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Spider-Man 3 (2007)
A Masterpiece by Raimi
Going into the theatre I was pretty sure I was in for a good time. The last two editions were too good for me not to expect that. Wouldn't have spent a rare free evening (the movie released on Labour Day here at Singapore) cooped up indoors otherwise. But I really hadn't imagined the movie would be this good.
It's very rare that, in a trilogy, movies get better progressively. Spider-man 3 is a great improvement over the last two, and that itself says a lot.
The first mid-air fight sequence, a few minutes into the movie, is breathtaking and a sign of things to come. And every few scenes, at an even pace, we get lots of these out-of-the-world sequences. There are three villains - Sandman and Venom make an appearance here - and each one gets ample screen time. Could have done with a little more of Venom. But what the hell, I won't crib.
Every actor is in top form. The story, even with the slightly slow-moving emotional scenes, moves at exactly the right pace. The action doesn't get overdone. The drama doesn't make you yawn. It's near-perfect. I simply loved the manner in which Raimi gives depth to each character, even the fantastic villains. The CGI is brilliant, but never overshadows the acting - the true test probably of any movie in this genre. And there's really awesome comedy to complete the package.
Go watch this movie the day it releases in your city. Watch out for a short appearance by Stan Lee too.
King Kong (2005)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes...
...or so it seems. One of the most memorable scenes from the movie I just returned from watching, and there are many, has a big-boned gentleman, all dressed in black, looking desperately for his blonde, and tossing every other away like a kid in a heap of barbie dolls. And then, just as he is about to hurt an important cast member, his lover walks into the scene like an angel, through a fog that hides all the havoc wreaked in her absence. And that is what this classic is all about - the search of the hero for his heroine whom he is madly in love with.
The name's Kong...King Kong - the beast to Naomi Watts' (Ann Darrow) beauty. There's also Jack Black and Adrian Brody and a decent supporting cast. But the Oscar for the Best Actor in a Lead Role goes to the ape from Skull Island. Just as the one for Best Actor in a Supporting Role last year should have gone to the deranged hobbit looking for his preciousss.
I was slightly late for the movie and I missed the opening sequence that I have heard is brilliant. The art direction and the cinematography for the scenes set in Depression-era New York are top-class and it sets the dark mood for the movie brilliantly. There's a quaint mix of humor with underlying pain and premonition of impending horrors that seeps through the first hour or so. The first 60-70 minutes see a wastefully artistic film maker Carl Denham (Black) being threatened by studio executives, a starving Ann Darrow being signed on by the sly film maker for an adventure movie to be shot ostensibly in Singapore, a passionate and talented writer Jack Driscoll (Brody) being conned into accompanying the crew for the shoot, and the crew finally setting off on a mysterious voyage. Very late into the journey do the ship's crew and the film unit realize that they are bound for an as-yet-undiscovered island called the S-K-U-L-L Island (see the movie to understand why I wrote the name like that), which has an unenviable reputation.
If I was impressed by the technical details in NY, I was speechless with the camera-work on the ship. And that is still not the best of it. I am supposing that it's the same award-winning team that assisted Peter Jackson for the LOTR trilogy. The scene where the Skull Island is introduced after the nerve-wrecking buildup is to die for. And some junior members of the cast would do exactly that in a while.
The movie takes on a whole new momentum once the crew land on the island, or rather when they first encounter the natives. Yes, natives. I didn't know that there were natives too. I had only been expecting huge animals. The huge animals come a bit later. And boy, are they huge! Stegosaurus stampedes, multiple T-Rex combats, giant millipedes, giant flies, giant arachnids, giant (and gross) leeches, giant bats - little is left to imagination. Just one thing came to mind while I saw leeches gobble up Andy Serkis, or Kong tearing away the jaws of a T-Rex in great style - this movie is NOT for children. Jackson uses gore in good quantity, probably as a tribute to his pre-LOTR days.
After a lot of action on the island, Kong is finally captured in a heart-rending scene, and taken back to NY for the 'Greatest Show On Earth'. Things obviously don't go as Mr Black would have wanted them to, and we see some more CGI. I tolerated the gore, but the scenes where Kong fights fighter-planes while standing at the top of Empire State Building are too terrifying if you are acrophobic. And finally, after he has spent enough time on camera to make every actor jealous of the screen time he gets, Kong falls down to his death.
I don't understand why some reviewers have written that Jack Black doesn't fit the role. If you keep away images from his past crazy roles, you can appreciate the work he has done. He essays the role of the passionate film-maker, who models himself on the lines of Cecil B deMille, and is too cunning for his own good, wonderfully well. Adrian Brody is in form again and the role is tailor made for a man of his appearance. Naomi Watts takes Ann Darrow to a level I am not sure Fay Wray could, or at least was given a chance to. She screams like hell, but does a lot else too, including a really funny vaudeville act when she first spends quality time with her hairy lover. Her face lights up whenever she is having a fun time with Kong and it must be difficult to be so expressive when there is nothing in front of you while shooting, and she does it really well. The camera is wonderfully complimentary to her and she looks ravishing in some of the scenes. But as I said, the pick of the lot is Kong and, as a corollary I suppose, Serkis. He looks too real, and his expressions are better than some of the actors I have seen lately.
The reason why King Kong scores comprehensively over movies like Jurassic Park, or the really bad Godzilla, is that CGI, which is awesome for the record, is not the mainstay of the movie. It is used to enhance what is essentially a beautiful human story. King Kong is not about the huge monsters; it is the age-old story about the power of love, even if it is doomed, and the way it can change a monster into a gushing, and blushing, lover.
Jackson could have rested on his laurels after three brilliant movies in the LOTR trilogy, but he churns out yet another masterpiece, only to up the ante for himself and the Spielbergs and Lucases around him.
Bandit Queen (1994)
A shocking story, and more so because it's true
I saw Bandit Queen in 2005, over a decade after it was made amidst widespread controversy in India. The language, the stark treatment and the natural acting (by a relatively unknown cast for that time) might have been even more shocking at that time for an Indian populace more familiar with fantasy cinema. The film, the cast, and Shekhar Kapoor, deserve accolades for the breakthrough effort.
The plot is not very different from a typical revenge drama made in various forms in India. In fact, there have been several fictional accounts of this particular story itself. The reason why this stands out is that it's supposed to be a first person account of someone who actually went through all this, and a lot else that doesn't find place on the screen, and survived to tell the tale. Survived long enough to see her story made into a movie at least. Phoolan Devi didn't live very long after being released from prison in 1994.
The film scores on several counts. The cinematography is brilliant. The music is apt. The cast, many of whom became more familiar names later, is very good. But the screenplay is patchy. Things move too fast and in jerks at times. It's understandable though, because there are just too many strands that need to be tied together to make it all cohesive. Or maybe I felt that because I have read Mala Sen's book, which is a more detailed and better, though obviously not as shocking as the visual, account of Phoolan Devi's travails, and which is purported to be one of the main sources for the film.
There are some factual ambiguities too. According to Phoolan Devi, she wasn't present when the Behmai massacre took place, and despite claiming to be the dictated account of Phoolan herself, she is shown to participate, and in fact initiate, the massacre. Then the final scene where Phoolan surrenders shows her touching the feet of the Chief Minister, while in reality she had surrendered to a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. Symbolic value only, but shows that Phoolan didn't want to show servitude to a living, ordinary person. It would have been nice to show the Chief Minister to have some resemblance to Arjun Singh, who many remember was the CM of Madhya Pradesh then.
But these are small chinks in this eminently well-made movie, a rare gem to come out from the mainstream Indian film industry, made by a man who before this was known best for the ultimate masala movie of the late 80s - Mr India.
Black Friday (2004)
A rare foray by an Indian film maker into gritty real-life drama
Films based on books are a rarity in India. Probably that accounts for the huge amount of movies without any coherent screenplay that India churns out. Black Friday, on the other hand, is an exception, which will make any film maker proud.
The movie, revolving around the investigation following the horrifying Bombay bomb blasts, and also showing the perpetrators' lives just before and after the incident, took a long time to get through the Censor Board, and it's not difficult to imagine why once you have seen the movie. The movie tries to portray everything the way it actually happened, or at least as the book says it happened, and succeeds. Technically the movie is top league, compared to other Hindi movies, though the editing is choppy in places. The music, by Indian Ocean, is brilliant, and more importantly suits the plot. Despite the length of the movie the director never loses grip, and that's really commendable.
I haven't seen Satya (and I am sorry for that), so I am not very familiar with Anurag Kashyap's work (though he also did the dialogues, I believe, for Yuva, which I have seen), but considering the smoke he generates with every movie, I knew there had to be some fire to it too. And Black Friday IS fiery! The movie doesn't ever try to be politically correct and the director is almost obsessed with showing everything - even the correct language - which shall make it unsuitable for family viewing.
The actors, with Kay Kay (he should be getting awards for this one) and Aditya Srivastava worth special mention, do a very good job too, and I think many of them are of a theatre background, which ensures a high pedigree in Indian movies. Those familiar with Indian TV serials must have seen Srivastava in an eminently well-made series called 9 Malabar Hill from the late 90s, which also starred Pawan Malhotra. Srivastava has been seen in many other smaller roles in movies and TV serials since then, but that particular role had showed how good an actor he is, and it is proved here once more. Pawan Malhotra is also a known face in India's parallel cinema movement, though he is prone to overact at times. Kay Kay is one of the best actors to have hit the Indian screen in recent years, and brilliant performances aren't new to him.
The movie is unique in the sense that it shows the life of a terrorist AFTER the blast and how he copes with all the pressures. Then there's the pressure faced by the investigators to get to the terrorist, but taking care at the same time that they don't harm innocent people in their zeal. When I saw in the credits that the movie was based on a book by a Muslim author, I started feeling that it was going to be a biased description of the atrocities of Mumbai police on innocent members of the Musilm community during the investigations. Such a thought process is shameful, but natural in India's circumstances. But surprisingly, and thankfully, the movie, and so I suppose the book too, is as objective as it could have been without appearing sympathetic to either of the parties.
To finish off, this is one of those (very rare) movies that convince you that the future isn't all that bad for Hindi cinema. A must watch for all Hindi movie fans, and even those who normally don't watch Hindi movies because of the unrealistic gloss and song-and-dance routines.
Just yet another Yash Chopra flick...nothing new!
I just can't fathom what most people have seen so special in this movie. Almost all the actors ham, including Amitabh Bachchan. The plot is ludicrous and filled with holes. It goes on for an eternity. The songs are probably the worst in a Yashraj Films' production, barring a couple of good ones. The theme is commendable, but I think that is probably the only thing worth mention. The low of Shah Rukh Khan's acting in this movie is worth contrasting with the high in Swades (released a few days later). Yash Chopra is only interested in making full use of every scene's potential to extract tears from the viewer or trying to justify the 'epic' adjective by adding signs of opulence and grandeur. One of Yash Chopra's worst, and I normally like his movies, even the ones where there isn't much of a story.
Ocean's Twelve (2004)
The zing's just not there!
I have read just two comments here because I didn't want to get affected by the general opinion. I think if you enjoyed the first part because of the sharpness with which the team carries out the heist and the smoothness with which everything gels together, then you just might be disappointed by the sequel. On the other hand, if you found it brilliant more because of the actors, then Ocean's Twelve might work for you. I belong to the former category and I couldn't help feeling exasperated at times while watching this movie. The zing's just not there!
**Might contain spoilers ahead** There are some really great scenes, with my favorite being the whole Bruce Willis cameo. The Julia Roberts as Julia Roberts thing was really funny. The story in itself is great. Brad Pitt gets more screen space at the expense of Mr Clooney. Catherine Zeta Jones does a competent job. Matt Damon is hilarious as the nervous guy. The rest of the cast is fairly decent too. But the screenplay misses. And that costs the movie a lot. Watch Ocean's Eleven again after this to see how much more entertaining it was.
Swades: We, the People (2004)
The eternal dilemma of an 'NRI' whether to continue with the good life in the US or come back to his land.
It's a bane of any director who makes a really good movie early on in his career that each of his subsequent creations are fated to be compared with the famous one, and Ashutosh Gowariker did have a tough act to follow. But let's talk of Swades without the shadow of Lagaan looming over it. And boy does it impress! The first plus point of Swades is that Shah Rukh Khan acts. He actually appears happy here that he has managed to bag one rare movie where the director has made some use of his acting skills. There are just two-three short instances where he returns to his typical habit of making funny faces, and that's pretty tolerable. Otherwise he does a really good job of the role. I hope he gets a Filmfare for this, not for Veer Zaara.
Gayatri Joshi is good too. Better than Gracy Singh. Sorry, we were not supposed to have comparisons. Her dialogue delivery is awkward at places, but otherwise a really nice job in a first movie. Of course having a strong role helped.
The rest of the actors put up a very competent show too. The lady who plays Shah Rukh's nanny (who I later came to know is named Kishori Balal) keeps away from the typical melodrama seen so often in our movies. In fact there's very little 'filmi' in the movie. Things are very realistic, not exactly real-life, but closer to it. Gowariker makes full use of NASA and we probably have the first rocket-launch in a Hindi movie here. The children are not the obnoxious kind that we typically see in present-day Hindi movies. The village is very authentic. Compare it with Karan Johar's glossy Chandni Chowk in K3G. The situations and people's reactions in those situations are authentic. The songs gel in very nicely with the story and you enjoy them thoroughly. The title-song which is the last song in the movie could be a tear-jerker for NRIs, quite like Chitthi aayi hai from Naam in the 80s. The story (and for a rare occasion in recent Hindi movies we do have one here) is good. The movie has a proper flow, and I don't know if there's a technical term for it. So technically and screenplay-wise Swades is very good. One more point to Ashutosh Gowariker.
But Swades is not perfect. Far from it actually. One obvious flaw is that the sermonizing gets to you after a point. The movie is close to three-and-a-half hours long and you feel it. And despite having its heart in the right place, the movie starts working against the message it is trying to convey if people get so bored that they start leaving the hall. In fact the songs are so good that at times you wish that a song would come by to relieve you of the rubbing in that the audience is being subjected to. And that is why I feel it's very difficult for this movie to be a big hit. But I would love to be proved wrong. It's the kind of movie that Gowariker couldn't have made with a big star in the lead or couldn't have sold to distributors if he didn't have Lagaan on his resume. There are some other issues like run-of-the-mill cinematography but I think they aren't really important here. What we have here is competent enough.
On the whole I would say that the plus points far outweigh the negatives. It's no classic (and I consider Lagaan a classic) but probably the best Hindi movie that we've had this year. I say probably only because I am not in the mood to recall the names of other movies released this year. So please go and see the movie, and if possible in a hall. Movies like these should do well. Movies like these should be tax-free. Movies like these should be made more often.