Review: Vishwaroopam 2


Kamal Haasan, Pooja Kumar, Andrea Jeremiah, Shekhar Kapur, Rahul Bose
Kamal Haasan returns as Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri in Vishwaroopam 2

A sequel we don’t really need.

Rating: *


After watching the overlong Vishwaroopam back in 2014, I yearned to see Part II not because I was invested in Wisam’s righteous battle or Omar’s tale of vengeance, but to check whether Andrea Jeremiah and Shekhar Kapur get meatier roles. In Vishwaroopam 2, Andrea gets a bigger role but it somewhat feels stereotyped. Andrea’s bratty RAW agent kicks ass and takes names but is letdown by the film’s homage-like presentation. What does the film pay homage to? Well, mostly Kamal Haasan and the first part. Time and again we are reminded of what happened in the first film. If not for this recap, the film would have clocked only two hours or even lesser.

Kamal’s Wisam Ahmed Kashmiri is often accused of being the bad guy due to his religious belief. This sets up a memorable scene at an old age home where he visits his mother who has Alzheimer’s and cannot remember who he really is. She remembers her son as the dancer who joined the army instead of living a life of peace. The scene serves as a reference to Wisam’s hostile reception in the Indian community and the actor’s wayward entry into politics. The first film’s breakout performer, Pooja Kumar continues to impress but not as much as the first film. It is nevertheless a relief when she’s onscreen.

The film’s biggest problem is Kamal Haasan’s ambition, which blinds him from making a memorable film. The steak is burnt and the broth is overcooked, Mr. Haasan. And, the remaining guests are thinking about leaving. We didn’t really need Vishwaroopam 2. But, now that we have it, we wish we didn’t have it.



Review: Junga

Junga, Vijay Sethupathi, Yogi Babu, Sayyeesha, Madonna Sebastian
Sayyeshaa Saigal and Vijay Sethupathi in Junga

Vijay Sethupathi needs a vacation, pronto.

Rating: *


Junga has such a silly premise that makes you not want to care about the movie. But, the dreaded “second half turn” makes the first half’s goofiness seem implausible. Junga, a bus conductor learns that he is from a don family and sets out to Chennai to win back his family property, a rundown theatre called Cinema Paradise. In his attempt to claim this rotting cinema hall, Junga flies to Paris in the hopes of kidnapping the fair-skinned, Tamil-speaking, lip synch-fudging daughter of the primary antagonist (or is he), Chettiar, an aging man living in palatial building, who drinks fine scotch, smokes light cigarettes, dons sunglasses inside the house and always wears pastel coloured suits like he’s an extra on Miami Vice. This preposterous movie, directed by Gokul who earlier made the surprisingly good Idharkkuthaane Aasaippattaai Balakumara is a travesty on an international scale. To him I say “Leave Paris alone!’

Vijay Sethupathi is either talking fast or talking loud, and both are somewhat unpleasant. As the film’s second half moves without grip or conviction, you begin to wonder if such a large scale production and budget was really necessary? I could tell right from the film’s trailer that Junga wasn’t going to be a blockbuster due to its lacklustre execution. The 150-minute film proves my point. Screenplay, performances, plot holes, background score and songs, and execution are the film’s minuses. At some point, you begin to yearn for more scenes with Saranya Ponvannan and the grandma – I would love a spin-off focusing on these two characters alone. I initially thought that Madonna Sebastian’s cameo-like appearance as a Telugu girl with high hopes was a waste of time, but Sayyeshaa Saigal proved me wrong. From Vanamagan to Kadaikkutty Singam, the actress shows all signs of being the next “it girl” of Tamil cinema. In reality, Sayyeshaa is more or less, a watered down version of Tamanna. In retrospect, Tamanna shouldn’t have to worry about losing the spotlight to Sayyeshaa. The actress doesn’t do much of acting and it’s only her milky white skin that’s keeping male audiences glued. Then, there’s Neha Sharma who is perhaps the important female character in the film who isn’t the character’s mom or grandma. I wasn’t much of a fan of Neha Sharma, but her performance is much better than Madonna and Sayyeesha.

In one scene, Junga and his comic relief, Yo-Yo (played by Yogi Babu) tell Kalki that they are in Paris to scout locations and that their movie has a pretty big budget to cover their expenses, including their hotel room which looks like Marie Antoinette’s boudoir. The line wasn’t just delivered to the woman but also to us. Vijay Sethupathi is making good money because he does almost every movie that comes his way. The actor needs to take a break, rethink his strategy and return to cinema with a refreshed focus. Give us Soodhu Kavvum and Vikram Vedha. Give us KaKaPo and Dharma Durai. Take back Rekka, Orange Mittai, Iraivi and Junga.

Junga has its good bits. But, then again, they are just bits and fragments of a film that’s just painful to watch after a while.

Review: Cinderella

Prince Charming and Ella in Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella.
Prince Charming and Ella in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is Enchanting!
Rating: ****

Critics around the world have been praising Kenneth Branagh for bringing Cinderella and Walt Disney Animation back to its roots. There was a time when animation supported storytelling. It was merely a prop. In Cinderella, you can make out what is real and what is animated. It’s just that you will not care for it as the story sweeps you away. Thankfully, Chris Weitz’s screenplay doesn’t alter the original story. Branagh’s execution however makes Cinderella, a wonderful cinematic experience; in other words, a fairy tale.

Watching Branagh’s version gave me fleeting memories of Disney’s 1950 adaptation, which I watched in third grade. The screening was arranged at our school library and we were given two periods off in the afternoon to watch it. As kids, we were ready for anything that took 90 minutes off school time. I was forced to sit behind due to my rather round head (not anymore). I remember Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo and Sing, Sweet Nightingale, the latter was known by us kids as the “soap bubble song”.

The 2015 version is not a musical, but it does have a handful of melodies, all composed to perfection by Branagh’s long-time collaborator, Patrick Doyle. Fairy tale adaptations much like classic literature adaptations are losing their share of the audience. The cinema hall I was at had just twenty or lesser viewers apart from Yours Truly.

Cate Blanchett rocks the house as the wicked stepmother bringing to the table a range of snobby retorts and coldness, while Lily James slips comfortably into the shoes of the “courageous but kind” Ella aka Cinderella. The film has a notable cast that include Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgård, Sophie McShera and Derek Jacobi. I for one was thrilled to see McShera and James in roles that are the exact opposite to their roles on Downton Abbey.

With Cinderella, I seem to have regained trust in Branagh’s capabilities as a director. His last two films – Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – were disappointing. Branagh needs to treat every project the way he has treated this. He needs to, as Ella rightly put it “have courage and be kind.”

Review: Meaghamann

Aarya in Magizh Thirumeni's Meaghamann.
Aarya in Meaghamann.

All Hope Is Lost

If you were watching Meaghamann on the night of December 26, at Screen-1 of Inox Cinemas, Chennai Citi Centre, you would have heard a man yell “What the fuck is going on!” Dear reader, that was me.

At this point, you may ask, “But, you have walked out of movies before; why didn’t you do it this time?” The answer simply is this: Meaghamann is the destruction of Tamil Cinema as we know it. I have preached apocalypse after watching movies such as Aadhavan, Kandhasamy and Sura. But, Meaghamann is the chosen one.

For starters, you can never get the pronunciation right. Even the titular song calls it “Mee-gha-man” and later as “Me-gaaa-man”. In reality, the titular character is “Megaman”, a larger-than-life Superman. But, unlike Superman, Megaman has no Bizarro ego – for there simply couldn’t be another like him.

The film opens with a disclaimer that although the story takes place in Goa and Mumbai, all characters speak in Tamil so that the common Tamilian can understand the dialogues. But, when the dialogues come with such heavy accents and are often eaten up by the jarring background score, you doubt the fate of the common Tamilian?

Meaghamann is a death-blow to your eyes, ears and sanity. There are scenes that have queasy, handheld cinematography. These are not only out of focus, but are also guttural. And, why are there so many sudden cuts to sunlight. In a dark room like a cinema theatre, the last thing we need is blinding light. If you’ve ever wondered how vampires react to sunrise, Meaghamann offers you plenty instances to experience firsthand.

The story is pretty simple. But, it has been hacked to small, uneven pieces to a point that you may find Hansika amusing. An undercover cop has to arrest the leader of a drug cartel and must work his way to the top. Filmmakers always find some way to weave in romance, and that’s how you get Hansika Motwani, who plays an idiotic, chirpy neighbour with no self-respect.

But, if you were to know how Aarya single-handedly kills a room full of armed gangsters, you would rather choose to see more of Hansika. It is always amazing how gangsters run around with guns all the time, but USE knives while fighting the protagonist.

In any screenwriting class, you will be taught that the first ten minutes are the most vital ones. This is where you catch hold of the audience. Meaghamann revealed in its first ten minutes that there was nothing great to expect. But, instead it gave rise to a new level of greatness. Yes, I’m referring to the audience – those poor, clueless wimps who paid the price and spent more than 2 hours watching a train wreck of a movie.

And this time, give the audience a National Award. They fucking deserve it!

Hansika hasn’t been on my good side since her Tamil début in Maapillai. I haven’t found her of any good use. Or maybe, it’s because she hasn’t been convincing in any of the roles given to her. A heroine is not needed in Meaghamann. Unless she too is an undercover cop, I can’t see why her scenes weren’t cut from the editing table.

And here’s the pathetic part. The writer / director Magizh Thirumeni finds a desperate way to connect Hansika’s character with the main plot. He does succeed but it only leads to a Bourne Supremacy-styled theft of a mobile phone.

Is it just me or have movies started portraying sex as a woman’s fantasy? Hansika’s character is quite infatuated with Aarya that she fantasizes being “taken”. The fantasies please the heroine and spike the blood levels of the younger generation, but the scenario is quite long.

The film would have been less than two hours, if not for Hansika, who play a college student trying to perfect her Latin dancing skills. “In Latin, it’s all about the legwork” mutters Aarya as he helps her master the spinning technique.

At this point, you may ask “Is the protagonist an undercover cop or a Latin dancer?”

Here’s my reply: “He’s Megaman.”

The Age of Experimentation: I Am Curious (Yellow) and Belle de Jour

If the sixties stood for anything, it was experimentation. From psychedelic to new wave, art underwent a massive change in the sixties. These aged masterpieces continue to bedazzle us even today. And more than Hollywood, it was the European film market that offered a lot of these experimental films.

In this post, I’m gonna discuss Luis Bunuel’s acclaimed Belle de Jour and Vilgot Sjoman’s I Am Curious (Yellow). Both were controversial when they released due to the gratuitous nudity and storyline. Yet, both films were well-received by film goers, from the sixties to today.

Still from I Am Curious (Blue)
Still from I Am Curious (Blue)

Before we go on, I must tell you that I watched an edited version of these movies, so I don’t exactly know how much of skin was shown. But, the internet tells me that it was a lot, considering it was the sixties and people were just getting adjusted to nudity in mainstream Hollywood.

I Am Curious is a set of two Swedish movies, each differentiated by a colour – Yellow and Blue – the colours of Sweden’s flag. The film itself plays like an early form of mockumentary. It revolves about an actress and activist, Lena (played by Lena Nyman) who is having an affair with the director Vilgot (played by director Vilgot Sjoman). Lena is headstrong. She’s an activist who goes around interviewing people on human rights and nonviolence.

The film also includes footage of an interview with Martin Luther King. I Am Curious (Yellow) is set in a film production where Lena becomes attracted to another actor Borje (played by Borje Ahlstedt). It’s a film within a film.

When I Am Curious (Yellow) released, many Christians referred to it as a “dirty film”. Of course, nudity was taboo back then. I still remember Anne Bancroft’s interview where she mentioned that her Church was upset upon the release of The Graduate.

Catherine Deneuve in Belle De Jour
Catherine Deneuve in Belle De Jour

In Belle De Jour, Catherine Deneuve plays a bored wife with sexually illicit daydreams, who spends her afternoons as a prostitute. The character wanted something daring and found it in wild sex with strange men, and ultimately faced the dangers of it.

But, that’s not what these movies were about. These were metaphors of empowerment. Having been in the kitchen all their lives, the sixties encouraged women to get out and find a life of their own. Women found meaning and a new direction to lead their lives. The sixties were the age of liberation.

New paths were made. New jobs were created. Old regimes were questioned. It was the dawn of an era that impacted lives for decades, and continues to do so.

Review: 3 Days to Kill

Kevin Costner and Amber Heard in 3 Days to Kill.
Kevin Costner and Amber Heard in 3 Days to Kill.

2 Hours to Kill
Rating: ZERO

When the credits for 3 Days to Kill rolled, a person sitting near me read out the name “Luc Besson”. And he went on to make fun of it, relating it to Besant Nagar and the word “luck”. Having watched the film and a lot of other films by Besson, I think he is abusing his luck.

3 Days to Kill starts off like any action film starring Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liam Neeson or Harrison Ford – an aging protagonist known for “old school” violence. And much like the aging Murtagh from Lethal Weapon  who famously quoted “I’m too old for this shit”, Kevin Costner too displays similar symptoms.

But, is Kevin Costner really old for this shit? He surely hasn’t done action films in a while. He truly belongs to the sports genre (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tin Cup) and maybe the crime genre (The Untouchables). Being a one-man army has never been on Costner’s resume.

Being a one-man army wasn’t on Liam Neeson’s resume either. But, look at him now! Taken and its sequel, Non Stop, The A-Team and Unknown are all proof that Neeson is this generation’s John Wayne. He’s old. He’s a gunslinger. He’s got the looks.

And who made Neeson a bankable action star? It’s lucky Luc Besson, who has been a part of at least 50 films, as a writer, producer and sometimes a director. He’s known as “the John Hughes of action films”. But, there are signs that he’s losing his touch.

Take 3 Days to Kill where Ethan Renner (Costner) a veteran CIA agent is suffering from terminal brain cancer. In the film we are introduced to a young blonde CIA assassin named Vivi (Amber Heard) who looks more like a swimsuit model than a trigger-happy killer. Oh, and why do female assassins wear spandex costumes when killing someone? Wouldn’t it be better to dress like a normal person because it will be easy to blend in the crowd when getting away? And at this point, let’s totally not question why the said assassin shows off her glowing blonde hair and thick red lipstick when she’s pulling the trigger.

Ethan is told about an experimental drug that can extend his life and in return must help Vivi find a terrorist leader, who is known as ‘the Wolf’. Really? You’d wonder. From the Jackal to the Wolf, look at how villainous characters are named these days. And, here’s the funny part. To get the Wolf, they must first capture his right hand man, ‘the Albino’.

People in the cinema hall were laughing when they heard that the code names of an elite terrorist group were based on alpine wildlife.

And then, there’s the emotional baggage that he carries. Ethan has an estranged relationship with his family. When he’s not tracking down terrorists, he’s making amends with his daughter, played by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit is still on my mind).

If you’re wondering why this review is out of touch in terms of context, it’s because I’m still in a state of shock. I cannot believe that someone made a blunder of a movie and managed to cast Kevin Costner in the lead role.


Review: B.A. Pass

Shilpa Shukla in B.A. Pass.
Shilpa Shukla in B.A. Pass.

Saved By The Belle
Review: **

A sleeper film, B.A. Pass was never on my “must-watch” list. But after seeing positive reviews on IMDb, I hopped over to the store and bought the DVD of the film. The DVD cover was provocative, and told me what to expect – Shilpa Shukla is a cougar who preys on the young protagonist. Neo Noir unlimited, I thought.

The opening titles tell us that the film is based on a short story called “The Railway Aunty” by Mohan Sikka. Given the title of the story, you can sense the amount of sleaze and sex the story will have. But, does that make the film lewd? Not really.

Eyes Wide Shut had a lot of nudity. It had a not-so-great story. But, Stanley Kubrick – the legend – kept us invested in the characters. We wanted to know everything about them. Eyes Wide Shut was an intriguing film that ran for more than 140 minutes. B.A. Pass runs for just around 100 minutes when it really feels like 3 hours. The story has been dissected and in the process, the small facts have been enlarged. By doing so, the big picture loses its steam.

But, B.A. Pass isn’t a bad film. It’s just badly adapted. No thought process was put into the adaptation. It plays like a half-burnt kachori. You see the good side and start nibbling. The flavour draws you in. And then, you unknowingly bite the burnt side and taste the charcoal mess your kachori has become. Do you immediately spit it out or do you swallow it? I swallowed and it was unpleasant, but tolerable.

Why was it tolerable? Shilpa Shukla.

She’s the poor man’s Vidya Balan. and the film twin of Mahie Gill. Bold, casual and unbelievably salacious – how did Bollywood give her a miss? Much like Gill, Shukla belongs to that rare class of actresses who can convey without having to speak a word.

When Shukla’s character (aptly named Sarika) sets sight on her prey – a young and naive man – she is poised, and observes his movements before locking lips. She moves her rump and slowly sits next to him, waiting for him (and us) to notice her intentions. She’s delivering a message to Bollywood:
This is what makes you an actor. Not goddamn romantic comedies and L’Oreal commercials!


Review: The Monuments Men

Museum curators wage war against Hitler in George Clooney's The Monuments Men.
Museum curators wage war against Hitler in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men.

The Dirty Half-Dozen
Rating: **

George Clooney is known for his charismatic appearances. This made movies like The Descendants and Up In The Air great, and The Good German and The American bearable. The way he does things onscreen is admirable. The casual flick of a cigarette, the deceiving smile, the immediate cock of an eyebrow when someone downplays him – it’s masterclass. There’s very little to discuss when he’s off-screen and a lot when he’s onscreen. The dude is magnetic!

As a director, he has made movies of several genres ranging from light-hearted comedies (Leatherheads, Confessions of A Dangerous Mind ) to serious dramas (Good Night, Good Luck, Ides of March). But, making a war film is the rite of passage for every director.

Everyone’s dreamt of making a war film as grand as The Longest Day or Paths of Glory, as memorable as Saving Private Ryan or Full Metal Jacket, and as award-worthy as The Hurt Locker or The Deer Hunter.

But, many directors have failed in doing so. Even notable ones such as Brian De Palma (Casualties of War and Redacted), and of course the infamous Michael Cimino (Heaven’s Gate). Although, I will give Mr. Cimino credit for his riveting Vietnam War film, The Deer Hunter.

What is the problem with The Monuments Men? Is it historically inaccurate? Or is it highly fictional like Argo?

Simply put, the direction is hapless. Too many things have been put in the idea box. I don’t think even Clooney knew where the film was going. It ends up like a staple Tamil film where the first half is one story, and the second half is another.

Here’s how it rolls: It’s 1943 and the War against Germany is in its peak. Many historically significant works of art in and around Europe have fallen in the hands of the Nazis. Some are destroyed while others are to be exhibited at the Führer Museum.

Having heard about this, Frank Stokes (Clooney) presents an idea to President Truman. An idea that involves a team of museum curators who head to the frontlines to retrieve the stolen paintings and sculptures, and protect those that are still intact.

The cast includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Ed Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett and good ol’ John Goodman. The cast also includes Jean Dujardin, but I don’t think you will remember him given the shoddy characterizations that ruin the film.

Right from a poorly written French curator (played by Blanchett) to whatever Ed Balaban was supposed to do, you realize that your focus has to shift to the story as these characters have nothing to offer. But, when the story becomes sloppy (screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov), you really don’t have a choice!

The other day, I was watching The Longest Day, an epic war opera that recreated significant scenes from WWII and starred hordes of famous stars. When I was about to watch The Monuments Men, nostalgia filled my mind. I was hoping to pack my bags and sink into another glorious WWII adventure. Sadly, The Monuments Men never really delivered.

Review: The Counselor

Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender in Ridley Scott's The Counselor.
Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor.

Thelma & Louise feels like a long time ago.
Rating: *

The Counselor is a blow to our senses. And our expectations. I certainly didn’t expect a shoddy two-hour motion picture from either Ridley Scott or screenwriter Cormac McCarthy.

Michael Fassbender plays the titular Counselor who gets in over his head, and indulges in a drug trade that involves a shady man called Reiner (Javier Bardem) even though another shady man named Westray (Brad Pitt) warns him not to. Phew!

This trade of course is defied by the brutal Mexican drug cartel, who have become a go-to nemesis in most crime films involving cocaine and gangs.

There seems to be a message in this film. Go down the bad path, and bad shit will happen to you.

Surely, there could have been an easier way of telling us that instead of making this incomprehensible mess. The Counselor, being a Ridley Scott film feels more like a Tony Scott film. There’s that slickness in editing and cinematography, that Ridley generally ignores, and Tony embraces. Sadly, the dialogue is nowhere close to either of their creations.

Screenwriter McCarthy has visited the wrong aisle in the library. Instead of taking dialogue that is as conventional as a Tarantino film, the monologues sound more like George Bernard Shaw or even Shakespeare. While explaining greed, one of the key characters, Malkina (Cameron Diaz in a nightmarish role) says:

“I suspect that we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen. Ill-formed and ill-prepared. We would like to draw a veil over all the blood and terror that have brought us to this place. It is our faintness of heart that would close our eyes to all of that, but in so doing it makes of it our destiny. But nothing is crueller than a coward, and the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.”

Even when I was 100 minutes into the film, I thought Scott would pull away from the misery by adding one of two thrilling set pieces. None of which happens.

Review: The Best Man Holiday

Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut and Monica Calhoun in The Best Man Holiday
Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut and Monica Calhoun in The Best Man Holiday

Can someone hand me a Kleenex?
Rating: ***

What’s amazing about The Best Man Holiday is that it never feels like 14 years. In 1999, The Best Man became a deliverance for the African-American film genre which had been stereotyped as a crime / gangster genre.  The film gave a unique identity and helped launched several other films and genres.

The Best Man Holiday is a family centered tear jerker as it slowly unravels a web of failures, sad faces and ultimately demise that surrounds the group of friends. The prequel’s breakout character, Quentin (Terrence Howard) exhibits all signs of badassery. It’s as if they based his character on How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson. Howard continues to give a good performance but at times you feel the character can be given more responsibilities. In The Best Man Holiday, Howard is still an untapped resource.

Much like the prequel, the sequel never takes Morris Chestnut seriously and reduces him to humour till the time drama is necessary. Chestnut’s Lance Sullivan is a vital character in both films and I’m surprised how he hasn’t been given enough platform to shine.

The friends reunite at the Sullivan’s villa for Christmas. Everyone is living a different life. Their conversations are fresh. There are mentions of Barack Obama and even Robin Thicke (seriously?). But, what hasn’t changed is the hostility between the two best friends – Sullivan and Harper Stewart (Taye DIggs); the spark between Julian (Harold Perrineau) and Shelby (Mellisa De Sousa) and the suspicions of Harper’s wife, Robin (Sanaa Lathan) when she sees him with his old flame, Jordan (Nia Long).

The Best Man Holiday plays it safe and uses tragic elements to get involvement from the audiences. Some may budge, but today’s audiences are not made that way. They are into high concept films where drama is limited to just one scene, with the rest being eye candy entertainment. The Best Man Holiday has its fair share of entertainment. If you don’t find it amusing, it’s because you haven’t invested in these characters. Who wouldn’t?