1. Chennai 600028: Finally, here’s a Tamil film that’s actually ‘Game’ in every sense of the word. It is ground-breaking effort and surely deserves a full-fledged review but like I said, I’ve become incredibly lazy. Not for a moment does Venkat Prabhu’s film take itself seriously nor does it treat cricket like a religion, like most movies made on sport here do. In Chennai 28, it’s just a game where anything is possible and then you live.
Also, making an ensemble film is one of the most challenging things for any debutant filmmaker and Venkat Prabhu pulls it off like a master. I mean who would’ve had the balls to make a film with a bunch of absolutely new actors, a plot where there’s absolutely no room for heroism or sentiment or melodrama. Just good old fashioned street-cricket hanging out with the guys.
2. Ek Chalis Ki Last Local: I caught this a few hours ago on Baddy‘s recommendation. And boy, I think I’ll just put off watching Miller’s Crossing by a day. I want to believe that we’ve finally managed to crack it. Marrying Tarantino-ish stylisation of violence to the Coen Brothers signature of the realistic absurdity in an authentic contemporary Indian milieu, without really moving too far away from the romanticism of Hindi films (It’s as much a nod to Raj Kapoor as it is to Linklater). Yes, I did find myself restless a few moments here and there but overall, it was a largely fulfilling experience. Interestingly bizzare and you may actually like it if you go with an open mind. Like I told another friend a while ago, watch it just for one reason: To support irreverent cinema. If you can spend 150 bucks to watch all the assembly line trash that’s been coming out of Yashraj, please spend 85 on this poor offbeat film that’s been sidelined to a single night show.
3. Life in a Metro: Surprisingly fresh. This is probably what Karan Johar would’ve wanted to do with Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna after watching Closer. A ‘closer’ look at relationships in a contemporary cosmopolitan metro. We haven’t seen such a free-flowing ensemble in recent times and all the actors, even Shilpa Shetty, come out with convincingly credible performances. You can’t help falling for the Konkana Sen-Irrfan Khan track, though Sharman Joshi is particularly effective as the unconditional lover. I’m not sure if I’m imagining it, but Anurag Basu does seem to plug in a couple of Cameron Crowe tributes… For a second there, I saw the suicidal Kangana Ranaut as Penny Lane in the middle of all that rock (in a Hindi film!!) sutradhars and also the trivia about the fish, specifically, the Pacific Northwestern Salmon, travelling hundreds of miles against the current, with a single purpose (the line also features in Elizabethtown). Yes, there are a couple of nods to ‘Closer’ too. I haven’t seen ‘The Apartment,’ so can’t really say how much is borrowed. But the thing is, Basu underlines most of these things we’ve seen before with his own signature, in a way that would only make the original filmmakers smile.
4. Periyar: Though it did start off with a jerky narrative with isolated incidents tied together for the sake of establishing character, the transitions turn smoother towards the middle, setting the stage for an almost credible biopic on the man considered to be the “Father” of the state. Satyaraj turns in a pretty underplayed performance and is easily one of the best things about this film that tries to stay true to the spirit of the man and his ideology. It did turn out to be engrossing attempt at that, especially, given that I was in no mood to watch a film after being horrified at the sight of the dirty, bug-infested, paan-stained seats at Rupini theatre, in Rohini complex. Just as we were wondering if we should leave and try to get to Abhirami (a
marginally better theatre), the credits came on and there were only a dozen people in the hall when the film started, including a few drunk and the homeless who had showed up for a few hours of air-conditioning on an extremely humid summer night. The only thing to put me off was the literally last-minute attempt to lick the Chief Minister’s ass clean. The extra seconds could’ve surely been done away with for it takes away from the credibility.
5. Ta Ra Rum Pum: There were a lot of scenes I liked in the film until the director, desperate to win our sympathy for the kids in this fantasy film, resorts to cheap tricks like making them eat food from the trash. I can understand this in an early nineties Vikraman film with S.A.Rajkumar music to boot but in something that tries to be refined and sophisticated… excuse me, Siddharth Anand, whatever happened to your sensibility? Even if you excuse the ‘Days of Thunder’-meets-‘Life is Beautiful’ plot, there are a lot of things that irk. First, that Saif Ali Khan, who created a new type, the uber-cool critic of Hindi cinema corn with that song in ‘Dil Chahta Hai,’ is now getting slotted so consistently into that type (‘Hum Tum,’ ‘Salaam Namastey,’ ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ and now this!) so much that it is turning into a stereotype. And, why is Rani who has never ever looked slutty now appears so? She too, like Saif, has done this role many times before (Saathiya, Chalte Chalte, Hum Tum and now again this!). But despite all this, the film will work for kids. Come on, Indian kids are one of a kind. Only they could have made ‘Koi Mil Gaya’ spawn a sequel and honestly believe that Krissh is better than Batman and Superman.
6. Marie Antoinette: I loved Knight’s Tale. So it’s not like I have a problem with stylising a period film with contemporary influences of music and costume. But I surely expect a little consistency in style and pattern that justifies the stylisation. Sophia Coppola’s take was beautiful. Period. Apart from looking good visually, there’s not much the film actually achieves. Or maybe that was exactly what she wanted to tell us about the Queen. The only thing that kept me going was Kirsten Dunst needing help with change of clothes. But seriously, what’s with Kirsten Dunst and transparent clothing? Not that I’m complaining.
7. The Hills Have Eyes 2: I’m just gonna cut and paste from my draft for the official review that was toned down.
The Hills have eyes 2?
Well, if only they could fill the movie halls too.
The thing about an immensely forgettable film is that your memory fails you every passing moment as soon as you’ve left the hall.
To his credit, the director compensates by giving you a storyline that’s impossible to forget. A bunch of soldiers all die one by one.
This marathon of bad acting is flagged off by a Training-Day Denzel Washington Wannabe, a possible second-grade school play reject, who plays the no-nonsense Sarge, screaming the corniest orders in predictable Black American slang.
In a landscape so barren and dry of any talent whatsoever, the mutants emerge out to be the best ‘actors.’ Yes, ‘actors’ because they do the right thing – they kill this bunch of bad actors one by one.
So purely on the basis of acting talent, it is easy to guess who would die next. When there’s just one watchable face in the pack, the quintessential blonde, you know she would hang around till the very end.
There’s a scene right at the beginning that warns you of what to expect. A cadet goes to empty his bowels when a mutated hand shoots out of the potty. Holy four-letter word… Exactly!
That kind of failed because the girls were too grossed out to even look and the guys, veterans of the Grindhouse that they are, have seen better stuff.
The film, thereon, just played out as a long bland ordeal where you had to wait for them to be done, one by one. The only thing left to see was how, and in which order. But since you knew they would save the pretty young thing for the end, even that wasn’t so nail-biting.
Violence can be enthralling, as Tarantino has often proved. This movie, however, tries its best to make you throw up, with that last-ditch attempt of the mutant rape scene. But by then, chances are, you would have left the hall.
If you were among the kind fans of the original, you would wish upon the makers a death at the hands of the mutants. But since the mutants here just looked like a bunch of deformed retards with no essential powers like the ability to snatch one’s intestines through the throat or grind the writers into a fine pulp, you are out of options.
So now, they are at it again. The end was the beginning of all horror actually – a set-up to yet another sequel. Be scared, very scared.
8. The Last King of Scotland: If you don’t feel too bad for Will Smith losing out on the Best Actor at the Academy Awards, it’s only because Forest Whitaker creates a frighteningly powerful persona that will haunt you till death as he brings to life one of the darkest dictators in history and the most colourful villains of contemporary cinema.
If movie buffs had to vote for the best villain in recent times, this portrayal of the ‘Cannibal’ President Idi Amin will only lose to Hannibal Lecter and, maybe, Kaiser Soze. Knowing pretty well that a role like this comes only once in a lifetime, Forest Whitaker gives it everything he has.
But hang on, his performance, worth every gram of the statuette, is not the only reason you must watch ‘The Last King of Scotland.’ There are many.
Director Kevin MacDonald crafts an edge-of-the-seat riveting thriller from a fictional account of a biopic that begins slowly and smoothly, introducing us to Uganda through the eyes of a young Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), whose casual, carefree life changes forever when he befriends the President.
The film is essentially about the bond between Amin and Nicholas as the makers put us into the shoes of the physician quite early in the film. Through the film, you get to know the President, through the eyes of Nicholas. In the beginning, you, like Nicholas or the people of Uganda, begin to actually like him, given his sense of humour and child-like affability.
Like the doctor, you mistake the psychotic quirkiness for harmless eccentricity, underestimateing the childish arrogance. So when Nicholas tells the President “You’re just a child. And that’s what makes you so scary,” he’s actually speaking out your observation of the man. Performances perfectly tuned to the intention.
Which is why this is such an effective film born of out a brilliant script (Jeremy Brock wrote the screenplay based on Giles Foden’s novel.)
Whitaker’s greatest histrionic achievement lies in his seamless transformation from a charismatic leader to a murderous monarch. So even when you see his dark side, you still can see its origins and the traits of the person you once liked. Whitaker’s presence looms so large over the film that poor McAvoy, who probably clocks more screen-time, is reduced to a support act. It has to be said here that McAvoy manages to pull off one of the most complex and under-rated roles in recent times, as the epitome of vulnerability, a man faced with a moral dilemma of what he values more – loyalty towards his friend or the country and the people he has come to serve.
As the tension builds between the two main characters, the director capitalises on the mood, steps up the pace and sets the stage for a dark, gripping finale.
It’s not just the lead performers, McAvoy and Whitaker, who deliver their flawed characters with flawless execution and conviction. The support cast is terrific, the score rocking with African rhythms and the cinematography, vividly haunting.
Surrender to ‘The Last King of Scotland.’ He rules.
9. Bheja Fry: Not everyone’s gonna like this. For starters, the word has spread that it is a rip off of a French film. Also, the kind of humour employed in the film is subtle, the pace laid-back, the setting (and the set) very sit-com. But despite all that, I loved it for Vinay Pathak. The actor has a ball, making the character his own, fleshing it out to great detail, nuancing it with nice touches of body-language, making even the most ordinary lines funny with sheer timing. The film’s sorest point, for me, was that there is not even an attempt made to explain the exact reason why his wife (Sarika) leaves Rajat Kapoor. Come on, if you are going to base your entire film on the premise that the wife left the guy, then we need to know more. Why exactly? But for the sake of Vinay, let’s just let that pass. Like I said about Ek Chalis, if you can go watch any film out of Yashraj just out of curiosity, why not extend support to small films that can really do with your support.
10. Unnale Unnale: I’m pretty sure that this film was edited even before it was shot. Jeeva went to a DVD library, hand-picked 20 romantic comedies (some Hindi and many English), grabbed all the scenes he liked (or understood) and got an editor to come up with a first draft of the script. So liking this film entirely depends on your moral take on the issue of originality. I interviewed Jeeva recently and asked him why he did it. What he told me was this: “If you are a medical student, you go to the library to read books on medicine. Similarly, when we are making films, we refer to a lot of films. We don’t use it completely but are inspired by them. Like how music has only 7 tunes (he probably meant notes), there are only a few ideas.” Well, that reminds me of that old joke that spells out the difference between plagiarism and research. Plagiarism is when you copy from one source. Research is when you copy from many.