Tuesday, 19 November 2013

First among equals

Films to Look out for at IFFI this year

With more than 300 films being screened at the 44th International Film Festival in various categories choosing what to watch from among them can be bit of a Russian roulette, especially considering that the list of films is not available well in advance.Yours truly has seen some of them while others are based on reviews and achievements at festivals worldwide. Films in the competition section or Masterstrokes, more often than not, are safe bet. Here are 20 films to look forward to at IFFI this year.

What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love (Indonesia)
Dir: Mouly Surya
This film was nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and it won an award at Rotterdam. The story is about  blind and deaf people in love.

In Hiding (Poland)
Dir: Jan Kidawa-Blonksi
Jan Kidawa-Blonksi’s films were a revelation when his retrospective was held at IFFI a few years back. In Hiding set during WWII is about the relationship between two woman, is in the competition section. It stars Magdalena Boczarska who won the Best Actress at IFFI in 2010 for Little Rose.

So Much Water (Uruguay) 
Dir: By Ana Guevara, Leticia Jorge
It has won a couple of awards at festivals (Miami, San Sebastian) and even though the story of a divorced father spending time a holiday with his son and daughter may sound familiar, the film apparently stands out.

The Great Beauty (Italy)
Dir: Paolo Sorrentino
In simple words, do not miss this film. You might just be watching next years Oscar winner but even though it is too early to make predictions,The Great Beauty is surely in the crème de la crème of 
the films at the festival. 

The Act of Killing (Denmark-Indonesia)
Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer
This documentary is an absolute must watch in which former Indonesian death squads reenact what they did. Their atrocities went unchecked and this chilling docu-feature will leave you shaken and stirred. 

Apur Panchali (Bengali)
Dir: Kaushik Ganguly
The film is a biopic on Subir Banerjee, the child actor who played Apu in Satyajit Ray’s classic Pather Panchali and never faced the camera since then.


Mother I Love You (Latvia)
Dir: Janis Nords
Winner of Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus International Jury at Berlin and Jury award at Los Angeles, this is a story of a teenage boy drawn into crime but doesn’t let his mother know of his misdeeds. It is Latvia’s entry at the Oscars this year. 

A Touch of Sin (China)
Dir: Zhangke Jia
Nominated for Palme d’Or and winner of the Best Screenplay at Cannes, it has four stories about random acts of violence. Even though it has got mixed reviews, it should be worth a dekko.

Short Term 12 (USA)
Dir: Deston Cretton
A film loved by critics and audiences alike, Short Term 12 is gem of an independent film to come from U.S.A. The film is set in a foster care home and has a stellar performance by Brie Larson.

The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
Dir: Rithy Panh
Few years back, there was Waltz With Bashir an animation film that told the story of a conflict, The Missing Picture is about the Khymer Rouge in Cambodia. It is their entry at the Oscars and it also a winner in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year.

Dual (Slovenia) 
Dir: Nejc Gazvoda
This is a story of two young women who meet at the airport, they become friends but one of them has a secret. The director’s previous film A Trip was Slovenia’s entry at the Oscars in 2011

Love is All You Need (Denmark)
Dir: Susanne Bier
The film she made before this one won an Oscar for the Best Foreign Film. Love is All You Need is a light film that has romance with Pierce Brosnan in the lead. This one is meant for those who like crowd pleaser.

Circles (Serbia)
Dir: Srdan Golubovic
Another film not to be missed, it has won several awards including the Special Jury Prize at Sundance. The consequences of a tragic incident that occurred 12 years earlier are confronted in this film which is Serbia’s entry at the Oscars.

Blue is the Warmest Color (France)
Dir: Abdellatif Kechiche
For the first time ever at Cannes, two actresses were awarded the prize; the film won the coveted Palme d’Or. It’s a story of a young girl discovering herself when she meets another young woman. Love, lust, longing, heartbreak– it is all there in this 3-hour film.

Ilo Ilo (Singapore)
Dir: Anthony Chen
Winner of the Golden Camera at Cannes, Ilo Ilo is about the friendship between a maid and a boy, while the mother feels jealous of them. The film is Singapore’s entry at the Oscars.

Fandry (Marathi)
Dir:  Nagraj Manjule
Manjule already has a National Award for his short film Pistulya and with his first feature he has shown that he is here to stay. The story of a young boy in love, it also deals with the caste system. While it moves at a decent pace, the ending will knock your socks off.

Stray Dogs (Taiwan)
Dir: Ming-liang Tsai
Winner of the Grand Special Jury prize at Venice the film is about a father and his children who wander about in Taipei till they meet a stranger. 

In Bloom (Georgia)

Dir: Nana Ekvtimishvili
Their official entry at the Oscars, the film has won awards at several festivals around the world. It is about two teenage girls who fight to survive post the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Past (Iran)
Dir: Ashgar Farhadi
The Past may not be as good as A Separation but it is still ahead of many others and is eminently worth a watch. Bérénice Bejo’s acting is truly outstanding.

Harmony Lessons (Kazakhstan)
Dir: Emir Baigazin
The debut feature of the director has won several accolades, it’s a story set in a village in Kazakhstan.

Laxmikant Shetgaonkar's Baga Beach (His previous film Paltodcho Munis won an award at the Toronto fest), Jafar Panahi's Closed Curtain (not his best but film but neverthless) and Like Father, Like Son (won a jury prize at Cannes) and The German Doctor (about an Argentine family who lived with Josef Mengele without knowing who he was, Argentina's entry at the Oscars), these films are also expected to deliver the goods. 

(Published in The Navhind Times)

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Film Review - Ram Leela

                             Old Wine, New Bottle & Gift Wrapped

Film: Ram Leela

Cast: Ranvir Singh, Deepika Padukone, Supriya Pathak

Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Duration: 2 hrs 33 mins

Rating: * * 1 /2

Like most Sanjay Leela Bhansali films, RamLeela has a big canvas, stunning visuals and is very self indulgent. On the flip side, the story inspired by Romeo and Juliet is one of those that have been churned out with clock work regularity. In fact, you wish that Bhansali had treated the story a little differently than just to indulge in those ‘oh-look-how-beautiful-this-is’ kind of shots.
Excessive songs, including an item number and a not so convincing screenplay is not how you want to see another version of one of the Bards most popular tragedies.

“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo” he wrote. The reason for the woe here is the enmity between two clans, on one side is the relatively calm Ram (Ranvir Singh), his brother (Abhimanyu Singh) calls the shots. On the other side of the fence we have Leela (Deepika Padukone) whose mother runs the show in the family. Not a very pleasant woman you want to be around, she can even chop off a finger is she feels like it. The two communities fire more bullets in the air and each other than you saw in The Expendables.

Ram and Leela fall in lust first and love comes later, both cause severe consternation in the communities. They decide to elope but their families won’t give up. It is easier to understand Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle rather than figure out the unnecessarily twisted complications and misunderstandings in the latter part of the film.

There is no doubt that Bhansali has a remarkable eye for visuals - the colors, framing and lighting is extraordinary. There are a few scenes that have the chutzpah but inconsistency mars otherwise. The songs keep popping up (including an item number by Priyanka) like any other film and the editing is very lenient. Take the scene for example where a widow is being chased by men from the opposition camp, first it goes on in the narrow lane, then there is a long shot along with a couple in slow motion and it is in scenes like these that the indulgence shows.

 The dialogues are apt and full credit to the writers, Garima and Siddharth for the same. On the acting front, Supriya Pathak as the don smolders fire playing her character with élan. Richa Chaddha is convincing, Ranvir Singh and Deepika Padukone share a good chemistry, the actress though impresses with every outing.

Ram Leela is old wine in new bottle which is gift wrapped. 

(Published in The Navhind Times on 17th Nov 2013)

Film Review - Insidious 2

                        Haunted House             

Film: Insidious 2
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne
Directed by: James Wan
Duration: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: * * *
After the success of Insidious (2010) directed by James Wan, a sequel was always on the cards. Meanwhile, the popularity of The Conjuring this year also elevated the status of the director who returns with Insidious - Chapter 2. 

Wan clearly has a knack for making horror films, even though the genre has become very predictable he knows how to keep the viewer engrossed. Unlike most gimmicky horror films, he doesn’t scare the viewer every ten minutes but instead, builds up the tension and suspense.

The one issue with Chapter 2 is that it has quite a few links with the first film, those who have seen it, will enjoy it best. It continues where the previous one left off with a quick flashback in the beginning. Renai (Rose Byrne) is recovering from the incident where Elise their friend was killed and her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) is the suspect.

The strange occurrences continue in their house and she fears for her children. Meanwhile her mother in law seeks help from other sources and there in begins the journey to unravel the mystery. Sequels usually disappoint because of lackluster stories but the chances are very high that if you enjoyed the first part, the second one will not let you down. Even though the basic premise moves on expected lines, there are some nice touches from the writer and director which elevate the proceedings.
One the whole, it is an enjoyable treat for horror buffs. 

(Published in The Navhind Times on 17th Nov 2013)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Film Review - Thor: The Dark World

Hammer and Tongs

Film: Thor: The Dark World
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Duration: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: * * 1 / 2

Considering that its predecessor was not great shakes, the expectations from Thor: The Dark World were on the lower side. Directed by Alan Taylor who has done considerable work for television and is at the helm of the next Terminator movie, this is certainly a more entertaining outing than the previous one primarily because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it may sound odd but the humor which is the saving grace in this action film. 

Unless you are a serious fan of the franchise, you’ll find plenty of mumbo-jumbo going on here. All action films need a strong villain but Malekith (Christopher Eccelston) has been relegated to the back seat. He had unsuccessfully attempted to fight Odin’s father (that would be Thors grandfather) to destroy the universe using the Aether. He wants to give it a shot again. With Loki (Tom Hiddleston) captive Thor (Hemsworth) has to take on the bad guys but due to lack of resources, he forced to take his brothers help. 

Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) the scientist and Thor’s love interest also gets teleported to Asgard and the fight keeps shifting from outer space to Earth and the finale happens in London. 

All the science, physics and talk about the alignment of the Nine Realms appears complete baloney; there is no conviction in that. In fact it reminds you of those Hindi movies where the priest waits for particular planets to line up so that he can do his pooja and ward off evil. Except that there are plenty of special effects that Hollywood has its disposal. 

Thankfully, there is the odd tongue in cheek joke every now and then to prevent the proceedings from getting to giddy. Kat Dennings plays Darcy, Jane’s friend and her character provides considerable comic relief. One of the Avengers is also seen a cameo and as he did in Thor, Loki steals the show again. The success of the next Thor film (although Avengers is due next) will depend on the screen time given to Loki. Natalie Portman’s character is again a weak one, she has precious little to do. Thor mostly indulges in action scenes summoning his hammer from time to time there is also a funny scene where he hangs it like a coat. 

Thor: The Dark World is not such a bad outing, you wish there was more though, not in terms of time but content.

(Published in The Navhind Times on 10th Nov 2013)

Film Review Satya 2

Underworld Revisited 

Film: Satya 2
Cast: Puneet Singh Ratn, Anaika Soti, Mahesh Thakur
Directed by: Ram Gopal Varma
Duration: 2 hrs 27 mins
Rating: * 1 / 2

With earlier hits like Shiva, Raat and Rangeela, when Satya was released in 1998, Ram Gopal Varma was on the top of the game although Daud had just flopped. Satya was a knockout – even though there was no star in the film, it certainly made Manoj Bajpayee into one and along with Kallu mama, Bhikhu Mhatre become a memorable character. With Company (2002), Varma proved that he was the master of films on the subject of the underworld.

Fifteen years later, RGV’s career has been sliding down rapidly and the brakes are not functioning either. In a vain attempt to regain the past glory, he is onto sequels now like Bhoot returns and Ab Tak Chappan (which he is the producer).

Satya 2 is pretty much a remake rather than a sequel of Satya because it uses the same template, even though no credit is given to Anurag Kashyap or Saurabh Shukla, writers of the original screenplay.

So Satya (Puneet Singh Ratn) is a small town man who comes to Mumbai with the aim of making it big. Although he looks innocent, he doesn’t mind indulging in activities that are immoral to climb up the ladder. He wants to form a ‘company’ and rule the city except that this company will be anonymous. Mahesh Thakur plays the businessman who gives him his first contract and to add some glamour, Satya’s girlfriend from his village joins him although she is blissfully unaware about what he actually does.

What worked in 1998 doesn’t work today, the characterization draws a zilch and so does the story. There is plenty of unnecessary violence including a scene where a victim uses a drill machine on the rapist’s crotch. Ouch.

The only thing remarkable is some of the eagle eye shots at the beginning which remind you of that astonishing long take in I am Cuba (1964).Almost all the actors are newcomers and it shows. Varma could have well re-released Satya, this film is a completely pointless exercise.

(Published in The Navhind Times on 10th Nov 2013)

Film Review - Free Birds

Young Turkeys

Film: Free Birds
Voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
Duration: 1 hr 31 mins
Rating: * *

 Free Birds is one those run of the mill animation films, in fact most of the animation films these days can be branded in that category. They are not dull or boring but they surely aren’t very exciting either. Since most of them have animals as characters, kids love them anyway.

 This film is about turkeys. Reggie (Voice of Owen Wilson) and Jake (Woody Harrelson) with the conviction of the former, decide to go back in time and take turkey off the menu for Thanksgiving. In an unexpected turn of events they find themselves in a time machine and go back to 1621 when the ritual of Thanksgiving started. 

They meet a bunch of turkeys that live in seclusion but it’s a matter of time before the human beings get to them. Reggie and Jake along with Jenny have to team up to accomplish their mission. Like most films, this also is about friendship and self belief and those virtues will never go out of fashion.

The 3D is totally ineffective and this norm of releasing every animation film in that format doesn’t really give the audience their moneys worth. On the whole, this one is passable. 

(Published in The Navhind Times on 10th Nov 2013)

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Film review Enders Game

                    Back to The Future                           

Film: Enders Game
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Duration: 1 hrs 54 mins
Rating: * * 1 / 2

Based on the 80’s book by Orson Scott Card, Enders Game is directed by Gavin Hood (Oscar winner Tsotsi, X Men Origins) and the writer is also credited as one of the producers. This science fiction story is quite popular and for years an adaptation was in the pipeline. 

Like most sci-fi stories, this one is set in a distant future when planet earth was attacked by aliens. Thanks to the bravery of many, especially a fighter pilot, humans managed to drive the aliens away but they still live in the fear that they might return someday.                                                                                                  
 So to prepare for the next war, young children are being trained on simulators and computer games. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield of Hugo fame) a young boy seems to have the potential becoming the next commander and it is up to Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), the tough military guy to mould him.

In the initial parts, the characters are established, the society looks far different from as we know it today. But in the latter, it looks like a computer game since the cadets have to prepare and train. It is only in the finale that it raises issues about morality and seen in certain contexts, it has relevance.

The film doesn’t have too many high points – as it usually happens with book adaptations, there are episodes that maybe relevant in the book but don’t necessarily translate well on the big screen.

Enders Game is an ambitious project in terms of CGI, thankfully they didn’t make it in 3D. The two main protagonists, the colonel and the young boy also strike a chord, one because of the way they have been written and two because of the actors. Harrison Ford gets considerable screen time as compared to Ben Kingsley who plays a cameo. As the young kid, Asa Butterfield is quite impressive. Whether there will be a sequel to Enders is not clear at the stage but this effort meanwhile is passable.

(Published in The Navhind Times on 3rd Nov 2013)

Film Review Krrish 3

                                          Superman Meets X Men

Film: Krrish 3
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut
Directed by: Rakesh Roshan
Duration: 2 hrs 32 mins
Rating: * *

The problem once a franchise is established is that the makers just have to package a film together, with lots of publicity and all that jazz. Krrish already has a fan base in place and they are more than likely to return to watch the new installment. 

Krrish 3 directed by Rakesh Roshan looks like a mish mash of popular Hollywood superhero films – Spiderman, Superman and even X Men they are all blatantly ripped off in this two and half hour saga that mainly caters to kids and juveniles. Why else would you show something, then tell about it and then explain it, just in case you missed it the first and second time around.  Five writers have been credited and don’t be surprised if each of them was given a Hollywood franchise ‘adapt’

The first half of the film also has more product ads in terms of placements than you would see during an extra long break on television. Cars, pens, milk supplements, television – all brands are promoted here, in your face.

Meet the father and son duo of Rohit and Krishna (Hrithik in a double role), the former is a scientist working in a lab, the latter is a security guard by day and becomes Krrish when need be. Which is quite often, like when gunmen break into a jewelry store or, when he single handedly helps an aeroplane to land, just the way Superman did.

The villain though is straight from X Men, Kaal (Viveik Oberoi) has the traits of both Professor and Magneto, he is bound to a wheel chair but in the finale we also see his Magneto skills. He also has an army of mutants called maanwars, the most trusted one being Kaya (Kangana Ranaut) clad in latex suit. She can transform her self just like Mystique, so much for originality.

When the villain wants to destroy the city, Krrish saves the day reminding you of The Amazing Spiderman and that makes our villain very angry. Priyanka Chopra plays Mrs. Krrish and since they are expecting their first child, she promptly gets abducted by the wheel chair guy.  

While there is an effort made to raise the bar in Bollywood films as far as the special effects and the action is concerned, it still looks pretty antiquated. But the biggest whammy is in the form of the story and dialogues are strictly of the 80’s type. 

Rajesh Roshan’s music has forgettable tunes and only in a Hindi film will you see a mutant singing a song, that too in a dream sequence. Spare us that, please.

As for the cast, Hrithik Roshan delivers a rock solid performance both as the father and son and he is clearly the mainstay of the film. Kangana in the cat suit is sincere but it is her character that is a let down.This is a film that kids might enjoy. As for adults, if you can handle mediocrity easily only then it might be your cup of tea. Or Bournvita, in case of Krrish. 

(Published in The Navhind Times on 3rd Nov. 2013)