Review: Sarkar

Sarkar
Vijay in Sarkar

A Wasted Effort
Rating: *

This has been a year of reunions. Directors and actors coming together for second, third or even a sixth time (take Mani Ratnam and Arvind Swami). A.R. Murugadoss and Vijay’s third collaboration after acclaimed films such as Thuppakki and Kaththi makes you wonder if third time is no longer a charm. Sarkar is Vijay’s vehicle. He wants to enter politics and what better way to do so. Sarkar should have been an effective movie, but, it fails to make an impact. Take the scene where Vijay launches into a well-written monologue after the public hurls tomatoes at him. I wanted more of those scenes. Even the scene where he takes his family to a nearby hospital and tells them of the fates suffered by the patients could have been a great scene, if only it were less preachy. Back in December 2015, several American political commentators wondered if Ivanka Trump was the brains behind her father, the presidential candidate. Sarkar offers a glimpse of that too. The Chief Minister’s daughter is thousands of miles away and dictates to her father and his cronies on what they must do. Varalakshmi Sarathkumar’s character, Komalavalli sounds good on paper, but, it isn’t captivating on film. It’s not that Varalakshmi isn’t a convincing actor, the film revolves around Vijay. He is the center of the Sarkar universe. He is the sun, if you will. This best explains the shades of yellow and gold that accompanies Vijay in the film.

With Sarkar, A.R. Murugadoss solves another problem: how do we introduce a heroine without wasting time on a needless subplot? Keerthy Suresh’s Nila already knows Vijay’s Sundar Ramaswamy. His brother married her sister and now they’re getting divorced. I wondered if the lead characters will work things out with their siblings, but that isn’t what Sarkar is about. Sure, Keerthy Suresh has to fall in love with the protagonist. The love angle is unconvincing. Sometimes you wonder if a romantic subplot is necessary in movies like Sarkar. Time is money, and every second wasted on Keerthy Suresh’s lovey-dovey glances is a test of patience.

The 49-P subplot is brilliantly written and executed. The first half moves with conviction. But, Sarkar loses its Midas touch somewhere in the midst of Sundar’s political rallies. A.R. Rahman’s songs are plain vanilla as only Simtaangaran holds water. Even the fight scenes – which are essential to Vijay’s films – fail to excite you. The first two fight scenes are just a series of slo-mo and sped up shots. Remember the coin fight in Kaththi? There’s nothing inventive here.

Sarkar, in Vijay’s eyes is a launch pad for his political aspirations. However, his trust in A.R. Murugadoss may have blinded his ambitions. Sarkar will remain a movie that should have been better, but isn’t.

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Review: Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

Arvind Swami, Arun Vijay, STR, Vijay Sethupathi, Jyothika, Aditi Rao Hydari, Aishwarya Rajesh
Arvind Swami and Jyothika in Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

This Gangster Whodunit Lacks Fizz
Rating: *

Arvind Swami, Vijay Sethupathi and STR in a Mani Ratnam film? I’m in. I am definitely in. And so with high expectations I watched Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (Crimson Red Sky). Halfway through, I was disappointed. The story wasn’t gripping. The film’s trailer promised a good family feud but the film was a damp squib. One couldn’t help but be reminded of Kalki’s epic novel, Ponniyin Selvan, while watching Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. We are introduced to Aishwarya Rajesh who arrives to meet her husband on a boat, and she speaks with a strong Eelam accent. I shuddered. Aishwarya Rajesh’s Renu reminded me of Poonkuzhali, and much like the character in the novel, the character in the movie shows up on a boat. I waited for more such connections to show up. It didn’t happen. I waited for Ponniyin Selvan-esque female characters. That didn’t happen either. The story offers its female characters a cold wind to suck on. It’s just another attempt to create a film fuelled by testosterone, which I assume was extracted from Arvind Sami’s chest hair.

The last best Mani Ratnam film was Kannathil Muthamittal (2002). Aayutha Ezhuthu – despite its flaws and Mouna Ragam-esque Surya subplot – was a good film, but the impact did not leave any residue. Mani Ratnam has been doing films more frequently now than he was back in the 90s. Take a close look at the four films he has made in the last five years. He has focused on evergreen themes such as good vs. evil (Kadal), modern relationships (OK Kanmani), combating the inner devil (Kaatru Veliyidai) and dysfunctional families (Chekka Chivantha Vaanam). Now, compare this with his love-drenched sociopolitical dramas of the 90s or the hard-boiled crime films of the late 80s. Is this the evolution of Mani Ratnam?

STR gives us his best performance since Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, and in some ways is the saving grace of the film. Vijay Sethupathi continues with his “talk fast or talk loud” exercise. The trailer promised us Prakash Raj in a meaty role as the patriarch of this crime family. He’s reduced to just a handful of scenes. Heaven knows what Aditi Rao Hydari is doing in this film! Are we to consider her as just another casualty like Aishwarya Rajesh, Jyothika and Jayasudha? They play characters that sound interesting on paper but remain one-dimensional on film.

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: Meaghamann

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

All Hope Is Lost

Rating: *

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 hook. The director Magizh Thirumeni connects Hansika’s character with the main plot by envisioning a Bourne Supremacy-styled theft of a mobile phone.

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

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.”

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: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Brandon T. Jackson, Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario and Logan Lerman in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

What on Olympus is happening?
Rating: *

It is with a heavy heart that i write this review for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. Hollywood has chosen the blind eye on this potential book-to-screen fantasy franchise. The first Percy Jackson film was in all ways a miraculous entertainer. It took itself serious only when it needed to. Chris Columbus’s Percy Jackson: Lightning Thief is far better than the Thor Freudenthal sequel.

When Ghost Rider 2 made a mockery of itself, we didn’t care. But, when Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters becomes consumed in the world of bad decisions, you tend to twitch. The boy who recovered the stolen lightning is now the second best in Camp Half Blood. He’s a daredevil but at the same time, he’s rusty. But, one thing we all know is that he is the chosen one.

When Percy (Logan Lerman) lock horns with Clarisse (Leven Rambin), the daughter of Ares, you start wondering if the two would fall in love, the same way he and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) fell in love in the predecessor. Oh, speaking of Annabeth, she is present throughout the film. But, she isn’t taken seriously either. All she does is stand in the background and cheer for Percy. And having seen her in True Detective, I cannot watch her play a teenager anymore.

The first film boasted a good cast – Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Keener and even Uma Thurman. None of whom return in this 100-minute long debacle.

CGI takes a nose dive in this film, and I’m coming to think that South Indian films have better CGI. There is a Greek monster (dubbed as the Colchis Bull) which is shown to be a golden mechanical bull. Also, the Greek god, Kronos is a two-dimensional drawing in red and black.

The acting is wooden. The humour is parch. The overall experience is somber. If there are plans of making a third part, a lot of work needs to be done.

Review in 140 words or less: Trance

Trance movie, Danny Boyle, James McAvoy
Blurred Lines: James McAvoy in Trance.

Boyle’s Foil
Rating: *

Trance is a film that’s destined to leave you confused. It’s not long until you realize that Danny Boyle has hijacked your mind, and has ultimately robbed you from a good film.

You are introduced to Simon, an art auctioneer who also moonlights as a mastermind in Franck’s brawny gang of thieves. When a painting (stolen by Franck under the guidance of Simon) goes missing, all fingers point to Simon who now suffers from amnesia. Couple this with the presence of a foxy hypnotist (Rosario Dawson in her wake up call), a number of sexual references, a handful of Inception-styled mumbo jumbo, and voila! You have Trance. The film serves as a comeback vehicle for Dawson who is in need of a second chance. But, you never really realize that as Boyle has you captive. Even James McAvoy didn’t realize that.

Review: To The Wonder

Lovers in Bliss. Kurylenko and Affleck in To The Wonder
Lovers in Bliss. Kurylenko and Affleck in To The Wonder

Wonderland Beckons
Rating: *

Michael Cimino is known for his casual approach to movies. He dedicates time on the small things, gives more screen time for scenes which according to him are vital, and loves filming for more than 3 hours. But, the fact is, Cimino had a vision and fulfilled it. Whether it was the great Deer Hunter or Heaven’s Gate.

The only thing that separates Cimino from Terrence Malick is that Cimino’s films were never somber. They were full of life and you acknowledged it. You reacted to almost everything that happened in Deer Hunter. You were struck with grief when you witnessed the barbaric Russian Roulette games. You were a part of the grand wedding. You were humming “God Bless America” at the end of the movie. You don’t do the same with Malick’s films.

Malick has undergone tremendous change since Badlands, which is still my favourite Malick film. If you’ve heard about Tree of Life, you know what I’m talking about. To The Wonder is a desperate attempt to be another documentary shot by a Discovery Channel crew.

Malick may even be considered to be an evangelist. In Tree of Life, he preached existentialism and the nature of human soul. In To The Wonder, he preaches love in all of its forms. His quest to explain the beauty through long drawn shots of Oklahoma and midwestern United States as he patiently lets his characters walk into their roles. While Olga Kurylenko clearly is the star of the film, one can’t help notice Javier Bardem playing the deus ex machina – a priest undergoing a crisis of faith, who actually solves much of the film’s problems.

Ben Affleck is forever wooden, which is why I found it better when he’s not emoting much. I feel that Malick should only cast Jessica Chastain and either Brad Pitt or Sean Penn in his forthcoming ventures. When they emote, they do it without much fuss and it stands out. Rock solid. Watching Rachel McAdams try hard to emote her feelings felt like watching a game of charades.

To The Wonder may have been a 20 minute film if shot by a film student. It may have been a 150 page teen fiction if written by Nicholas Sparks, Or, it may have been a 90 minute memorable drama if directed by Woody Allen. In Malick’s hands, it’s an overly somber film that never lets the fat lady sing.