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A Gentleman (2017)
Agent Vinod: Bourne Again
A Gentleman is another recent mainstream Bollywood movie I enjoyed a great deal. When I booked the ticket all I had in mind was "Hey, it's made by the same guys that made 99 and Shor in the City". After I booked I remembered, "Hey, didn't they also make Go Goa Gone and Happy Ending? Crap!" On the face of it, there was nothing else remotely promising. And the first 20 odd min had me regretting my decision with its wobbly pacing and stale humor. But then the movie started coming together, running multiple plot strands that (without spoilers) converged with a skillful timeline swerve that will either have you pleased or scratching your head going "समझ में नहीं आया". After that the movie is a tight and racy action comedy that stays within formula but milks it well. And Siddharth Malhotra is genuinely good in his part, exuding both toughness and self-deprecating humor. I've never seen any previous film of his but he generally seems to be cast as a depressed romantic fool a lot of the time. But here he conveys the ass-kicking buffed up hunk without it ever dipping into smug douchebag territory. The action sequences are immensely well done (including a nice riff on a Mission Impossible style heist, that includes rappelling down a glass-fronted tower building) and brutal hand to hand combat never gets old. Also the humor offers a continuous counterpoint to the violence (Amit Mistry seems to be continuing his role of Kuber from 99).
Sadly, like Jagga Jasoos, this is another cool movie that seems to be starved of an audience and likely to fizzle out pronto. Cinema on a weekend night was about a quarter full.
Jagga Jasoos (2017)
Dazzling joyful musical ride
In the "Holy Gaumata, How Did This Turn Out So Good?!" category: I'm not being even slightly sarcastic or condescending when I call Jagga Jasoos a dazzling, humorous, joyous and warmhearted trip with tons of lovely visual touches, a wonderful combination of the Tintin-flavored globe-trotting adventure and a musical that embraces the form in its core. All the people that talk about how music is an integral part of the Indian film experience should watch this one to see how beautifully songs can be made a part of the script and create the rhythm of the film.
One of the most entertaining movies I've seen all year, Two Thumbs Up!
Hind Ka Napak Ko Jawab (2017)
Better than previous sequels, but not the magic of MSG
It was more fun than all the other sequels of the very messy MSG time-line (Lion Heart and its sequel are unrelated to the previous MSG films), but still far short of the zeitgeist of the original MSG. The fact that Pitaji is now playing a character other than his interpretation of himself makes this series less resonant. The other issue is of pacing. Pitaji is needlessly stretching out the Lion Heart plot(?). Thankfully no flashbacks this time, but several mundane sub-plots and once again the climax is a cheat - we get a "to be continue...(sic)" notice. Also, it looks like the budgets are more like those for the Dev Anand films, which means watered down action spectacle (most of it is remote, with bad CG explosions). But the villains are a tad more memorable than than have been in the last 2 films, and moments like Pitaji operating a helicopter and missile drones with a Playstation controller, the idea of (howlariously inept CG) St Bernards as vicious attack dogs (they seem to be licking their victims to death)...are gold.
Decent film in the Sai Paranjpe / Hrishikesh Mukherjee vein
Ventilator is about what happens when the head of a large family is admitted to the ICU, the impact it has on the people around, humour and drama arising out of situations and the idiosyncrasies of the characters. The film had a special resonance for me, since part of it had been shot at the hospital where my dad had been in ICU a few months back, before he passed away. But even without that connection, many of us will identify with the events in the script - the rush and babble of relatives, the formalities that have to be attended to, the endless retelling of "What happened?", unasked second opinions and overwhelming sympathies, hidden motives and bickering that well up. The writing and direction have some real gems in this aspect. Also of note are the performances of the ensemble cast. Ashutosh Gowarikar has a major role playing (surprise, surprise) a successful film director and nephew of the ill man, and who also doesn't get along with his own father. Jitendra Joshi as the patient's son who resents his father for not respecting / accepting him is a revelation of good acting. In fact, most of the very large cast fit well in their roles and leave their mark.
One problem with the film is that it tries way too hard for its own sake. The script could definitely have done with some trimming and excision (a running gag with a fat kid is especially obnoxious), and the current 2.5 hour running time can be a slog. Especially towards the end, when the humour gives way to drama, you have a series of emotional climaxes coming one after the other and it gets a bit tiresome.
But overall it is still a worthwhile watch with the entire family. The film is obviously aiming for more than the usual Marathi speaking audience, since it is screened with English subtitles. They could think of expanding the audience further by dubbing it in Hindi and other languages. But for God's sake please do not remake the film with stars, that would just destroy its spirit.
Fantastic movie about small-time vicious crime family
The film centers around a family of petty gangsters in Delhi that lead an incredibly sordid life, and what happens when the youngest, the relatively sensitive lad named Titli gets married and the complications arising from that relationship in his family trade. It loosely reminds me of the Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom, but is original in the characters and events. Direction is very strong and the performances are terrific all around. The one thing that bothered me was the low grade digital photography (looked like it was shot on mobile phones), which made any scenes not shot in full daylight look very drab. But a terrific movie that deserves to be watched.
Lovely film, reminiscent of Swami & Friends.
Last night I caught this charming Marathi film 'Killa - The Fort'. I feel sorry over having missed this in the cinema. Oh well, at least DVD. Captured from the world-view of young Chinmay (Archit Deodhar) after he moves to a new town on account of his widowed mum's job transfer, the film strongly reminds me of RK Narayan's wonderful novel 'Swami & Friends'. With that literary classic it shares a gentle observational tone, the episodic nature of events told and the ability to see things from a child's point of view. The performances of the young actors are spot on (as also the adults, especially the lovely Amruta Subhash as Chinmay's mum), and although there's never any major unpleasantness, it doesn't try to sugarcoat / idealize the behavior of the kids or talk down to them. It also reminds me slightly of Francois Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows', though a lot more positive in its outlook.
Director Avinash Arun is also the DoP and he does a fabulous job, especially when capturing nature. The shots of dark clouds overhanging the titular fort and the subsequent shower are hugely atmospheric. Editing is also unobtrusively fine, and while there are no songs (thankfully) a lovely melodic instrumental score permeates several moments of the film.
The DVD from Video Palace is good. The image is somewhat soft but seems intentional in the cinematography. No extras, which is a bit of a bummer, but there's a short message from the director on the inside of the (nicely done) digipack talking about his childhood and how it inspired him to make the movie. On the whole highly recommended, unless you only see 100 crore movies.
Haunted - 3D (2011)
Having seen this movie on a 3D screen yesterday, my remarks: If you've seen one Vikram Bhatt horror movie, you've pretty much seen them all. The man is just shuffling and recycling elements from his earlier films, which weren't great to start with. As expected, the horror elements never get particularly nasty, and an abundance of songs and treacly romantic elements bring the pace to molasses slow. Mimoh or Mahakshay as he now likes to call himself should be given an award for the longest period an actor has carried a single expression...in this case, the entire movie. As a fellow movie-watcher pointed out, if there is anything at all notable about this film, it's that a South Indian character, an Aiyar, is for the first time presented as a raging villain instead of plain comic relief. The 3D does give a sense of depth to most of the visuals, but very little use of it is made in the story and there are all too few of the "throw things at the screen" elements that make a cheesy horror film in 3D fun.
Not as good as the hype suggests but still worth a watch
This movie is definitely not the second coming of Christ or whatever else it's being hyped up to be in the reviews. There's a lot that is absurd, contrived and clumsy. The film also has a severe Quentin Tarantino / Guy Ritchie "gangstas are cool guys who can discuss the weather and where to get good pav bhaji while shooting people" hangover. But that said, in its good parts I found it engaging. The central double role angle with the relationship between the two twins is handled nicely and Shahid Kapur does an excellent job of differentiating the characters in a more intelligent manner (and I'm not referring to the speech defects here) than is the norm for such films. The climax has such a WTF-ness you will either like it or hate it. I fall in the former category.
Johnny Gaddaar (2007)
Excellent crime thriller that stands with the best
This seems to be a watershed year or at least month so far as thrillers in Hindi movies are concerned. First there was Manorama 6 Feet Under and now I saw Johnny Gaddar, which totally ROCKS!! A tight and layered script that pays a lot of homage to erstwhile thrillers (tons of 70's references here) but remembers to have its own identity, absolutely SUPERB direction and performances that are indicative of the relish all the actors took in their parts. Even Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy provide some measure of compensation for the emasculation of 70's songs they did in their remix albums by coming up with a background score that's booming with the meaty brass sounds of that era. If there is any flaw I'd say the lead pair of Neil Mukesh and Rimi Sen are kinda vacuous but even that mostly works in the film's favor because they play characters that remain under everyone else's horizon.
The Phantom (1996)
Not an immortal classic but a pretty good diversion for Phantom fans
Comic book movies more than any other genre are enjoyable or not predominantly on how much you're attached to the original source. The Phantom movie adaptation is a striking example of this. During my childhood I was a huge fan of the Phantom comics as released in India on the Indrajal label...I still try to get the stories that I consider distinctive enough when I see them...and my opinion of this movie is definitely colored by my enjoyment of its relation to the source comic.
The story is quite hokey. In 1938 the 21st Phantom must battle a lawless magnate called Xander Drax who wishes to acquire 3 magical skulls whose combination will release an energy more powerful than anything else and enable him to control the world. Yada.
Quite a few things have been done right here. The production design is very handsome, be it the depiction of the Phantom's jungle realm - the Skull Cave, treasure room, ancestral crypt, the phantom chronicles etc. - or late 1930's art deco New York. The narrative moves at a zippy pace and the writers have rightly analyzed that the Phantom is a macho wise-cracking ass-kicking action hero who doesn't waste time moping over his dead ancestors or over his love Diana. Some of the action set-pieces, like the one where the Phantom and Diana are escaping from the villains in a small plane and do a leap onto the back of the Phantom's horse Hero are terrific. Billy Zane (who is probably more famous as the snob suitor of Titanic) carries the Phantom mantle with charm, effacing to a great extent the essential goofiness of the purple costume. Unlike the alter-ego of many other costumed heroes he's also equally interesting as Kit Walker.
So what are the disappointments? The plot. The Phantom's world in its limited scope has been distinctive. His villains are pirates, poachers, despotic rulers of tiny neighboring nations. Bringing him to New York just a third into the film and having him combat a generic world domination scheme takes away from the uniqueness of the franchise One of the quibbles that those wanting the most faithful sort of adaptation of the Phantom franchise will have is that the film does not feature any BLACKS. The tribes surrounding the Phantom seem like they're from Hawaii or south America, as does his retainer Guran (dressed here in a Nehru jacket and turban). 1938 New York too seems totally free of blacks, even as serfs. Probably the makers chickened out from depicting blacks as they were portrayed in the Phantom strips.
The perceived need to have emancipated women also hurts the movie's legend. Sure, Diana has always been a tough cookie but if she can also wipe out guys with single punches, what is special about the Phantom and all his hardcore physical conditioning? The villain Xander Drax is a huge disappointment. Sure he has a great name but he's played by an actor with a reedy voice who inspires no chill even when he's doing questionable things like having librarians eye-stabbed by spring-loaded knives or lobbing javelins into the backs of disagreeable colleagues.
The film seems to have had a curious budgeting. The sets and props are handsome and some of the action is painstakingly choreographed but the post-production budget seems to have been nothing because all the visual effects have a very low-quality to them, frequently worse than even some of the more recent Indian movies incorporating SFX. The climactic showdown in the lair of the Singh brotherhood also has an underwhelming feel to it. I imagine the original vision was to have a huge pirate warren but the budget constraints reduce the Singh stronghold to little more than a single mid-sized room set and a clash with around a dozen pirates at most.
All this nit-picking may seem that the movie has more bad points than good. But if you keep an open mind and fill in the gaps that the lack of budget creates you have still a fairly enjoyable if also rather uneven outing and possibly the best Phantom adaptation given that there is no scope for one in the future.