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.

Reviews: Broken City and Knife Fight

 

The One Man Army and His Foxy Assistant

russell crowe, mark wahlberg, broken city

Broken City
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Natalie Martinez

Rating: **

The trouble with Broken City comes around the halfway mark. You have a private eye who much like JJ Gittes in Chinatown, snoops on cheating spouses and reports back the suspicions. And then, there’s a sinister plot that keeps the protagonist – the private eye – puzzled. Before he can solve it, corpses pile up and he looks at the audience seated in the movie hall for guidance. In Chinatown, screenwriter Robert Towne tackled this issue by having Gittes tag along with the wife of the man he was snooping on. While that works in a fine mystery classic like Chinatown, Broken City is just not up to the mark.

In Broken City, these clues present itself to Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) a former cop who was arrested on charges of murder but released after the intervention of New York City Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Crowe). Seven years down the line, Hostetler hires Taggart with a wry concern that his wife (Zeta Jones) is cheating on him. A motion of deathly events are set off here and Taggart insists on uncovering it. He does this of course by surviving car chases, breaking into houses and with a small amount of shooting.

Taggart doesn’t work alone. He has an assistant, played by Alona Tal, who handles the phone calls and checks on the billings, and at times helps Taggart solve mysteries. The film boasts a star cast that can churn in curious filmgoers but the screenplay kills the pace of the movie and you have to settle with half-eaten broth. When you have Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Natalie Martinez in a film, you expect fine performances. And maybe, they did their best. But, you won’t realize it due to the sagging screenplay.

rob lowe, knife fight

Knife Fight
Starring: Rob Lowe, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jamie Chung, Richard Schiff
Rating: **

Having heard the title, I perceived Knife Fight to be a full-blown action movie. But, in reality, Knife Fight is a delightful political satire starring Rob Lowe as a spin doctor. Hollywood has seen many spin doctor films in the past few decades. A notable satire being Barry Levinson’s Wag The Dog which united Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman onscreen. But, spin doctor films are not purely political. Films like Network or even Jason Reitman’s Thank You For Smoking are fine examples on how spin doctor films work. They take what’s wrong in the industry and make it funny for us to share some healthy laughs.

Knife Fight is set during the preliminary elections where Paul Turner (Lowe) has his hands full backing two major players – Larry Becker (Eric McCormack) and Stephen Green (David Harbour). These two are you standard issue senators. They are honest in front of the camera and pigs in front of young interns and sexy masseuses. And then, there’s the saintly character – played by Carrie-Anne Moss – who wants to join politics to genuinely serve the society. Like the characters in Jay Roach’s comedy, Campaign, the senators in Knife Fight are ready to go to town with anything that moves.

Richard Schiff plays the role of an intel digger who can somehow find almost anything about anyone. While this seems like a tough job for most of us, Schiff coolly sips a margarita in a strip club and downloads confidential health reports of an opposing senator. Rob Lowe’s character does seem to know every move of the media and plans months in advance. Anything he needs is just a call away, or in this case, his assistant, played by Jamie Chung makes the call for him.

The comforting thing about Knife Fight is that the script doesn’t take itself too serious. It harbours over territories and doesn’t dwell any deeper. That way, the film manages to keep itself sane and light-hearted. Knife Fight is indeed a sheer surprise.

Review: Django Unchained

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained.
Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained.

Tarantino Unchained. Django Not So Much.

Django Unchained
Rating: **

In the climactic shootout, a wounded baddie calls out “D-jango”, to which the titular character replies “D silent” and shoots him dead. This scene although action-packed is also incredibly funny. Jamie Foxx is known for playing the fast-talking African-American in films such as Collateral. But, he has also shown his dark comedy side in films such as Horrible Boss and The Soloist. In Django Unchained, he goes all out in the peculiar Quentin Tarantino style. Django Unchained plays out like a Chuck Norris film, bowing its hat to heroism and the antics, popular heroes do. This includes the act of blowing up a colonial villa with dynamite, and watching it with a cigarette in the mouth, and funky sunglasses, right in the middle of the night.

In a Quentin Tarantino film, the actors never have trouble in playing their characters, as Tarantino is a workhorse, who will not let you slip. The film also stars Christoph Waltz in the role of a dentist-turned-bounty hunter. Waltz showed us just what he can do in Tarantino’s WW2 flick, Inglourious Basterds, and in Django Unchained, he is the same charming self with an attitude and a hidden revolver.

I’ve never seen Tarantino present much detail to art or music as he does in Django Unchained. It’s amazing that the filmmaker has grown up to make a movie that combines classic 18th century art and music with Tarantino-esque violence.

 

Review: The Campaign

Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell face off in The Campaign

The Foul Mouth and The Republican

Rating: **
Jay Roach’s The Campaign starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis is a modern-day retelling of the David and Goliath story set in the political underbelly of North Carolina. According to the film, the Republicans are David. And not just that, there are plenty of references to the 2012 political scene. Cam Brady (Ferrell) enjoys a good run as the Democratic Congressman of the unnamed 14th District. However, his campaign is closely watched by corrupt businessmen – The Motch Brothers, played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, which of course is a play on the real life Koch Brothers, who heavily funded Mitt Romney in the 2012 elections.

The Motch siblings bring up an underdog tourism director Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) as the Republican candidate. I’m unaware as to how a person with no political knowledge can actually run a district. But, be aware that this is as close as the film gets to reality. The rest is totally “off the hook”.

Former Saturday Night Live member Ferrell is a genius when it comes to rude humour and he excels in The Campaign. And, with current SNL member Jason Sudeikis at his side, comedy moves up a notch. I’m wondering why Galifianakis use a fake voice? His real voice is fine, considering it was his deadpan humour in The Hangover that won him acclaim.

The film also stars Dylan McDermott as a professional spin doctor for Huggins. McDermott’s uptight attitude is chaotically funny and so are his answers to every question Huggins poses. Roach’s repertoire includes the highly successful Meet The Parents and Austin Powers. The Campaign has plenty of blind spots. I wrote the following in my Dinner For Shmucks review:

“Jay Roach uses the short route and attempts to convert melodrama into swanky mush… Adding drama and humor to the same dish, Roach succeeds only in laughter count.”

The film ends with a lot of heart and absolutely no screenplay, which is just the way any badly written lighthearted comedy would end. It’s as if Ferrell was asked to speak some heart-warming words and do what’s right. And, let me tell you, I was groaning when that happened. Why do fairy tale endings have to be recycled?

 

Review: Kahaani

Vidya Balan in Kahaani.

Pregnant, Hacking, Action Heroine

Rating: **

What is it about today’s Bollywood filmmakers that I really don’t understand? They think they’re too smart and can narrate a story as long as they have charming actors filling the scenes. And yes, pregnant Vidya Balan is charming much like the raunchy Vidya Balan from The Dirty Picture. But, this is the Vidya Balan you prefer. This is the one you’ve seen in Parineeta, Lage Raho Munnabhai and Kismat Konnection.

Don’t get me wrong, Kahaani is a good thriller. The motive for Vidya Bagchi to land up in Kolkata is clear, but the follow through is confusing. The motifs were enjoyable in Kahaani. Bringing a pregnant woman to Kolkata right during Durga Puja and then making her do almost anything to uncover the truth. The circumstances provided by Sujoy Ghosh, test the character really well, as she runs down a busy market with a huge baby bump, before slumping to her knees and then asking for soda.

After a plot point is revealed, the film moves from the “search for the husband” stage to “kill every extra” stage where the unwanted characters land up dead. This of course gives Ghosh the chance to pick up Hollywood DVDs and observe the different forms of assassinations. And yes, an assassin in the form of an insurance salesman was ironical. He enters the house explaining life insurance plans and then whips out his gun. You can figure out the rest.

Sadly, Balan’s movies have become stereotypic. She chooses female-oriented movies, and ensures that her role overlaps others. And then, she wins a National Award. The climactic inspiration from Taking Lives was well enough to put Balan in the short list of action heroines.

Kahaani is sure to impress scores of populations who are used to seeing Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar jump buildings and defy realism. Kahaani just didn’t do the trick for me.

Review: My Week With Marilyn

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

Every goddess has a human side. This is Marilyn’s.

Rating: **

Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn has a twenty-something British fellow named Colin Clark (played by the smile-free Eddie Redmayne) spending quality time with Marilyn Monroe on the sets of The Prince and The Showgirl. Initial thoughts are generated on whether Curtis’ film is just another Notting Hill set in 1956 for it involves an ordinary man and an extraordinary star. But, the film doesn’t follow up on it and Monroe becomes more human in this film. Curtis doesn’t make use of the cast ensemble either. He ensures that Michelle Williams alone touches base. This being done, screenwriter Adrian Hodges weaves scenes around her. It’s sad that actors such as Judi Dench and Toby Jones have been underused. Kenneth Branagh plays Sir Laurence Olivier, a hothead who claims to be the greatest actor ever.

This assessment of Olivier cemented by Kenneth Branagh is intermittently amusing. Those familiar with the 1957 film know that Olivier was still strikingly handsome. Yet, the physical differences between Olivier and Branagh may seem alien. Branagh’s soft face becomes a blur when compared to Olivier’s sculptured masculinity.

Olivier’s then wife, Vivian Leigh (played by Julia Ormond) succumbs to Marilyn’s beauty onscreen and feels that her husband will be no match to that. Olivier confirms that he will never be, as he strongly feels that Marilyn is a true actress. When confronted by Colin to reveal this piece of truth to Marilyn, he holds back his tongue with a retort “what I said now doesn’t leave this room.”

Of course, he never thought Colin Clark would write a memoir which would contain those forbidden words.

The tragic Monroe is obviously dramatic, but the intimations of disaster don’t fit a movie that works so hard to be easily likable. Everything onscreen looks good and period-appropriate, if also too manicured, as if the past had been digitally spruced up. Curtis enlivens the movie with Zoe Wanamaker’s darkly comic turn as Monroe’s acting coach, Paula Strasberg while Emma Watson has a thankless part as Lucy, the girl from the costume department.

Lucy and Colin go out on a date and when Colin unbuttons her blouse, she holds back. When asked why, she says she’s not ready. Women back then held back their virginity. Men however are still the same. Message received Mr. Curtis!

My Week With Marilyn is a period piece that fails to stand near to 2010’s Oscar winner, The King’s Speech. The film is a platform for Michelle Williams to showcase her skills and she does it well. That’s it! Show’s over folks! 

Review: The Dirty Picture

Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture.

The dirty things women do

Rating: **

While most Hollywood-inspired Bollywood films revolve around a wafer-thin plot and break box office records through star power and a chartbuster song, some take realism as a way of life and weave an intrinsic tale around it. Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture does neither. It is neither a realistic film focussing on the life of Silk Smitha nor an inspired film. It hogs around taking glimpses from the lives of celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and ends as if the film had nothing else to say. Of course, it didn’t have anything else to say. The film was all about the rise and fall of an exotic actress and that alone fits in the screen.

Can Vidya Balan act? She sure has the looks that was first noticed in Parineeta and then in Guru. Apart from Paa and the hysteric Ishqiya, was there any other film that saw her act? When you play an item dancer, sex appeal alone doesn’t help. You’ve got to be revolting and impulsive. Balan gets the impulsive part right as her dialogues are force-fed with expletives. Luthria has Balan cavorting around lush greens and a field of oranges exposing every part of her body. The guy seated next to me joked “this is a film that should be seen in 3D, not Ra.One!”

We also have Naseeruddin Shah who despite the dyed hair and makeup is easy to be spotted as an old man. We’ve had enough training spotting good old Rajnikanth, that aging cannot escape our eyes. For Shah, this is redemption of his youth. Did he desire to do a film with Smitha back in the eighties?

Tusshar Kapoor arrives as the actor who is least expected to act. All we want him to do is sit in a corner and admire Balan’s beauty. He does the same and often tends to his 80s-like moustache. Emraan Hashmi seems to be improving as an actor. His portrayal of artistic filmmaker Abraham is his best performance ever.

The naivety Balan brings onscreen hangs on to your mind like chewing gum stuck on a shoe. With actors taking the glam route thinking that’ll win them critical praise, I wonder how things are going to be with Bollywood’s glam dolls. Will they have to deglamourize to take the critical praise, or are they like everyone else giving a run for our money.

The Dirty Picture locks horns when it comes to feminine discrimination in cinema. This film believes that women like Silk Smitha chose to discriminate themselves for money, power and undaunted fame. The debate continues…

Review: Kullanari Koottam

Vishnu and Remya Nambeesan in Kullanari Koottam

Simpleton rom-com takes a dive

Rating: **

Humour, wit, romance – Kullanari Koottam has it all! But, the narration takes a dive in the second half and becomes some kind of a docudrama by exposing corruption in the police force. And, the characters just walk into a mindset and kidnap relentlessly. This indeed is a false promise set by a highly entertaining first half.

Kullanari Koottam, I hear is a sleeper hit. The film is also one of those suburban (read: B&C centre) films which seemed to have earned the interest of the multiplex audience. Judging by the brisk narration, the first 60 minutes offered, I was hooked on. The film is around 140 minutes in length and that’s a huge relief. But, the third act could have definitely used some editing.

Do we still need songs to hook us? Chartbusters are okay, but what about songs that you never actually want? The second half faces such a scenario.

Vishnu comfortably slips into the role of a Madurai youngster without thinking about the accent and lifestyle. Although, writer-director Sribalaji gives him a set of mannerisms to follow, Vishnu staggers and tries quite hard to create an impact, while usual rom-com actors just go with the flow.

Remya Nambeesan has found the role that suits her looks. Her character brings enough naivety to the film. The scene where she threatens Vishnu over the phone is a splendid one. The rest of the cast look to set a mark, but we all know that romantic comedies favour only the lead.

Kullanari Koottam is flawed, but nevertheless entertains… at least the first half does. 

Review: Yuddham Sei

Cheran in Yuddham Sei.

The power of fantasy

Rating: **

When a normal family turns abnormally violent to avenge the death of their daughter, you know it’s natural. But, when they turn into a pair of serial killers using sophisticated weapons, you know it’s a sort of gory fantasy. Myshkin takes on gore fantasy in Yuddham Sei. But, it is reasonable enough to believe that such a family does not exist.

But, that’s just the back story. The film has a vindictive detective, J.K. working on a case of butchery. Severed arms and legs start appearing everywhere and it’s evident that there’s a freak out there somewhere. Soon, police officials are kidnapped and everything turns nasty. Myshkin adds another back story, this time for J.K., whose sister has gone missing. The way he lets the narrative loose at times is prejudiced, but strongly artistic.

Performance wise, this is Myshkin’s best. While Jayaprakash as a mortician plays his role cool as a cucumber, Cheran exults in his flamboyance as a character actor. He plays a silent detective unlike the ones Hollywood usually projects (J.J. Gittes in Chinatown, Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes).

The only letdown is that ridiculous fight scene in which Cheran fends off his attackers with a switchblade from a nail clipper. How absurd that a detective cannot find a bigger weapon in his house?

And yes, that item number was totally unnecessary. Myshkin just had to keep up with his ‘yellow sari’ tradition, didn’t he? And I still proclaim ‘Vaalameenu’ as the best, as it defined the word ‘item’.

Yuddham Sei is not a thought-provoking movie like Anjaathe. It’s an effervescent crime thriller which lacks the thrill, but showcases human trauma.