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Stolen (2012)
2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Stolen is stolen from Taken, 1 December 2012

In 2008, French director Pierre Morel made an action thriller with 56- year-old Irish actor, Liam Neeson, who was earlier best known to the world at large as various things, none of them having anything remotely to do with action or thrill.

The film, about a father who is hunting down the kidnappers of his daughter, went on to be a spectacular success and with it, Liam Neeson turned from the softy Oskar Schindler and the father of the cute kid from Love Actually, to a badass, who "does not know who you are, does not know what you want, but will find you, and will kill you," for reasons like… err… calling him a softy.

Hollywood was, of course, mighty surprised how a film that turned a presumably over-the-hill actor into a clinical killer of people who annoyed him, and decided it was time to pay an ode to the movie by doing two things: Making a sequel that was exactly the same film (Taken 2), and rehashing the film into exactly the same film (Stolen).

Both released in 2012, and both are so very abysmal that you don't allow yourself to fall asleep in the theatre because somewhere, deep down inside of you, you truly feel that putting yourself through the movie could help atone for your sins.

You can read my review of Taken 2 (and the 5 Rules of making a Hollywood Sequel) in the archives, but here's my review of Stolen, which is probably the most original thing about the movie:

Stolen is such an uninteresting, uninspiring and unnecessary rehash of Taken that even the makers felt guilty enough to admit the truth about the movie's origins in its name – the film is literally stolen from Taken.

The story is precisely that: about a father (Nicolas Cage) hunting down the kidnapper of his daughter (Sami Gayle), who has been taken from him. The difference here is that Nicolas Cage is no Liam Neeson, the daughter (Sami Gayle) is no Maggie Grace, and the action is no good. The movie could still have been a notch above dung, had the very hot Malin Akerman given some sort of a preview of what she has in store for us in her upcoming Linda Lovelace biopic, but unfortunately the movie has no, umm, 'aesthetically shot' swimsuit moments either, which almost made Taken 2 bearable.

And I have to admit, I was actually looking forward to the movie because the last time Stolen director Simon West and Nicolas Cage came together, they gave us the Die Hard of aviation films, Con Air, whose climactic action scene is alone worth the price of Stolen's ticket. Ten times over. In gold. But where it stands at the moment, even if you take Taken out of the picture, Stolen is, in the words of Joey from Friends, a moo movie – it really doesn't matter.

A silent word of prayer in the end for Nicolas Cage, who is, to give a dreadful analogy, like the S Sreesanth of Hollywood movies: he annoys the crap out of you, but you secretly hope he succeeds, even if it is just to see him dance in the middle of the pitch (or the Hollywood equivalent of that).

Here's hoping Charlie Kauffman's Frank or Francis or any of Cage's 50 upcoming B-movies do the trick for him. Or let's just trust Sylvester Stallone enough to cast him in Expendables 3, shall we?

Life of Pi (2012)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Life of Pi will make you believe in Ang Lee, 1 December 2012

"Your uncle told me that you have a story that will make me believe in God?" questions the writer (Rafe Spall) to Piscine Patel (Irrfan Khan), better known as Pi, in a conversation at the beginning of the movie. It's an incredible premise, setting up enormous expectations for the story to follow, and leaving you roused in anticipation, even more so than all the early reviews, the stunning trailers and the featurettes gushing about its 3D, and the distracting hype that Oscar-winning director Ang Lee's stature carries with it, have doubtlessly had already.

But twenty minutes into the movie, you've forgotten everything. You've forgotten the Oscar buzz and the 3D argument. You've forgotten the jarring accents that bothered you merely five minutes ago. You've forgotten the horrendous Peter Sellers-like brown-painted white man with the offensive Indian twang and you've forgotten the painfully trite use of sitars and tablas in the background score to give the Hollywood- manufactured "feel of India." As astonishing as it may be, you've also forgotten the breathtaking, timeless beauty of Tabu that you longed to stay with, just a little bit longer. (And you've somehow forgotten that bitter feeling of envy that comes from Adil Hussain working with the most gorgeous of Indian women.)

Because twenty minutes into the movie, Life of Pi creates within you a strange feeling of calm, as the striking visuals and the powerful storytelling take over. You are then not just a viewer of the film, you are a part of the film's wondrous, expansive world; a world in which you are Pi (Suraj Sharma), the 16-year-old boy stranded on a life boat in the middle of the ocean after a shipwreck, and a world in which you are also the carnivore, the majestic Tiger, who is stranded in the same boat with Pi, the only relatable part left of the habitat that once surrounded it. Twenty minutes into the movie, you are the movie, as Lee taps into your innermost, most primal emotions and immaculately plays them back on a screen grand and fitting enough to match the scale of Yann Martel's ambitious novel of the same name.

Masterfully using the big screen as a canvas and painting a series of gorgeous images on it, but ones that are deeply rooted in human emotions, Lee infuses 'life' into Life of Pi, a novel largely about the 227 days that its protagonist, Pi, spends in the middle of the ocean with a tiger for company, and one that has largely been considered unfilmable. The movie is reminiscent of the Robert Zemeckis directed and Oscar-nominated Tom Hanks' movie, Cast Away, in its basic premise of 'Man vs Wild', but is infinitely more gripping, and superior in driving home the point that everything you thought you know about life and its meaning change when you have to survive at sea (and of course, when you are in the company of a carnivore).

The tiger in the movie is, at times, a digitally (but astoundingly) created tiger and at times, the real animal itself, and more than just young Suraj Sharma's remarkable portrayal of Pi, the triumph of the movie lies in the way Lee has used the tiger, both as a creature we fear, respect and perhaps one we are yet to understand, as well as a metaphor for survival, endurance and persistent grit, at a time when it could seem that your faith in God could only have been misplaced.

The cinematography, direction, special effects and art of the movie scream "Oscar" and superlative performances from the entire cast only help the movie's cause. And for once, the 3D actually helps. It's also gratifying to finally see Irrfan Khan in another Hollywood role after The Namesake (although it is again an extended cameo) that does justice to his talent – the final scene of the movie will make you understand why. But yes, though I personally loved the movie's ending, if you are looking to be spiritually moved or find answers to the questions of life, reading the book may serve you better than watching the movie.

Because this is not a movie that will make you believe in God. It is a movie that will make you believe in Ang Lee.

Argo (2012)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Argo is a stunning achievement!, 1 November 2012

Some stories are so incredible, they can only be true. Argo is one such story.

In the year 1979, the Iranian revolution erupted in an attempt to overthrow the ruling monarch of the Pahlavi dynasty and replace him with religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, for a US and UK backed coup that saw him rise to power, and for human rights violations during his years in power.

During the revolution, the American embassy in Iran was overthrown by revolutionaries, who then held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in captivity.

But unknown to them, six American diplomats escaped, and found shelter in the Canadian Ambassador's house. They were in hiding for 79 days since rescuing them was considered too risky. This was the status quo, until a CIA exfiltration specialist, Tony Mendez, came up with an incredulous plan: He would create a fake Hollywood science fiction movie, pose as its producer on location scout to the exotic Middle East, fly in solo to Tehran and fly out with the six Americans pretending to be his crew. Mendez's movie, Argo, was fake, but his mission was real. And in the words of Ben Affleck's new film based on this astonishing true story, "it was the best bad idea" they had.

Affleck's third feature film as a director, Argo, presents this unbelievable hostage rescue mission on screen as a taut, well-paced suspense thriller with so much palpable tension throughout that along with you and the entire audience, even the seats, the popcorn, the soft drinks and other inanimate objects are on edge. You know the story but the drama of how it unfolds is of aiming-for-an-Oscar-nod quality, with powerful questions about morality, humanity and the wretched politics of it all intermingled with pulp Hollywood elements of 'Oh My God! What's going to happen next?' 'Kill the evil bas***ds, I say! Kill them all!' 'Nooo! Please don't let the good guys be caught!' and 'THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER *Orgasm*'

Yes, the thing that elevates Argo from gritty art cinema that people would watch only after finding out that it's been nominated for an Oscar is that apart from being a classy period film about one of the "highest- rated" hostage dramas in history, the movie is spectacularly entertaining too. Affleck pulls out all stops to add enough "dramatic elements," as he referred to them in a press conference, to make the movie that gives you hope, inspiration and the feel-good aftereffect, one that also provides you with the kind of potboiler twists, turns and unexpected laugh-out-loud moments that would make James Cameron proud.

The entire cast is terrific, led by Affleck himself playing Mendez in the movie, but veteran acting legends, John Goodman and Alan Arkin steal the show with their delivery of some of the smartest lines on film this year. "You want to come into Hollywood and act like a big shot without doing anything?" rhetorically asks Goodman's character John Chambers, who was awarded CIA's highest civilian honour in real life, to Mendez in the movie. "You'll fit right in!" he answers with a punchline. Arkin's character of director Lester Siegel who takes it upon himself to not just make a fake movie, but a "fake hit" gives the movie it's most quotable phrase, "Argo f**k yourself!"

Unarguably, the full credit of one of the movies of the year goes to director Affleck, who has transformed himself from the guy best-known for being Jennifer Lopez' ex-boyfriend (aka the Ben-part of 'Bennifer'), Matt Damon's Sudama-type best friend and managing to pull off what is known as "one of the worst movies ever made", Gigli, to possibly, the next Clint Eastwood of direction.

Affleck's embarrassing filmography as an actor has given way to an accomplished, assured and formidable filmography as a writer-director, one that only keeps getting better with every film. Watch Affleck's first two directorial ventures, the intelligent Gone Baby Gone and the gritty The Town to know why Affleck is one of the industry's brightest upcoming directors, who seems to have only gotten started. And of course, do *not* miss Argo this week because it is a stunning achievement in direction, screen writing, acting and filmmaking itself.

Some stories are so incredible, they can only be true. Ben Affleck is one such story.

- Nikhil Taneja (

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Skyfall (2012)
2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
The Very Best and the Very Worst of Bond, 1 November 2012

'Ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to inform you that Skyfall is Daniel Craig's best Bond film yet and amongst the top three of the entire franchise. Sam Mendes, you bloody genius, you!'

So that was the opening sentence of the review I had expected to write after watching Skyfall, the twenty-third film in the James Bond franchise and the third starring the very intense Craig, given that the badass trailer had very literally left me delirious for days at end and the phenomenal hype had me convinced that I was in for the motion picture experience of a lifetime. And then, as is usually the case, I saw the movie.

Before I make my case about the specific failings of the movie, which has a plot that puts Judi Dench's M and the MI6 directly in the line of danger, as Bond battles his body and the demons from his past to save the day, let's start with some reassurance that Skyfall, for the most part, is well worth a trip to the theaters.

This is Craig's most accessible Bond movie to date; the most popcorn Bond, if you will. It's also his funniest Bond, with deadpan humour in huge dollops, at the most unexpected places.

Director Mendes pulls out all stops to give us one of the most visually intoxicating Bond films too; the cinematography by veteran Roger Deakins is a class apart, and certain sequences — including the dazzling opening credits and a fight sequence filmed almost only in shadows – give the movie a tone that's fiercely original and still, fiercely Bond. The acting, from all quarters, is a delight: Craig and Dench have "played this game long enough", and Ralph Fiennes and the talented young Ben Whishaw (who was also fantastic in the recent Cloud Atlas) ably demonstrate that they aren't merely there to be cogs in the wheel, but that they truly belong.

And to cite an analogy that'll perhaps be used freely in the days to come, Javier Bardem is the Joker to Bond's Dark Knight, even though Skyfall is the franchise's 'James Bond Rises'. Bardem, who makes one of the best-written entries in Bond history, is deliciously wicked, and constructs a frighteningly real villain with an uncomfortable, sinister presence that looms large over every scene he's a part of. In an alternate universe, Bardem would be the common villain to the Bond franchise, with a new Bond to foil him in every movie.

This is where you should stop reading if you are only looking to be entertained by Bond's latest, and aren't necessarily interested in Skyfall, the movie.

To be very honest, let me clarify that it's hard to point out exactly why the movie, which possibly has the best first act in action movies this side of the 2000s, goes wrong. It has all the quintessential Bond ingredients, and each of them spectacularly well-done at that, be it breath-taking beauties (both women and cars), dizzying action, crackling dialogue, an unconventional but remarkable choice of director, a terrifying and terrific villain, and a man's man in Bond, "an old dog who has learnt new tricks." But then again, if these were enough to make for a great movie, Agent Vinod would have been the greatest one ever made.

The movie's biggest problem is the disjointed script that takes an exciting new turn every fifteen minutes, but by the end, ends up confused about where it was heading to in the first place. Take the premise itself: MI6 is under attack and the identities of several secret service agents are now in the wrong hands. But somewhere mid-way, these agents are all but forgotten as the plot shifts gears to a cat-and-mouse game for your typical action movie staple of vengeance.

The movie is also filled with clichés. Here are some of the formulae that you'd expect Bond to avoid, but Skyfall revels in:

1. When the bad guy is caught early in the movie, you know he wanted to be caught. 2. When the bad guy pulls a gun on the good guy early in the movie, he is not going to pull the trigger. 3. When the bad guy pulls a gun on the good guy at the end of the movie, he is going to give a speech. 4. When the specific quality of a particular weapon is spoken of and dismissed, you know that's the quality that will save the day in the end.

Then there's the problem of the Bond girl who serves as much purpose in the movie as that 'Smoking causes cancer' ads serve at the beginning of it – she doesn't. Bardem's splendid villain is given a shockingly ill- etched out characterisation too, and his job through the movie is waiting it out for the good guy to thwart his bad moves. There's also the bit about Bond's backstory, which seems trite and forced and would've made no difference to the movie had it been left out.

Truth is, all would have been forgiven had the grand finale been as devastating as was promised. Instead, we get an ode (?) to – without giving it away, a famous children's film - that seems in scale and impetus, a significant departure from the tone of the movie, as well as the franchise itself. Good or bad, it just doesn't feel like Bond.

My complaint with Skyfall is that somewhere in between the entertainment, the CGI, the stunts and the twists, there was a great movie to be found. But it fell through the cracks into the abyss and only a James Bond can locate it now. This is a Bond that's both same and different to the earlier editions, and that's possibly the reason the movie ends up being, at once, both the very best of Bond and the very worst of Bond.

- Nikhil Taneja (

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Fast and Furious of Bikes, 27 October 2012

Someone famous once rightly said, "Why let things like story, plot and character development come in the way of a good movie?" Oh wait, I think that was me… ahem *clears throat*. But leaving the famous part apart, that quote is almost always true for genres like thrillers and comedy, where the movie depends not so much on the originality of its plot, but on how well it's told. David Koepp's Premium Rush is exactly that kind of a movie.

Essentially about an adrenaline-pumping chase through the streets of New York, most of which takes place in real time, Premium Rush is one of those crackling and ridiculously fun movies that constantly surprise you with how engaging they are. Straddling a fine space between action and thriller, the movie's genius lies purely in the idea of using bikes (or 'cycles', as we call them in India) as the carrier of hip (pun not intended) — a vehicle that has largely been ignored by Hollywood, except, maybe, for the iconic scenes of ET.

In a sense, the movie's an ode to the art of cycling, and a nod to the great and audacious work of Manhattan's 'bike messengers', couriers who risk their all to deliver things from one corner of the city to the other in the shortest possible time, when it's impossible to do it any other way. It's also a nod to, well, how hot these messengers are (Dania Ramirez is droolworthy), and how that's only natural, given that if you put a Nitin Gadkari on a bike, he probably won't be able to do his job well… and the bike may probably break too.

In Premium Rush, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a bike messenger who rides like he has a death wish, and is given a package to be delivered in a certain amount of time to a certain place across the city. But things get strange, when an impatient, aggressive man (Michael Shannon) starts following Wilee, asking him to hand over the package. As Wilee goes about out-biking this guy — because once the package is with you, you do not give it to random strangers — he uncovers the truth about the package, leading to more chases, more action, more thrill, and an exciting blast of a finale.

David Koepp's slick direction, especially his intercuts to graphic mapping of routes that makes the audience feel part of the chase too, combined with the awe-inspiring choreography of bike stunts amidst the busiest and most dangerous of Manhattan streets, makes the movie an urban popcorn classic.

As the sociopath, whose actions are darkly funny, Michael Shannon does the menacing bad guy act as well as he's always done, but the movie's shining star is the fantastic Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's so insanely good at being a biker that I wouldn't be surprised if I saw him taking part in — and winning — the next Tour De France. Levitt adds so much heart, energy, drama and cool to Premium Rush that in a way, he is the premium rush in the film.

After some brilliant indies like Brick, Mysterious Skin and one of my favourite movies ever, (500) Days of Summer, Levitt's career is skyrocketing towards greatness, and deservedly so. He's already my favourite young actor and you can almost hear him say, "Give me your script, I'll give you awesome."

If there were only one reason to watch Premium Rush, it would be Levitt, although the movie's the Fast and Furious of bikes, so that's a great hard sell.

- Nikhil Taneja (

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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
The movie all Wes Anderson movies were leading up to!, 27 October 2012

There are roughly 171,476 words in current use and 47,156 obsolete words in your average dictionary these days, but there's only one word that can eloquently express the full genius of Wes Anderson's style of filmmaking: Weird.

Yes, generally the polite way of putting it is by using the euphemism 'quirky' or even 'idiosyncratic' (if you are writing for expensive magazines), but all his odd little films have pointed us in one direction: Wes Anderson seems a bit of a kooky chap, doesn't he?

There's only one word to express the full genius of Wes Anderson's style of filmmaking: Weird.

In his five live-action films before Moonrise Kingdom including The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson has, each time, managed to create an unreal and unhinged world of fractured people who spend the whole movie trying to come to terms with that one thing that characters in most other films wear on their sleeves—feelings.

You may not agree with the unnatural behaviour of characters in his films… *ahem*… 'I' may not agree with the unnatural behaviour of characters in his films (barring to an extent, Rushmore, which I love), but it's probably true that Anderson gets laid a lot.

Because although it's hard to point out exactly, there's that quality about Anderson's films that would make women dig him—there's something inherently innocent, sweet and otherworldly about them, almost as if Anderson refused to grow up while everyone around him suddenly starting being adults. There's a certain mystery and romanticism about Anderson too, that, when combined with his distinctive shot-taking, manifest into movies that you may or may not love, but definitely can't ignore.

Anderson's new movie, Moonrise Kingdom, is the pinnacle of that manifestation— it is that movie that all of Anderson's movies were naturally leading up to, and which Anderson probably took so much time in making because, somewhere, even he was pretending to be an adult. But in his simplest film to date, Anderson has gleefully let go, and let his heart take over his head.

Unlike most Anderson's films, and to borrow Bollywood jargon, there is a definite 'hero' and a definite 'heroine' in Moonrise Kingdom. Except that the two are 12-year-olds, who fall in love and run away together, in the summer of 1965.

The idyllic setting, as is in all Anderson films, lends to the charm—the movie is set on a Khaki Scout camp on New Penzance, an island somewhere in New England. The setting is a hint that an adventure is waiting to happen—and Anderson does not disappoint, as the star-crossed lovers camp and hitchhike through 'Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet' trying to get through to the other side, where they intend to marry and live together forever.

Add to this fairy-tale love story, a sprinkling of those damaged adults trying to rain on their parade (including a very evil Tilda Swinton), and a destructive storm doing so quite literally, and you have that rare enchanting romantic comedy, that is both romantic and a comedy. The two leads (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) are —and there is no more sophisticated way of putting this – supremely cute, and the rest of the cast is terrific too.

Bill Murray is exactly the right amount of brilliant that's needed to make every Anderson film superior and Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand and Jason Schwartzman add more value to the proceedings.

But two unlikely actors steal the show —Edward Norton, of American History X and The Incredible Hulk fame—is endearing (yes, you read me right) and the very bada** Bruce Willis, whose casting first sounded as ridiculous as it would have sounded if Wes Anderson was to direct Die Hard 5, is, *ahem*, adorable in a role that requires him to play the anti-John McLane.

Moonrise Kingdom is a must-watch and a worthy addition to delightful first-love comedies like Little Manhattan, Flipped and the brilliant Son of Rambow, because it is about that time of our lives when love is at its purest —when love *is* love—much before we grow up and grow old and become one of those idiosyncratic, fractured characters in quirky Wes Anderson movies (whose unnatural behaviour I may not agree with).

- Nikhil Taneja (

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Taken 2 (2012)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The 5 Commandments of making a Hollywood Sequel, 27 October 2012

After watching the very badass Liam Neeson's new movie, Taken 2, which I was desperately looking forward to because the original was all sorts of fantastic, I have been enlightened in strange ways. There was this bright light, and a tunnel, and it was dark and all of a sudden, my mind was filled with knowledge that helped me figure out the art of making a big-budget hit Hollywood film sequel. Here are five commandments that can come in handy for you too, whenever you make your hit Hollywood movie and are confused about what to do in the sequel:

1. Thou shalt not have any plot, whatsoever

It's sort of stupid, isn't it? Because if the studio had a script with a plot or a story of its own, why on earth would it waste it on a sequel? It would much rather make another movie out of it, which could have its own sequel with no plot! Actually, it's sort of genius, then!

This, of course, is painfully obvious in Taken 2, where the plot is exactly as elaborate as the movie's poster tagline: They want revenge. They chose the wrong guy. In the original, Taken, the daughter of a retired CIA agent, Bryan Mills (Neeson) is kidnapped by human traffickers and he has to use his "particular set of skills" to save her. In Taken 2, Mills and his wife are kidnapped by the same guys — because they want to kill him for killing their relatives in the first movie. The only thing thinner than this plot is the IQ of the mafia, which brings us to the next point.

2. Thou shalt have stupid bad guys Of course, this is an obsolete argument, because if the bad guy was intelligent, the good guy would die and more than anything else, there would be no more sequels. So it's important for villains to do daft things like not kill the good guy after they capture him because they want him to feel pain (*cough*, The Dark Knight Rises, *cough*).

But here's the level of daftness of the bad guys in Taken 2. In a major turning point of the movie (it's even in the trailer), Mills' ex-wife is held on gunpoint and he's asked to give up his arms and be taken, or his ex-wife dies. Like a good estranged husband, Mills gives up his arms, but after making a minute-long phone call to his daughter in front of the bad guys, systematically explaining to her the situation he is in right now and what she needs to do to not get caught, as the understanding, well-intentioned bad guys wait for him to be done, because they probably have daughters too, you know. And after all, the most he could have been doing on the call was call reinforcements, right? …Wait, what?

3. Thou shalt have foreign villains It has always made so much more sense to Hollywood to have villains who are not only menacing and evil, but talk in a language, that – HORROR OF HORRORS – they can't understand! So Hollywood villains are generally outsourced cheap labour from Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East and South America (never India, because Indians probably don't have the time to be evil since they are so busy in taking over US jobs and driving cabs). Also, it's just creepier when the good guy has no clue if the bad guys are plotting a nuclear strike or discussing Bigg Boss in front of him.

Taken 2 takes this commandment and as a first, turns it uniquely over its head — in the movie, it's not just the good guy who can't understand the frightening foreign villains, apparently the hipster foreign villains can't understand him either (because learning English is so mainstream, yo). Or else why would the bad guys spend approximately 15 minutes of screen time looking for Mills' daughter — after he called her in front of them and told her to hide in the closet?

4. Thou shalt have fiery dialogue exchanges… sort of Every mainstream Hollywood movie depends as much on its big-budget special effects and action as it does on its dialog…. *chokes with laughter*. Sorry, I couldn't get through with that sentence with a straight face. Here's an example of the exact dialogue exchange the main bearded baddie has with Mills, after he has caught him and his wife, and is torturing them — with his accent, that is — rather than, you know, killing him:

Bad guy: I will kill you because you killed my sons Mills: But they kidnapped my daughter first! Bad guy: I don't care, they were my sons! Mills: But they sell young girls to Arabs!! Bad guy: BUT THEY WERE MY SONS. Mills: You know what, just kill me. Before your accent or logic do.

Okay, maybe I paraphrased that last bit, just a little bit.

5. Thou shalt substitute intelligence with action

So where do the studios put the money that could have bought them a decent plot, good dialogue writer, and locally-sourced American bad guys that could have helped the unemployment rate too? Answer: In LOTS of unapologetic, in-your-face action and kickass action. Taken 2 has a lot of those, and that's always, always a good thing.

There's also a sixth, secret commandment here, which really isn't that much of a secret, or much of a commandment, for that matter. No matter how badly you do, if the audience liked the first movie, it will watch the sequel and then wait for the threequel to buy the DVD box-set (guilty, as charged). And where Taken 2 is concerned, plot or no plot, watching Liam Neeson kick butt is always going to be worth it!

- Nikhil Taneja (

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0 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, 27 October 2012

Australian writer-director Andrew Dominik is perhaps best known for his slow, contemplative and slow 2007 work of art, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – a film whose length lived up to its long-winded title (and did I mention it was slow?). But the assured, masterful direction by Dominik compelled me to seek out his debut film, Chopper. The 2000 release was one of the very first Australian films I've seen – I'm discounting Finding Nemo here — and it immediately turned me into an Andrew Dominik believer. The movie is also largely the reason I've forgiven Australia for its cricket team, and Eric Bana for Hulk.

Because where The Assassination of… was a carefully constructed, atmospheric, epic western, Chopper was a wickedly funny, dark, twisted and stylish crime film, that never took itself as art but had all the makings of it. And it was not long. Or slow. It is the movie Dominik should and deserves to be known for.

In Killing Them Softly, Dominik returns to his Chopper roots, but mixes it up, every now and then, with the considered deliberation of The Assassination of… and some blatant social commentary, to give us his most accomplished film to date, though one that falls short of being the masterpiece it is being hyped to be.

The film follows the aftermath of a mob heist by three amateur crooks, who are admittedly "not the smartest guys", when the mob calls in a trusted enforcer, Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), to investigate. Billed as a crime thriller, the movie's plot is about as predictable as Brad Pitt's elf-like, immortal good looks (he's never going to be good for your ego), but it's what Dominik manages to conjure on the path to the movie's inevitable climax that constantly surprises you and is worth your ticket's price.

Set in sparse New Orleans, the movie builds one of the most dramatic and tense heist scenes on camera, relying not on suggestive music but instead on silence as the operative prop, offset only by the nervous energy of actor Scoot McNairy. Then there's the reinterpretation of the mob shakedown scene where the audience is subjected to just as much of the raw, gritty and stomach-churning treatment that Ray Liotta's character is. There are also Tarantino-esque conversations between goons, black comedy like only the Coen Brothers can manage, and a warped nod to David Chase's Sopranos through James Gandolfini's pitiful Mickey whose conversations with Pitt's Cogan set Dominic's take on contemporary mafia apart from the recycled versions we've seen too many times.

And then there's style – slow motion shattering of glass during a hit, use of Johnny's Cash's 'The man comes around' to introduce Cogan, and a surreal take on a hilarious stoner conversation, all establish Dominik as a uniquely gifted director. He is of course helped by the fantastic cast he has lined up in the movie – from Animal Kingdom's Ben Mendelsohn, who brings about the biggest laughs as a zoned-out goon, to the dependable Richard Jenkins, who is the lawyer face of the recession- hit mafia, and everyone in between.

All these elements should guarantee a classic, but the movie's in-your- face social commentary makes it seem like Dominic's trying a little too hard. The movie takes place during the 2008 recession and Obama's 'Yes we can' pre-election hope campaign, and draws parallels between corporate America and the mob. And if anyone missed the 40,000 instances where the campaign videos are playing in the background, Pitt's Cogan spells it out in the end too, so we get a quotable line for our Facebook status messages and believe that the movie is far more layered than we have discerned.

The pace of the movie is also uneven and at times, it veers so far off the point that the point then seems like a hair follicle on Anil Kapoor's chest. There's also something to be said about Brad Pitt, whose charisma lights up every scene he is in. The biggest hurdle Brad Pitt has faced in his movies is that he is Brad Pitt. Because no matter how good an actor Pitt is, there are always those moments where the movie star breaks out of the mask and the audience goes, "That was so Brad Pitt!"

If the sum of the movie's remarkable scenes make for a great film, then Killing Them Softly deserves all its laurels, but seen as a whole, the movie's like those exotic restaurants where delicious comes in such finite quantity that you need to go home and chomp on a box of Pringles to satiate your stomach. If you do the same, seek out Chopper, while at it.

- Nikhil Taneja (

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Looper (2012)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Looper review from the future!, 27 October 2012

It's the year 2044. No, I mean, literally it's the year 2044 right now. While writing his review of Looper, my naive but good-intentioned past self secretly hoped that his future self (which is my current self, at the moment) would write this review from the future. Time travel wasn't invented back in 2012, but after aliens took over Earth in 2034 because the humans tried filming the 30th edition of Roadies on Mars, they introduced all these cool things like time travel, cloning, artificial intelligence, and err… weekly anal probes. (Don't worry, the aliens aren't all that bad – they look more or less like Adam Sandler, and they proved to us humans that they mean well by banishing Arnab Goswami to Venus). So, here I am!

Everything's going great in 2044, Hollywood wise – after Leonardo Di Caprio shifted base to Mars because there were no more great directors left to work with, Joseph Gordon-Levitt firmly took over as Hollywood's biggest star. In fact, after Looper became a worldwide hit, director Rian Johnson became really famous too – and his recent gritty reboot of Robin Also Rises was both critically acclaimed and an inter-galactic hit. Of course, his success was helped when Christopher Nolan decided to give up the conventional way of making movies to start a live show where he'd inception movies into people's minds directly.

Levitt in a still from the film. AP As for Bruce Willis, he recently starred with his son and grandson (none of them being Ashton Kutcher) in Dying Hard Over and Over Again, aka Die Hard 31.0. So yes, that's a yippee-ki-yay for you, fan boys: no one's been able to dethrone Willis yet! Liam Neeson did come close in the 10s, but Taken 7, where he kidnaps himself, proved to be his undoing.

But enough on the state of affairs – let's talk about Looper. The movie recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and saw a re-re-re-re-re- release in 14D (in which basically Bruce Willis' hologram comes out of the screen and punches you in the face every now and then) and even all these years later, it remains one of the most genuinely futuristic, intelligent, unique and original movies of this century!

For those who missed it when it released in 2012, here's the lowdown: Looper is set in 2044, where mafia hit men called Loopers assassinate people sent to them from 2074. Sometimes, they are also sent their own future selves, and it's necessary to kill them to "close your loop", or else, because of the complexity of the space-time continuum, things could get really strange and the world could blow up in your face… or something to that effect.

Joe (Joseph-Gordonn Levitt) makes exactly the same mistake – when his future self (Bruce Willis) is sent to him to be disposed of, he lets him escape. And in the thrilling and unpredictable plot twists that follow, the world almost blows up in his face… or something to that effect.

One of the biggest reasons that Looper works so convincingly was that it presents a complex but refreshingly original idea in the simplest manner, but not in one that insults the viewer's intelligence in any way (even though human intelligence in your time was like a quarter of what we have now, FYI).

The story does not deal so much with what would happen to the present if future Joe (Willis) stayed alive in the present, but the fact that it is really important for present Joe (Levitt) to kill him because future Joe has traveled back in time to do something horrible (I'm going to let you find out what that was). And more than the traditional science- fiction riddle, it is the moral implication of what future Joe wants to accomplish that makes the plot so gripping and terribly entertaining, which is quite a major achievement for a sci-fi film.

To use a cliché (because cliché's have still not gone out of fashion in 2044), the film's true hero is the script and after his awesome but largely unknown debut with 2005's indie college noir flick, Brick, writer-director Rian Johnson proves with Looper, why he deserves to play with the big boys.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis do some of their best work in Looper, especially keeping in mind the tremendous effort the actors took to look, talk, act and behave exactly like each other's past and future selves, respectively. But yes, as much as I fan boy-worship Levitt, I have to admit that he still can't kick butt like Willis. And as history (aka your future) proves, no one can!

So there – I've laid out all past, present and (your) future evidence to convince you to watch the movie. You don't need to be a sci-fi buff to love Looper, you just need to be a fan of great storytelling, although the sci-fi, action, comedy, suspense and horror can only help! Watch the movie right away, if possible, to get bragging rights to your friends that you saw it first – because this is all that people will be talking about for quite some time into the future.

And just in the interest of social service, here are some tips to help you have a good future: Keep the towels handy, and learn Mandarin. And oh, if you live in Mumbai, buy a few auto-rickshaws.

- Nikhil Taneja (

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Arbitrage (2012)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Richard Gere is a badass, 27 October 2012

It was at precisely the moment when Richard Gere was revealed to be Cassius, of "the killing machine" fame, in 2011's action thriller, The Double, that I thought aloud to myself, "Wait. What?" This was followed by a barrage of thoughts, all of which I continued thinking aloud to myself: "Oh My God! Did Richard Gere just kill Stephen Moyer with his bare hands? Didn't his back hurt? Why is there no Julia Roberts in this film? Why is this film not a romantic comedy? Is that what Topher Grace's face actually looks like when he tries to act? What was Richard Gere thinking??"

Let's be straight: Richard Gere is no Robert De Niro, much less Liam Neeson. He has never come close to winning an Oscar, and for good reason. He is 60, but when he does one of those roles where he's required to be effortlessly charming or sweet (like in his last few, The Hoax, The Hunting Party and Hachi), he is terrific *and* looks 40 – maybe even 35, if the make up's good. In The Double, he was terrible (and the film already had a Topher Grace). In Brooklyn's Finest, he was overshadowed by every other actor by a long mile. So before I saw his new thriller, Arbitrage, there was only one question on my mind: Why is Gere trying to fix what's not broken?

Richard Gere in a still from Arbitrage. Two hours later, Richard Gere had managed to pull a Cassius on my skepticism. In Arbitrage, Gere plays Robert Miller, the smart, hard-working, multi- million hedge fund CEO, who is trying to close a merger that will benefit his employees, and the wonderful, loving family man, who is planning a retirement adventure with his wife (Susan Sarandon).

But once the covers start coming off, Gere is also Robert Miller, the fraudulent, dishonest head of a failing company, who is fighting a losing battle to leave a legacy, and the lying, philandering husband and father, who is lavishing his time and remaining money on an exotic 20- something (Laetitia Casta). And as is usually the case with the fates, it all comes crashing down one fine day.

While you expected the inevitable twist in the tale, debutant writer- director Nicholas Jarecki's carefully plotted screenplay and admirable direction makes every subsequent twist and turn seem sharper than the last one. There's nothing here that you haven't already seen, and the movie reaffirms Hollywood's age-old belief that the Wall Street guys are evil (if they are the lead) and stupid (if they are the support cast). But the tension in the atmosphere, well aided by the original music from Cliff Martinez, and the fine acting from all quarters makes this film a far superior one than it may have seemed on paper.

Every actor makes a contribution: Tim Roth, as the cocky detective, Brit Marling (of Another Earth fame) as the conflicted daughter, and most of all, Nate Parker (Red Tails), who is fantastic as the likely fall guy. Parker's performance in the film will be a big boost to the young black actor community, which has, of late, run woefully short of talent, with the notable exception of Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau).

But in this taut film, it is Richard 'Cassius' Gere, who proves beyond doubt – the man's still got it (and he'd probably kill me with his bare hands for making back pain jokes). Gere steals each scene he is in, and makes you both love him and hate him, makes you both despise him and pity him, makes you want to see him both punished and saved. That's because Gere's Robert Miller knows he is a bad guy but believes he's a good one, and it's when Miller grapples with his inner demons to figure which side he really belongs to, that the audience is in for a Gere special.

'Oscar buzz' is going a bit too far, but Arbitrage deserves a watch for being a well-concocted thriller, and possibly Gere's most important public work since his 2007 kiss to Shilpa Shetty. I kid, Mr Gere.

- Nikhil Taneja (

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