioned we’ve become when we are smug (even relieved) about Mike Morris’ fallibility? If the film-makers’ aim was to show us what manner of creatures we’ve become, then by Clooney, this is a better film than I thought possible.

Monday, November 14, 2011


If you are anything like me, you read Tintin comics in your school/neighbourhood library and have hazy but extremely fond memories of the series.  You were probably thrilled to hear that a beloved bit of your childhood was being adapted to the big screen, with the formidable Peter Jackson-Steven Spielberg duo at the helm. Peter Jackson, the man who managed to silence one of the most vociferous (and astute) fan bases with his remarkable adaptation of the greatest book ever written, and Spielberg, who is practically an institution.  If you are anything like me, do not make the mistake of watching the The Adventures of Tintin with a rabid fanboy.
For the 3 people on the planet who have not heard of this comic book series, “The Adventures of Tintin” is about an alien explorer from the planet Zargon X, come to study humanity. He disguises himself as a dog, Snowy, and gallivants about the place with his sidekick, Tintin. He solves many mysteries and catches many bad guys, occasionally with Tintin’s help. The 2011 film adaptation combines some plot points from 3 comics, and is otherwise a completely new story (the blackest of sins, I was told).
I think it’s time we struck up a dirge for 3D films. Sure, there were some spectacular animated films that made glorious use of the 3D, but they seem to have regressed to that gimmicky, pre-Avatar era. Apart from 2 or 3 scenes (a superb sea battle and Tintin dodging traffic on a busy street come to mind), I watched the entire thing without glasses. Half the exciting murders and skulduggery in the Tintin universe happen at night, and once you have the glasses on, you can’t see a damn thing.  I must also mention that Captain Haddock’s animation and motion capture was awful. No animated character has looked as creepy, since the dead-eyed zombies ofThe Polar Express (2004). The animation was otherwise top class and even incredibly lifelike in parts: qualities that one has now come to expect from Weta Digital.

Now, onto the meat of the matter: how was the film?  Eminently watchable. This was not a lets-just-render-one-book-for-the-screen-and-smirk-all-the-way-to-the bank movie. The film-makers had a loftier goal: to stay true to the spirit of the series, but with a new plot. Suspense, adventure, Thomson/Thompson pratfalls and little clues for the viewer make for a most enjoyable film. They had lots of references to the comics without ever going overboard.  One particularly enjoyable moment was when Tintin gets his caricature drawn by a street artist and the audience collectively went, “Heh. Good one”.  Sure, some of the humour was a bit over the top (Haddock fuelling a plane with his whisky breath, or buildings merrily sailing away on a flood), but this sort of slapstick humour was expected. I mean, have you read a Tintin comic lately?
Fanboys on the other hand, there’s simply no pleasing them. This is known. If you do succeed in gaining their approval, rest assured that nobody else will watch that film because it will be mired in trivia and easter eggs. They will carry on about how the masthead of the Unicorn was three inches off, or how the wrong sort of ivy was growing on Marlinspike Hall. They forget that the magic of Tintin does not lie in its self-referential in-jokes or Sakharine’s backstory; it was the good, old-fashioned, almost fantastic tales of adventure and mystery that first made you fall in love with the series. It was like a travelogue for children, who then went and sailed the seas in their imaginary ships and bathed their bedroom floors in the blood of countless mad scientists and oil sheikhs. Fanboys be damned, this film lived up to its promise.
Although, I’ll give them this much: I wouldn’t have caught half the easter eggs if it hadn’t been for excited whispers of “That’s from Blue Lotus!” and “That vase in the corner is from Something of the something else” emanating from the next seat. Oddly endearing, even if you are resisting the urge to beat them with a bag of rotten oranges.
Bait the Fanboy
You will need:
1 bottle of tequila
1-2 fanboys (must be passionate about same TV show/cartoon/comic)
1 Comfortable armchair/couch
How to play:
1. Find 1 or 2 fanboys and engage them in conversation. Within 5 minutes they will have mentioned their comic/cartoon/TV show/movie of interest.
2. Tell him/her how much you love their subject of interest. This is to lull them into a false sense of security.
3. When they’re deep into a monologue about the cultural/artistic/social significance of pg. 15 of the third volume/season, interrupt them and say, “Yeah, and I really loved the movie adaptation. It was spot on!”
4. Sit back, and let them start talking. Every time they use the following words/phrases, drink 1 shot: “outrage”, “shallow”, “disregards established canon”, “misunderstood”, “did not stay true to the spirit”, “director of the film should be drawn and quartered”. Drink two shots for every time they use the word “travesty”.
5.  Enjoy the party and remember to keep yourself well hydrated!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SUPER 8 (2011)

The movie that Super 8 most obviously evokes is Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – the idea of an alien creature coming into the lives of a group of young kids, and the ways in which the subsequent encounter alters their relationships. Considering that Spielberg is credited as producer, and the movie is directed by his much spoken about protégé, J.J. Abrams, this is not unexpected. What is surprising though, are the ways in which Super 8 manages to stand out on its own, away from the towering shadow of one of the greatest works of a master director.

What helps is that it is a homage about homage. The central group of child characters in Super 8are obsessed with the magic of the movies: there is the scene-scouting director (this is gold!), the obsessed-with-explosives SFX man, the powerful young actress, the queasy leading man, and our make-up artist protagonist. There is a wonderful moment where a film projector involuntarily interrupts an already tender scene between two characters, and the resultant projection elevates it to another level. The best scenes in this movie simply involve the kids playing off against each other, working up to creating an award-winning zombie movie with heart. Abrams is successful in supplying this movie with that very heart, and the fantastic first half gives us a lot to play with.

J.J. Abrams

The movie our young filmmakers are trying to create leads them to witness a massive train crash – where the train’s mysterious cargo escapes. Before they know it, the U.S. military is on the case, and strange occurrences start happening in the town. The dogs are missing, electronics have vanished, and soon people start following suit. There is a tremendous amount of tension built up with these early sequences, as we are left guessing about the nature of this creature.

The problem is, nothing can quite match up to what the imagination creates, and Abrams’ final revelation of the “monster” is somewhat underwhelming. Where the first half builds itself on charming character-play and thudding suspense, the second half veers into full-blown spectacle – and suffers as a result. The spectacle itself is well done, and the action sequences thrilling, but there is a somewhat discomfiting genre switch that is a bit hard to digest.

That said, Super 8 still works. This is, thanks to, in no small part, the excellent performances Abrams extracts from his young cast. Recall if you will, that E.T. featured a young Drew Barrymore; this movie has Dakota Fanning’s younger sister Elle Fanning, and in a scene that moves the characters within the movie to tears, she begins to steal the film. Our protagonist has a milder approach to his character that still remains quite endearing. Kyle Chandler as the father is not quite the sympathetic presence he was in Friday Night Lights, but I think he is partly let down by a poorly written character.

A final word on the movie-within-the-movie. Make sure you stay back for the credits; we get to watch the full version of the movie our young filmmakers have been working on. It is charming, faux-scary, and a pure blast of fun. Kind of like Super 8 itself, really.

(as published on mylaw.net)

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Science, forget about flying cars and that cure for common cold and please get cracking on making robot prize fighting a reality. ROBOTS! PRIZEFIGHTING!  You'd think that sort of thing has universal appeal, but Rotten Tomatoes' verdict on Real Steel is, "Silly premise notwithstanding, this is a well-made Hollywood movie."


Which part of 8-ft monsters of steel beating the shit out of each other (occasionally in slow-mo) for our entertainment is a "silly" premise? I'd pay good money to make this happen. So stop douching out on us, RT.

The year is 2020 and robots have replaces humans in the boxing ring. Hugh Jackman is a small-time robot promoter (beater-upper? handler? guy who controls the remote control  for the fighter-bots?) who was once an almost-boxing champion before robots replaced him and his ilk. Troubled with financial issues and a thoughtless approach to bot-boxing, he leads a hand-to-mouth existence till his illegitimate son is foisted on him. His son turns out to have that same stubborn streak and passion for boxing as him. The kid finds an ancient robot (Atom) in a junkyard, which Jackman reluctantly enters into underground boxing matches and surprise, surprise, Atom turns out to be the Seabiscuit of boxing robots with a talent for taking a proper beating and then giving it back good. In the process, Jackman and kid do some serious father-son bonding.

I know, this whole career-oriented/macho man forced to care for a smart alec child theme is trite [The Game Plan (2007), The Pacifier (2005), Daddy Day Care (2003), Big Daddy (1999), Liar Liar (1997), Mr. Nanny (1993), Fatherhood (1993), Kindergarten Cop (1990)]. Besides, apart from the Fannings, precocious children in film are a vile, vomit-inducing group.  Which is why a normal little kid who is stubborn, curious, rude and constantly ODs on comic books and soda makes for a nice change. Also, can we take a moment to pause and reflect on that buff, aviator-rocking hunk of yumminess called Hugh Jackman?

It's not like anybody is going to read this caption anyway.

There was a long queue to do this. Worth it.

Okay, where were we?

Obviously, Real Steel didn't have the greatest character development ever seen on film, and if one were to nitpick, one could find a plot hole or five.  Hugh Jackman and son hate each other because he's just a money-grubbing rascal and then, when the climax showdown scene is 3 minutes away, he suddenly begins to care. We've seen this a dozen times. It is also pretty ridiculous when a small child uses only his powers of cuteness and sugar high to indulge in complicated robot-hot rodding (alas, if only 10 cans of Dr. Pepper could give one an epiphany). And yes, since all evidence suggesting that the robots were just machines slightly superior to your washing machine, it is highly improbable that Atom magically became self-aware, especially when they give us no reason for this to be a possibility.

I thought that little background they give us about robot-boxing was interesting. When robots initially replaced humans in boxing games, they tried to keep them as human-looking as possible, but then they realised that people didn't want to see uncanny valley residents. People wanted proper violence and lots of it, so robots started losing their human resemblance and began to mimic Transformer toys.  Atom, being an older-generation robot, still bore resemblance to humans (think Eva meets Bumblebee). But is that what really draws us to underdogs? Their human qualities?  Noisy Boy was a really cool robot and Zeus was easily the greatest robot ever created, and yet, it was Atom with his tenaciousness, robot dancing, big blue eyes (which make you wince every time he's hit) and his "human" style of bot-boxing, that ended up as the favourite. So I understand why they needed Atom to be self-aware. Otherwise, it's like asking the audience to root for a refrigerator. I just feel that the film would have worked better if they had left it a mystery: just the kid's desperate yearning for Atom to be self-aware or implied that Atom's self-awareness was just his imagination, but never actually showed us a self-aware Atom. A self-aware robot pretty much destroys the very foundation of the film and leaves too many unanswered questions. But if they had built on humanity's desire to name our ships, cars and computers, give these bits of metal and plastic emotional value and even assign them human qualities, this film  could have struck a very deep chord, without becoming silly.

All said and done, I immensely enjoyed this movie.  Perhaps it was because it wasn't just another lazy attempt to make money. Or perhaps it was the beautifully captured shadow boxing scenes. Or perhaps it was that ridiculously awesome soundtrack. But most likely it was the utter gorgeousness of Jackman's muscly forearms.

Monday, October 3, 2011

THE HELP (2011)

You know how Hollywood’s idea of an endearing female lead is a pretty, thin, amazing girl whose only faults are watching her weight and being adorably clumsy? Somebody decided to shake things up a little for the modern ladyfolk and gave us that wonderful category: The Non Rom-Com Chick Flick. And it’s a thriving industry too: Mona Lisa Smile, The Blind Side, Julie and Julia, Amelia, Eat Pray Love, Whip It and most recently, Bridesmaids. Some were a breath of fresh air, others reek of the same, tired garbage.  It’s always a choice between the jerk boyfriend/society ladies’ approval and a super-duper career/kind and selfless act, isn’t it? Oh woe is me, how is one supposed to choose?

The latest offender is The Help. Set in 1960s’ Mississippi, young unmarried Skeeter Phelan is shocked by her friends’ campaign to build separate bathrooms outside the house for the African-American servants. Instead of quietly embroidering her trousseau and finding herself a man, she decides to write a book (anonymously), compiling the experiences of the maids– the good, the bad and the horrible. But if anybody finds out, she stands to lose her social status and the maids, their livelihoods.

To give credit where it is due, the book this movie is based on is an engaging read. There is no single protagonist, and there is no White Heroine benevolently scattering largess to the downtrodden ethnic minority.  The tone of the book treads a line between funny and horrifying, because the stakes are that high. Lynching is a reality, and common too. One word from a white employer and a maid and her entire family’s livelihood is ruined. People get their tongues cut off.  The racism isn’t just the obvious acts like segregation, but insidious things like not letting your fingers touch the maid’s when she hands you coffee, having a separate plate and cup for her to use– the kind that nobody really notices or thinks is a problem.

Racism in ’60s Mississippi is not a light-hearted subject, and certainly should not focus on a pretty white woman who was like, totally a feminist and civil rights activist and showed all those prissy white folk how them liberals roll. Emma Stone getting the biggest cut of the screen time and being the protagonist completely destroyed the foundation of the story. What does she have at stake? No boy in Jackson would marry her and the society ladies would throw her out of the bridge club if they found out she was associating with maids. Boo-fricking-hoo.

The real story is about the brave maids who put their families and themselves on the chopping block to tell their stories. Unfortunately, this film simply did not convey that sense of danger and the tense atmosphere they lived in. Apart from one throwaway mention about a lynching, the characters seem more concerned with boyfriends and frenemies. Even though the maids are the ones risking everything, only two of them get any semblance of a backstory. The climax of the film was centred around the cardboard cutout villain queen bee’s hissy fit.

What irritated me the most was that the film never had the courage to follow through on premise of the book.  It always remained superficial, and as I mentioned before, comic in tone. The most egregious lapse to me was the story arc related to Skeeter’s maid’s fate, where the plot was changed from the book and as a result, became pointless (sorry, can’t reveal it without giving away spoilers).  A number of superfluous characters were retained in the movie to maintain similarity to the book, but the film simply failed to capture the soul of the book.  Once the maid’s interviews are published, there’s a bit of unpleasantness for about five minutes and everybody goes on with their lives.  In the book, the publication of the interviews is only the start of weeks and months of fear and the bitter reaping of consequences.

But fortunately, some Hollywood executive realized that lynching and torture are heavy subjects, simply not suited for us fragile womenfolk.  Us gals would obviously prefer a frothy film for Girls Night Out, to work up a thirst for cosmos after.

If you have not read the book, you wont hate the movie, because you wont see the wasted potential. There is no doubt that all the actors performed admirably, and the film definitely had its moments but ultimately, it failed for me because of its spineless script. On the plus side, at least now we know what the lovechild of American History X and Mean Girls looks like.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Poor Anupam Kher. Despite having a career's worth of iconic roles, he gets type-casted as the Punjabi Father Who Hates Sports. This is his third time around, after all. At least no one can accuse him of meting out differential treatment to his screen sons and daughters. In Speedy Singhs, Vinay Virmani plays his son, a Indian-Canadian boy, who is a (cocky) ice hockey aficionado and has lost touch with his Sikh roots. His father wants him to become a truck driver and take over his uncle's business, while he wants to become a sportsman. After some half-hearted racism incident, he convinces his friends to form an all-Sikh ice hockey team for some bush league tournament and gets Rob Lowe to coach them.

Spoiler alert: they win and he gets the girl.

The underdog team sports movie, especially the ethnic community underdog team sports movie has been done only a few million times before and Speedy Singhs does not even come close to exploring new territory. Seriously, if you have watched Bend it Like Beckham, just imagine Parminder Nagra without the bosom and a hockey stick instead of a football and you're golden. You will predict the entire plot of movie within 5 minutes, including (and especially) the climax. It's not exactly a suspenseful film. Having said that, I enjoyed it immensely. You shouldn't watch it for the paint-by-numbers plot, but for the funny, witty dialogue and surprisingly excellent performances by the supporting cast. The Speedy Singhs shared a believable camaraderie and their scenes had excellent comic timing without ever being heavy-handed or maudlin. In fact, the supporting cast (especially that sheepish goalkeeper) were so funny, that I wish they had got more screen time.

And the music? AWESOME.

My biggest problem with this movie was the extremely underdeveloped plot. It didn't have to be such a big pile of clichés. A lot of interesting story arcs were mentioned and then promptly abandoned. Racism was used every now and then to move the plot along. Okay, tell us about racism in Canada. Don't throw one cardboard cut-out racist hockey team and otherwise nice, happy Canadian people at us and expect it to create an undercurrent of racist tension (and therefore, motivation for the protagonist). Sure, they wanted a cute, funny movie and not a deep, insightful film about racism. But whoever said the two were mutually exclusive?

Also, why did Rob Lowe agree to coach the team, and that too, with nothing to gain? What's his motivation? He could've been an interesting character, if he hadn't been rendered into a cheap supporting role. I was also thoroughly unconvinced by Vinay Virmani's passion for the sport. Did he ever try out for any of the teams and get rejected for being an ethnic minority? Playing with your neighbourhood buddies on weekends and then ambushing a team's practise session to beg for a try-out was unprofessional and seems to suggest a lackadaisical attitude towards the sport. Not exactly the kind of traits that make you want to root for the protagonist. Fortunately, Virmani is handsome and therefore got my vote (just about).

Usually, underdog movies have montages of the motley team sucking at the sport and slowly improving. Hell, montages make up 1/3 of the running time of any self-respecting sports movie. But here, there was very little of the sport itself and all that improvement stuff happens off screen and Rob Lowe simply says "oh okay you guys are much better now yay for us." This was presumably a pragmatic decision, because their target audience are Indians, who don't know a thing about ice hockey. Nevertheless, a sport movie without well-executed, heart-stopping climaxes is just odd.

I'm sure you're wondering if Russell Peters was superfluous. Yes and no. He isn't strictly necessary and his character is meant to be the obnoxious jerk who gets his comeuppance by the end of the film, but he does it so well that it is impossible to hate him. He got the funniest lines and his banter with Vinay Virmani make for the some of the best scenes of the film. Come on, I chuckle every time I watch the "Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad" sketch. He's okay in my book. Akshay Kumar's cameo on the other hand, was totally superfluous. But then, one could say that about every single one of his roles.