Les Misérables

Passion. Music. Love. Cinema.

Pic source: hollywoodreporter.com

The longest running musical, seen by over 60-million people worldwide and a much loved novel by Victor Hugo… Director, Tom Hooper took on a mammoth challenge when he decided to direct Les Misérables, the film.  He retained the musical format, which makes it a very different viewing experience, but also requires a little patience. At two-hours and forty-minutes, it is a long film with a lot of singing and even more heart.

Les Misérables is nothing short of magic on big screen – it looks spectacular and has outstanding performances by all the actors, who performed their songs live on the sets and not lip-synched. It is a triumph for Hooper and his brilliant team of writers – William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg (the last three are also behind the on-stage musical adaptation). After a spectacular start, the film does drag a bit in the second hour but the sincere and heart-felt performances by the actors keep you involved.

Set in the nineteenth century France, Les Misérables begins with a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released from a prison after serving a nineteen-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. He is marked as a dangerous man with a life-long parole, which he breaks and is pursued by a law-obsessed policeman, Javert (Russell Crowe). While Valjean gets a second chance to turn around his wretched life, a beautiful factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is doomed after her co-workers find out about her illegitimate child. The film spans two-decades and we are introduced to numerous characters including Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child and Amanda Seyfried as an adult); Cosette’s greedy care-takers, Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen); Thénardier’s children, Éponine (Samantha Barks) who is as old as Cosette and the young street urchin, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone); Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who loves Cosette and is also a student revolutionary along with Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). It is a great ensemble cast and I cannot point at one actor who did not live up to the characters they portrayed.

Pic source: Wikipedia

The film opens with a prisoners’ song, “Look down” where we see hundreds of famished prisoners pulling a ship to its dock, while Javert supervises them. It is a grand visual with the sea, large ships and so many wretched souls including Valjean. The film strikes the perfect balance between real emotions and a magical setting, which is almost unbearably sad at times. The costumes, the wigs and make-up, the production design and cinematography are all first-rate and make it a spectacular viewing experience. The music is from the stage musical (lyrics – Herbert Kretzmer; music producers – Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg) with an additional original song, “Suddenly” that is about Valjean finding Cosette and the sudden change in his life. It is performed beautifully by Hugh Jackman who is simply brilliant in the film. My other favorite songs in the film are Fantine’sI dreamed a dream” in which Anne Hathaway confirms her Oscar shot; young Cosette’sCastle on a cloud”, which has a haunting melody; the revolutionaries’ “Do you hear the people sing?”, which is still playing in my head and Valjean’sWhat have I done?” Apart from Jackman and Hathaway, I loved what the two little kids brought to the film. Isabelle as Cosette looks exactly like the famous portrait by Emile Bayard from the original edition of the book and Daniel as Gavroche is the star in the last forty-minutes of the film. Special mention for Aaron Tveit who plays Enjolras with so much conviction that you almost forget to look at Marius.

Les Misérables is made with passion, love and hope, which is visible on-screen. It may not be the most entertaining film you’ll see this year, but it is everything that great cinema can offer a true film-lover. If you like musicals then do not miss it on the big screen.

Watch this great video about the actors singing live while filming:

 

And here’s Fantine’s heartbreakingly beautiful “I dreamed a dream”:

Dabangg 2

Lazy film-making at its best

Pic source: Wikipedia

I watched Dabangg 2 in the heart of Manhattan at a multiplex in Times Square, and did not expect the audience response I witnessed… people whistled, clapped and shouted Salman Khan’s name as the opening credits rolled with visuals from the first film (Dabangg, 2010). That’s the amazing star-power of the film’s lead actor who has the same effect on the desi audience as Edward Cullen on teenage (and slightly older) girls. The cheering returned with the first fight sequence, with the song where Malaika Arora Khan aka ‘Munni’ appears and then later with Kareena Kapoor’sFavicol’ (sic) item song. It seems everyone enjoyed the film or the whole ritual of watching a Salman flick and to be honest, I did too, but films like these are like doing a shot of tequila… you do it because everyone in the party is doing one and then you forget about it. I know, there’s little sense in that comparison but there’s little sense in cinema like the Dabangg franchise.

Dabangg 2 is nothing but an average copy of the much smarter first film. Right after the first fight sequence you know the director, Arbaaz Khan along with the writer, Dilip Shukla, are lazy filmmakers. There is nothing in the film that you haven’t seen before. Abhinav Kashyap, the director of the first film presented it as a cheesy action-comedy-romance that also surprised you at many levels. In this one, there are no clever lines (remember, “thappad se darr nahi lagta saheb, pyaar se lagta hai”) and even the action pales in comparison. It is Salman porn at best and the filmmakers are simply cashing in on that. I don’t have anything to say about the performances by Sonakshi Sinha, Arbaaz Khan, Vinod KhannaPrakash Raj and Deepak Dobriyal, as other characters really don’t matter in this film.

While I enjoyed the experience of watching this film, I wonder if I will ever look back at it as a film-buff. It fits into the convenient category created by Bollywood called, “mindless cinema” and the blame is on the audience. Yes, we may be enjoying this stuff today but we do deserve something better from our filmmakers who have become incredibly lazy and only care about the box office. Movies like Dabangg 2 are like Bollywood’s American Pie and Final Destination series and let’s not let them define what Indian cinema is all about. Come on Bollywood filmmakers, we’ll tolerate and many times enjoy these mindless flicks, but bring out the stuff that makes us think, makes us cry and makes us fall in love again with your art.

 

Zero Dark Thirty

The Best Film Of 2012

Source: rottentomatoes.com

How do you make a thriller that’s more than two-and-a-half hours long; keeps the audience in a constant state of tension, despite them knowing what’s going to happen next? Ask director, Kathryn Bigelow and screen-writer, Mark Boal – the Oscar winning duo who are all set to be contenders again after their win in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.  Zero Dark Thirty is easily the best film I have seen in 2012 and to put it mildly, it simply blew my mind.

Zero Dark Thirty spans a decade, following a team of CIA agents whose job is to find the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks and gather intelligence on any more acts of terrorism planned by Al Qaeda. The film focuses on one CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain) who gets obsessed with one lead and despite many setbacks, stays firm on her trail to catch Bin Laden. We first meet her as a young agent, sent to the field (read Afghanistan and Pakistan) in 2001 where she’s visibly disturbed at the way detainees are tortured for information. We see her character’s growth over the course of the film as she stands her ground and is instrumental in creating history.

We all know what happens in the end with Bin Laden getting killed in a Seal Team Six operation in May 2011; but the build-up to that finale is what makes this film brilliant. For ten-years, not only Maya’s patience is tested but the audience is put to test too as the director puts together all the pieces slowly. She makes you re-live the horrors of the terror attacks around the world, staring from 9/11 to London to Islamabad, Saudi Arabia and the Camp Chapman suicide attack in Afghanistan. With his brilliant screenplay, Mark Boal depicts the frustration that the CIA operatives feel after every terrorist attack and their failed attempts to capture and kill the top brass at Al Qaeda.

Jessica Chastain is brilliant as Maya and this could very well be her shot at all the best actress trophies next year. From a nervous new recruit to a determined agent with nerves of steel, she plays the part perfectly. In the supporting cast, Jason Clarke as another CIA agent, Dan is very good and like Jennifer Ehle’s character (CIA agent, Jessica) you think there will be a romantic angle between him and Maya. However, the film-maker does not shift her focus a bit and it is all about getting the job done. Joel Edgerton has an interesting cameo where he plays the squadron team leader who leads the final attack on Osama in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Cinematography by Greig Fraser; editing by William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor; music by Alexandre Desplat are all perfect. The film comes together as a well-researched docu-drama and a brilliant thriller that keeps your heart pounding hard. Do not miss watching this one on the big screen.

Talaash

 

There are no mysteries in the age of social media…

Pic source: Wikipedia

Pic source: Wikipedia

Before you read any further: I have tried to keep this post spoiler-free and basic plot points mentioned here are already shown in the film’s trailers. However, if you are going to watch the film regardless of the reviews, I recommend reading this or any other review after you’ve seen it.

Talaash may not be the best thriller we have seen this year (my vote goes to Kahaani) but I am glad the makers (Excel Entertainment, Aamir Khan Productions and Reliance Entertainment) tried to attempt something different with the movie. It has an interesting story, great performances by the cast and an unexpected ending, which thanks to loud-mouths on social media got ruined for many including me. I feel bad for everyone who could have enjoyed the film more if they did not know about the big twist in the end. In the age of Twitter and BBM, it is a challenge for filmmakers also to make suspense thrillers that can stay strong despite the spoiler getting leaked out.

Coming back to Talaash, it is decent film that gets many things right but does not keep you at the edge of your seat. People have been complaining about its slow pace, but it worked for me; writer-director, Reema Kagti (screenplay with Zoya Akhtar) creates a mood that brings together the eeriness of a murder mystery with the personal grief that her main protagonists are going through. Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukerji) are unable to cope with their 8-year-old son’s accidental death, which strains their marriage. Surjan’s investigation of a high-profile death case contributes to his personal troubles as he finds himself drawn to an unlikely friend, a prostitute named Rosie (Kareena Kapoor). Surjan and Roshni’s story is probably the strongest part of the film; their grief is portrayed sensitively by the two actors, especially Rani who has got a role that exploits her talent after very long. Kareena is also good in the film and I hope she continues to choose interesting characters like this, rather than insignificant roles in mega-blockbuster masala films. Regarding Aamir, he is excellent as a cop tormented by his own demons – on one hand he is a tough police officer and on the other a hapless father. Kudos to the casting director (Nandini Shrikent) for also getting a talented supporting cast on board including Shernaz Patel and Nawazuddin Siddiqui – now this man is a chameleon – from a revenge seeking gangster in Gangs of Wasseypur 2 to a pimp’s right-hand man in Talaash, he is a delight to watch.

With superlative performances by all the actors and an interesting plot, Talaash starts on a promising note but does not confuse the audience enough to make it an exciting affair. Surjan keeps finding clue after clue and the film moves in a straight line till the ‘unexpected’ climax. Now, I had a rough idea about the final twist but I was able to piece things together within the first ten minutes of the film. The makers relied too much on the twist, which also is not entirely a fresh idea. Because I had a clue to the end, I may not be completely fair to the film but it is a lukewarm thriller and the murder mystery unfolds in a dull manner, except the surprise element in the end.

Music by Ram Sampath goes well with the mood of the film but is not outstanding (why do most big releases this year have just about average music?) Cinematography by Mohanan is nice and he uses a dull color tone to give a dark and gloomy feel to Mumbai in the film.

Talaash is certainly a one-time watch for the actors’ performances and you may enjoy it more if you don’t know the spoiler. So, go for it before someone tells it to you.

PS: I got my spoiler from a well-known journalist, Kushan Mitra (@KushanMitra) who inadvertently revealed similarities to a Hollywood film on Twitter. So-called actor, producer, Kamaal R Khan (@KamaalRKhan) also tweeted spoilers to the film.