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I've only seen the heavily edited 85-minute German version of this film, which is, above all, puzzling. With 50 minutes missing in comparison to the original Japanese version, this version contains not even two thirds of the original plot, making it and an abstract, seemingly disconnected sequence of unerotic S/M scenes and fragments of a plot showing a woman's life falling apart. There is a certain appeal in this abstractness in that it makes the main character's motivations completely enigmatic and lends a surreal touch to some of the scenes (what was that clairvoyante all about?), but my guess is that the full version must be an entirely different film, and probably a better one than what I have seen.
I can't say anything about the "real" movie, but even though it shows some sort of potential, the edited version comes across as mostly pointless.
Ek Hasina Thi (2004)
Decent, taut revenge thriller
From producer Ram Gopal Varma and director Sriram Raghavan comes a pretty good revenge thriller, which is definitely one of the better Indian movies this year.
Cast against his usual roles, Saif Ali Khan plays a slick criminal whose dealings with terrorists and the Delhi underworld get his girlfriend Sarika (Urmila Matondkar) into prison. However, toughened by prison life, Sarika manages to escape and takes revenge.
Progressing somewhat slowly during the first 15 minutes, but then gaining momentum at an increasing pace, this movie never slows down and manages to keep your interest for the full duration, which at only 120 minutes is significantly less than most Bollywood movies. There are also no disruptive song or dance sequences that would distract you from the plot.
In fact, one of the problems that I have with this movie is that it is a bit too short -- in particular the prison sequence seems rushed: Sarika's character development from the innocent, naive girl to the tough, cold-blooded killer is not fully developed and feels a bit sudden as a result.
My second problem is with the ending, which, while not inappropriate, feels a bit out of line with her previous revenge strategy. It still works fine, but one feels that it could have been built up better.
Other than that, however, there are no obvious problems with the plot, and acting is good from most main and supporting actors. Seema Biswas in particularly stands out in her role as the determined female police officer in pursuit of Sarika.
Definitely worth watching, and much better than anything Hollywood, USA has produced in this genre in a long time.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Not bad at all
I always hesitate to praise movies from the spy thriller/action movie category like this one, mostly because they're all about adrenalin release rather than plot or character development, but saying that, The Bourne Supremacy isn't bad at all.
A fast pace is set at the very beginning, and the pace never slows down, the plot always stays taut, and there are no noticeable lengths of any kind. I still like Matt Damon in the role -- don't ask me why, but I still think he has the perfect face for the role, a cross between a hint of childlike innocence and dark determination, something he also had in The Talented Mr Ripley. He meets a perfect match in Joan Allen, who shows similar determination.
The hand-held camera work has been criticized, but I never found it annoying or distracting, it always seemed to be just right.
And yes, there are plot holes, plenty of them -- the indestructibility of Jason Bourne being the major one, but there's also a totally unnecessary murder that's not only unmotivated and out of character, but also seems to serve no particular purpose other than allowing the killer to die later on.
But all of that doesn't make this a bad movie; in fact if there's a future for the spy thriller formula, I figure it's in movie like this rather than in the James Bond franchise, which has clearly been worn out to the limits.
MINOR SPOILER: if you intend to watch this for Franka Potente, don't. She doesn't have as much screen time as you'd expect from an actor whose name appears second in the credits.
If you watch this because you want a fast-paced action movie, go for it. There are no surprises, no plot twists, but you'll get 90 minutes of solid action that are worth the ticket price. 8/10, easily.
J'me sens pas belle (2004)
Fresh French comedy with two endearing main characters
One of the better French films this year, a refreshingly funny comedy about Fanny and Paul, two people in their mid-thirties and their not entirely straightforward way of trying to start a relationship.
This is strictly a two-character movie (if you don't count the voices of the annoying couple upstairs), and all of it takes place on just one evening and the following morning. This may seem a very minimalist concept to begin with, and it certainly wouldn't work with comedians of a smaller calibre that Marina Foïs and Julien Boisselier, but the two of them excel in their roles as somewhat quirky, but still totally believable and entirely likable thirty-somethings who had their disappointments in relationships and now don't seem to know what to do with one another.
It's this interplay of one character taking the initiative and the other one instantly trying to wiggle his/her way out of it (and ten minutes later vice versa) and the clumsiness with which things happen or don't happen, plus the deadpan humour that makes this movie so successful.
Don't expect a movie with a lot of depth and substance. Expect to meet two endearing characters with whom you can almost instantly identify, expect witty dialogues and humour that will never sink below a certain level (even when the condom gets caught in the guitar strings), expect to laugh a lot and to cry a little.
Certainly worth seeing. 8/10.
Good movie, but Amitabh has done better
Despite a taut script and lots of action, both of which make sure that this film never gets boring, this movie is a bit too caught up in clichés and stereotypes to ever transgress the "obsessed good guy tracks down fundamentally evil bad guy" scheme, which is a bit of a pity. Nevertheless, it managed to establish Amitabh Bachchan as the "angry young man" of 1970s Indian cinema.
Sadly, the talent of Jaya Bhaduri is totally wasted except for her entry scene and a split second at the end - surely a knife-sharpening girl could have been put to better use in an action movie?
Overall, my disappointment over what could have been made out of this prevails over the fact that it's a solid action movie.
First part of Mani Ratnam's political trilogy
This is the first movie of what was to become director Mani Ratnam's "political trilogy" ("Bombay" and "Dil Se" being the movies to follow). While not quite as accomplished as the later movies, he develops a very simple story of a young married couple, the subsequent kidnapping of the husband and the wife's attempts to persuade the authorities to help free him into a well-rounded movie that works on almost all levels that it encompasses:
The love relationship between the two main characters is credible and well-handled; the struggle of the individual citizen vs. government authorities and individual desires vs. the larger scale of politics is dealt with intensely (the scene where the Colonel tells Roja that "everyone is happy" is simply chilling), and even the interplay of the kidnapped and the terrorists works out really well, even if it seems sometimes that Rishi Kumar was lucky ending up with these rather than more ruthless people.
The only problem that I have with this movie are a small handful of scenes in which Indian patriotism is showcased in what I felt was a rather blunt manner (but then, coming from a different country, I may lack some essential cultural background to understand it).
Apart from this one quibble I think it's a good movie that you should really see, especially I've you've seen Mani Ratnam's other films. Acting is solid, especially from Pankaj Kapoor as the terrorist leader, but also from Arvind Swamy as Rishi (except perhaps when he goes into patriotic overdrive). Also on-screen chemistry between Arvind and Madhoo is fabulous. The music is an early, often charming ("Dil hai chhota sa") score by A. R. Rahman.
Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (1998)
Nice remake of "French Kiss"
Pyaar to hona hi tha ("Love had to happen") is a well-done, very close remake of Lawrence Kasdan's French Kiss for an Indian audience. As such, it's an enjoyable, lightweight, fluffy, if inconsequential comedy which, despite its sometimes garish use of colours certainly has its moments and is at times even better than the original.
Ajay Devgan and Kajol share much better chemistry than Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan (they got married pretty soon afterwards). Devgan's thug is a lot slicker than Kline's, and his moustache is much superior. Meg Ryan played her character in a cute, whiny, bratty way, whereas Kajol is equally cute in a more wacky, goofy way. Jean Reno was pretty good as the police officer, but Om Puri is even better.
Whereas casting and character interplay are actually better in this remake, technically the American original is, of course, much superior. Some of the continuity problems and location inconsistencies are downright annoying. I also don't find the slapstick scenes (like the airplane scene) too funny, but thankfully there's only a few of them.
Overall a very enjoyable movie, especially if compared to the original.
3 Deewarein (2003)
I think I have to watch this movie again, because it's either pretty good or pretty average.
It all depends on whether in the end, when we see the three murders again, this is what actually happened (which would be awfully contrived and pretty bad) or whether it's another one of Ishaan's stories, made up to save himself and the other two prisoners (which would be a very interesting twist). There are clues to either interpretation, but it's not really clear which of the two is happening.
Up to the end it's a very good, taut movie with good acting and a perfect script; it's just that the ending, which I'm not sure about, either destroys it or makes it even better.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Totally over-the-top splatter comic
Can't really say if this movie is good or not, because half of it is missing. What we get is a splatter samurai movie with lots of well-choreographed sword fighting scenes, lots of dismembered bodies, lots of blood, lots of very dry, gutwrenching humour and the coolest Uma Thurman ever.
What we don't get is a decent movie, because some greedy guy somewhere decided to split the movie in two parts so that they could make more money with it. Which is especially annoying as they could well have edited 10-15 minutes out of this part, to make a 3 1/2-hour movie total - Indian filmmakers do that all the time.
Anyway, I'll give the film a proper rating after I've seen part 2, which will probably be in a few months. As it stands at the moment, a disconected fragment of a splatter comic that's been turned into a film, it's only Uma Thurman that warrants a 7/10.
If you liked "Once upon a time in the west", "The magnificent seven" and "A fistful of dollars", you will love "Sholay". It takes all the good ingredients of a western, spices it with a lot of Indian ingredients and lets it simmer until you get one of the finest "curry" westerns imaginable. Though obviously very much inspired by the "spaghetti" westerns of the late 1960s/early 1970s, this easily surpasses most of the films it's modeled after. A masterpiece.