The Amazing Spiderman

New Spidey works…

Pic source: Wikipedia

The masked vigilante is back… with similar story elements and emotions that we have seen earlier. However, director Marc Webb’s reboot of the successful Spiderman franchise does not fail to impress. Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, The Amazing Spiderman re-tells the story of a teenager becoming a superhero in an engaging manner. Apart from the director, credit goes to the film’s lead actor, Andrew Garfield for making us forget the old Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and becoming a good Spidey. Garfield is extremely good with emotions (as we have seen in his earlier film, Never Let Me Go) and he makes it is easier for the audience to empathise with Peter Parker. Whether it is the nervousness in front of the girl he likes or the frustration related to his long-lost parents or the guilt related to a dear one’s death; the actor makes it all convincing. Looking at his earlier work, I was not sure if he’d be good with action but he does well; and the dash of humour is refreshing as he teases and plays with his enemies.

Along with the same basic story about Peter Parker’s journey from a reclusive student to a responsible hero; The Amazing Spiderman gets its villain also in the same fashion as earlier films. A science experiment to help humanity goes wrong and we get a new villain called The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. The Lizard does what the usual villains in Spidey films do but he is not that menacing as the Green Goblin was in the old Spiderman. The action sequences are also less in the film and you are left asking for more. Some of the sequences are very well shot and you are given Spidey’s perspective as he jumps from heights. While the film is shot in 3D, it doesn’t add to the film, apart from the scenes where depth is required, which are good.

Another big change in the film is Peter Parker’s love interest; instead of Mary Jane, we get to meet Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. Like Garfied, Stone also does full justice to her role and makes you forget Kirsten Dunst who played Mary Jane in earlier films. Gwen is intelligent, strong headed and fearless; casting Stone was perhaps the best decision for the makers.

Indian actor, Irrfan Khan’s much talked about role in the film as Dr. Ratha is nothing more than a cameo. While Dr. Ratha’s character is important to the story, there is surprisingly less attention paid to him. One does not know what happens to him after a point in the film but I don’t think anyone cares except for the Indian audience.

Overall, The Amazing Spiderman is an enjoyable film but is surely not the best superhero film we have seen this summer. Definitely watch it for a good time at the movies, but do not expect a lot; I guess that is left to the sequel. In true Marvel style, a teaser to the next film is left in the middle of the end-credits; so do not leave the theatre immediately after the film ends.

Viewing recommendations:

Spidey fans in the UK can enjoy the film at Odeon which has more IMAX screens in the country than any other cinema chain. For more information on ticket and viewing options check the The Amazing Spiderman 3D at Odeon web page. In India, choose a good theatre for 3D; PVR in my experience is better and have got lighter 3D glasses and if you have an IMAX screen in your city, go for it.

Brave

Not the best from Pixar

Pic source: Wikipedia

Brave is the first fairy tale style film from Pixar and the first film from the animation studio to have a female lead character. The film’s trailers looked great and I was curious about the adventures of the red-haired Scottish princess. However, I left the theatre disappointed. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Brave is the weakest Pixar film I have seen (seen all except Cars & Cars 2); the animation is nice and there are great visuals, but the real problem with Brave is its weak script (screenplay: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi). The story is new but does not seem fresh; it is predictable and does not pack a punch.

Set in a Scottish kingdom, Brave tells the story of Princess Merida (voice: Kelly Macdonald) who wants to be the mistress of her own fate. The headstrong princess is an accomplished archer and is a daddy’s girl (Billy Connolly as King Fergus); her mother, Queen Elinor’s (Emma Thompson) attempts to teach her the ways of the royalty amuse as well as irritate her. The mother-daughter relationship and Merida’s acts of defiance are the best part of the film; one can relate to her as she struggles to be understood by her parents. Merida is likeable but somehow there is not enough done to make the audience connect with her emotionally. The resolution to the big problem she faces seems rather simple and yes, there is the usual ‘moral of the story’ that makes the film a bit preachy in parts.

Coming to the animation, one cannot really question Pixar in this department. There are beautiful forest sequences and the aerial views are breathtaking; water is shown beautifully and appears real. However, the use of 3D does not add to the film’s rich visuals, the way it was done in Dreamworks’ Scottish inspired outing, How to Train Your Dragon. I wish Merida had more spunk like Princess Fiona (Shrek); there were more surprises in the story with a better climax; and more pop culture references (like Madagascar 3) to keep the adults engaged.

It is summer time and Brave is a good option for kids but unlike other Pixar gems, this one does not really shine for adults.

Gangs of Wasseypur

Revenge is best served on coal…

Pic source: Wikipedia

After watching ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ (GOW) yesterday, a friend tweeted, “go watch, if you have class enough to appreciate crass…” While I am not sure if I agree with her completely, it is certainly a film to watch. Director, Anurag Kashyap’s ambitious saga about coal mafia and revenge, set in Wasseypur / Dhanbad (now in Jharkhand; earlier in Bihar) packs in a lot of punch with its clever writing (Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, Sachin Ladia & Kashyap himself) and performances. Expansive in vision and scale, the GOW saga spans three generations and borrows heavily from real life incidents from pre-independence era to the modern times. (Minor spoilers ahead).

GOW is a story about men obsessed with power and revenge. Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) swears to avenge his father’s death by the hands of coal mine contractor turned politician, Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia). He does not want to kill him but savour the revenge by bringing Singh’s empire to a downfall. On one hand, Khan has Singh to destroy in Dhanbad; he has the Qureshi clan in Wasseypur to fight with as well. Butchers by profession, the Qureshis were responsible for driving out the Pathans (Khans) from Wasseypur in 1941. Not that the Pathans were innocent; Sardar Khan’s father, Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) used to loot the British trains by impersonating the legendary dacoit, Sultana Daku, a Qureshi. The film’s plot is complex and this is just the main premise; there are many characters that keep getting introduced throughout the film. However, the director manages keeps it all together and sustains the interest for about 160-minutes.

Kashyap effectively uses humour and music to keep the film entertaining and not only a blood-fest. The film has powerful dialogues that shock and amuse in equal parts. At one point, Sardar Khan’s wife tells him to eat properly so that he doesn’t embarrass himself by not being able to perform sexually at a brothel; she says something like, “Khana khao, takat aayega, bahar jaa ke be-izzati na karana”. Coming to the women in GOW; Richa Chaddha as Nagma, Khan’s fiery wife steals the thunder from Bajpayee whenever she appears on screen. She loves and hates her man in equal parts but stands by him in all adverse situations. Then there is the other ‘womaniya’, Durga (Reemma Sen); like the men in Wasseypur, she does not have any qualms in claiming what is not rightfully hers. Both actresses deliver impressive performances but Richa’s character draws more empathy. In GOW, Bajpayee gets his career’s best role and he shines; the character he plays is not really positive but the flaws make him more real – someone you support at times and hate at others. Tigmanshu Dhulia makes a powerful debut and has a career in acting apart from filmmaking. The next generation of gangsters is also introduced in the film but most of the action is reserved for them in the second part of the film that is expected to release soon. The person to watch there is Nawazuddin Siddiqui whose character, Faizal seems to have been modeled on Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man on-screen persona in the seventies.

Music (Sneha Khanwalkar; lyrics: Varun Grover, Piyush Misra) is one of the best parts of the film and you often hear unexpected tracks playing in the background (background score: G V Prakash Kumar). The song, ‘Teri keh ke loonga…’ defines the film and its attitude; ‘Womaniya’ and ‘I am a hunter’ are both enjoyable and thankfully none of them disturb the film’s narrative. The only real flaw I could find with the film is its length; however, that can be forgiven if the film is good overall.

I strongly recommend watching Gangs of Wasseypur but those who are averse to violence and blood on screen, may avoid.

 

Ferrari Ki Sawaari

An Aww-ful Film…

A simple plot, likeable characters and a lot of ‘Aww’ moments make Ferrari Ki Sawaari a must watch summer film for families. Indian cinema has always celebrated the mother-child bond but this film focuses on the father-son relationship. It is a story about a single father’s determination to make his son’s dreams come true.

Rusy / Rustom Deboo (Sharman Joshi) is an honest government employee who always sees the brighter side of life. He loves his 12-year-old son, Kayo (Ritvik Sahore), a talented cricketer, more than anything in the world. Kayo also understands and appreciates his Pappa’s efforts to support his passion for cricket, despite his small income. The real challenge arises when Kayo gets an opportunity to go to a cricket camp at the iconic Lord’s ground in London, which has a fee of Rs. 1.5 lacs. After being denied a loan from the bank, Rusy has only two choices – break his son’s dream or take a path that is against his values to get the money. No prizes for guessing, he chooses the latter in desperation and starts a mad chain of events involving none other than Sachin Tendulkar’s Ferrari.

Writer-director, Rajesh Mapuskar manages to beautifully portray the relationship between Rusy and Kayo which is based on mutual understanding, love and respect. On the other hand, the relationship between Rusy and his bitter-old father or Mota Pappa, Behram Deboo (Boman Irani) is a little strained and we get to slowly peel the layers as the film progresses. All actors have done a good job and in this male dominated cast, a firebrand female wedding planner, Babbu Chanchal (Seema Pahawa) also manages to deliver laughs.

It is a heartwarming film that brings together emotions and comedy with an almost fantastical premise (written by Mapuskar, Vidhu Vinod Chopra & Rajkumar Hirani). I wish the film was a little shorter though (editing – Deepa Bhatia) and the music a little better (Pritam).  The prayer song, ‘Ae Mere Mann’ is very nice but does not stay with you; ‘Mara Re’ and the title track are peppy but that’s about it; the most popular track ‘Mala Jau De’ is popular mainly because of Vidya Balan’s guest appearance.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari is a feel good film and I recommend you take some time out from all the negativities and stress to just relax and enjoy Kayo & Rusy’s adventures.

Madagascar 3 Europe’s Most Wanted

This one’s not to be missed…

Pic source: Wikipedia

Our favourite animals are back and as the film’s title, ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ suggests they are shaking up things in Europe this time. For those unfamiliar with the series, it follows the adventures of four zoo animals from New York who accidentally get shipped to Madagascar in the first film; crash land in Africa while trying to get back to NYC in the second one and make an impressive journey through Europe in the latest film.

Madagascar 3 starts in Africa where Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) once again decide to get back home – the Central Park Zoo. They go to Monte Carlo to join the Penguins who can fly them in their specially assembled aircraft (if you’re not following what the Penguins are doing in Monte Carlo and where did the aircraft come from, do watch the earlier films). All doesn’t go as planned and the large group of animals is chased by a maniacal animal control officer, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). Their plane crashes again and they take shelter in a train carrying circus animals. Here we are introduced to Stefano the sea-lion (Martin Short), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), amongst others. The film has a lot of excitement and moves at a fast pace (editing: Nick Fletcher); there are thrilling chase sequences and a lot of other action, with Europe’s iconic landmarks in the background. While the love angle between Melman and Gloria moves forward, the real mush comes from the love at first sight story between King Julien the lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Sonya the bear (Frank Welker). Their romance is one of the highlights in the film, which also has an elaborate circus sequence inspired by Cirque du Soleil.

Apart from the fantastic animation (Dreamworks) and great use of 3D, Madagascar 3 has some great writing (Eric Darnell & Noah Baumbach). There are the usual character driven lines that make you laugh, especially Marty, King Julien and the Penguins; but the real winning moments are subtle and at times not so subtle references to the European culture. For example, we are informed about the French working culture that requires work for only two weeks a year! Then there is Frances McDormand’s rendition of ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ (No, I have no regrets) that has special significance for the French – it was sung by Édith Piaf in 1960 as a dedication to the French Foreign Legion (seems master composer Hans Zimmer loves the song; he included it in the Inception soundtrack too). I was also surprised with a smart reference to the Rita Hayworth poster from Shawshank Redemption. So many interesting tidbits make the film more engaging and enjoyable for the adults while the children enjoy the animated action.

Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon, Madagascar 3 is a must watch film this summer in 3D.

I am also looking forward to Ice Age: Continental Drift in 3D that releases on July 13. Folks in the UK can enjoy the film at Odeon which has more IMAX screens in the country than any other cinema chain. You can find more information on ticket and viewing options on Ice Age Continental Drift 3D at Odeon web page. In India, Mumbaikars can enjoy it at IMAX Big Cinema in Wadala and in Delhi I am going to try PVR Director’s Cut soon.

Shanghai

A smart political thriller

Pic source: Wikipedia

 If made a decade or two ago, Shanghai would have been bracketed in the art film genre and nobody except the film festival audience and a few intellectual types would have seen it. But Indian audience has evolved; if a Rowdy Rathore does blockbuster business, there are houseful shows for Shanghai as well, at least in the multiplexes. And director, Dibakar Banerjee does not disappoint; he has made a political thriller that is realistic and brave. Congratulations to him and Urmi Juvekar for the fantastic screenplay, which is based on the novel ‘Z’ by Greek writer, Vassilis Vassilikos.

The name, Shanghai is an interesting metaphor used by the filmmaker to describe the hollow promises of development by our politicians. Whether it is turning Mumbai into a world class city, modeled after Shanghai or transforming Gurgaon, the goal has not been reached but the so called progress has its costs. Banerjee’s Shanghai delves deep into the murky political games, scams and crimes that take place in the name of development. Set in a fictitious town called Bharat Nagar, the film reflects the political realities our country faces today. You can identify the real life politicians that have inspired Banerjee while writing the political characters in the film – there’s the lady chief minister who is called ‘madamji’ and has ambitions to become the Prime Minister; then there are the coalition troubles; a South Indian Home Minister and more.

Banerjee has also developed his characters really well and with superb casting, has hit the bull’s eye. There are layers to his characters and the director leaves hints for the audience to figure out more. For instance, Prosenjit Chatterjee plays a political activist named, Dr. Ahmadi; he is a bestselling author, who stays in the US but is passionate about the cause of the poor in India. He travels by a private jet (funded by whom?) to Bharat Nagar; does a photo-op with a Bollywood actress in town for his rival camp and his wife (the fabulous Tillotama Shome of Monsoon Wedding fame) is not convinced of his style of activism. He gives his life for the cause and is given god-like stature but there is more to the character that is left to be imagined. Similarly, the character of T. A. Krishnan, an IAS officer who is in charge of investigating the attack on Dr. Ahmadi is fascinating. Played superbly by Abhay Deol, Krishnan is a devout family man, who is torn between his ambitions and the right thing to do. While Emraan Hashmi has a crowd pleasing role, for me Abhay Deol steals the show with his perfect South Indian accent, mannerisms and restrained performance. Emraan on the other hand plays Joginder, a videographer who makes porn to supplement his income as a freelance media representative. He helps Shalini Sahay (Kalki Koechlin), a close aide of Dr. Ahmadi to unravel the real story behind the attack. Hashmi is good and has proved that he is much more than his serial-kisser image. Kalki also handles the character of an activist well who appears to be more in love with her teacher than his cause. Then there are small yet impactful roles played by Farooq Sheikh, Pitobash Tripathy and Supriya Pathak.

There is tension in each scene of the film and the director successfully maintains it till the end. The songs however could have been used well as background music instead of suddenly appearing in the film. Music by Vishal Shekhar is fine and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ song captures the essence of the film with words like ‘Gud bhi hai gobar bhi, Bharat mata ki jai’ (There is jaggery as well as dung in the country, hail Mother India) (lyrics: Dibakar Banerjee). Editing by Namrata Rao is perfect and cinematography by Nikos Andritsakis good, except the patchy difference in the way ‘Imported Kamariya’ song is shot and the rest of the film (it looks like a separate music video inserted in the film as a second thought).

Shanghai is amongst the best Hindi films I’ve seen in the recent times. Do watch it.

Rowdy Rathore

Rain is good, film is bad…

Pic source: Wikipedia

I enjoyed Wanted and Dabangg and Singham… so I am not against big budget masala films that have exaggerated, and at times ridiculous plots. But I am against badly made films that are made with one assumption in mind – that the audience is dumb. Prabhudheva’s Rowdy Rathore featuring Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha falls in the latter category. Mindless entertainment if done well works but that also requires some thought and not mindless collation of scenes like Rowdy Rathore (RR) – 15 comic, 12 emotional, 11½ action (½ extra for slow motion), 10 regressive, 5 sexist, 35 WTF was that, peppered with a zillion average songs (music – Sajid Wajid).

I have talked about the best ways to enjoy such films earlier  in my post about Salman Khan’s Ready; it essentially tells you to give in and laugh at the stupidity you see on screen. I tried doing all that during RR but with limited success. The first forty-five minutes of the film are unbearably bad and require all your will power and laziness combined to not leave the theatre.

At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Shiva (Akshay), a small time thief / con-man who has this weird theme song-cum-slogan – Chin Ta Ta Chita Chita (the director very kindly explains the meaning in the second half). We are also introduced to Paro (Sonakshi), a girl from Patna who is visiting Mumbai for a wedding and falls for the first guy she sees on the streets; it doesn’t matter if he’s a thug, in fact his honesty about his ‘profession’ impresses her the most. Her hobbies include displaying her ample midriff and dancing skills. Ok, now forget Sonakshi till the last half an hour of the film where she’ll make an appearance again for 3 scenes and another dance number. At this point, the director adds a lot of confusion with an ornate wooden trunk full of teddy bears and a little girl; a case of mistaken identity (we meet Akshay Kumar 2 aka Vikram Rathore); angry weapon-wielding goons from Bihar, running around the streets of Mumbai. There is however one scene before the interval that is thoroughly enjoyable, where our hero is badly injured – has been stabbed by a 15-inch knife and has some trouble with a blood vessel in his brain. But just like Jaadu, the sunlight loving alien from Koi Mil Gaya, he regains his energy and powers with rain drops. I must applaud the special effects team for creating the most impressive first rain drop in that sequence and tracing its journey from the clouds to Rathore’s forehead.

The action shifts to a small lawless town in Bihar in the second half; and we get to solve the mystery of the mad goons who visit Mumbai with swords, axes and lathis. Writer, Shiraz Ahmed and director, Prabhudheva add everything here to make it 90s style masala potboiler – there’s abduction, rape, murder, ugly giant villain, song, dance, forced comedy, car blasts, dhishoom-dhishoom and a lot more. All this also does not make RR an enjoyable, mindless flick.

Rowdy Rathore is amongst the worst films I have seen in the recent times but it still doesn’t beat Akshay’s other best worst films – Chandni Chowk To China and Tees Maar Khan. Watch it if you are a big Akshay fan or just save your hard earned money.