• Whenever Clint Eastwood decides to helm a new directorial venture, there is always something new to look forward to. Eastwood has directed movies in a long standing career that have covered various genres ranging from Crime (Mystic River), War(Flags Of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima), Western (Unforgiven), Romance (The Bridges of Madison County), Biopic (J. Edgar, American Sniper), Drama (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby), Sports (Invictus), Period Drama (Changeling). At the ripe old age of 86, he is back in business with yet another story that deserved to be told, inspired from a real life incident coined as “The Miracle on the Hudson”. Sully is about Flight Pilot Captain Chesler “Sully” Sullenberger, and his miraculous “forced” water landing of the US Airways Flight 1549, bound for Charlotte from the La Guardia Airport in New York City, on the Hudson River, that led to the survival of all 155 people on board, crew members included. That Tom Hanks, one of the most decorated actor of our generation, plays Sully, is just the icing on the cake.

    Sully and his First Officer, Jeffrey Skiles (played with immaculate charm and razor-sharp wit by Aaron Eckhart) are destined to be the Pilot and the Co-Pilot respectively, of the ill-fated US Airways Flight that took the world by storm on January 15th, 2009. As the plane embarks on its journey to Charlotte, it gets involved in a mid-air collission with a flock of Canada Geese, only to render its two engines dysfunctional as a result of damage conceded in the high-altitude impact. Sully, using his 40 years of in-flight experience, decides to do the unthinkable – land the plane into the frigid waters of the Hudson River. Just as the passengers travelling in the flight and the citizens of New York City hail Sully as a National Hero, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) begins its detailed investigation into the incident, as it does for any civil aviation incident under its jurisdiction. The NTSB officials are of the opinion that Sully acted more out of his own whim and fancy, and had he adhered to standard procedure, he could have landed safely at La Guardia Airport without risking the life of every passenger and crew member onboard the flight. Did Sully have a viable and feasible option of landing back safely at the La Guardia Airport? Or if not, could he have landed the plane safely at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey or at the Newark International Airport? Did the airplane have the necessary thrust to sustain altitude and have a safe landing at one of these airports despite the twin engine failure? The movie attempts to seek answers to these questions as part of the ongoing investigation even as we find Sully and Skiles burdened with the task of proving that the course of action initiated by them was the best chance that the 155 souls had of cheating imminent death.

    Tom Hanks adds another feather to his decorated crown of acting masterpieces with his dignified and upright portrayal of Captain Sullenberger. Hanks who has been on a spree of enacting real-life honourable American citizens like Captain Richard Phillips (Captain Phillips), Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks) and James Donovan (Bridge of Spies), continues the trend with Sully. He portrays Sully’s die-hard commitment towards his job, indomitable pride in his humungous flight experience, concern for the safety of his passengers, and utter disdain for taking credit and being called a hero for his miraculous rescue. Aaron Eckhart, as co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, is a delight to savour in this otherwise serious drama, with his witty and sarcastic quips at the NTSB. Skiles is at loss to understand why NTSB has even bothered to investigate the incident, when they should have just honoured Sully for his “Out of the Box” thinking and Eckhart portrays this wonderfully making us root for his character as he defiantly stands with Sully as a mark of his loyalty and admiration towards him. Laura Linney as Mrs. Sullenberger is wasted in a role where she is relegated to the background trying to reach out to her husband in times of peril and trauma, and trying to assure him her full support, even as she worries about their bleak future. Among the actors portraying the NTSB officials, only Mike O’Malley stands out as the sullen in-charge of the investigation out to prove his point, while the rest of the officials are relegated to the background.

    Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki keeps the proceedings grounded and low-profile just as Sully would have wanted, attracting just the right amount of audience interest. Sully gets mobbed by media persons, sweats and awkwardly smiles as he participates in television interviews and shows, gets hugged and kissed by totally stranger women, and even ends up in a bar that has a cocktail named after him. Admitting that he is overwhelmed by all the attention that he is getting, we find Sully fighting an inner battle of self-doubt with his conscience about whether he took the right decision, retrospecting and struggling to re-affirm his belief and faith in his abilities. While Sully and Skiles’ post traumatic stress is efficiently portrayed, Eastwood and Komarnicki also stress the supremacy of human experience and decision-making prowess in adverse unexpected circumstances over the calculative, predictive and precise nature of highly advanced computer simulations devoid of the human touch. Its the “Man vs Machine” argument that gets another rejuvenating push in favour of Man. The special effects as we see the plane landing on the Hudson or soaring through the jungle of skyscrapers, are spellbinding. Sully does not even come close to Eastwood’s best, with its plot lacking the high octane drama and thrills and due to its well known plot that is already wafer-thin (Sully only had 208 seconds to land the plane and rescue effort hardly took 24 minutes), but Hanks and Eckhart, coupled with Eastwood’s masterful direction, manage to impress the viewers with a low-key predictable drama, made with its heart in the right place and without overt manipulation, steering the audience to a quiet celebration of the victory of the never-say-die human spirit and the heroism of ordinary citizens, who surmount unexpected challenges on a daily basis in the line of duty. And it is these new experiences, good or bad, that equip the artificial intelligence systems to gain new insights in order to predict more accurately in the future, and not vice-versa.

    January 13, 17
  • When a romantic movie associated with Yash Raj Films Banner hits the silver screen, one has reasonable expectations from such a product – sizzling chemistry between lead pair, foot-tapping and melodious musical score, sentimental drama and high production values. And when a reclusive director like Aditya Chopra writes, directs and produces it, expectations only soar higher given his highly successful and entertaining directorial record (DDLJ, Mohabbatein and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi). The presence of the current superstar and teen heartthrob Ranveer Singh and his non-stop serial kissing with co-star Vaani Kapoor (who has come a long way from her Shuddh Desi Romance days), as evident from the teaser trailers of the movie, only set the bar higher. Does the movie justify the hype that has preceded it? Does the fresh pairing of Ranveer and Vaani set the screen on fire? Does the movie espouse the carefree nature of love in entirety, as the eponymous title suggests or does it make way for conservative wisdom? Lets try to find the answers to these questions.

    Dharam (Ranveer), a desi guy from our very own Karolbagh Delhi lands in Paris, a city well-known for its romantic aura, to work as a stand-up comedian in his friend’s night-club and while scouring the city in a bid to achieve some female intimacy, chances upon the carefree Shyra (Vaani), a French girl of Indian origin who has just been out of a break-up and is not looking for any new attachments. Dharam’s innate honesty and goofy demeanour goads her into spending some crazy time with him, that includes their mutual fascination of challenging each other to a series of “dares”, that are a mixture of quirky and gutsy. This narrative thread is also interspersed with the happenings in their life post their breakup and the screen cards shown to depict the flash-forwards and flashbacks are bound to bring back memories of that lovely treatise on unrequited love “500 Days of Summer”. Will Dharam and Shyra shed their commitment-phobic vibes and unite with each other or will they remain forever committed to the idea of being non-commital? The rest of the plot is devoted to finding the answer to this question.

    Ranveer Singh sinks his teeth in a role tailor-made for him, a role demanding immense energy, restrained angst and goofball attitude. When he boasts of the prowess of a Delhi guy in displaying daring, while being weak in the matters of the heart, or when he dances effortlessly and skillfully in tandem with Vaani, or when he just flaunts his well-sculpted abs, the female audience is bound to go weak in the knees. Vaani Kapoor, in a completely carefree avatar, balances Ranveer’s machismo and aggression with her cool demeanor and devil-may-care attitude. Her no-holds-barred performance is sure to bring the house down and she performs quite competently in the emotional scenes as well. The supporting cast does not have much scope except Shyra’s Banker Fiance, who is caught up in a real bad case of inconsistent characterization appearing to be a mature guy all the while only to turn into a guy possesed in the climax, and her hotelier parents, who are completely helpless with regards to the decisions their impulsive daughter makes and the repercussions that she has to endure, yet try to impart their wisdom in subtle ways.

    Despite all the positives that work for the movie like the lead pair performances, the numerous passionate kissing sequences, some foot-tapping numbers like Nashe Si Chadh Gayi and Ude Dil Befikre, the delectable Parisian ambience well captured by the cinematographer’s roving eye, and the feisty and funny dialogues co-written by Chopra with Sharat Katariya (Writer-Director of Dum Laga Ke Haisha), the movie is unable to rise above the average entertainer due to its weak second half. While Ranveer and Vaani deliver a promising first half, the proceedings after the intermission meander aimlessly at times with the writers trying to find a suitable and unconventional conclusion to the story. Its hard not to compare this story with that of Shuddh Desi Romance, with the underlying themes of commitment-phobia, live-in relationships and carefree attitude. While the latter had a satisfying and uncompromising conclusion, Befikre tries to balance the outcome of the tale equally on the scales of tradition and modernism leading to a not-so-satisfactory ending. Also the marriage scene before the climax suddenly places the movie in Priyadarshan Territory and a better resolution could be thought of. On the other hand, the dance medley sequence between Ranveer and Vaani is sure to drive an adrenaline rush and is worth the price of the admission ticket. And Dharam and Shyra’s strong carefree personalities are bound to make the audience root for them despite the predictability in the climax, as we all thrive for that sprinkling of “befikri” in our own lives. There is not much novelty in the wisdom it espouses via Dharam’s stand-up comedy acts as well, but if you are looking for some stylish bollywood weekend entertainment with dashes of oomph and chutzpah, you should watch this. As for yours truly, I now know that if I do happen to visit Paris I would no longer be able to affix a love-lock on the Pont Des Arts and throw the key in the Seine River anymore

    January 13, 17
  • Imagine a sunny day in Los Angeles, or for that matter any city in the world that has freeway entry and exit ramps, and a serpentine and never-ending queue of automobiles driven by trapped souls waiting for the opportune moment to break free from the traffic jam thats holding them back. And then imagine an impromptu musical jig that starts with one soul and spreads with an infectious glee across the span of the ramp devouring the weary but besotted travellers in its wake, spreading momentary joy and jubilation, and making them forget their suffocating but cherished dreams for an instant. La La Land, written and directed by the immensely talented Damien Chazelle (who directed the critically acclaimed electrifying musical drama “Whiplash” couple of years ago), starts with a stellar recreation of this seemingly simple thought. At the outset, it is nothing but a contemporary musical saga with a throwback to the old world charm and heady concoction of Hollywood and Jazz. But as the layers peel off one by one, just like the four seasons that the basic plot goes through, magic unfurls slowly but steadily.

    Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista working in a small cafe on the Warner Brothers Lot, with aspirations to become an actress, and struggles to find that one big opportunity while going through multiple auditions with meagre success. As Mia walks home through the streets one night, she is mesmerized by the sound of jazz music, being played on the piano in a restaurant by Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling musician, with an intense love for traditional unadulterated jazz. La La Land takes us through their chance encounters and budding relationship, while also chronicling the pursuit of their respective dreams, as the cycle of seasons – winter, spring, summer and fall – parallel the ups and downs of their musical and emotional acquaintance.

    Ryan Gosling is immaculate as Sebastian, bringing his boyish charm to good effect and his singing prowess is an icing on the cake. His outburst in the dinner scene with Mia vividly portrays the emotions of a man who has compromised his dreams in order to gain universal acceptance. Emma Stone as Mia embodies the steadfastness of a carefree dreamer, and is the voice of conscience that simultaneously irks as well as soothes Sebastian. She portrays embitterment and disappointment with the same intensity that she uses to portray jubilation and infatuation. Real life musician John Legend as Sebastian’s friend Keith provides some practical wisdom, which acts as a worthy counterpoint to the utopian view that Sebastian firmly believes in.

    La La Land fervently and defiantly attempts to revitalize the dying musical genre, through the allegory of jazz, which is also considered to be a dying musical art form, but it could as well have been about Urdu Ghazals or Indian Classical Music. Chazelle deals with the moral conundrum of commercializing pure art to ensure its longevity, and in the process, destroying its sanctity. He also speaks subtly about the power of dreams, that propel mundane lives to glimmer eventually with success on the sands of time, while having to sacrifice beloved relationships and acquaintances. Chazelle’s frequent collaborator Justin Hurwitz composes a musical score for the ages with soulful gems like “City of Stars”, “A Lovely Night” and “The Fools Who Dream” and foot-tapping numbers like “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”. Affectionately cinematographed with a palette of vibrant hues, and accompanied by perfect production design, La La Land ends on a hopeful note that dreams are worth living for, even if a hefty price needs to be tendered to achieve them.

    January 13, 17
  • Life is a journey from birth to death and we are all passengers that undertake this arduous mandatory journey armed with the companionship of fellow travellers whom we are destined to get acquainted with. Without the love and friendship of these comforting souls, every moment of this travel would feel forlorn and morose. Norwegian Director Morten Tyldum’s Passengers seems like a sci-fi thriller from the trailers, but is actually a haunting drama that tries to understand the cravings of the human mind without being judgemental about the morality of the actions that such desires drive.

    In an unspecified time in the future, a starship named Avalon is in a routine transit from Earth to Homestead II, a privately owned habitable planet, with 5000 passengers and 258 crew members in hibernating pods, a journey that would need 120 years. But an unexpected interstellar incident causes one of the hibernation pods to malfunction, leading to the awakening of the passenger in the pod, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), an engineer from the lower strata of society, 90 years earlier than the arrival time at the destination planet. As Jim desperately tries to find assistance and push himself back to hibernation, he is disillusioned by the fact that he would never see Homestead II and live his remaining life bereft of any human intimacy. Though he shares his grief with the Android Bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen), who seems sympathetic to him, and enjoys the luxuries that the starship can provide him, his growing despondency and loneliness forces him to take a morally questionable action that impacts the life of his fellow passenger, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a journalist from New York who comes from high society. Would Jim be able to make it to Homestead II? Would he be able to live with the seemingly immoral choice he made with respect to Aurora? Would he be able to find the reason he awoke in the first place? Passengers tries to find the answers to these questions.

    Chris Pratt as Jim keeps it simple with his natural performance as a passenger torn by his love for the woman of his dreams and his guilt for the choice he made. His chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence is also picture perfect. Michael Sheen as Arthur is a picture of calmness and wisdom in an otherwise torrid and turbulent tale of human emotions. Its only when you see Arthur malfunctioning that you truly understand the horror of the situation that Jim and Aurora have found themselves in. Laurence Fishburne as the Chief Deck Officer provides able support and also acts as a mediator of peace between Jim and Aurora but there is not much for him to do in this movie. Andy Garcia is wasted in a blink-and-miss non-speaking role that am not sure why he even took up. But its Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora who holds the drama together with yet another splendid performance of a woman torn between the love for a stranger who may be her last human connection to the world, and her disgust for the same person who manipulated her life choices. Even as she beats the hell out of Jim with punches and kicks, we understand and even justify her violence and when she takes her final decision, we are able to understand the rationale behind that decision.

    Tyldum and his screenplay writer Jon Spaihts keep the human drama in Passengers alive even as the meticulously crafted futuristic production design of the Starship Avalon is bound to garner praise for its stark attention to detail and vivid imagination (heck, i just wished i could secretly ship one or two of those robotic floor cleaners home). When Aurora’s friend on Earth wishes that Aurora should find a real connect on Homestead II, as her life on earth wasn’t exactly happy, she also begs her to reconsider her travel decision, as that would mean they would never meet again. This small snippet of affection brings perspective and humanity to Jim’s immoral actions. We may love someone unconditionally but to achieve that love we may have committed some selfish acts, and however imperfectly it may have begun, that love still may be worth dying for. Passengers is neither a sci-fi masterpiece nor is it a classic drama, but it does surely make you think about the true nature of love and companionship and the extent to which we can go to achieve them, even though the upshot may be dazzlingly euphoric enough for posterity to remember.

    January 13, 17
  • When a movie, with two of the best young glamorous people in showbiz, ex-lovers at that, releases amid a lot of fanfare, expectations are bound to soar and skyrocket. Ranbir and Deepika are indeed a charming couple and the young director Ayan Mukherjee who made a lovely but predictable Wake Up Sid does not need to take a lot of effort to strike passionate chemistry between them. Ranbir is as usual in the cool dude role, one which we are so accustomed to see him in, accompanied here by the ever-so-effervescent Kalki Koechlin and the brooding Aditya Roy Kapoor, probably having a Aashiqui-2 hangover by the time second half begins. Deepika on the other hand is made to go deglam behind her studious demeanour and cautious attitude. But you do know that by interval this leggy lass is going to flaunt her enviable assets and newly found devil-may-care attitude. The plot is that predictable but so far so good since the presentation is all what matters in such a movie. Ranbir’s Bunny and Deepika’s Naina have quite a few introspective conversation and Aditya’s Avi and Kalki’s Aditi ably support them with their antics and the first half seems to be a good breezy adventure. But then comes the customary twist in the tale and by the time break is over, we are pulled into a destination wedding and the fun and dance routine that accompanies it and we somehow feel forced into the proceedings. Though the idea of glimpsing the whole world and following one’s dreams is juxtaposed with the concept of spending time together with one’s family and missing something unpredictable to make do with the mundane stuff and a feeble attempt is made to compare the two, the movie loses steam as we move towards a convenient and predictable climax. Farookh Shaikh and Tanvi Azmi impress in short roles and Dolly Ahluwalia is completely wasted in a cameo. Music isn’t top-notch as well with only Badtameez Dil holding forte. Ayan has wasted good talent by going for a story with no real meat. Movie deserves a watch though for its wonderful cinematography of Kashmir posing as Manali and then Rajasthan. Afficianados of Ranbir and Deepika like me can watch this movie once but can’t say the same for the rest. Also the dance cameo by Madhuri seemed to be a wasted effort. She deserved a much better song considering her versatile dance performances in the past.

    June 05, 13